31 October 2019

Link mini-round-up for Halloween

See Halloween images, some Halloween cosplay, and Halloween cartoons -- more cartoons here.

Some rather creepier images here.

There must, of course, be Halloween cats.

Lady M attended the Emma Crawford Coffin Race, and has pictures of the winners -- also more local skeletons and pumpkin sculptures, and even a pumpkin mini-village.

Professor Taboo invokes Shakespeare.

Highbury Cemetery has a few reflections.

Remember what it was like for kids in a more "innocent" time.

This band's style is perhaps suited to the season.

A tree serves as a Halloween advent calendar.

This town has all the pumpkins you could ever want.

For Americans, Halloween is a respite from the way things usually are.  To some, it has deeper meanings.

Of course there are the usual killjoys, but who cares. Don't let them mess it up.

Every day is Halloween.

I posted on the origins of the holiday here.

[Image at top found via Dr. Theda]

29 October 2019

The death of an evil man

Abû Bakr al-Baghdâdî, leader of Dâ'ish (ISIL), has been killed in an attack by US forces in Syria.  The Middle East and the world in general is a much better place without him.

It is worth remembering how Dâ'ish behaved under al-Baghdâdî's leadership.  They slaughtered Shi'ites en masse and posted pictures on the internet boasting about it.  They massacred countless Yazidis, many by burying them alive in the desert, and reduced thousands of others to slavery, based on an ignorant Sunni belief that the Yazidi religion is a form of Devil-worship.  They burned a captured Jordanian fighter pilot, Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, alive in a cage and proudly posted a video of that atrocity on the internet as well.  They imposed the death penalty for homosexuality by throwing gay men from the tops of high buildings (an actual such execution is shown above).  They destroyed priceless relics of the pre-Islamic past.  They openly boasted about formally restoring the institution of slavery.  The men of Dâ'ish may well be the most deeply religious people in the modern world.

So whatever the circumstances of al-Baghdâdî's death, he more than deserved it.  And it may do some lasting good.  Groups like Dâ'ish are prone to factionalism.  If rivalries for leadership produce divisions or infighting, so much the better.

But I can't give Trump any kudos.  His earlier abrupt withdrawal from Syria disrupted preparation for the mission and forced the military to act before they were fully ready, increasing the risk.  His rambling announcement was laced with bizarre and ugly rhetoric* likely to incite attacks on Americans, and foolishly gave away information** which would be of value to Dâ'ish, including endangering a possible human-intelligence source in their midst.  And as he himself insisted at the time of bin Laden's assassination, the real credit in such cases goes to the soldiers who put themselves at risk to carry out the operation.  Any Western leader would have given the order to kill al-Baghdâdî, given the opportunity.

He also claimed credit for having destroyed Dâ'ish's state, its "caliphate", which was actually done mostly by the Kurds and allied Arab forces, with some help from the US, Iran and other countries.

But Trump's role is a side issue.  I am glad for the death of an utter monster, a small piece of good news in a tormented land where good news has lately been in desperately short supply.

*Found via Green Eagle

**Found via Nan's Notebook

27 October 2019

A request

[Don't worry, the usual link round-up is posted -- it's right below this.]

In thirteen years of blogging I've never asked readers for donations before, but I'm in circumstances in which they would be helpful.  I've finally found a new job, but it doesn't actually start until early November, and I won't get the first paycheck until substantially after that.  There have been some expenses I was able to postpone paying while I was out of work, but they'll need to be paid now.  And of course there's been all the usual stuff like rent and the internet connection which enables me to do this blog.

I've added a "donate" button in the sidebar at the right.  If you like what I do and can spare a few bucks, I'd appreciate it.

Link round-up for 27 October 2019

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

o o o o o

Cats, cats, cats!  Also Halloween cats.

Pumpkins follow the spirit of the times.

Debra She Who Seeks goes all out for Halloween.

This is not the right way to get rid of ants.

Success can take different forms.

Now this is just mean.

Here's how true artists carve pumpkins.  Samantha Bee finds a pumpkin that needs no carving (slightly NSFW).

What if JFK was like Trump?

Dave Allen contemplates Adam and Eve.

Choose eco-friendly Halloween decorations (found via Mendip).

These fine houses are tasty to see.

Plowing through Life is back with some haunting cartoons.

Denver's Botanical Gardens observe the season.

百鬼夜行 ("hundred demon night march") is Japan's answer to Halloween.

Today is National Black Cat Day.

Poor Giuliani, betrayed by his own ass.

Normal.....like a psychopath.

Everyone has a right to their own opinion.

Here are some Halloween wallpapers for your computer.  Have some Halloween music too.

The Mist features effective depictions of two different forms of horror, one of them very real.

Don't be a Halloween meanie.

If you like Lovecraft, you may like Clark Ashton Smith as well.

There is such a thing as boringization.

"Surrender of individuality.....explains the retrograde movement of society."

Ernst and Young seems a bit confused about what century this is.

The New York Crank has some political awards.

The "mindfulness" fad is basically a scam.

Trump's name has become toxic for business.

Buying fancy showy stuff won't make you popular.

Fight back with an adversarial jacket.

I guess I'm not the only one who sees no need for a smartphone.

Rep. Katie Porter grills Mark Zuckerberg to perfection.

For some fundies, wearing pants is a huge issue.

Cartoonists have a field day with Republican venality.

The wingnuts will never stop lying about Hillary, and about everything else.

