29 September 2019

Link round-up for 29 September 2019

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

o o o o o

The pumpkin spice fad is completely out of control.

See some electronic-communication cartoons.

Spelling is important.

The spiders are bewildered.

A few jokes for your day here and here.

This thief messed with the wrong woman.

I didn't realize this, but Halloween trees are a thing (found via Old Fashion Halloween).

There's a benefit to going to church.

Some more mostly-cheery Halloween decorations here.

"Can I have a plastic bag, please?"

I'm just as baffled as the cat by this effect of electro-magnetism.

These people exist.

Will you get bored in retirement?  (I get more bored working.)

Bill Maher holds forth on impeachment and Giuliani's meltdown.

Graham is hopelessly devoted to Trump.

Americans have "traded community for economy", but there are little ways of getting it back.

Which is the deadliest killer?

Visitors to Times Square face a new kind of harassment.

Stupid Evil Bastard pwns a rather pitiful creationist.

Sixpence Notthewiser explains why he's not interested in going back to Tumblr (NSFW image).

"No, that's socialism."

Here are some oddities about life in the US.

It's spamming for Jesus!

While being so critical of Trump, it's only fair to remember Obama's malfeasance in office.

LifeSite News is in a snit about Cokie Roberts being allowed a Catholic funeral.  Because Christianity is all about shunning and excluding people.

"One's body is inviolable, subject to one's will alone."

Boeing's MACS disaster is the latest result of a shift from an engineering-centered corporate culture to "a culture of financial bullshit".

Remember this when interacting with retail workers over the holidays.

We need to accept that people can change over time.

Spend wisely.

The madness the Republican party created has now engulfed it.

Some of the urge to censor comes from kids who were never allowed to grow up.

Facebook has served the purposes of employment discrimination.

This sounds like one hell of a nasty school. Update:  The latest allegation is false; the rest of the stuff in the post is presumably true.

"Women should have absolutely no say whatsoever in the issue of abortion."

Here's what the wingnutosphere has been up to over the last week or so.

Darwinfish 2 looks at phony patriotism.

Even the MSM is now calling out some of Trump's bullshit.

Why should atheists respect Jesus when Christians don't?

The history of the Pilgrims in early America includes some very ugly stuff.

Evangelical nutballs sound off on impeachment and Greta Thunberg.

Speaking of which, a lot of wingnuts are absolutely spitting venom about Thunberg.  I've seen equally vicious stuff on some right-wing blogs.

A popular feminist internet forum is under attack.

Know the opposition, folks!  See right-wing blogger reactions to the impeachment inquiry here, here, here, here, here, here, and here.  RedState insists it's a big fuss about nothing, LifeSite regurgitates talking points, and Breitbart claims Democrats are panicking -- while Jim Geraghty at NRO takes a more balanced view.

Does Trump really care about religious freedom?

The class war that has wrecked US prosperity was the capitalist parasite class's way of dealing with increased competition as other countries recovered from World War II.

A disgusting religious practice spreads disease to newborn babies.

If we win next year, making DC a state can help make the Senate more democratic.

A simple change could massively cut greenhouse-gas emissions (there might be an issue with another type of gas emissions, though).

Current research corroborates that exercise is good for your brain.

This video makes a good case for what I think is the true solution to the Fermi paradox -- that intelligent life (and probably life of any kind) is very rare in the universe and we may even be completely alone.

Here's what a black hole really looks like, at least the parts you can see.

A publisher rejected a book on free speech because it said controversial things.

In New Zealand, self-identified Christians are down to 37% of the population, strongly outnumbered by "nones".

US prison officials are studying the Norwegian prison system as a basis for reforms here.

Ecuador's parliament has rejected a bill to decriminalize abortion for rape victims.

Trump's phone call to Zelensky was meant to pressure Ukraine into providing dirt on Biden.  So why didn't Ukraine do that?

This is just weird.  India and China are already doing more to fight global warming than the US is.  And Kerry thinks making new commitments at some meeting is more important than actual action?

The dreariness of life in business-dominated China is fueling a drop-out culture.

Engulfed in a national tidal wave of rape and murder, South Africa decides to crack down on spanking.

The results of the LGBTQ presidential forum were a bit of a mixed bag.

Martin Longman thinks Biden and Warren are our strongest general-election candidates.

Republicans feel confident that impeachment would help their side.  Democrats, not so much. One poll shows a rise in voter support for impeachment, but the overall picture isn't clear yet.

Is Sanders supportive of gays?  Let's look at the record.

Warren is making the right enemies.

Wyoming's Senate primary will test whether libertarianism has any future in the Republican party.

The media need to stop trying to create a Biden/Ukraine scandal where none exists (some good discussion in the comments too).

Defeat next year won't bring the Republican party back to sanity.  It may even make it more extreme, as it's the least wingnutty ones who will be gone.

More links here.

[983 days down, 479 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

27 September 2019

Impeachment -- hoping to be wrong

Let me make one thing clear -- I hope you all are right and I'm wrong.  Even more than most of us, I want to see that bastard dragged out of office and humiliated for what he's done.  But I'm very, very wary of wishful thinking that's not grounded solidly on facts.  The 2016 election seemed like the surest thing we've seen in decades -- and look what happened.

If this does proceed to actual impeachment and Trump does get removed from office by the Senate, I'll be much happier about being wrong on this point than I've ever been about being right on something.  But I've seen too much of the spineless toadies who make up most of the Senate Republican caucus to feel optimistic about the outcome.  When we're in a situation where the integrity of the republic depends on the honor and fundamental decency of Mitch McConnell, we're in the wrong situation.

