30 December 2019

Trolls again.....

One of the disadvantages of a blog becoming more widely read is that it starts attracting the attention of various kinds of nutcases and obsessives.  These include ideological purists who feel obligated and entitled to post tendentious screeds in the comments to "correct" me whenever I deviate from the mandatory orthodox position on something or other (Brexit and Israel come to mind).  They practically never address the specifics I raise, but just regurgitate their own canned talking points.  Such incursions remain rare, however, probably because I don't post about those topics very often.

Recently, though, I've been targeted by much more intensive trolling focused on one particular issue -- transgender ideology.  This is odd because I've only ever written one post on that topic, which says pretty much everything I have to say about it.  However, almost every time one of the link round-ups includes a link related to transgender ideology, one of these trolls (I'm not sure whether it's multiple people or one person using multiple names) shows up and tries to hijack the comment thread into a squabble about that issue.  The degree of obsessiveness displayed is disturbing.  Most trolls just post short, incoherent challenges with the intent of getting the blogger to waste time and energy responding.  These people write multi-paragraph tirades laced with what feels like religious fanaticism, which is all the more weird since I've repeatedly made it clear that that kind of thing probably won't make it through comment moderation.  And remember, they're reacting to just one link, to another site, among dozens in the round-up.

I generally don't engage with trolls because, as that linked post explains, experience has shown that refusing to engage is the only way to make them go away.  These people (or this person?), however, aren't going away.  If anything, they're getting worse.  I don't know why they're targeting my blog, which only occasionally references transgender ideology by including a link or two about it in the link round-ups, rather than the many other sites (including right-wing ones) which address it regularly, but it's obvious from some of their screeds that these particular trolls aren't quite what most people would consider mentally stable.  This is disquieting given that the ideology they're pushing has an extensive history of advocating violence against people who disagree with it.  I'm not too worried about that since I've been careful about protecting my anonymity, but it's still unsettling to be in their crosshairs.

Avoiding the topic to appease them isn't an option.  I never go looking for items to put in the link round-ups, but when I happen to see something I think is important or interesting, I do include it.  If I start censoring myself to avoid harassment, that will just lead to more and more of the same, and I might as well just shut down the blog entirely.  Nor am I going to submit to the endless arguing they seem to want.  This is a blog, not a debating forum, and I'm under no obligation to provide a platform for views I find repugnant.  Anybody who dislikes anything I say is perfectly free to start their own blog and bash me there as much as they like.  Not here.

It's also obvious that any such "debate" would be a waste of time in this case, for reasons clear to anyone who's ever tried to "debate" a street preacher or a door-to-door Bible-thumper.

I do want readers to be aware of the issue, however, just in case it escalates.  For example, I've never worried much about anyone trying to hack my blog because I couldn't imagine anyone feeling strongly enough about it to go to the effort of doing so, but in this case, I'm not so sure.  If one day the blog suddenly disappears or shows signs of tampering, well, I want you to know what happened.

Now (hopefully) back to fun things.

29 December 2019

Link round-up for 29 December 2019

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

o o o o o

Have a few more Christmas cartoons.

A good keyboardist knows how to play the cat.

When they go bad.....

Jenny_o has Christmas animals, plus an incitement to versify.

This is about sandwiches, apparently.

A haunted house?

These lights must be viewed from just the right angle.

It's a cat-astrophic Christmas.

I don't think it's actually possible to wrap this.

This rare key chain is a steal at just $50.


Boxing Day is a day made for cats.

Cartoonists pwn Evangelicals.

Here are some useful phrases for living in India under British rule.

This is American Christianity today.

If the fundies run out of things to freak out about, there's gay chocolate.

Gizmodo summarizes Cats so you don't have to watch it.  Here are a few review tweets.

Take a short flight over America (link from Willie).

Victorian-era Christmas cards were.....different.

Vinyl is coming back, apparently.

Batocchio has posted the Jon Swift round-up for 2019.

Found via the above:  This woman was threatened by a Trumpanzee -- who was a cop -- in Texas.  Yet she managed to take effective action.

