29 April 2019

The world that should have been ours

This post is about an idea which has fascinated me for much of my life and forms a major part of how I think about the world, but which I've barely ever mentioned here on the blog.  A few weeks ago I wrote this:

More distant than the farthest stars
The stillborn world that should have been
The world in which I should have lived
That never was, so never seen.

Trapped in this dreary changeling-land
I dream the world I would have known
If mankind's rise had gone unchecked
If Alexandria's seed had grown.

Where Rome and Athens never fell
Where cross and crescent never rose
Where now those farthest stars are ours
Where truth and beauty man still knows.

But my true home I cannot reach
For things that never were lie far
Across the sea of yearning dreams
From grey and dismal things that are.

The Classical (Greco-Roman-Persian) civilization was, compared with most pre-modern societies and certainly compared with the Dark Ages that followed it, remarkably tolerant, culturally pluralistic, and open to contending ideas.  Especially during the Hellenistic* period, after the conquests of Alexander spread Greek culture and thought across the Middle East and the ideas of Aristotle nudged Greek philosophy toward real scientific thinking, there was an explosion of progress in human knowledge and understanding in many fields.  This was the age of Euclid and Eratosthenes, of the Library of Alexandria, when Aristarchus worked out the heliocentric solar system 1,800 years before Copernicus, when the Babylonians developed a precursor of calculus, when Archimedes, Hero, and others turned advances in abstract knowledge toward practical technology.  These advances laid the groundwork for the massive engineering achievements of the Roman Empire, whose ruins lie scattered across Europe and North Africa to this day.
It certainly looked like the beginnings of a revolution of modernity such as the Western world has actually seen since the Renaissance.  But ultimately it was stillborn.  Last week I posted about the destruction of Classical civilization.  But what if it had continued to thrive and progress -- say, if Alexander had lived longer and consolidated his empire, or if Constantine had never existed?  What if, for example, the Greeks or Babylonians had developed positional notation, the lack of which held back their development of mathematics and thus blocked the way to many further advances in science?  Ancient Greece, Rome, and Persia accepted a plurality of contending viewpoints and ideas, almost as modern Western pluralistic societies do.  Some Greek states had democracy and trial by jury, while the early Romans had a form of representative government.  What if these early experiments had not died out but evolved and become more inclusive, as American democracy did -- but almost 2,000 years earlier?  Yes, these cultures had slavery (though never race-based), subjugated women to varying degrees, and were often warlike -- but true modernization would have mitigated these evils over time, just as it did in real history over the last 200 years or so.

How far might civilization have advanced by now?  How much better would the world be, if the intervening millennium of stagnation brought about by Christianity and Islam, with their miasma of intolerance and taboos and anti-intellectualism and sheer stupidity, had never happened -- and the upward trajectory of progress launched by the ancients had continued?
Aside from technological progress, there is the issue of the taboo on homosexuality, which did not exist in Classical-era Greek, Roman, or Persian culture.  Certain standards about what was and was not "proper" in sexual relationships did exist, but the taboo on same-sex relationships did not -- in Greece, male bisexuality was practically a social norm.  This taboo was imposed on the West entirely by the triumph of Christianity; without Christianity, it would never have been part of our culture.  This would have avoided a staggering amount of suffering -- all the horrific executions of homosexuals during the Dark Ages by regimes enforcing the taboo, all the centuries of bigotry and cruelty that ruined the lives of countless innocent people and which persist to this day in the more backward parts of the West.  All of that would simply never have been.  And as I observed here, Classical culture was much more open and less repressed about sexuality in general.

In short, we are living in a failed timeline in which the Western world's natural progress was derailed and sent into reverse in late Roman times, and only got started again about four hundred years ago.  The history that should have happened, to which we should now be heirs, would have been far different and far better.

I'm not the only one who has thought about this.

When I originally posted the poem above, I included this image:
It comes from Carl Sagan's TV series Cosmos, which included a discussion on this very point in the episode "The Backbone of Night".  Sagan speculated that if the Hellenistic age of science exemplified by the Library of Alexandria had survived and continued to progress, by now we would be proficient in interstellar travel.  The image depicts a starship, with the Greek (of course) inscription on its hull superimposed over the image of the dodecahedron in tribute to the ancient pioneers of geometry who launched Greek mathematics.

Stephen Hawking once made a documentary series called Favorite Places** in which he explores various places in the universe that fascinate him.  In one episode, he depicts himself visiting an alternate-history version of Earth in the present day, finding the planet long deserted.  He discovers a beacon pointing the way to where mankind, having left Earth to revert to nature, long ago migrated into space.  Following this path, he is intercepted by several advanced spacecraft which hail him in a form of Classical Greek.  Finding his intentions to be peaceful, they escort him to mankind's new home, a vast ring-shaped artificial world bearing the name "New Alexandria".