(Here's a blogger who believes that enough Senate Republicans will vote for removal.  I'm far from convinced, but read what he says for yourself.)

Especially if the economy gets worse, more and more people who aren't Trumpanzees are going to get annoyed that Congress is focusing on anything other than jobs.  Trust me, I'm looking for a job right now myself, and it definitely looms much larger in one's mind than politics does.

Trump's behavior long, long ago blasted past any conceivable threshold of deserving impeachment and removal.  Whether he deserves it is not the point.  The point is what's actually doable.  If the majority of the voters weren't convinced by all the shit he's already done, it's not obvious to me that they'll be convinced by the Ukraine scandal either.

But maybe I'm wrong.  We'll see.  One thing I do feel confident in saying is that Pelosi, all along, has had far more knowledge about the whole situation than any of her critics, and has far more political skill.  If she does think this is the time to move, maybe she knows something the rest of us don't.

26 September 2019

Video of the day -- paperless society

Pwned, I think.

Blogging notes

Over the last couple of weeks I've had a major surge of troll comments (you aren't seeing them because of the comment moderation).  So perhaps it's time to post a more prominent reminder about reading the comments policy, since people who come here aiming to pick fights seldom seem to do so.  It also wouldn't hurt to read this.

o o o o o

I'll be cutting back quite a bit on reading the specifically political blogosphere, at least for a while.  Brexit-bashing has been getting pervasive, and I'm tired of feeling under attack in what had seemed like friendly territory.  And the usual Democratic miasma of attacks on our own side has lately reached toxic levels, with venom and insults hurled at any Democratic leader whose judgment or program deviate too much from those of the writer, especially Biden and (until a few days ago) Pelosi.  It's wearisome and depressing to read.  For the sake of the party and the country, I just hope everybody gets that stuff out of their system before it's time to unify behind our nominee next year.

o o o o o

I'm going to stop capitalizing titles like "president" and "senator" when they aren't used attributively right before a person's name, as well as some words like "constitution" which I've gotten into the habit of capitalizing even though they aren't "proper names" in a grammatical sense.  It's unnecessary, and excessive use of capital letters is often the mark of a less-educated and/or insecure writer.  I doubt more than one reader in a hundred will notice, but I thought I should say something in case that one in a hundred is curious.

24 September 2019

Some observations on Pelosi's announcement

Pelosi's declaration of an impeachment inquiry is a good move both practically and politically.  On the practical side, it will broaden the House Democrats' legal powers to investigate Trump -- which is why I've always supported it.  On the political side, it should, at least for a while, take some of the pressure off of House Democrats to proceed to an actual impeachment.

For anyone not familiar with my objections to an impeachment, here's a summary:

(a) Impeachment can't remove Trump from office.  Removal would take at least 20 Republican votes in the Senate, which isn't going to happen because Senate Republicans are afraid to anger Trumpanzees whose votes they depend on for re-election.

(b) After "acquittal" by the Senate, Trump would bleat endlessly that he had been exonerated and that all the accusations against him had been exposed as fake news, a dastardly Democratic plot, etc.  This would sound plausible to millions of swing voters who don't pay close attention to politics.  Thus an impeachment would probably make Trump's re-election more likely.

(c) Impeachment would threaten our House majority.  Many House Democrats represent purplish districts in which a vote to impeach would be a definite liability next year.  Impeachment is generally unpopular with the voters -- including with many Democrats and independents, not just Republicans.

It's clearly (c) which has loomed largest in Pelosi's resistance to impeachment.  She's been accused of doing the politically expedient thing rather than the right thing, but keeping that Senate majority is important.  A lot of lives will be ruined or lost if Republicans recover full control of the government.  Social Security, Medicare, the environment, and the Devil knows what else would be defenseless against attack.  And after seeing the damage Trump and his party have done to our democratic institutions in three years, I'm not convinced they would survive two to four more years of such destruction without even the resistance the House has been able to muster.

Trump long, long ago passed the threshold of behavior meriting removal by impeachment -- but since impeachment can't remove him, we need to focus on the one thing that can, which is the election.  An impeachment inquiry will serve that end by helping bring out more information about Trump's activities.

That being said, perhaps the most intriguing development today is that the Senate voted unanimously to support releasing the whistleblower report to the House and Senate intelligence committees -- that is, every Senate Republican voted to let committees which include some Democrats see it.  McConnell could have blocked the vote, but did not.  It's a hint, at least, that the Republicans' reflexive defense of every Trump atrocity may be weakening.

Why that should be happening now is not clear.  It's possible that the whistleblower report is far more alarming and potentially damaging than what we've heard so far would indicate.  The whistleblower, through his lawyer, has requested to meet with the House intelligence committee -- and there are hints that his revelations go beyond just Trump's phone call with Zelensky about Biden.

If there's something here so explosive that the Republican Senators' votes which we need to remove Trump might be there after all, then impeachment would become the right move.  If Trump were impeached and removed, his party would go into the election with Pence as the incumbent (as unpopular as Trump and without the charisma or cult following), and with the hard-core Trumpanzees in a state of white-hot rage at the party for, as they see it, "betraying" their messiah.  We’d win by supermajorities everywhere.  It would be the best possible outcome.  All the more reason, of course, why the Senate Republicans probably won't go for it.

But it looks like things are about to get interesting, one way or another.

Quote for the day -- divine authority

Elizabeth Cady Stanton, 1815-1902.