The divide between Republicans and Democrats is increasingly a religious one.

Ask the essential question about the cost of Medicare-for-all.

If somebody grabs you.....

The death of a baby triggers a wave of toxic religious behavior.

Insurance companies are ruining US healthcare.

There is no third way between sanity and madness.

Get back to work, never mind if your co-workers are dropping dead.

Darwinfish 2 has more Republican and media hypocrisy, and a tribute to Elijah Cummings.

The Trump gang is now openly weaponizing the justice system to persecute political opponents.

Here's some advice on choosing a VPN.

Scientific American has questions about the safety of 5G technology.

The administrator of NASA speaks out against the most wicked heresy of our times.

A dead whale makes a bonanza for ocean-floor critters.

Don't worry about the Yellowstone supervolcano.

Trudeau will stick around in office longer (probably) than Trump.

Google tries to squelch interest in unionization among its Swiss employees.

There's evidence that Turkey is using white phosphorus against civilians in northern Syria.  Trump has made the US complicit in ethnic cleansing.

Nusrat Jahan was burned alive for refusing to retract an attempted-rape complaint against the head of a religious school.

If you're hazy about how impeachment works, here's a flowchart.

The MSM are going into distraction mode.  Barr's "investigation" of the Russiagate investigation is another distraction, right from the rotting head of the fish.

Biden and Warren both have problems they need to address.

Know which Trumpanzees are unreachable.

When they go low, we get high.

The Senate is winnable, barely.

Refusing to vote is not "making a statement".

Remember how each party wins.

Green Eagle, Lo Imprescindible, and David E look at the Gabbard controversy.

More links here.

[1,011 days down, 451 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

25 October 2019

Lives within lives

Life on this world takes many forms, and science sometimes discovers ways of living which are as strange and fascinating as anything one might expect to encounter on an alien planet.  Consider the case of Mixotricha paradoxa.

Mixotricha is a protozoan -- a microscopic one-celled organism (there are many species of protozoa, amoebas being another example).  Under the microscope, it appears vaguely pear-shaped, covered with about 250,000 "cilia" -- tiny hair-like growths which wave in a synchronized way to propel it through its environment.  (That environment itself is of some interest, but I'll get to that in a moment).  Many protozoa have cilia, but Mixotricha is different.  Its cilia are not really cilia.  They are separate organisms, bacteria of the "spirochete" type, long and thin and active.  These spirochete bacteria are attached to the surface of the Mixotricha by brackets and are symbiotic with it.  They have been compared to rowers propelling a ship.

You might be surprised that 250,000 bacteria could be attached to one protozoan; however, even though bacteria and protozoa are both microscopic one-celled organisms, there is a tremendous difference in size between them.

There exist on Earth two types of cells.  The "prokaryotic" type is tiny and simple, without much internal structure; the "eukaryotic" type is far larger, with very complex internal structure including a distinct nucleus.  Bacteria, and a class of similar organisms called "archaea", are prokaryotic cells.  Protozoa are eukaryotic cells.  All multi-cellular organisms -- animals (including humans), plants, fungi, etc. -- are made of eukaryotic cells.

Aside from the spirochetes, three other species of bacteria are symbiotic with Mixotricha, living on or even inside it, performing a variety of functions without which it could not survive, such as extracting energy from the nutrients which it absorbs from its environment.

(It's now believed, by the way, that eukaryotic cells first arose as symbiotic combinations of the original, simpler prokaryotic cells.  Modern animal cells contain small fuel-processing bodies called mitochondria, which have their own DNA and whose "ancestors" must have been bacteria which became symbiotic with larger cells billions of years ago and ended up being absorbed by them.  The same is true of the chloroplasts (photosynthesizing bodies) within plant cells.  Mixotricha's symbiotic relationships may resemble the arrangements which gave rise to eukaryotic cells in the first place.)

Mixotricha are not solitary creatures; they swarm through their environment in great numbers.  And each individual one of them is, as we have seen, host to a whole community of hundreds of thousands of bacteria.

And what is that environment in which these Mixotricha live?  It is the digestive tract of a termite -- specifically, a termite of a species native to northern Australia.  You probably know that termites cannot, on their own, digest the wood they eat; they depend on micro-organisms inside their digestive systems to do it for them.  Mixotricha is one such micro-organism.  (Different species of termites use different species of microscopic helpers.)

Termites, of course, are social insects, living in colonies of millions.  Most of the termites in such a colony are sterile, with the few "queen" termites functioning as egg-laying machines.  Rather than viewing each termite as an individual, it's probably more correct to think of an entire colony as a super-organism, with the "queens" being analogous to stem cells which replenish the colony's numbers to replace worker termites as they die off; and the flying termites which occasionally leave to start new colonies are the super-organism's reproductive organs, or spores.

So that super-organism consists of millions of individual termites, each of which contains countless Mixotricha in its gut, each of which in turn is host to hundreds of thousands of symbiotic bacteria.

Lives within lives within lives within lives.....

23 October 2019

Video of the day -- land of inefficiency and corruption

Another aspect of the devolution of the United States toward Third World status.  And no, Trump had nothing to do with creating this problem.