For those who haven't seen it, here's my post on the true origins of Christmas.

This Swedish family built a greenhouse around their house.

It's not obvious why these people's genes disappearing from the gene pool would be a bad thing.

Where can atheists turn for a sense of community?

Here's a compendium of modern Orwellian language (found via Aunt Polly).

"Objective" morality may be neither possible nor necessary.

Evidently Colin Kaepernick is popular.

"The Secret" isn't worth knowing.

Just a reminder (and this applies to the First Amendment as well).

The anti-shipper mentality is disturbingly similar to fundamentalism.

Assholish asshole displays assholitude.

Steven Pinker takes a stand against the destruction of language.

Darwinfish 2 sweeps away some leftover Obama-bashing.

Yes, make them explain.

The most amazing bullshit spreads like wildfire through the wingnut fake media.

Speaking of bullshit, this is what eventually happens when people reject science.

Samantha Bee celebrates Impeachmas.

Facebook will fight like hell against anything that helps protect your privacy.

Credit where credit is due -- this church did a good thing.

Government needs to protect public-housing residents from having facial recognition technology imposed on them.  Amazon is pushing hand recognition.

QAnon qrackpots yearn to see some violent validation of their absurd fantasies.

The obvious falsity of the Exodus story discredits Jesus as well (found via A Tale Unfolds).

Support for removing Trump has surged since mid-month.

Long-abused Amazon workers finally start to rebel.

Only non-Evangelicals believed that that Christianity Today editorial indicated a split or shift in fundie support for Trump.

The US has 3,141 counties, and just 31 of them produce one-third of total economic output.  Los Angeles county has an economy as large as Saudi Arabia's.

If you have a recent-model car, it's probably spying on you.

New York City has had nine anti-Semitic attacks in one weekThis kind of "reform" isn't helping.

This is the Republican economy.

Climate change and tariff wars are crushing US farmers.

Pushy religionists thrive at Peterson AFB in Colorado.

Conservatives can't win on facts or logic, so they use tribalism and trash talk.  Trump is a natural leader for such people.

There's some good news on climate change.

Australia's wildfires are destroying koala habitat (and koalas).

Freedom of expression is still alive in the Netherlands.

European Israel-bashing reeks of hypocrisy and lies.

Some West Bank clans reject a treaty banning discrimination against women because it would clash with their "religion and traditions".

Resistance to vaccination is fueling a resurgence of polio in Pakistan.

India's religio-nationalist government regularly shuts down the internet to suppress dissent.  One state is threatening to confiscate protesters' property.  The upheaval is beginning to have an economic impact.

The latest Star Wars movie had to be edited to be shown in Singapore (there's a long history of pop culture being censored for distribution in less-advanced countries).

Even China is easing up a bit on its horrific treatment of sex workers.

Is Biden just too flawed to win?

Trump has aged alarmingly in office.

More links here.

28 December 2019

Quote for the day -- earning votes

"Miller's unrepentant, racist, evil is the argument to throw in the faces of your smug, third-party-backing friends, by the way.  When they start to strut and preen over how the eventual Democratic nominee hasn't "earned" their vote, ask them what the victims of Stephen Miller and his white nationalist cabal have to do to "earn" your help, because filling in the bubble next to Jill Stein or Tulsi or whoever they march out this time to shave juuuuuuust enough leftists off to win the Rust Belt might make you the toast of your social media bubble, but it won't remove one single child from a cage."

Blogger "Shower Cap"

26 December 2019

Video of the day -- generation gap

It's often observed that younger people in the US are now increasingly growing up without religion (or at least fundamentalist religion) and seem likely to stay that way.  Here's an example I ran across this week.  "Amanda the Jedi" is a YouTuber who mostly does movie reviews.  She apparently just learned of the existence of the "One Million Moms" fundie rabble-rousing group, and I found her reactions here quite entertaining.  In just a few decades, the Christian taboo system which utterly dominated the Western world for over a millennium and a half has collapsed so completely in mainstream culture that it now seems alien and bizarre to the new generation.