22 September 2019

Link round-up for 22 September 2019

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

o o o o o

Have some bird cartoons.

Go to Hell!  But where, exactly?

Jenny_o indulges in animal puns.

What a "load" of bull (found via Miss Cellania).

Send this fox to the nearest Trump golf course.

Here are some larger-size Halloween decorations.

Notes to Ponder looks at Vancouver street names.

At Dr. Theda's Crypt, it's looking like Halloween already.  And at this blog, it's always Halloween.

This is the Oregon coast (click image for full-size).

An abandoned bowling alley becomes a palace of weird art.

"Excommunicate!  Excommunicate!"

Don't be Renny.

How many of these bureaucratic personality types have you encountered?

I won a football game, therefore God exists.

Yes, it does matter who started it.

Think your neighbors are a pain in the ass?

A woman who has sex with ghosts plans to marry one.  Maybe she can get wedding decorations at this store.

"Keep every stone they throw at you."

Here are some alternate uses for common products (it's amazing how many nasty things baking soda can get rid of -- we should try it on Trump).

See the original ending of 1986's Little Shop of Horrors, completely different from the theatrical version's ending (found via Miss Cellania).

And when you gaze long into the Google, the Google also gazes into you.

AO3 can protect your pictures as well as text works.

View a short film with some good scary dinosaur action.

Here are some things that foreigners find distinctive about Americans.

A posthumous post lists some of Harry Hamid's heroes.

Professor Taboo exhumes a truly creepy poem in advance of Halloween.

WTF?  $1,200 for a keyboard?

Here are all the Dracula movies, ranked worst to best (found via Mendip).

English is a pretty weird language (this is by John McWhorter, so you can trust it to be accurate).

Women's experience of life makes them more, not less, qualified for political leadership.

Part of the reason many atheists stay "closeted" is that we're tired of having the same wearisome arguments with Christians over and over.

You can't fret about, or even know about, every problem that's out there.

When is a cracker not a cracker?  To some, it's a deadly-serious question.

This could be part of the reason why Europe's population declined during the Dark Ages.

The United Methodist Church is splitting apart over the issue of homosexuality.

Forced displays of patriotism have no place in a democracy.

This monument looks barely begun after 71 years of work -- and the man it honors probably wouldn't have approved of it anyway.

The Christian Right is helping to drive liberals and moderates away from religion.

These history facts will surprise some (I knew a lot of them).

The Evangelical view of the "goodness of God" is incoherent.  And if he's so powerful, why does he need helpers?

A wingnut legal scholar is proposing a new line of attack against gay marriage.

The Salvation Army uses a science fair, of all things, to push creationist bullshit on kids.

A pastor reviews the Netflix series "The Family".

The Trump gang is planning to attack food stamps.

The Clergy Project, which helps clergy who no longer believe to leave their churches, will soon pass 1,000 members.

Third-party payroll-processing companies can't always be trusted.

A Catholic school fired a teacher for being single and pregnant.  Because Christianity is all about shunning and condemning people.

Violence against abortion clinics is at record levels and getting worse.

You've been propagandized.

A bishop warns his seminarians -- anyone who helps expose corruption will be kicked out.

Darwinfish 2 makes some points on gun control.

A gay man's autobiographical presentation in Ohio brings fundie hate out of the woodwork.

The New York Times is in the tank for the right wing.

The New York Times is in the tank for the left wing.

Active-shooter drills do more harm than good.

One cop framed at least 119 people.

This took guts.

A prominent theologian widely lauded by Evangelicals is openly white-supremacist and has defended slavery.

Colt's decision to suspend civilian sales of the AR-15 probably won't have much effect.

A Baptist preacher yearns for the good old days.

Learn the fascinating properties of red mercury.

Maybe we have too many honeybees.

An Evangelical climate scientist struggles to get other Evangelicals to take global warming seriously.

The climate strike drew huge crowds globally.  Here's part of the rally in Sydney, Australia, estimated at 80,000 (found via Hackwhackers).

How much do Europeans trust the police?

Christian missionaries in Australia are destroying Aborigine cultural artifacts which they consider Satanic.

Despite the narrative being pushed on us that he's floundering, Boris Johnson has gained in popularity since becoming Prime Minister, and is far more popular than opposition-party leader Jeremy Corbyn (the real nearest British equivalent to Trump).

Quite a few Republican Senators don't want war with Iran, at least not yet.

Russian engineering is crap, mostly due to the corruption inevitable under a dictatorship.  Let's hope their new floating nuclear reactor isn't dangerous.

India's religio-nationalist government is building mass detention camps for Muslims it suspects may not be legal citizens.

Minority women are being forcibly sterilized in prison camps.

Here are the issues Democratic voters care about -- note how one issue looms far larger than all others.

There will be disinformation campaigns.  But they are not magic.  They can be defeated.  And they are not grounds for wallowing in despair.

A South Carolina Democrat reports from a Buttigieg town hall meeting.

The Electoral College threatens to bring chaos to American democracy.

Warren plays it smart, avoiding attacks on rival Democrats.

The voters still strongly oppose impeachment, and it's unlikely that there will ever be a majority in the House for it.

Yastreblyansky argues that impeachment could help defeat Trump if it's timed to play out during the height of next year's campaign.

Biden's agenda is far more liberal than you think.

The Women's March is getting serious about purging the bigots from its leadership.

If Democrats commit to abolishing private health insurance, it's going to be a problem.

Marianne Williamson's mystical woo-woo candidacy is proving as insubstantial as "spiritual" things generally.