22 October 2019

A spiritual skirmish

The Catholic Church's Amazon synod (I discussed its significance here) has been underway at the Vatican for more than two weeks now and will conclude on October 27.  Reporting on the synod's deliberations has been sporadic and murky, but there has been plenty to stoke traditionalist Catholics' fears that "heretical" changes, such as married priests, women priests, and a more accepting stance toward gays and the divorced-and-remarried, are indeed being discussed.  The synod has advisory powers only, and the final decision on any such changes will be made by the Pope; but the synod has been promoted as an event of great importance in the Church, and its recommendations will carry great weight.

Much of the traditionalists' angst, however, has been focused on a ritual which was performed in the Vatican gardens at the beginning of the synod.  This involved several Amazonian natives in traditional headdresses including a "shaman", who prostrated themselves around a blanket scattered with various symbolic objects including two carved wooden statuettes of pregnant women.  There was also a tree-planting.  Several high-ranking Catholic clerics, including the Pope, were present.  It all appeared very pagan, and traditionalists reacted with horror to such a spectacle unfolding within the sacred precincts of the Vatican.

Particular concern has focused on the pregnant statuettes, several of which are now set up in various places in the Vatican.  Synod officials have been vague about what they represent, but they're widely believed to be idols of "Pachamama", a "Mother Earth" goddess worshiped in a number of native Amazonian cultures.  Comment threads on traditionalist Catholic sites have been rife with calls for them to be removed from the Vatican and destroyed -- by force and against the will of Church officials, if necessary.

Well, yesterday these calls were answered.  Two men entered the church of Santa Maria Transpontina near St. Peter's Basilica, removed five of the statuettes, and threw them in the Tiber river.  They posted a video of the act and a short statement reading in part "Our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ, his Blessed Mother, and everybody who follows Christ, are being attacked by members of our own Church.  We do not accept this!  We do not longer stay silent!  We start to act NOW!"

The Vatican has rebuked the theft and a moderate Catholic writer called it "violent and intolerant", but commenters on postings at traditionalist sites like Church Militant (up to 585 comments as I write this) and LifeSite News (247 comments) have mostly been jubilant, praising the men's action and calling for the newly-planted tree to be killed as well.

What looks to most of us atheists like a squabble over bad Halloween decorations is, to the traditionalists, part of an epic battle between the one true religion and the forces of the demonic (many conservative Christians believe that the gods of non-Abrahamic religions are actually demons, playing the role of gods in order to lead their devotees into damnation).  They believe that the Catholic Church is the one true way, established by Jesus himself, for humans to achieve salvation and avoid Hell -- and that this Church is under systematic attack by evil forces determined to subvert and destroy it via modernism, ecumenism, and heretical changes in doctrine.  Many consider the majority of the Church hierarchy and even the current Pope to be in league with those forces, an alarming situation indeed, if one really believes that the stakes include the risk of hundreds of millions of people ending up in Hell for all eternity.

These conflicts are important.  The Catholic Church is an immensely powerful global institution which exercises a profound and mostly malignant influence over the politics and culture of dozens of countries.  The future magnitude and direction of that influence will strongly depend on whether the Church ends up becoming more liberal, or lurching backward toward the traditionalists' rigid views, or (as seems most likely) becoming viciously and perhaps even violently divided against itself.  Yesterday's theft may prove to be the opening skirmish of a long internal struggle for power, perhaps even a schism.  This will indeed impact the lives of hundreds of millions -- in the real world, not an imaginary Hell.

20 October 2019

Link round-up for 20 October 2019

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

o o o o o

Greco-Roman mythology has its amusing side.

Consider yourself warned.

Thinking of becoming a witch?  Here's everything you'll need.  But some go modern.

Discourage excessive bathroom breaks with specialty toilet paper.

Read Trump's letter to Santa.

I challenge you to look at this image and not at least snicker.

This is not dinner.

"I know what you are."

What's the difference between a chickpea and a garbanzo bean?

Meet hurricane shark, who really gets around.

It's Chumbawamba with penguins (found via Georgia Girl).

Halloween is on the attack.

Miniaturopolis is back and getting ready for the season.

Linus from Peanuts finally found the right pumpkin patch.

Vampires, vampires everywhere!

See more on the rich skeletal culture of Manitou Springs, CO.  Lots more here too, plus video.

Further decorations here, some with a Dia de los Muertos flavor.

Have some spooky album covers for Halloween.

Check out these creepy production stills from the 1920 horror film Häxan (found via Mendip).

Some Halloween decorations get a little over the top.

Mastodon turds helped shape the biology of modern Georgia.

I understand wanting to leave work early, but this is ridiculous.

".....no price is too high to pay for the privilege of owning yourself."

Here's a thoughtful listing of the top 100 horror movies of all time -- actually 101, since they count both versions of The Fly as one.

This weather report isn't messing around.

American ship, Russian ship, whatever.

Only 65% of Americans now self-identify as Christian -- less than two-thirds -- down from 78% just twelve years ago.  Non-religious people now outnumber Catholics in the US.

Writing teachers review Trump's letter to Erdoğan.

No, The Joker is not going to inspire real-world violence.

If you still eat meat, read this.

If you use TikTok, read this.

There are grounds to suspect Trump of Sudafed abuse.

Sheila Morris wasn't too impressed with the debate.

Ken Ham's "Ark Encounter" is just a boring, overpriced tour of a building full of signs on walls.

AG Bill Barr takes a stand against the First Amendment.

Don't use TurboTax.

These people exist.

States can still defend net neutrality despite the Trump FCC's betrayal.

Columbus Day is nothing to celebrate.

See how the tax rate paid by the ultra-wealthy has fallen since 1950 in the US, now lower than that of any other income group.