In his book God Is Not Great, Christopher Hitchens describes meeting the Jewish religious fanatic Meir Kahane, which set him thinking about conflict in Classical times between fervent Orthodox Jews and those Jews who had assimilated to the dominant Greco-Roman culture of their age -- and the tragedy that the former won out in the end, leading to the rise of Christianity (and eventually Islam) and the death of Classical civilization.  Had the more cosmopolitan Jews won out, he observes, "We could have been spared the whole thing."  Of Kahane, he says:

Sniffing this insanitary barbarian, I had a real pang about the world of light and color that we had lost so long ago, in the black-and-white nightmares of his dreary and righteous ancestors.  The stench of Calvin and Torquemada and bin Laden came from the dank, hunched figure whose Kach party goons patrolled the streets..... here was a poisonous branch that should have been snapped off long ago, or allowed to die out, before it could infect any healthy growth..... yet we still dwell in its unwholesome, life-killing shadow.***

In his short story "Eutopia", science-fiction writer Poul Anderson postulated a parallel world in which the Hellenistic civilization survived and went on to colonize North America, establishing an ideal society ("Eutopia" translates as "Good Land").  By the present day, Eutopia has the technology to visit various alternate versions of Earth to see the outcomes of their different histories.  The story follows an Eutopian researcher, Iason Philippou, who is traveling in not our own version of Earth but a somewhat similar one he finds almost equally barbaric.  Anderson's version of a modernized Hellenistic culture strikes me as improbably stodgy and closed-minded, but at least he explored the idea.  You can read the whole story here.

On my original post, a couple of commenters wrote "I wish that world existed" and "I wonder about this other universe, too".  Others, including some major thinkers, have felt the same.

o o o o o

*Don't confuse "Hellenistic" with "Hellenic".  "Hellenistic" refers to the specific period after Alexander the Great and Aristotle (that is, starting at the end of the 4th century BC) when Greek culture dominated the Middle East and Greek science reached its highest level of development.  "Hellenic" just means "Greek" in general.

**This series is, as far as I know, available only on CuriosityStream -- which is a paid service, but well worth it.  The cheapest option is $2.99 per month and gives access to hundreds of documentaries at a perfectly acceptable video quality level.

***Hitchens is referring to the whole Abrahamic religious blight including Christianity and Islam, not just to Judaism.

28 April 2019

Link round-up for 28 April 2019

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

o o o o o

Mistress Debra is ready to administer your pun-ishment.

This is the calendar.

Behold the brilliance of Islamic science.

Traditional Japanese art depicts epic fart battles (found via Jerry Coyne).

This person exists.

Happy American Easter.

Check out this car evolution gif.

Mutant horror comes to the candy aisle.

If you want to go to a church, try this one.

Hey, it's another cat post.

Knowledge of thermodynamics can be useful.

What do visitors learn at Ken Ham's "Ark Encounter"?

These shrooms are pretty trippy before you even eat them.

Parental expectations can be awkward.

I'm not 100% convinced that this robot was purely an "art project", but it's still impressive.

Hysterical Raisins is back!

Some interesting odds and ends here.

This businesswoman dodged a relationship bullet here.

Read the story of an Easter service that got a bit out of hand.

Where is this town?

"Good planets are hard to find", so let's take care of this one.

Here's more on that intergalactic bleach-drinking cult.

Could the Notre Dame fire have been God's punishment?

The medieval Danes aroused Englishmen's ire for a curious reason (note that the Danes would have been only superficially Christianized at that time).

Before marrying a religious person, be sure to find out how serious they are about their taboos

Live and let live.

The cannibals raise an objection.

What is the essence of a "Christian burial"?

Watch out for management bullshit on the job.

Fundies don't grasp that religious freedom must apply to everyone.

Elections have consequences, including for net neutrality.

There are dangers in Buttigieg's liberal Christianity.

Unions work for us all.

If you use Google apps, you are being tracked.  Then there's this.

They just want tolerance and respect.

Trump's latest "explanation" of his "many fine people" comment is just more bullshit.

There's good news on abortion from Kansas and California.

Business executives must be held accountable for crimes like everyone else is.

Jerry Coyne looks at Bari Weiss and Nadine Strossen, fighters for truth and freedom.

Several of our candidates voted for a dangerous law which is costing lives.

Religious hospital staff bully and harass an atheist patient.  Dogma is a rising threat to your right to medical treatment.

The party of Akin lives!

Bluzdude examines the latest right-wing bullshit.

Younger Evangelicals are different.

Here's a good letter written by J.R.R. Tolkien.

This guy wants to ban advances in industrial technology -- then he gets even weirder.

Be skeptical of shocking quotes you see on the internet.  Especially when they're like this one.

Will Social Security's problems be solved our way or their way?

The Mueller report was quite a letdown for some of the QAnon qrackpots (found via Shower Cap).

Some tech billionaires are just beginning to understand the problems of the modern economy.

Here's a map of population density world-wide -- click the + at the upper left to zoom in, or check the "interactive stats" box to see data on each country by hovering.

NASA is preparing for the threat of a giant asteroid impact (maybe Trump can throw paper towels at it).

Our bodies are full of evolutionary vestigial structures.

Priceless fossils should never be sold off to the highest bidder.

There are three trillion trees on Earth, but we need more.

France has this.  We never will.

The Nazis' bigotry crippled their science -- thank goodness.

Expect increased VPN usage in Austria.

Trump hasn't done much for the Republican agenda, so the roots of Trumpanzee loyalty must lie elsewhere.