Did Biden act unethically with regard to Ukraine when he was VP?  This detailed analysis says no.

Don't let the wingnuts manipulate us.

Migration from blue states is bringing red and purple states within reach of the Democrats.

More links here.

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21 September 2019

Quote for the day -- fashionable impotence

"You can't afford to be cynical.  Cynicism is fashionable sometimes.  You see it all over our culture, all over TV; everybody likes just putting stuff down and being cynical and being negative, and that shows somehow that you're sophisticated and you're cool.  You know what -- cynicism didn’t put a man on the moon.  Cynicism didn’t win women the right to vote.  Cynicism did not get a Civil Rights Act signed.  Cynicism has never won a war.  Cynicism has never cured a disease.  Cynicism has never started a business.  Cynicism has never fed a young mind."

President Obama, 2014

19 September 2019

Video of the day -- role reversal

I have no comment on this.  Just watch it.

18 September 2019

Religious leaders

I'm sure most readers have heard the classic definition of the difference between a cult and a religion:

"In a cult, there is always one person at the top who knows the whole thing is a scam.  In a religion, that person is dead."

I increasingly wonder about the second part, though.  The default assumption is that most religious leaders are among the most devout believers of all -- there's no one more Catholic than the Pope -- but in most cases their observed behavior simply doesn't fit.

Take the Catholic Church, for starters.  The pattern of child molestation by priests has been ongoing for decades, likely centuries -- in many countries, spanning the reigns of countless Popes.  The Catholic hierarchy globally has followed a pattern of shielding abusers from prosecution, shifting them from place to place to keep them out of trouble (thus allowing them to find fresh, unsuspecting victims), denying the problem, hiding evidence, denouncing accusers, blaming victims and intimidating them into silence..... Is this the behavior of men who truly believe they will one day be judged by a God who knows everything they've done?  Or is it the behavior of men primarily concerned about the worldly power, prestige, and wealth of the Church as an institution, and about their own positions within it?

Protestant institutions, too, are rife with cases of leaders engaging in sexual abuse and other crimes, misappropriation of money, extramarital affairs, and on and on.  Again, if these leaders truly believed that lives of virtue would win them eternal life in Heaven while "sin" might doom them to eternity in Hell, I can't imagine that they would behave in such ways.  Surely whatever satisfactions they get from their actions now would pale to nothing beside the prospect of eternal reward or torment -- and surely a true believer would expect God to judge the abuse of religious authority especially harshly.

Then there's the way religious practices evolve in the wake of culture (I do not say "along with" culture because the religions are usually 50 to 100 years behind).  For example, the Old Testament makes it clear that homosexuality and witchcraft are to be punished by death, while Jesus declared (Matthew 5:17-19) that every last detail of the Old Testament law remains in full force until the end of the world.  During the Dark Ages, law and practice reflected these taboos.  But in more recent centuries, as Western society has become more secular, and belief in magic has declined while tolerance for homosexuality has grown -- most major Christian denominations have quietly backed off of support for punishment by death in such cases, even while retaining a more garden-variety level of bigotry toward gays and pagan religions.

Again, do they think Jehovah and Jesus didn't really mean what they said?  Is getting along with an evolving secular society more important than loyalty to the word of the almighty creator of the universe?  Meanwhile, the few who do continue to preach the actual Biblical doctrine, such as Fred Phelps, are viewed by most Christians as cranks who give the rest of them a bad name.  Yet Jesus said, "Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called the least in the kingdom of Heaven" -- don't they believe him?

(Yes, I know about the fatuous modern "re-interpretations" of the Old Testament condemnations which claim they're not really about homosexuality or witchcraft or whatever.  During the Dark Ages, generations of devout Christian scholars studied the Bible intensively without those re-interpretations ever occurring to them.  Now a few people have "discovered" that the Bible "really" reflects a modern moral consensus which its authors could never have imagined and which took shape only within the last few decades.  Such claims are nothing but absurd rationalizations by moderns who can't face what their holy book actually says.)

It's hard to pull off a con successfully if you yourself are fooled by it as much as your marks are.  The "Wizard" of Oz created the projection of Oz the Great and Powerful to deceive and intimidate the masses, not to deceive himself.  He didn't personally believe the bullshit he was selling to everyone else.

The behavior of most religious leaders is staggeringly inconsistent with what they claim to believe.  Are they de facto atheists coldly and hypocritically perpetrating a scam in full awareness of what they're doing?  Or does a lifetime of wallowing in mumbo-jumbo allow them to twist reason and conscience into such a tangle that they can do and "believe" completely contradictory things and force themselves not to notice?

Do they themselves even know?

17 September 2019

Video of the day -- reverse improvement

All long-term readers know that I fervently support real technological progress, but there is way too much of this over-complicating and over-gadgetizing of stuff that worked perfectly well when it was simple and mechanical.

15 September 2019

Link round-up for 15 September 2019

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

o o o o o

And now, with one stroke of my sword..... (found via Miss Cellania).

Volunteers are doing maintenance on the Cerne Abbas Giant in England.

"It's for my food blog."

This exists.

Headline writers are just trolling us at this point.

He's on the cutting edge of snacking.

Paranoid fears of magical dong theft have led to witch hunts, both medieval and modern (found via Strangely Blogged).

This is true luxury for cats.

".....and with a single click....."

Be sure you're in the right part of the airplane.

Finally some decent weather!

Florida, I presume.

It's a sperm bank.

This must be the pied piper of geese.

Beware the cello.

Justine's Halloween has some more decorations, while Lady M finds some scary wearable art.