Trump is dumbing down America by allowing religion to invade education.

Darwinfish 2 looks at right-wing hypocrisy of the past, present, and future.

See Trump confront a supporter of the Kurds.

Churches have become a privileged class of business, preaching hate while being exempted from taxes and laws that apply to everyone else.

The Trump Trot is a simple but effective strategy for getting away with countless crimes.

Evangelicals respond venomously to the death of Rep. Cummings.  Here are more conservative reactions.

Here's a non-drug anti-pain device I hadn't heard of before.

"Regenerative farming" is helping bee populations recover.

Gorillas eat things their teeth aren't suited for.  Maybe early humans did, too.

Is napping good for you?  It's a grey area.

Looks like Bedbug Grand Central won't be hosting the G-7 after all.

Anti-gay Chick-fil-A couldn't make it in the UK.  No room there for this scam either.

Get it done:  The British public now supports leaving the EU by an 8-point margin -- twice as large as the margin in the Brexit referendum of 2016.  Johnson has negotiated a new exit deal with the EU, but needs approval from Parliament, some members of which are still trying to drag the process out.

London commuters have had enough of being harassed by assholes.

Chamberlain's 1938 capitulation to Hitler was rooted in conservative values.

Trump's deal with Erdoğan was a surrender.  Will the media recognize it as such?

The role of women in the Kurdish struggle has long been unusual for the Middle East.

Despite being illegal, fetal gender testing for the purpose of selectively aborting girls remains popular in China.

Rape, forced abortion, and other abuses are common treatment for minority women held in China's concentration camps.

Students in this Islamic school got a good education in what religion is all about.

Trump has truly made the Republican party his ownAnti-Trump Republicans do exist, but not where it counts.  Still, the alienation of younger Evangelicals will be significant longer-term.

Support for a public option is at 73% and rising.  Abolition of private insurance is far less popular.  We'd be smart to run on the former, not the latter.

Surface area doesn't vote, people do.

Trump's bullying of subordinates is coming back to haunt him.

Moscow Mitch will hold an impeachment trial to protect purple-state Republican Senators.  A few may even be "allowed" to vote for removal, as long as they don't reach the magic 20.

Removing Trump via the 25th Amendment would be harder than impeachment.

On the Gabbard issue, Hillary knows what she's talking about.  She was smart to avoid naming names.  And there's supporting evidence, while Gabbard is oddly evasive.

Pelosi shows once again that she's the adult in the room in Washington.

If Trump is removed from office, who gets the Republican nomination for next year's election?

More links here.

[Image at top found via Hackwhackers]

18 October 2019

Quote for the day -- culture war

"First is the force, fervor, and comprehensiveness of the assault on religion we are experiencing today.  This is not decay; it is organized destruction.  Secularists, and their allies among the 'progressives,' have marshaled all the force of mass communications, popular culture, the entertainment industry, and academia in an unremitting assault on religion and traditional values."

-- Trumpist AG William Barr

Yes, unlike in the days when "religion and traditional values" were in power.  Back then, they never used things like popular culture and entertainment against us.  They just used torture and burning at the stake.  Don't talk to me about "organized destruction".  I long ago lost all patience with these people's bitching about how persecuted they are because they can no longer force everybody else to conform to their taboos.

17 October 2019


Found via this post by Bruce Gerencser, who also links to this Snopes page verifying the information and giving more details on Columbus's enslavement of the Caribbean natives.  Columbus was actually removed from his post as governor of Spain's territories in the Americas on grounds of excessive brutality -- meaning that his atrocities went beyond even what was accepted as normal by the standards of the era.

It's past time to recognize that we shouldn't have a holiday celebrating this guy.

16 October 2019

Nuclear world

We associate the possession of nuclear weapons with superpower status.  The US and Russia have by far the largest nuclear arsenals, while Britain, France, and China also maintain respectable stockpiles.  When India tested its first atomic bomb, this was understood as, in part, expressing an aspiration to be recognized as a great power.  The fact that a few lesser states such as Israel, Pakistan, and North Korea have nuclear bombs, and past efforts of countries like Iran or South Africa to build them, strike us as worrying deviations from the norm, as "proliferation" which needs to be constrained.

If you think about it, though, this situation is decidedly odd.  Logically, one would expect that almost every technologically-capable country -- seventy or eighty countries at least -- would have nuclear weapons.

Nuclear weapons are not difficult for a reasonably-advanced, moderately-prosperous country to build.  The technology of Hiroshima-style fission bombs is now 74 years old, and H-bombs (typically several hundred times as powerful) are almost as old.  The necessary science and engineering are widely understood.

The H-bomb is the ultimate peace-keeping mechanism.  Nothing else in history has been so effective at preventing large-scale conventional wars.  Take Israel, for example.  From the country's independence in 1948 through 1974, a 26-year period, the surrounding Arab countries launched several wars aimed at overrunning and destroying it.  From 1974 until today, a 45-year period, no further such wars have happened, though terrorism has persisted.  What changed?  It became generally known that Israel had a substantial nuclear arsenal (actually the first bomb was probably built in 1967, but it takes time to develop a large force and delivery systems).  Since then Israel has built probably around 200 warheads, which are deployed on submarines, meaning they would survive even if Israel were destroyed, so they could still retaliate.  No sane government would start an all-out war with Israel.  What's the point of starting a war when winning would mean getting annihilated?