Biden must do more to make amends to Anita Hill.  More discussion on Biden here.  And here's a detailed interview with him on foreign policy.

We need to keep moral outrage out of the primaries (found via Swarn Gill).  And don't let identity politics get out of hand either.

Shower Cap looks at Trump's (dis)obedient lackeys and his growing siege mentality.

More political links here.

[829 days down, 633 to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

27 April 2019

The impeachment dilemma

This week Electoral-Vote responded to a question from "A.M., Miami Beach" on why House Democrats are not eager to pursue impeachment against Trump.  The response is, I think, worth quoting in full:

What the Democrats are thinking about is the Bill Clinton impeachment of 1998, which not only failed to secure a conviction, but also ginned up the Democratic base, and so backfired against the Republicans. And that was with a president who did not have Twitter or a penchant for publicly blasting his enemies in coarse language. There is every reason to think that, in the hands of Donald Trump, an impeachment would give him exactly what he needs to drive his base into a frenzy. It might also serve to persuade Independents that the blue team is "just as bad" as the red team, and that both major parties are basically the same. So, the political risks here are significant.

At the same time, the benefits of impeachment would not appear to be all that great. There is little chance of a conviction, given the GOP-controlled Senate, and even if Trump somehow was removed, it would be with less than a year left in his presidency. You suggest that an impeachment proceeding would allow the Democrats to lay out the evidence against him, but the fact is that everyone who hates Trump already knows what they need to know. An impeachment proceeding would not have much impact in terms of opening voters' eyes, or giving them information they didn't already have.

The Democratic strategy, as we have pointed out, is effectively to use the 2020 elections to impeach Trump, but with the voters, rather than the Senate, serving as jury. The behavior in the Mueller report is not going to drop off the radar, and while the Democrats don't want to lay the anti-Trump stuff on too thick, there will be a theme of "If you want a corrupt President, vote for Trump, if you want one with integrity, vote for us."

The blue team also expects that, as in 2018, Trump will drag the overall ticket down. They are looking forward to that. In fact, it might be more correct to say they are drooling. If Mitt Romney or some more normal Republican is atop the ticket, a second blue wave probably becomes less likely

The logic here seems compelling to me.  I do disagree with one point.  There is not "little" chance of a conviction, there is effectively zero, and that will remain the case as long as most Senate Republicans are too frightened of Trump's base to challenge him.

No one is more eager to see Trump removed than I am, because my greatest concern about him remaining in office is still the danger of his ordering the use of a nuclear weapon in a fit of impulsive rage about something or other -- making the United States, in an instant, guilty of a mass murder perhaps larger than the Nazi Holocaust.  (Which is why I reject the "Pence would be worse" argument -- this is an issue of temperament, not policy.)  If there were any possibility that impeachment would actually remove him, I'd be calling for it more loudly than anybody.  But there is not.

This could change.  Most Senate Republicans hate Trump's guts -- he's insulted and humiliated many of them and trashed a lot of what they value.  If Trump's support among his base were to seriously erode for any reason, so that a real possibility existed of twenty Senate Republicans daring to vote with the Democrats for removal, then yes, impeachment would become imperative.  It could happen.  But it hasn't happened yet, and turning so many Trumpanzees against their idol would take revelations a lot bigger than anything that seems likely to be in the pipeline.

Around the blogosphere I see a lot of calls for impeachment, and mounting criticism of Democratic leaders for not launching it.  Much of this seems to stem from a visceral desire for some kind of dramatic action after two years of frustration at Trump's rampages.  But Pelosi and Hoyer are thinking several moves ahead.  Impeachment now wouldn't remove Trump.  The supposed benefits of trying it would actually be small, and the harm to our side from a failed impeachment might be very considerable.  Trump would claim vindication, his base would be more infuriated and energized than ever, and the well would have been poisoned against trying impeachment later if circumstances changed and removal looked more possible.

Since impeachment can't remove Trump, the best available strategy is to exploit his noxious presence to maximize the gains of the 2020 election.  The more Democrats there are in the House and Senate to support a new Democratic President, the more progress will be made in repairing the damage Trump has done, and moving forward with the things we really want and need.

24 April 2019

How the darkness fell

The Darkening Age:  The Christian Destruction of the Classical World by Catherine Nixey (2017)

Most Western people are vaguely aware that the Classical Greco-Roman civilization was remarkably advanced in many areas, and that the well-named Dark Ages that followed marked a substantial retrogression.  Few have any real idea how magnificent that civilization truly was -- nor realize that its downfall was not an organic process but rather was brought about by a deliberate and systematic campaign of savage and brutal destruction from within, sustained over a period of generations.

Nixey tells the story, or much of it.  Her focus is on Greco-Roman art, literature, philosophy, and ways of life, not on science and technology, but what she describes is horrifying enough.  A 20-page bibliography and a further 24 pages of notes attest to the thoroughness of research and sourcing.