24 December 2019

The church of Trump

FiveThirtyEight observed yesterday that 2019 was the year Trump completed his take-over of the Republican party.  But it was also the year in which his ascendancy in the world of American conservative Christianity became equally supreme.

Mark Galli's December 19 editorial in Christianity Today, calling for Trump to be removed from office, was hailed by some -- for a couple of days -- as a sign that cracks were appearing in Trump's overwhelming Evangelical support.  It ended up triggering a thundering affirmation of the exact opposite.  Evangelical leaders quickly rallied around Trump, with two hundred of them signing a letter attacking the editorial.  Evangelical media erupted with a firestorm of denunciation against Galli and his views.

The episode paralleled the feeble embers of anti-Trumpism that still occasionally sputter to life in the Republican party.  Like politicians who repudiate Trump when they leave office after doing nothing to oppose him while they held power, Galli was on the verge of retiring.  And the Evangelical reaction to his words echoed the standard Republican denunciations of the party's political heretics.

And remember, this is not just Evangelicals.  Traditionalist Catholic news sites like Church Militant and LifeSite have been just as fervently in Trump's corner.  They pretty much ignored Galli's editorial, but their support for Trump has never wavered.

Our country's conservative Christians have not only sold their souls, but sold them extraordinarily cheaply.  Trump is to theocracy as Gilderoy Lockhart was to sorcery.  Yes, he's packed the courts with anti-abortion wingnuts and done what he can to undermine gay equality and the separation of church and state, but he's never made much pretense of being a Christian and has never lived his life in conformity with the Christian taboo system, while his general blundering and incompetence limit his effectiveness as an autocrat.  Granted, fundies have a long history of excuse-making and closing ranks around money-grubbing, sexually-abusive church leaders, but their hypocrisy is no less blatant just because it's an old habit.  Making idiotic analogies with Cyrus the Great doesn't help.  It's no wonder young people are running away from religion faster than ever.

But our country's conservative Christians have chosen their side, and have made it clear that dissent within their ranks will be ruthlessly denounced.  They are with Trump all the way.

They are the church of migrant family separation and "very fine people".

They are the church of systematic scapegoating of Latinos and Muslims.

They are the church of "pussy grabbing", mockery of the disabled, cruelty to the families of the honorable dead, and potty-mouthed toddler-level name-calling.

They are the church of Leviticus 20:13 which has utterly forgotten Leviticus 19:33-34.

They are the church of sabotage of all efforts to preserve the habitability of the Earth they believe their God created for humans to live on.

They are the church of obscenely massive tax cuts for the rich man, and empty slogans and gutted health care for "the least of these".

They are the church of friendship with Kim Jong-un and Mohammad bin Salman and Xi Jinping, tyrants who repress Christianity, and of petty quarreling with our fellow democracies which embrace religious freedom for all.

They are the church of graft and abuse of power for personal financial gain.

They are the church of lies, which must greatly amuse the Father of Lies.

They are the church of an absurd and disgusting con man whom they have embraced as a de facto modern Messiah because he offers them a last desperate chance to re-impose their taboo system on a society which is evolving beyond it.  They are the church of Trump.  They own it, they own it all.

And just as in the future we must never let the Republicans obfuscate or repudiate their self-branding as the party of Trump, so we must never let conservative Christianity escape what it has revealed about itself here.  When push came to shove, when fascism emerged from the shadows and asserted itself openly, when American democracy was facing its greatest challenge since the Civil War, when it was time for everyone to show their true colors and take a stand -- they chose him.

Let that be the epitaph of fundamentalism.

22 December 2019

Link round-up for 22 December 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last few days.  I had some catching up to do.

o o o o o

Now this is sports commentary.

Time for Christmas decorations, in the spirit of the holiday -- or whatever you like best.  You're sure to have a gay time.

Inflatable decorations are also popular.

This is everything you need to know about Finland.