There are plenty of other cases where one would logically expect countries to build nuclear bombs as a deterrent.  Japan, South Korea, and Taiwan all face a potentially serious threat from Chinese expansionism and North Korean belligerence; all three are highly technologically advanced and could easily build substantial nuclear arsenals.  Saudi Arabia and Iran maintain a bitter rivalry; each side could deter an attack from the other with nuclear weapons.  Two dozen countries in Europe have faced an existential threat from the USSR during the Cold War and from Russia today, and the majority of those countries are nuclear-capable.  The world is full of local rivalries or tense situations -- Greece-Turkey, Brazil-Argentina, Indonesia-Australia, etc. -- which at various times might logically have motivated both sides to seek the ultimate deterrent.

Remember, you don't need a huge arsenal to deter even a superpower.  Not even Russia or the US would be likely to invade a country that could wipe out, say, just five major Russian or US cities.  Notice how there is no credible threat of a US military attack on North Korea, which has a few nuclear bombs, but such threats have been frequent against Iran, which has none.  Every other government on Earth can see this and grasp the implications.

So why don't we live in a world with dozens of nuclear-armed countries?  Non-proliferation efforts have played a role, but what allowed such efforts to work was the availability of an alternate means of establishing security -- guarantees or informal agreements from the US.  The East Asian democracies and most western European countries didn't build their own nuclear weapons because they were assured of the shelter of the US "nuclear umbrella" -- US military protection, and if necessary nuclear retaliation, if they were attacked.  The exceptions prove the rule.  Pakistan has never had such a credible guarantee in case of war with India; Israel, after the Holocaust, would never allow itself to depend on others for security; and the US has no conceivable interest in protecting North Korea.

But the current system only works as long as other countries -- potential aggressors as well as countries which accept our protection -- regard US guarantees as credible.  This is the real reason why Trump's shredding of relationships with our allies, and repeated questioning of long-established alliances, is so important.

If you were a Taiwanese leader or defense official, with Taiwan's security in case of a future Chinese invasion threat as your top concern, would you feel comfortable relying on US help, the way Trump has been talking and behaving?  Or would you be more and more conscious that an independent Taiwanese nuclear arsenal, if it were large enough to credibly threaten even a few major Chinese targets, would reliably deter the threat indefinitely without any further need for foreign help?  How about Ukraine?  That country has never been offered security guarantees, and recently Russia has seized two substantial parts of its territory.  If it had had nuclear weapons all along, that would not have happened; if it built them now, it could secure what it still has.  Finland?  Estonia?  I don't know whether such small countries could afford a nuclear program, but if they could, or could acquire bombs in some other way, it would be the one thing able to completely eliminate the threat of conquest and enslavement.

It would be astonishing if secret discussions along these lines were not already happening in quite a few capitals.  If Trump is re-elected, and perhaps even before the election in some cases, talk could well flow into action.

Even if Trump loses next year, things will not just "go back to normal".  Other countries worry that if the US elected Trump once, it might elect someone like him again.  In the long run, a world with far more nuclear-armed states may be Trump's most important legacy.

14 October 2019

A small step in the right direction

Trump today ordered some economic sanctions on Turkey, with more to come soon, to pressure that country to relent from its invasion of Syria.  This is the first concrete action anyone in the West has taken to help the embattled Syrian Kurds -- Congress has been considering imposing sanctions too, but it's now five days since the beginning of the invasion and they have not acted; and most other countries are just issuing verbal condemnations, as useless as "thoughts and prayers".  So, I give Trump credit where it is due.  Such credit must be limited, however, since it was Trump's own precipitous and ill-advised troop withdrawal that allowed Turkish president Erdoğan to launch the invasion in the first place.

The Syrian Kurdish leadership had already taken action on its own to fend off devastation in the wake of the American betrayal -- by forging a quick alliance with the Asad regime.  This means the Kurds will get the support of Syria's regular national army, while the regime will get the chance to re-establish its rule over the northeast, a major region which has been out of its control for years.  Even the Syrian army is not a match for Turkey's forces, but it is supported by Russia, and will at least be able to resist the Turks more effectively than the Kurds could alone.

This alliance is a setback for US policy, since the US opposes the Asad regime.  However, I've long believed that an Asad victory is the least-bad plausible way for the Syrian civil war to end.  It isn't a good option -- the regime is hideously brutal -- but this is Syria we're talking about, and there aren't any really good options (I discussed Syria's complex demographics and internal tensions here).  The Asad regime does, at least, have a track record of protecting religious minorities from persecution by the Sunni majority.  Aside from the Kurds -- who are interested only in liberating their own region, not in ruling all of Syria -- most of the forces opposing the regime are Sunni extremists of various stripes, whose victory would portend vicious persecution and perhaps genocide of other religions and sects.

So there is some chance that the Kurds will be able to save themselves, and that the seven-year-old Syrian civil war will move a little closer to its end.  But at least several dozen (and probably far more) people have already been killed by the Turkish attack, and there have been reports of escapes of Dâ'ish (ISIL) prisoners held by the Kurds.  And the Kurdish region will certainly lose its quasi-independence, since the Asad regime will have its army in place to assert control if the Turks withdraw.

This could have been avoided if Trump had paid attention to his advisers and military leaders and not abandoned the Kurds in the first place.  Our job as Americans, next year, will be to elect a president who can manage foreign policy competently.  The rest of the world cannot afford to have an entity as powerful as the US operate by random blundering like this.