In the centuries before Constantine's reign, Christians were a small and only slowly-growing minority in the Roman Empire, hardly noticed at first, later mostly ignored or despised.  Persecution of Christians did occur, notably the genuinely ghastly atrocities of Nero -- but it was rare and sporadic, and the numbers of victims were very small, contrary to the impression given by the lurid Christian literature of martyrdom that focuses on that period.  By the year 312, when Constantine suddenly decided to impose Christianity as the Empire's official religion, it's estimated that only 7% to 10% of the total population was Christian.  That is, Christianity never won its dominant position in the Mediterranean world by persuasion.  It won out only after Constantine hijacked the power of the Roman state on its behalf and imposed it with increasingly ruthless force.

Nixey documents this process as an ever-escalating campaign of cruelty, destruction, and mob violence.  Successively harsher laws to discourage paganism and heretical ideas (a concept which steadily expanded to cover more and more of Greek philosophy and free thought) were accompanied by a descent of civil society into violent chaos, as great cities became infested with menacing mobs of robed Christian thugs who invaded temples and even private homes with impunity to root out and destroy anything hinting at forbidden ideas.  The loss to art alone was beyond calculation, as countless statues and mosaics of magnificent quality were defaced or smashed.  Mass book-burnings, too, were staged to expunge forbidden thought.

The Greeks and Romans had always found it normal for conflicting ideas, even religious ideas, to co-exist and contend with each other.  The various pagan religions of the diverse peoples of the Empire borrowed gods and practices from each other, and generally coexisted peacefully; since the dawn of Greek philosophy conflicting ideas had inspired debate, not violence, amid a general recognition that many questions could not be answered with certainty and that valuable insights might arise from unexpected sources.  The Greco-Roman mind was ill-prepared to confront a mentality of absolute certainty that a single, frozen, immutable truth had been revealed and that all other ideas were of the Devil and should be mercilessly eradicated.

Nixey also spends some page space on another source of conflict -- Greco-Roman sexual culture.  Homosexuality in either gender was unremarkable; indeed, in traditional Greek culture, male bisexuality had been practically a social norm.  Some prejudices did exist, but in general, sexuality was openly celebrated as one of the great pleasures life had to offer, in a way utterly alien to the taboo-clotted repression of the Abrahamic religions.  As Christian dominance grew, one of the highest-priority targets was sexually-oriented art and literature.  To an almost unbelievable degree, the early Christians explicitly condemned and rejected beauty and pleasure, feverishly embracing ugliness, misery, and deprivation in their place.

The excavation of Pompeii, which had been buried under ash by Vesuvius in the first century and thus escaped the campaigns of systematic Christian vandalism, revealed just how thoroughly sexualized the public space in Roman culture had been.  The horrified Victorian archaeologists largely hid the evidence away, and most modern Westerners still have little awareness of this aspect of Classical life.  Eventually the enforcement of Christian taboos escalated to butchery of human beings, with males who engaged in homosexual relations having their genitalia chopped off as punishment.

Towards the end, the Christian state grew increasingly totalitarian, forcing ordinary citizens to act as informers and spies on their neighbors, and enacting draconian laws to stamp out the last vestiges of pagan religious practices.  Finally, even refusal by any pagan to proactively present himself for baptism -- that is, for formal conversion to Christianity -- was made a crime subject to ruthless punishment.

The Greco-Roman civilization was dead.  The Christians had reduced a glorious world of light and color with a vigorous life of the mind to a grey wasteland shrouded with belief in place of thought.  Not until a thousand years later would the Renaissance revive some vestiges of Classical culture and begin to revive the West from its living death.

Reading this book was a somewhat painful experience for me, as watching the film Agora was.  The decline of a great civilization into barbarism is a tragic spectacle, especially this civilization, for which I feel such a powerful attachment and sense of identity.  But it forcefully affirmed my rejection of the lie that the West has "Christian roots" in any sense.  Christianity is an alien contaminant, a poison, utterly antithetical to the true Greco-Roman roots of who and what we are.  I will never forgive the Christian religion, and I will never accept it as a legitimate part of our culture.

Nixey's book has predictably received many negative reviews from Christians, in line with the historical-revisionist "late antiquity" lie which struggles to argue that the Dark Ages weren't really so bad.  Ignore them.  Read this book to learn something of your true heritage -- and who stole it from you long before you were born.
[Second image: The Serapeum of Alexandria in Egypt, built during the Hellenistic period and showing the mix of Greek and Middle Eastern (in this case, Egyptian) influences typical of Hellenistic architecture.  It is believed that in late Roman times it held the last remnants of the Library of Alexandria.  It was destroyed by a Christian mob in the late fourth century.]

23 April 2019

The real and the abstract

Individual humans are real; they exist as physical organisms occupying space and having thoughts, feelings, and awareness.  Societies and nations are abstractions that have no existence apart from the will and belief of the individual humans that comprise them.  They have no reason for being except to serve the needs and wants of those individual humans.

To speak of some individual humans as being a "burden on society" is as insane as speaking of how much faster buses could travel their routes if they didn't need to carry passengers, or how much more efficiently a hospital could function if it just got rid of all the patients.

One of the most valuable things about being an atheist is that I know my life's purpose is decided by me alone.  My life is not cluttered up with some "plan" or "higher purpose" imposed by a "God" -- or in reality, of course, by those humans who claim to speak for that God.