Stay out of the ocean -- it's full of horrible things.

"Unleash hell."

Ozymandias won.

Trumpanzees:  image vs. reality.

Retch, gag, barf.

Architects are running out of ideas, or maybe just playing too much Jenga.

Before selling his gun, this guy did a thorough background check on the buyer.

Gays are trying to destroy Christianity?  Turnabout is fair.

"Make it happen."

Question here for anti-vaxers.

Fiction is an alternative to reality.

An avatar of peace?

In the late 1970s, our exploration of the Solar System was just getting started, and science fiction movies were beginning to go downhill -- with a major exception.  It's an intriguing but long post, so save this one for when you have some time.

Yes, it matters what search engine you use.

This must have scared the hell out of people.

It was his last assignment.

QAnon qrackpots re-affirm their beliefs as the Trump gang tries to decide what to do about them.

On guns, think again.

Christianity isn't a big tent, it's a whole bunch of little ones.

The size of the market for erection pills suggests some sad things about masculinity (NSFW ad image).

A South African blogger finds the role of Christian values in US politics a bit confusing.

Beware of those who spread despair and division (scroll past the Statue of Liberty stuff to get to the main point).

A rogue site is stealing works from AO3.  Also, if you've posted any pictures there, read this.

Meet the woman the enemy fears.

Uber would rather break the law than treat its drivers properly.

Evidence doesn't support Trump's self-aggrandizing claims about what he did on and after 9/11.

The history of the US homicide rate shows some interesting correlations.

Dystopian fantasies like The Handmaid's Tale are getting uncomfortably close to reality.

You will actually feel your IQ dropping as you read this gobbledygook.

Always wear a helmet.

These nutbags are going to be trouble if we win the election next year.

Some good info here on internet privacy.

Pope Francis claims he has no fear of a schism.

Sharpie-gate stinks of the mentality of 1984.  After the migrant border camps, "relocating" California's homeless would be the next logical step along the road to fascism.

Where do atheists get their morality?  Wrong question, but there's still an answer.

You never know who may be susceptible to suicide (NSFW images).

Christianity is cruel, heartless, and loathsome.

There is such a thing as a "pre-marital exam" for women -- in Utah, not Afghanistan.

A fossil site in North Dakota apparently preserves traces of the very day and hour of the meteor impact that killed the dinosaurs.  I'm a little skeptical since the work hasn't been verified by other paleontologists, but in any event these finds are dramatic.

Little ankle-biter shouldn't try to mess with a colossus like Darwin.

The Moon landings were pretty scary at the time.

See what technology can do for a man who lost both arms.

A new Japanese stem-cell treatment restores function to paralyzed limbs.  The article emphasizes concerns about how fast Japanese regulators approved the treatment -- but delay in treating paralysis causes great suffering, so that needs to be balanced against the risk.

Rain forests recover strongly from deforestation, if given a chance.

A new law in Australia bans Catholic priests from shielding child molesters, and they're already bitching about it.  Sorry guys, the house rules of your private club have no standing against actual law.

In Belgium, religionists rally to defend cruelty to animals.

To anti-Semites, everything is bad when Israel does it, even veganism.

Hong Kong protesters call upon the UK to pressure China to abide by its commitments (realistically, the UK has little ability to pressure China).

What exactly would "winning" mean in Afghanistan?

See analysis of the Democratic debate by The Hill, FiveThirtyEight, Vox, Stephen Colbert, Daily Kos, and MSM pundits, and by bloggers Tengrain and The Rude Pundit (but I disagree that O'Rourke running for Senate is still an option -- after his remark that "we're going to take your AR-15", he's likely no longer a viable candidate in Texas).

A tough ad calls out Moscow Mitch (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

We're scoring a lot of wins against gerrymandering.

Warren has got Wall Street scared shitless -- she must be doing something right.  Though she lags Biden in the polls, she's positioned to pick up more support as other candidates drop out, likely because she's perceived as more moderate than Sanders.

O'Rourke has given Republicans a talking point to rally their base for years to come. Of course, they can always just make shit up.

Instagram is a conduit for Russian election meddling, but Pinterest shows that countermeasures are possible.

Trump's foreign-policy shifts suggest he's getting nervous about the election.

The House Judiciary Committee took a step toward an impeachment inquiry, but don't expect an actual impeachment soon -- it would put a lot of House seats at risk.

More links here.

[969 days down, 493 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

Our true Western heritage

An index post for links to all my posts on this topic, since it's an important one.

Yes, it really was Christianity that destroyed Greco-Roman civilization and precipitated the Dark Ages.  It's an ugly and bloody story.

The greatness of that civilization, and the even more glorious world that should have been ours today.

My review of Agora, a film set during the final collapse.

The Persian Empire founded by Cyrus the Great was the world's first true superpower, and was an essential part of the rise of Classical civilization.

A short video on the Hellenistic scientist Eratosthenes, who correctly calculated both the circumference of the Earth and the distance between the Earth and the Sun.

My obituary for Hypatia of Alexandria.

The Abrahamic religions have divided what remains of our civilization against itself.

13 September 2019

Video of the day -- the comet

Europe's Rosetta space probe and its Philae lander spent two years studying comet Churyumov-Gerasimenko.  This video is assembled from images sent back by the mission.  Yes, you're looking at the landscape of a comet.  (The flat rectangular thing at around 0:40 is one of Rosetta's solar panels.)  Well worth fullscreen.  Found via Miss Cellania.