Update (Tuesday):  Some European countries have imposed an arms embargo on Turkey.  The US Congress is still dithering around and appears to be getting distracted from sanctions by talk of a meaningless joint resolution verbally reprimanding Trump.

[Image at top:  Homs, Syria's third-largest city, showing the destruction inflicted by years of civil war.  See also the video here.]

13 October 2019

Link round-up for 13 October 2019

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

o o o o o

Have some visual puns.


This person is probably still waiting to get her e-mail.

Worst robber ever.

It's a cat Halloween.  And these cats are even color-coordinated.

Drive the new Kardashian car.

I see faces.....

Avoid playing Monopoly with this family.

Manitou Springs, CO makes imaginative use of skeletons.

Now this is a creepy pumpkin.  Get ceramic ones here.  See a few more seasonal images.

She's riding half a horse.

Baby chameleons are very small.

It's generally unwise to set yourself on fire.

I suspect machine translation.

It's a meeting that's meant to be.

Cinderella strikes back!

An incel posts an incredible rant about dong size (I wonder if all the unnecessary capital letters are "compensation").

One man's unrequited passion led to sad consequences.

If you are a Christian, this post is soliciting your responses.

Max's Dad reviews The Joker.

Flag-burning is OK in this case.

Trumpanzees engage in distraction, badly.

This Christian college operates a lot like a totalitarian state.

Trump and his gang are basically comic-book villains.  But the evidence against him is now pouring out into the open.

You don't need to waste your life.

Nan's Notebook looks at a Trumpanzee blog, more moderate than most.

Sorry, guys, a certain amount of mockery comes with the territory when you live in a free society.

Apparently ghost hunting is a thing (found via Mendip).  How do you mount a ghost's head on your wall?

King David was a grab-'em-by-the-pussy kind of guy.

Hysterical Raisins thinks there's more to Shepard Smith's departure than meets the eye.

Beware of counselors who aren't really counselors.

Don't romanticize the rejection of modernity.

Here's why most Republicans aren't keen on replacing Trump with Pence.

This trend is unsustainable -- we need to start doing things differently.

How exactly did Parnas and Fruman know they needed to flee the country?

These people exist.

After this battle, some soldiers' wounds glowed in the dark (found via Mendip).

As an architect, Leonardo da Vinci was 300 years ahead of his time.

Here are a few things you can do about colds and flu.

Modern technology may enable us to read scrolls from Pompeii and Herculaneum which were charred in the Vesuvius eruption almost 2,000 years ago.

Vote in accordance with our taboo system, or burn in Hell.

The UK and Ireland are working toward a solution for their common border, one of the main sticking points about Brexit.

At the Amazon synod, a pagan ritual within the Vatican is freaking out the true believers.  A battle between tradition and political correctness is in full swing.

This is what theocracy looks like.

The Kurdish territory in northern Syria has a surprisingly advanced system of decentralized democracy (first link found via Big Bad Bald Bastard).

A US soldier in Syria voices the shame of Trump's betrayal.  The leader of Syria's Kurds is considering turning to Asad or Russia.

What did you do in the war, Turkey?

Legislators in Uganda are trying again to institute the death penalty for homosexuality.  Hostility to gays has always been pervasive in Sub-Saharan Africa, where more tolerant attitudes are widely viewed as an alien and unwanted cultural contamination from the West.

Planned Parenthood understands how much is at stake in the coming election.

A politician's age and related infirmity are a legitimate election issue.

No, Warren was not "caught in a lie" about the fired-for-pregnancy story.

Republican attacks on Schiff are manufactured rubbish.

Always remember, Trump really doesn't know what he's doing.

Warren is serious about opposing the power of big money in politics.  If she's nominated, it might result in freeing the party from its main source of corruption.

Trump: "a sociopathic monster with a fossilized buffalo turd for a soul".

More links here.

[997 days down, 465 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

11 October 2019

Betrayal (2)

Stung by widespread condemnation of his betrayal of the Syrian Kurds, Trump recently observed that the Kurds didn't help the US during the Normandy invasion or World War II in general -- implying that they aren't really much of an ally and we shouldn't worry about standing by them.

This has got to be his most asinine statement yet.  The Kurds have never had a recognized independent state of their own which could develop the capacity to project military power at a distance; their territory has always been ruled by others.  During World War II, Iraq and Syria, including the Kurdish areas within them, were mandatory colonial possessions of the British and French empires respectively.  There was no independent Kurdish state or government that could have participated in the war.

In fact, the British recruited soldiers from their colonized peoples, so it may well be that some individual Kurds did fight in World War II under the British flag.

(Turkey, which was an independent sovereign state during World War II, remained neutral until the war was almost over.)

If the US were to support an independent Kurdistan in the Kurdish lands which are now part of Iraq and/or Syria, it would undoubtedly become a close ally.  Unfortunately the US prefers to make a fetish of preserving existing borders, even when those borders were arbitrarily drawn by colonial powers after World War I in total disregard for the wishes or identity of the native peoples.

Congress is considering a bipartisan package of sanctions against Turkey to pressure it to halt the invasion -- a package which hopefully will pass by big enough margins to override a veto, if needed.  This is the only effort I've seen to actually do something to help the Kurds, as opposed to just turning this episode into yet another iteration of "look how terrible Trump is" for the purposes of US domestic politics.  Well, there is one other such effort -- Iran is holding military maneuvers on its border with Turkey and demanding that it abandon the invasion.  But Turkey is too powerful for Iran to intimidate.  If there's any hope of stopping this disaster -- which is already triggering a mass exodus of Kurdish civilians -- it will probably require action from the US.  Congress needs to get those sanctions passed.