"Society" is not an entity or an organism.  It is an abstraction, a word we use to quickly refer to a network of relationships among a vast number of distinct individuals.  Society and the nation exist for you, not you for them.  To believe otherwise is mental slavery to those humans who claim to speak for an abstraction.  It's the man behind the curtain brainwashing you with intimidating slogans and images so you'll obey his will instead of your own.

21 April 2019

Link round-up for 21 April 2019

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

o o o o o

The tinfoil-hat contest has a winner!

There are reasons why we don't use seeing-eye cats.

Harold is gonna be a rebel.

Don't miss the alligator and the pumpkin.

Yes, your cat is the boss, but.....

Now this is how you quit a job.

Appearances can be deceiving.

Does natural selection still work on a technological species?  Does stupid behavior still reduce an organism's chances of reproducing?  You be the judge.

Let's discuss the hard questions about Frankenstein's monster.

Ranch Chimp celebrates the Mueller report in his own style.

If you liked my previous post, here's another horrid animal.

The Captain America character has a history.

How did "420" get its modern meaning?

There exists a semen-obsessed cult of magical orgasm avoidance (yes, really).

If Trump sends migrants to the sanctuary cities, housing is available.

Fiction sites on the internet are not a "safe space", nor should they be.

Here's an important reminder for racists.

This church is offering a miracle cure for 95% of all illnesses (found via Nan's Notebook).

"No, he doesn't want that."

Unseen, they listen.

Here's the origin of the expression "riding shotgun".

Avoid being useful, and maybe they'll leave you alone.

How is it possible for Christians to be unaware of contradictions in the Bible?  These things are blindingly obvious.  Don't they read it?

The internet is drowning in ads.

How much of a sacrifice was it?

This school needs to do some educating.

Even kids' watches can be a threat to privacy these days.

Church membership in the US is plummeting, especially among Hispanics.

The ban-abortion crowd's newest heroine may not be quite what she seems.

New York authorities crack down on the religious institutions fueling the city's measles outbreak.

Congress has a sexual harassment problem.

Wingnut laws will make terrible situations even worse.

Evangelicals insist that their 2,000-year-old book about goat sacrifice and talking snakes is the best guide to how artificial intelligence should be used.

Don't count on the media to report anything worthwhile about the Green New Deal.

There is a more profound pathology lurking behind Trump.

Lo Imprescindible looks at banned and challenged books, inspired by Karen Pence and a gay rabbit.  Found thereby, these lists of most-challenged library books year-by-year.

Republicans, the party of disease.

Arizona finally repeals a backward law.

This kind of thing is ruining American education.

Across America, fundies are trying to force their doctrines on the whole society.

Bluzdude debunks some right-wing internet propaganda.

Reality-denial eventually turns totalitarian to sustain itself (found via Aunt Polly).

Students walk out to protest Pence -- at a Christian university.

Republicans think Americans are stupid and don't deserve what other nations have.

No, science and religion aren't reconcilable.

Joanne Chory has a new approach to fighting global warming.

This is how far robotics has come in ten years.

Anti-science ideology does exist on the left, though it's not as bad as rejecting evolution and global warming.

Over half the chicken meat at supermarkets is tainted with antibiotic-resistant bacteria (and this is in Germany -- just imagine what it's like in the under-regulated US).

Violent bigotry is on the rise in France.

Here's some perspective on the Notre Dame fire.  Stop it with the whataboutism.  Don't fall prey to superstition, or conspiracy paranoia, or to nonsense about all the fake kitsch that was stored in the cathedral.

Gangster regimes fear the free flow of information.

Arab Israelis are more progressive than you might think.

Iranian atheist blogger Kaveh Mousavi explains why declaring the Revolutionary Guards a terrorist organization is a bad idea.

Have you chosen a candidate yet?  Here are five obstacles Buttigieg will need to overcome, and watch how the story of the Darryl Boykins tapes plays out.  Remember, he once wore something very different from that white shirt and tie.  Bryan Fischer joins in the religious hysteria over him.  Oh, and this person exists.

Trump actually showed some human decency here, but he still shouldn't be President.

Guard against purity tests and rigidity from all sides.

Ocasio-Cortez isn't kowtowing to the oligarchy.

Roy Mo[lest]ore is back.

Warren is the candidate of ideas, so why isn't she polling better?

Maybe it's a good idea for our candidates to go on Fox News.

Forget about Swalwell.  He doesn't get it.

Kiko's House has 22 takeaways from the Mueller report.

Shower Cap looks at Notre Dame and the Mueller report, with tons more insanity in each post.

More links here.

18 April 2019

More animals

In the last couple of months I've put up two posts of cat pictures -- and while cats are traditionally the flagship animal of the internet, it's time for some representation for some of the other animals that share this world with us.  So herewith.....