Start the day with a few jokesHere's one just for Christmas.

Christmas ads used to be rather different.

A business card is the mark of a professional.

This guy is stuck in traffic.

Beware of cougars.

Witness the dawn of portrait photography.

Buy a tried-and-tested car.

A new religion takes root, but will it survive the summer?

Britain lags behind in sink technology.

One person can enjoy more than one style.

Maybe there's a use for incels after all.

Bad house design, especially the first one.

These are surely too cool-looking to be used as doilies.

Who built "geek culture"?

The US now trades with imaginary countries, at least until Trump puts a tariff on them.

Here are the storylines of all future Star Wars films.

His experience is actually relevant to the job, if you think about it.

Trumpanzees accidentally identify their idol with a failed comic-book movie villain.

Are there any books on your Christmas list?

This is the galaxy where all the coolest aliens live.

See how humans would look if we had the same skeletal adaptations as other animals.

It's a mystery from the stars, or maybe deer jizz.

Ancient Rome had a curse industry.

The ACLU gets holiday cards (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

December 12 was Gingerbread House Day.  Here's the dark side.

RO has another eclectic mix including fruitcakes, brownies, and Lake Baikal.

Steampunk culture thrives in music, art, and engineering.  There's even a bottle-opener.

This "artist" and Trump are both full of shit.

Go home, Wisconsin, you're drunk.

The kids are all right.

Conservative nostalgia is based on lies and dishonesty.  Actually, conservative everything is based on lies and dishonesty.

Evangelical leaders rally to support Trump against the Christianity Today editorial -- whose author, like so many Republicans, only condemned Trump on the way out the door.

Is this really a difficult question?

When fundies demand "religious liberty", this is what they mean.

McDonald's uses dirty tricks against unionization.  Don't give them your money.

Like Hallmark, Sheraton just got a lesson in what's bad for business.

Religious kitsch is basically wearing team colors, but more aggressive.

Twitter denizens react to Trump's crazy letter to Pelosi.  So does the Rude Pundit.

Christians fantasize about killing a tree (see comments by clicking the light blue square, third of the five on the left).

Leave our heritage alone!

Yeah, they're this dumb.

Exorcists warn that children are learning to summon demons.  (What #%$@!*# century is this?)

Respect a person's choice to refuse unsolicited advice.

Darwinfish 2 debunks the wingnuts' Thunberg-bashing.

It's not just fundies -- among Catholics too, the most hard-core believers are the most loyal to Trump.

The Richard Jewell case was a terrible abuse of power, but don't trust Clint Eastwood's film to tell the story.

In Kentucky, even Republicans want to investigate Bevin's mass pardons of violent criminals.

Congress may finally take action to roll back the FOSTA-SESTA disaster, especially if they actually listen to sex workers this time.

Beware of bullshit DNA-testing companies.

Fetishizing misery is weird and sick.

Half the military doesn't like Trump (found via Hackwhackers).

When Puerto Rico's privatized utilities failed them, people took matters into their own hands.

It's tough running a school that teaches obvious nonsense.

Life and death must be the individual's choice.

Science makes discoveries, religion just makes stuff up.

The MSM's Trumpanzee-glamorizing "Cletus safaris" just keep getting more ridiculous.

Texas property owners resist Trump's wall.

Fundies demand the killing of gays while whining about non-existent persecution (and Pence is stoking their delusions).

It used to be that young people who left religion tended to return in their thirties -- but that's no longer true.  FiveThirtyEight discusses why young people stay away.

Stupid stupidity is stupid.

This is the future fundamentalists want -- in Alabama, rapists who impregnate their victims get custody and visitation rights, with threats of jail for victims who don't cooperate.

There probably was no ancient Israel, and no ancient Israelite religion as people today believe it existed.

Celebrate victory over an ancient and monstrous enemy.

This Harvard geneticist believes reversal of aging in humans could be just a dozen years away.  It's already been achieved at the cell level and in mice.

It can happen that one man's sperm carries another's DNA.

Climatologists' models of global warming have turned out to be accurate.