One final note -- the Kurds fighting Dâ'ish (ISIL) today are not the first among their people to lead a resistance against bloodthirsty religious fanatics.  Salâh ad-Dîn (known in the West as Saladin), the heroic general who successfully defended the relatively civilized Middle East of the 12th century against the murderous barbarians known as the Crusaders, was a Kurd.

10 October 2019

Video of the day -- This is Halloween

Spanish ensemble Broken Peach gets into the spirit of the season (song is in English).  The band's website is here.

09 October 2019

Trump defiant

After an initial flurry of drama, the impeachment process seemed ready to settle down into the expected soporific background noise of hearings and testimony and subpoenas, allowing the public to turn its attention back to its favorite TV shows and internet porn and so forth.  But what if things don't play out that way?

Trump and most Congressional Republicans seem to be opting for a strategy of total stonewalling -- total non-cooperation.  What if that's his whole response to the inquiry and even to impeachment itself, if it happens?  What if he just refuses to hand over any documents, refuses to let anyone under his authority testify, ignores all subpoenas, ignores any Supreme Court rulings that go against him, and basically just tells the law and the constitution to go fuck themselves?  What, exactly, will the Democrats be able to do about this?  Send the House Sergeant-at-Arms to the White House to arrest Trump?  What?

One might argue that such obstruction would itself be another impeachable offense and would also show that Trump is a Very Bad Person.  True.  So what?  Since taking office he's been committing impeachable offenses as if they were part of his job description, and he's been demonstrating that he's a Very Bad Person since long before that.  If the whole process is stymied by non-cooperation, one more article of impeachment makes no difference.

Would this strategy cost him support in the election?  Likely some, but probably not much.  Fox and Breitbart and the rest would come up with some excuse or justification for Trump's behavior, and no matter how flimsy it was, most of the knuckle-dragging Deliverance mutants of his base would accept it.  Maybe not all, but most.  These are the ones who have stuck with Trump through migrant kids in cages, job-killing tariff wars, the attempted wrecking of healthcare, and all the rest of the outrages and nonsense.  They're not going to turn against him for thwarting some arcane legal process which they barely understand and which they all know was created as a distraction by Democrats who are secretly running a Satanic pedophile conspiracy out of the basement of a pizzeria that doesn't have a basement.  They'd probably applaud it as his best "owning the libs" performance yet.

If an ordinary person breaks the law and ignores all efforts to hold him accountable, the police can arrest him -- that is, in the end the law is backed up by the use of physical force.  Could the police actually walk into the White House, arrest Trump, and physically drag him off to jail if he refused to cooperate with the impeachment inquiry?  Which police?  Who has jurisdiction?  The FBI, whose ultimate boss is Trump himself?  Who has authority to order such an arrest?  Murky and unprecedented questions abound here.

I assume Pelosi has thought of this problem, and it may have played a role in her earlier reluctance to move ahead with impeachment.  But I'll be damned if I can see what she or anyone else could do about it.

07 October 2019


By now everyone has heard about Trump's decision to withdraw the US military presence from northern Syria and effectively greenlight a Turkish invasion there.  The target of this incursion, of course, is the YPG (People's Protection Units), the Kurdish militia which now controls roughly the northeastern third of Syria after taking that territory from Dâ'ish (ISIL).  The YPG is affiliated with the Kurdistan Workers' Party (PKK), a militant organization among the ethnic Kurdish minority within Turkey.

The YPG has been supported by the US during the long war against Dâ'ish.  It was chiefly the Kurds, including the YPG and the Kurdish militias of Iraq, that achieved the defeat of Dâ'ish -- though they did have help from the US, Iran, and various Arab governments and militias.  But Turkey views the YPG as a terrorist organization due to its ties with the PKK, and has long aspired to crush it.

What Trump is doing here is betraying an ally to destruction at the hands of its much more powerful enemy.  While the US has been disappointingly un-supportive of Kurdish aspirations for a recognized independent state in the liberated ethnic-Kurdish lands of northern Iraq and Syria (something the Kurds' immense sacrifices and struggle against Dâ'ish have surely earned), it has at least maintained enough of a presence to restrain Turkey.  Now Trump wants to take that away.

It's highly unlikely that Trump even understands what he's doing here.  The Middle East is a complicated place, and Syria and its relations with its neighbors form the most complicated tangle within it.  A US official who heard Trump's phone discussion with Turkish president Erdoğan, which led to the withdrawal decision, said that Trump "got rolled" by Erdoğan.

I argued last year that Trump's cavalier rhetoric and dismissive stance toward US allies could end up restructuring and destabilizing the system of power relations which has broadly prevailed in the world since 1945.  The more unreliable US alliances appear, the more the leaders of other countries will need to consider other options for guaranteeing their national security.  For example, if Japan and Taiwan fear that they cannot count on the US to stand with them against possible aggression by China, those countries might well decide they need independent nuclear deterrent forces of their own.

But what Trump is now doing goes beyond rhetoric.  He's actually openly throwing an ally to the wolves.  The implications of this will not go unnoticed in Taipei or Tokyo -- or in Beijing.

Needless to say, if we had a real president, this situation would not have arisen.