.....humanity's oldest companion, the loyal dog:
(domesticated twenty thousand years ago, long before any other animal)

.....our most powerful war machine for millennia, the mighty horse:

.....our close cousin, the intelligent and sexually-perverted orangutan:

.....the aerially proficient and excessively-large albatross:

.....the sinuous and endlessly-fascinating snake:
(bringer of freedom and enlightenment in the Garden of Eden myth, demonized and shunned ever since)

.....the weird but majestic hammer-headed shark:

.....the ubiquitous and frustratingly-hard-to-exterminate rat:

.....and its perennial trusty companion, the disease-bearing flea:

.....the tiny but industrious leaf-cutter ant:

.....the large and somewhat scary-looking eurypterid:
(yes, this is real, but don't worry, they're all dead)

.....the slow, slimy, slithering snail:

.....the horrifying Amazonian giant centipede:
(those are centimeters, not inches, but still.....)

.....the sinister buzzing tropical anopheles mosquito:
(bearer of the monarch of human-killing diseases, malaria)

.....the indwelling parasitic tapeworm:

I apologize for not making this post realistically representative; for example, the world has more than a thousand times as many beetle species as mammal species, yet I've included four mammals here and not a single beetle.  Still, I hope I've provided a sense of the wondrous variety of the animal kingdom as it extends beyond the familiar domain of felines.

And no, in case you were wondering, I don't actually like animals very much.

16 April 2019

An early reminder

Found via Olofa, where a couple of other bloggers observe:

"Vote Blue.  Perfection is not the goal.  Avoiding Republican plunder and fascism is the goal.  A third party candidate will never appoint a Supreme Court Justice.  A third party vote is giving Republicans the courts and the judges.  That's the reality."

"Americans have a choice and it is Donald Trump, or not Donald Trump.  We are fighting to save our country and ourselves from the most dangerous administration in history, and a vote for anyone who is not the Democratic nominee is a vote for ignoring climate change, tearing immigrant families apart, putting children in cages, and fascism.  If I have to keep going to help you understand why this election is about setting aside your purity tests and voting to save America for our children and ourselves, I don't know what else to do."

14 April 2019

Link round-up for 14 April 2019

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

o o o o o

Bluebird of Bitterness observes Library Week with signs, humor, and book spoilers.

Please support this worthy cause.

British place names are unique (found via Miss Cellania).

Who the hell comes up with these ridiculous clothes?

I like these innovative interpretations of the Bible.

As blogger Tengrain likes to say, birds are jerks.

A prudish prig vandalizes a dentist's Easter display (found via Scottie).

Donna at Tell Me a Story looks at obscure words.

Debra She Who Seeks presents the entries in her tinfoil hat contest.  You still have until midnight Monday to vote on the final winner.

Jono has some seasonal imagery, from a place (Minnesota) with real seasons.

If you like long legs, you'll love this picture.

Back then it was a golden calf -- today.....

A radical cleric has issued a fatwa calling for an assassination.

AO3 should be a model for the future of the internet.

We are now 23.1% of Americans, and growing.

Well said, indeed.

This person exists.  And this person exists.  And this person exists too.

Vine died because it wouldn't accommodate its most creative users.

This probably won't happen, but it should.

Thomas Paine knew a bad book when he saw one.

Religious crackpottery is behind the big measles outbreak in New York City.

The "war on Christmas" is a lie back up by lies.

One is well remembered, the other won't be.

Scottie has another great round-up on religion.

The film and TV industry starts pushing back against Georgia's draconian anti-abortion bill.

Christianity has a revolting obsession with blood.

I guess evil is OK now?

For those who were formerly religious but no longer are, Nan's Notebook has some questions.

Must-read post of the week -- Assange is an utter monster responsible for many innocent people's deaths.

Poverty stalks our wealthy land (read the comments too).

American women are subject to horrific religious control-freakery.

The Mormon Church dials back its bigotry just a bit, not enough.

"True power is the right to be cruel. True freedom is the power to deny freedom to others."

Meeting in the middle isn't always desirable.

Ex-Pope Ratzinger blames the epidemic of priestly child-molesting on gays, the sexual revolution, and "the absence of God" (in the Catholic Church???).

Jerry Coyne debunks some "secular humanism is a religion" nonsense.  It's almost too easy a target.

Even on the left, beware of corruption.

A mass grave from the Chicxulub impact has been discovered in North Dakota.

I've been saying this for years -- humans are just not suited to long periods in space (found via Miss Cellania).

The new black hole image is triggering the incel/MGTOW types.  The photo of Katie Bouman's hard drives evokes a historical comparison.  Some people don't quite grasp the technical aspects.  Here's some real background on the image.

A Muslim sociologist explains how to beat your wife (but with a boy playing the role of the wife.....hmmm.....).

Chinese influence in Zambia arouses opposition.

South Africa has been plagued for months by rolling electricity blackouts, and they're going to get worse.  Corruption and shoddy construction in new power plants seem to be the causes.  Johannesburg blogger Arkenaten has been offline for a month due to a long blackout plus thefts of phone/internet cables which haven't been replaced (scroll down to later comments).  The US can't point fingers given how long the power was down in Puerto Rico after hurricane Maria, but when this happens in the largest city in the country.....

Biden has a bigger problem than the touchy-feely thing.

Trump is the living culmination of right-wing hate and stupidity.

The 2020 debate must engage wage stagnation and inequality.  Booman argues that if the left goes all-out to make the US a normal Western country, the business world may embrace fascism, setting up a fight we dare not lose.

Voters are with the Democrats on most issues.