11 September 2019


For years now, there's been a rising level of discontent and alarm among traditionalist Catholics about the direction of the Church under Pope Francis.  His occasional hints at a reduced emphasis on the taboo against homosexuality, his suggestions of a more accepting stance toward the divorced and remarried, his recognition of the reality of global warming, and his moves toward dialogue with Protestantism and even Islam, do not sit well with them.  These reformist moves, especially as expressed in his 2016 document Amoris Laetitia, have encouraged liberal Catholic clergy (of whom there are many, at least in Western countries) to implement more tolerant stances in their own jurisdictions.  To traditionalist Catholics it all smacks of "modernism" (a seriously Bad Thing in their eyes), perhaps even heresy.

Recently their alarm has intensified further due to the "Amazon synod" a major meeting for Bishops of the Amazon region which is scheduled for October 6-27 in Rome.  Traditionalists claim that liberal Western (especially German) clergy plan to use the synod to implement various heretical innovations, such as married priests, in the Amazon region, from which they will inevitably spread throughout the Church globally.  The synod's main working document, the Instrumentum Laboris, has been accused of legitimizing indigenous paganism as equal or even superior to Christianity.  It is certainly full of annoying New-Agey woo-woo stuff.  Another preparatory document embraces a number of "heresies".  Two conservative cardinals have called the synod the greatest threat to the Church in its entire history -- and there are calls for them to go further than just talk.

If you read the comment threads at some of those links, you'll see how alarmed the traditionalists are.  As they see it, Francis and the liberal clergy are steering the Church onto a path of such profound heresy that, if they succeed, it will no longer represent true Christianity.  So far, their proposed responses mostly consist of praying and fasting and suchlike, but of course such measures will prove no more effective here than they have at stopping mass shootings or hurricanes.

If the Church eventually adopts doctrines too radical for the traditionalists to endure, what will they do?  Most of them realize they can't just wait for Francis to die and hope a more conservative Pope reverses everything -- of the 128 current Cardinals entitled to vote for a new Pope, 67 were appointed by Francis, making it likely that the next Pope will also be a reformist.  If the Church adopts doctrines the traditionalists view as heresy, they'll face an inescapable crisis.

I've seen some talk of schism.  It's hard to know what this would look like.  Catholic doctrine states that there is no salvation outside the Church, so simply leaving the Church and starting an explicitly new organization wouldn't be an option.  The traditionalists would have to be able to claim that whatever they were doing was the "true" Catholic Church, while the original (still in possession of the Vatican and the rest of the physical infrastructure) was not.  Presumably it would be possible to gin up something from among the Church's vast and labyrinthine aggregation of "teachings" to support this, especially if a few senior clergy joined the exodus.  Certainly the new "Catholic Church" and the original would denounce each other as heretics, schismatics, and all manner of other juicy epithets.

How significant such a move would be depends on how many traditionalists there are, which is hard to estimate.  In 1890, when the official Mormon Church renounced polygamy under pressure from the US government, some die-hard polygamists left the Church and established separate "fundamentalist" Mormon communities in remote areas.  Their numbers were so small, however, that this had little impact on the main-line Mormon Church.  It's hard to tell how many Catholics are so traditionalist that they could not stomach married priests or a full repudiation of the taboo on homosexuality or the various other looming innovations.  I'd guess their numbers are fairly small -- in the West.  But Christians in the Third World tend to be much more conservative, especially in Africa, where the Catholic Church has a substantial presence.  Globally, a real schism could have a serious impact.

Presumably Francis and the liberal clergy are trying to modernize the Church in order to make it more appealing in a rapidly-changing culture.  Catholicism, like most Christian sects, is hemorrhaging members in the West -- far more people are leaving than joining.  The Church seems to be reaching the limits of how far this modernization can go without driving traditionalists into open rebellion.  Ironically, it's unlikely that compromising on the taboo system will do much to stem the membership decline, most of which is driven by simple loss of belief.  But one can hope that a divided Catholic Church will prove less effective at exerting reactionary influence over our societies than it has been in the past.

10 September 2019

Saving the media

First, please read this post at Mock Paper Scissors from last week.  The traditional news media are struggling to find a business model that will keep them viable in the internet era.  Advertising managed for a while, but a lot of that has now migrated to other types of websites which offer advertisers better returns.  Now, as those of us who read a lot of news have noticed, many news sites are requiring paid subscriptions to access much or all of their content.  MPS observes that the revenues from this are unlikely to reach what these sites need to survive, and that "the media is silo'ing us" -- if everyone ends up getting their news from just a few sites they've bought subscriptions for, it will limit the range of information and viewpoints they can access.

It may be working for smaller news sites.  TPM, for example, seems to be having some success with its "Prime" system, in which about 20% of the content is accessible to paid subscribers only.  Could the same thing work for bigger operations like MSNBC and CNN?  Certainly their expenses are much larger, perhaps even relative to readership size.

In principle, I see no reason why a lot of people wouldn't be willing to pay.  In pre-internet days, people subscribed to newspapers and magazines -- enough did so to keep them afloat, anyway.  Most people probably subscribed to very few, but those were supplemented by TV news, which was free because it took paid ads and was subsidized by networks who made their real profits off of sitcoms and the like.

But it's certainly not a reader-friendly model.  It's too cumbersome.  There are at least couple dozen news sites I read fairly regularly.  I wouldn't even mind paying a little, but keeping track of a couple dozen passwords and having to log in every time I check a news site?  Too much work.  Also, I sometimes look at sites like RedState and NRO and Breitbart just to see what's making the rounds in Wingnuttia, but I'm certainly not going to pay them anything.  And all those subscriptions would add up.  $5 a month for access to a news site is one thing, but $5 each for every news site I look at would run over $100 a month, which would be a non-trivial expense for most people.