The move has triggered a firestorm of opposition from other US leaders, including some Republicans.  I suppose it's possible Trump will reverse himself.  But it is now clearer than ever that this man is grossly incapable of properly handling the responsibilities of the office he holds.

[Image at top:  Kurdish YPG soldiers in Syria]

06 October 2019

Link round-up for 6 October 2019

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

Best wishes to Bernie Sanders for a speedy recovery.

o o o o o

Debra She Who Seeks serves up more pun-ishment.

Have some cat cartoons and a few jokes.

Explore the wide world of incompetence.

Jenny_o presents animal mayhem.

Have a Trump sandwich.

Monica Lewinski offers to help with the impeachment.

The seasonal fascination with pumpkins is getting out of hand.

Skeletons, skeletons everywhere!

A genuinely scary Halloween display here.  Creepy sounds for your Halloween here.

RO looks at parking problems, cruise ships, migraines, and a whole bunch of other stuff.

Americans are better at truck breeding.

Ice-bound Finnish trees look like something from another world.

It's October!  Make sure your shoes are worthy.

The BBC is doing a new adaptation of The War of the Worlds, and it looks like this version may finally have gotten it right.  It's set in the correct time period, anyway.

Tour the Colon Orchards, a much nicer place than it sounds.

Sometimes compassion isn't easy.

Here are some of the real stories behind UFOs.

Take a closer look at a classic image of mortality.

Conspiracy nutters discover Madonna.

We don't need God.

Trump is giving political cartoonists a lot of material to work with.

The true story of the murder of Rasputin is rather different from what you've heard.

Gore Vidal got it right about religion.

These people exist.  They vote, too.

Should a writer read?

Trump resembles a B-movie villain, but still has some work to do to qualify as an Evil Overlord.

A-ha is not happy about Trump's campaign ripping off their classic video.

Nan's Notebook has a discussion on why religion is weakening in the US.

Greta Thunberg is obviously stupid.

Here's an asshole on a train (found via a comment by John Zande on Ben's blog).

I don't think this is what "love" means.

At least 1,700 Catholic priests credibly accused of child abuse are still working closely with children (and this appears to be just within the US).

Know the enemy -- leftists should pay attention to Fox.  As for the rest of the wingnutosphere, Green Eagle has it covered.

Religio-wingnut cops in Tennessee forcibly baptize a woman taken captive at a traffic stop.  Lawsuit!

Republicans actually said these things.

Corporations need to prioritize.

Demons, evil spirits, diabolical influences -- what century is this?

Here's how the whistleblower story is being spun in the wingnutosphere.

Cloak Unfurled takes a nuanced look at the Amber Guyger case.

It astounds me that millions believe that this tortuous gibberish describes the underlying reality of the universe.  Besides, eating flesh and drinking blood is gross and disgusting.

The IRS audits the poor, not the rich.

Live by the Trump, die by the Trump.

Somebody's working very hard to suppress this book.

A Mississippi town bans religious nutters from harassing people outside its abortion clinic; religious nutters get in a snit.  (I have some experience with this stuff myself.)  And the courts have blocked the wingnuts' most extreme forced-birth laws.

On sex work, full decriminalization is the best option.

Cast your vote based on logic, not trivia.

A former "gender studies scholar" admits people in the field are basically making stuff up.

Today marks the start of the Catholic Church's Amazon synod (I discussed its significance here).  With any luck, when the synod ends three weeks from now, the world's largest religious sect will be lurching toward a full-blown schism.

The truth is the truth even if it makes people unhappy.

Do you know someone like this?

Hundreds of young trans people are trying to get "gender reassignment surgery" reversed.

Darwinfish 2 calls upon Republicans to show some courage.

Progress Pond ventures into the Trumpanzee doublethink bubble.

Could it happen here?  Look at history.

A state of war is not a prerequisite for a charge of treason.

Some Evangelicals have other concerns than the expected.

If there had been intelligent life on Earth before humans, how would we know?

The effects of ketamine can help us understand "near-death experiences" (found via Mendip).

Apparently the existence of intelligent aliens is unacceptable to Catholic theology, which could get a bit awkward if they ever, you know, actually visit us.  Some of the comments have to be seen to be believed.

Humans are a weak and underdeveloped species; we rule the world via our unique power of language.

Ireland is inaugurating the Púca Festival to celebrate the "birthplace of Halloween" (homepage here).  Of course, certain people aren't happy.

Dunkirk, France has a simple plan to increase bus usage.

Trump's manipulations in Ukraine may already have cost lives.

Amazon is collaborating with Trump's vendetta against Iran, harming the pro-freedom forces there.

Modi claims all of India's villages now have access to toilets, but the claim is disputed.

Hindu extremists have been carrying out violent attacks on Christians in India, with police apparently siding with the attackers.  I haven't seen anything about this in secular media, but it's widely reported on Christian sites.

Hong Kong authorities have banned masks during protests.  It's not helping.

Trump is more deserving of removal, and less likely to be removed, than any previous president threatened with impeachment.  Ezra Klein makes a case for impeachment even if it can't remove him.

FiveThirtyEight explores why black voters prefer moderate candidates over radicals.

Trump is angry and frightened, making him more dangerous than ever.

If you're tired of those 2016 electoral maps showing most of the country (underpopulated areas) colored red, this map gives a more realistic picture.

How might senators vote in an impeachment trial?

After Trump is out of power, never let his supporters obfuscate their complicity.

More links here.

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