Buttigieg now polls in third place in New Hampshire and Iowa.  Some wingnuts are getting a bit concerned about him.  Tony Perkins and Erick Erickson are freaking out Biblically.

Shower Cap reviews Trump's immigration flailing and self-pwning wingnuts.

[Image at top:  The black hole in context, in the midst of galaxy M87]

12 April 2019

Improving words (9)

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

Alternation:  A country that constantly changes

Asphalt:  A place where a certain type of snake is required to stop

Barbarian:  A librarian who also does haircuts

Bullion:  A male cow with some of its electrons missing

Damage:  How old the river barrier is

Defile:  To remove something from the documentation cabinet

Depict:  What the Romans wanted to do to Scotland

Discover:  The record has finished playing

Discrete:  To insult the largest Greek island

Dormant:  A small insect infesting student housing

Dungeon:  A long time period characterized by manure

Farther:  If you do this, she will end the date due to the smell

Fatally:  An overweight comrade

Freezing:  A zap you don't need to pay for

Furlong:  Your dog needs a haircut

Invader:  Swallowed by a Star Wars villain

Lovestruck:  The hauling vehicle of affection

Penultimate:  The supreme writing instrument

Prevent:  To let off one's anger in advance

Province:  The opposite of convince

Rebuttal:  What you need after laughing your ass off

Rummage:  A sorcerer who needs Caribbean-style alcohol to work his magic

Sonnet:  A mesh for catching male children

Warrant:  A tirade about battle

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

10 April 2019

Video of the day -- Bill Maher and Mayor Pete

I don't agree with everything that's said here, and toward the end Maher's interruptions get a bit annoying -- but I'm beginning to see the appeal of this guy.  He is about as much the opposite of Trump as it's possible to be.  He obviously thinks on a deeper level than the usual clichés and ideology, and can extemporize complex ideas in clear language.  Toward the end he makes a point I've long felt is very important -- that freedom is fundamentally a value of the left, and that right-wing libertarianism is profoundly wrong to think as if only government can infringe on personal liberty.

On the other hand, saying he thinks a lot and is good with words is, for me, basically just saying "he's my kind of people".  It's hard for me to judge how much he'd appeal to the great variety of other kinds of people who make up a whole nation.  But when an openly-gay man wins re-election with over 80% of the vote in a city in Indiana -- well, there's something there.

08 April 2019

Could Buttigieg make it?

The recent surge of interest and support for Pete Buttigieg appears to be real, if a bit overhyped.  Most mainstream pundits still consider him a fringe candidate, not in the same league with the "serious" names like Biden or Warren.  But I'm beginning to wonder if he might be just the man for the times.

This is not a period friendly to conventional candidates.  Obama in 2008 and Trump in 2016 were both, in their own (very different) ways, outsider/insurgent candidates.  Neither was expected to win his party's nomination; both did so by beating mainstream, conventional candidates.  The smart money was on Hillary and Jeb in those races.  The smart money was wrong.

In general elections, too, there is a constituency for insurgency for its own sake.  These are the people who, to the bafflement of some pundits, voted for both Obama and Trump.  As Electoral-Vote puts it (question 6):

Obama-Trump voters appear to be Republicans (and some disaffected centrist Democrats) who felt the world had crapped on them, and so wanted to vote against "the establishment" and for "change."  To them, John McCain, Mitt Romney, and Hillary Clinton all represented "the establishment" and Barack Obama and Donald Trump seemed to be outsiders who might shake things up.  The Obama-Trump voters will have an interesting choice in 2020, because Donald Trump certainly did shake things up, but not in a way that helped them.  Some of them will stick with Trump due to the culture wars, which at least makes them feel less bad about the world crapping on them.  However, we doubt they all do.

It seems unlikely that Biden or even Warren would appeal to these voters.  Buttigieg, as the mayor of a small Indiana city, has a better chance of convincing rural red-state voters that he understands their problems (don't worry, he is one of us -- both his parents were Notre Dame professors).  His policy positions are pretty much those of the Democratic mainstream, but the outsider or insider status of the candidate putting forth such stances matters a lot to how these voters perceive them.  I don't expect him to win over the broad mass of Trumpanzees.  No Democrat will do that.  But being able to win 5% or 10% of them instead of 2% might make the difference in carrying a few critical states.

The obvious question raised by his candidacy is, of course, whether America is ready for an openly-gay President.  But in 2008 there were similar concerns about a black candidate -- and while the country has shown itself since then to have a lot more and worse racists than most of us suspected, I don't think Obama's race actually cost him many votes.  The kind of person who would refuse to vote for a black man probably wouldn't vote for any Democrat.  I think the same argument applies here.  There are plenty of fundies and bigots who would never vote for a gay candidate -- but they probably wouldn't vote for any other Democrat either.

But isn't he too inexperienced?  As with Obama, about whom the same issue was raised, Buttigieg's high intelligence can somewhat compensate for this.  And while his role as a mayor is on a lower level than the Senate, at least he's been a chief executive of something, which Obama had not.  His history as a Navy veteran and intelligence officer in Afghanistan adds some gravitas, as well as countering the feeling some voters may have that a gay candidate is less "manly". 