The problem of a multiplicity of paid sites is real.  A complaint I commonly see on Tumblr blogs is that internet TV streaming sites are proliferating in number because corporate owners want exclusive access to revenues from TV shows they own.  It was fine when there were just one or two sites to pay for to get access to most of what was out there, but when people have to subscribe to eight or nine streaming sites to get all their favorite shows, it's too much hassle and many are choosing to go back to pirating.

Perhaps a system could be devised where people would pay for an umbrella subscription service that would give access to many news sites, with the revenues being allocated to those sites on the basis of page views.  It's hard to imagine how this would work, though.

Another possible model is patronage.  Rich individuals or corporations could pay to keep news sites afloat.  But the dangers in this option are obvious.  Already a few corporate conglomerates own huge chunks of the MSM, posing a threat to their independence.

The best option I've been able to think of is some form of subsidy by government, accompanied by strict rules to prevent censorship or other interference in content.  If the free press is essential to democracy, then it's appropriate that it be treated as a public service and taxpayer-funded.  The BBC in the UK is government-subsidized and remains independent of the vagaries of party politics, and it's a vigorous and globally-respected institution.  PBS could form the nucleus of something similar here.

Of course, the Republicans for years have been trying to get rid of PBS, and if it became a major news site, they would certainly try to interfere with its content.  For the US, a better route might be to do something similar at the state level.  At least the larger states, like California and Texas, could provide their own mini-BBC news sites.  Since the internet makes content produced in one state equally accessible everywhere, people all over the US could see every state's news sites, guaranteeing access to a range of viewpoints.  If red states chose not to set up such sites because "soshulism!!!", their loss.

This would, at best, provide news sites with stable funding free of corporate influence.  It would not save the existing media which are now trying to survive by going to paid subscriptions.  It would, however, ameliorate the problem that most people would pay for only a few sites; their news intake would be supplemented by the state-funded sites, as people in pre-internet days supplemented their few newspaper and magazine subscriptions with free TV news.  Some states might even offer subsidies to some existing independent news services if there were no other way for the latter to survive -- but this would be radical even for the blue states, and choosing who qualified for subsidies would be a nightmare.

This isn't a perfect solution, but I don't think there is a perfect solution.  We need to be thinking about the problem, anyway.

A couple of final points:

First, the current situation where everybody has access to such a vast number of news sites for free is a product of the internet age -- for most of American history, news options were far more limited.  Right now I can look at literally hundreds of news sites from all over the US, and hundreds more in other countries, and most of them are free.  I'm old enough to remember when there was no internet and the news meant three or four free TV network programs, plus local TV news, plus whatever newspapers or magazines one could afford to pay for, which was not many (and access to non-US news was even more limited -- I used to buy German news magazines fairly regularly when I was studying the language, and that was not cheap).  So if most people end up "silo'ed" with three or four news sites they're willing to pay for plus free news on California's mini-BBC, we'll basically have just gone back to the situation as it was before the internet.  It won't be an unprecedented new constriction of access.

Second, technology is allowing information to spread in ways that entirely bypass the media.  The MSM have far less control over the flow of news than they did ten or twenty years ago. Blogs and discussion forums now reach enough people that information distributed there will eventually seep into the mass public mind, even if it takes longer than something that appears on MSNBC.  I've seen bloggers do original posts on events in their own local area, without reference to MSM sources.  I've known a few bloggers who even traveled to events to report on them in person.  Before the internet, those kinds of reports by an ordinary non-media person might at most have been distributed by mail to a few acquaintances.  Today they're instantly accessible worldwide and can be picked up by other blogs or forums which spread them to bigger audiences.  The fact that such reports may be less accurate than MSM reports doesn't negate the impact.  Then there's cell-phone video.  In recent years, many events have been captured on video by ordinary individuals on the scene who recorded them on their cell phones.  This has included events like riots, police brutality, even meteors.  In the old days, video of such events wouldn't exist, since by the time someone at a news organization heard what was going on and sent a reporter, the event would have been over.  So far from bloggers being dependent on MSM reporting to "jump-start" a story, the MSM and even the police often end up using some ordinary person's cell-phone video to show exactly what really happened.

The main benefit of this is that it makes censoring or spinning the news far more difficult.  But it also adumbrates what may become a new source of news, even if it's too haphazard to replace the MSM.  An ordinary person in Moscow or Hong Kong can film events there, upload the video to YouTube, and potentially reach as big an audience as a CNN report.  It's not the same thing CNN does, but that's not the point.  One way or another, the news is going to be out there, for those who seek it.

08 September 2019

Link round-up for 8 September 2019

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

o o o o o

This is the future liberals want.

Have some reptile cartoons.

Jabba the Hutt wants to molest your car.

You know what's going to happen here.

Justine's Halloween is already shopping for decorations.

Well, that's an incentive.

Typo of the week.

"All artists are guilty of the horny."

Where'd it go?

This was Carrie Fisher's house.

Somebody is idiotizing five-dollar bills.

"Jesus lives in my heart....."

Here's a remarkably smart and attentive dog.

This is me, but in the mornings.

RO looks at murder mysteries, car thieves, spiders, underwear, Reno, and a bunch of other stuff.

Whoever programmed this system was an idiot -- read the replies too (found via Miss Cellania).

"Be a freak and love yourself for it."

Pence is the quintessential Republican.

Is shopping for women's clothes really this bad?

See the Northern Lights over Iceland.

There's nothing wrong with "sounding gay" (whatever that even means).

Nine lives.....

The Catholic Church obsessively disapproves of one of the most harmless of all human activities.

Debra She Who Seeks has some reminders for Labor Day.  Here's one more.  Padre Steve looks at history.

Summertime brings assholes.

"In place of the nothing there is me / And always was."  Seriously, read this.

The internet still can't replace libraries.

The ICE raids in Mississippi have had some ripple effects.

This is both-siderism in a nutshell.

Facebook makes you sick.  So does pessimism.

Dorian was God punishing the Bahamas.

The corporate types are starting to believe their own bullshit, apparently.

Trump is scamming his marks with sharpie-gate.  And he's inspiring others.

There's a rich history of freedom from religion among black Americans.

Besides Verizon and its stupid rules, Tumblr has a problem with toxic culture (see last parts of post).

According to Mozilla, the current version of Firefox blocks tracking cookies.

Mall-Wart makes things tougher for poorer gun owners.

This particular scam is hard to avoid.

The blogs I Should Be Laughing and Lo Imprescindible express opposing views on naming-and-shaming Trump donors.

Millions of people believe they're surrounded by warring legions of invisible spooks (read the comments too).

What if Hitler had been assassinated in 1930?

Moscow Mitch is a hypocrite.  But you knew that.  And here's why he hates his new moniker.

Even within the US, supporters of the Beijing regime behave like thugs.

Times have changed.

Trumpanzees fall disgracefully silent about Trump's latest attack on military families.

Keeping teens ignorant about sexuality can only do harm.

Private ISPs had their chance -- it's time to nationalize the internet.

"It's not 'future liberals want' it's 'people conservatives want to eradicate'."  Notice the swastika avatar among the "likes" on the original post.

Fox News tells the truth for once; Trump throws a hissy fit.  His aides are more and more worried about his mental stability.

A bad enough diet can have serious consequences.

Here's a report from that "straight pride parade" in Boston.  Charges against arrested counter-protesters are being upheld.

Professor Chaos reports on that Catholic school which banned Harry Potter because they think it's real witchcraft.  Yes, the Catholic Church still has exorcists and the ritual still exists; exorcists have been ranting against Harry Potter for some time, and He Who Zings Rats has agreed.

A flagrantly anti-Semitic judge cannot give a Jewish defendant a fair trial.

Abuse can happen to anyone.

Privileging religious bigotry against gays opens the door for racism too.  The venue's apology is kind of weird -- generations of slave-owners and segregationists had no difficulty finding justification for their views in the Bible.  I think this person just freaked out at the backlash and wanted a pretext to back down.

No, the Amazon is not "the lungs of the planet", and no, it does not produce 20% of the world's oxygenMore here from an atmospheric scientist.  These fires are a real problem, but talking easily-refuted nonsense isn't helping anything.

India's lunar lander appears to have failed, though the orbiter part of the mission carries on.

Suicide is much more common in regions at high elevation.

Offshore wind farms are enhancing biodiversity.

Brain scans are helping us understand how dogs really think.

There's an art to taking naps.

A minor mystery about T-Rex skulls may have been solved.

The BAT can harvest wind energy from high in the sky.

In the UK, the enemies of democracy and independence have stopped a move to hold a new election.  A new election would likely produce an increased Conservative majority and thus ease the path to Brexit -- but the people must not be heard if they'd vote against what the pro-EU elites want.  Still, Johnson has some options.  His decisiveness after three years of fiddle-faddling around has probably improved the party's chances.  And May's Brexit deal may be back on the table.

At a tense political moment in the UK, a defector from the Conservative party proves toxic.

Iceland greets PenceMore here.

Demographic changes are forcing Hezbollah to be more restrained.

In Beirut, stand-up comedy pushes the envelope.

Call this what it is -- Islamic barbarism.

To handle the Middle East, we need to deal with Iran.

The return of theocracy to Afghanistan would be a disaster for women.

Indian authorities harass journalists as part of their media black-out in Kashmir.

China exports dirty coal power technology that exacerbates global warming.

The Indonesian government is blocking the internet as it tries to crush the independence movement in western Papua.

Days of mob violence and looting against foreigners in South Africa have led to reprisals against South Africans in Nigeria and a widening breach in relations between the two countries.

There are more fires raging in Africa right now than in the Amazon.

Joni Ernst doesn't understand democracy.  I wouldn't trust her with Social Security either.

Trump is the party, the party is Trump.

Here's an overview of Senate races where we have a shot.

Republicans are especially afraid of losing state legislatures next year.

O'Rourke and Abrams need to put ego aside and do the right thing.

Don't be misled by crowd sizes.

Marianne Williamson joins the right-wing "pray away hurricanes" crackpottery.  She deleted that tweet, but has also blamed mass shootings on entertainment media and video games.  Why doesn't this nutjob just run as a Republican?

Trump's response to the slowing economy is to bash the media and Democrats, perhaps laying the groundwork for a Dolchstoßlegende in case he loses next year.

Texas Republicans worry about their grip on the state.  The issue isn't so much Latinos, it's immigration of more liberal voters from other parts of the US.

Tribal leaders are determined to protect the vote in North Carolina next week.

In a milestone, the Democratic party explicitly embraces non-religious Americans.  I guess there are finally too many of us to ignore.

Here's Republican policy, summed up.

Inslee won't be President, but Warren has adopted his climate plan.

More links here.