Isn't he too young?  Well, he'll turn 39 just before inauguration day in 2021.  That's pretty young, but it's hard to imagine anyone who otherwise favored him balking too much at that.  39 is by no means immature (Jacinda Ardern, the New Zealand Prime Minister whose response to the Christchurch terrorist attack was widely praised, is 38).  And there's another issue here.

The Republican party is already taking steps to "lock in" Trump as their 2020 candidate, making a successful primary challenge almost impossible.  And Trump is showing increasing signs of dementia.  The election is 19 months away.  It's likely that during that time Trump's mental condition will continue to deteriorate visibly, and will even become a major issue as the election approaches.  This will (a) alarm voters who lean toward Trump but aren't part of his core support, making it easier for our side to win with a "risky" unconventional candidate; and (b) make age in general a more salient issue.  Biden and Sanders are both several years older than Trump, while Warren is not much younger.  All of them are clearly of sound mind now, but Trump's deterioration will make voters wonder whether they can be depended on to remain so through a four-year Presidential term.  An older nominee might prevent us from capitalizing on what will be seen, by then, as one of Trump's most alarming weaknesses.

Buttigieg isn't the only candidate recommended by that factor, of course.  We have several candidates under 60.  But I think age will be a bigger liability than youth.  Older politicians tend to have baggage from earlier times -- behavior or ideas which are no longer acceptable, as Biden's touchy-feely problem exemplifies.  And we're constantly fretting about how to boost turnout among younger voters.  A younger candidate might help.

If Trump dies in office, or is impeached and removed, our candidate will be running against Pence instead.  Buttigieg would, at least, present the most stark possible contrast with a Bible-thumper.

Finally -- well -- isn't his name too weird?  Remember that until Obama, every President had had a family name originating in either the British Isles or the Netherlands.  The thought of "President Obama" sounded bizarre -- until he won the nomination, and people had time before the election to get used to the idea.  Buttigieg's name reflects his Maltese heritage, which is unusual and interesting, but not (except to those die-hard bigots who would never vote for a Democrat anyway) off-putting.  I doubt it will lose him any voters who would otherwise have supported him.

07 April 2019

Link round-up for 7 April 2019

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

o o o o o

People interact with statues.

Bluebird of Bitterness has some bird images and visual puns.

Bluzdude livens up office life a bit.

This thing needs a warning label.

He stole the mountaintop.

Old shark is old.

Check out these cloud pictures.

Some good advice here on writing.

Appreciate Oscar the Grouch.

Wages have stagnated for 40 years, but prices haven't.

Here's how DuckDuckGo makes money without spying on you.

Work has changed.

Which one is really offensive?

Trump denounces a judge who doesn't exist.

It's not millennials who are "killing" everything.

The latest anti-vaccine eruption brings a nuttier-than-usual wingnut out of the woodwork.

Congratulations, you made the top ten!

It is still prejudice -- and bullshit.

Some "feel-good" stories reveal a cruel reality.

This kind of bullshit is what makes the bad guys the bad guys -- don't sink to their level.

Our cities are full of monuments to ignorance.

The Republican war on women is real.

Insane laws have terrible consequences.

McDonald's surrenders in the minimum-wage fight.

Nan's Notebook has a message for Trump supporters (they won't listen).

No, legal prostitution does not cause an increase in sex trafficking.

This mentality is evil (found via Scottie).

The fruits of the anti-vax movement spread across the US.

Alcoholics Anonymous is a religious cult and doesn't work.

No, the Navy does not have invisibility or time travel.

Chronicling even three days of Trumpian outrages is a pretty big task.

If moral issues won't stop you from eating pork, maybe this will (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

I haven't paid much attention to the college-admissions scandal, but this seems like a good overview of it.

Max's Dad visits Notre Dame, and finds a Presidential candidate he likes.

As long as they have the ability to do this, I will never use e-books.

The Trump era is shaping the voters of the future.

A reputation for bigotry is bad for business.

The world has been made ridiculous.

The horrifying Valerie Plame case reminds us that some Republicans don't believe in the concept of abuse of power.

This CEO believes capitalism is committing suicide.

Booman has some interesting discussion on why Trump is bad at strategy and negotiation.

New transitional fossils shed light on whale evolution (and creationist dumbth).

Britain's Labour party takes a step to crack down on anti-Semitism.

A New Zealand blogger posts on the Christchurch mass murder.

Book-burning is forever the hallmark of the barbarian.

There is such a thing as a major difference between cultures.

Turkey's religio-authoritarian ruling party has lost elections in the country's main cities -- and doesn't want to accept the result.

The modern mind is naturally revolted by defenses of scripture.

The world's largest democracy is about to hold a national election, with women voters taking a growing role.

Please keep this important reminder.

Maybe Congress needs more waitresses and fewer crooked lawyers and businessmen.

Here's yet another difference between the two parties.

Elections have consequences, as Democrats fight back.

I don't think Biden quite gets it.  When 23% think your behavior is disqualifying and 21% aren't sure, that's actually not so good.  He may just be the wrong man for the times.

This kind of carelessness is amateurish and inexcusable.

Shower Cap reviews the week, and writes his longest post ever.

More links here.