Almost every kind of health care is cheaper elsewhere than in the US.

Now that the restoration of British independence is inevitable, pro-EU leaders seem to be accepting reality and focusing of negotiating a good deal.  Let's hope, anyway.

It's summer in the southern hemisphere, and extreme heat is fueling catastrophic fires across Australia.

In Italy, non-churchgoers now outnumber churchgoers.

Religious nuts can't take a jokeReally, they can't.  Be glad the US has the First Amendment so artists don't get harassed by laws from the Dark Ages.

Poland is the last deeply-Catholic country in Europe, and it shows.

This guy tried to block a legal gay-pride parade, and now his fellow religio-bigots claim he's being persecuted.

The Olympics bans Russia for cheating.  Too bad Moscow Mitch won't ban them from cheating in our elections.

Good relations with a gangster require forgetting truths about his record.  In such cases, Trump is happy to go along.

Religionists are outraged that 13-year-old rape victims in Argentina may get access to abortion.

India's new citizenship law undermines its status as a pluralistic democracy.  India under Modi is heading in a frighteningly bigoted and Trump-like direction.  People have turned out for large protests against the threat to the country's secular character.

Anti-vaxxers have been so successful in Samoa that the country now faces a shortage of child-size coffins.

"Donald of the House Trump, Dumbest of his Name, The Unlearned, Ruiner of Steaks and Loser of Court Cases....."

Biden confronts a troll.

In next year's election, democratic norms in the US will be at stake.

The Rude Pundit has some questions for Republicans.

Impeachment won't remove Trump, but it may do some good by energizing Democratic voters.

Don't listen to those who don't want you to vote.  Republicans have already started their vote-suppression efforts -- if voting didn't matter, they wouldn't be trying so hard to stop people from doing it.

It's not really Trump who will be on trial in the Senate.

More links here and here.

[1,067 days down, 395 to go until the inauguration of a real President.]

20 December 2019

The British election -- lessons for Americans?

Does the British election result on December 12 constitute a warning to the US Democratic party that it should avoid moving to the left?  I don't believe so.  Almost every factor in that election was so different from the issues and conditions in our own election next year that almost no relevant comparisons are possible.

First, the overwhelmingly dominant issue in the British election was Brexit -- the restoration of national independence and full democracy.  There's no equivalent issue in the US.  The US is not subject to the rule of a corrupt, un-democratic, multi-national quasi-state with the ability to interfere constantly in our internal affairs and to override our own laws and policies.  If we were, obviously breaking free from it would be the dominant issue in US politics, but we aren't.

Second, the British election didn't involve any equivalent of the main issue in next year's US election -- the need to remove a grossly-unqualified and dangerously-unstable president who promotes bigotry and division, actively sabotages our relations with other democracies, and appears to be in thrall to a foreign dictator.  Claims of similarities between Trump and Boris Johnson (beyond a trivial physical resemblance) are flat-out absurd.  Johnson is an experienced politician whose record as mayor of London shows him to be a fairly typical moderate conservative, if more charismatic than most.  If anything, he's more comparable to Reagan than Trump, if you have to reach for a US analogy at all.  A better British parallel to Trump would be Nigel Farage who, while he deserves great credit for his long leadership in the fight for Brexit, holds crank views on a number of issues and has little sense of political realism.  But Farage has never come anywhere near being a serious candidate for prime minister.

Britain's main parties also bear little resemblance to their supposed US counterparts.  The British Conservative party recognizes anthropogenic global warming and the need to combat it, accepts the existing system of universal government health coverage, and supports abortion rights.  It was a Conservative government that legalized gay marriage in Britain.  Britain's Conservatives are not dominated by religious extremists as the US Republicans are; Britain has far too few hard-line religionists to form the base of a major party (and those it does have are mostly Muslim).  There are now 24 openly gay or bi Conservative members of Parliament -- can you imagine 24 openly gay Republicans in the House?  There's no equivalent of the fever-swamp reality-denial and ideological extremism that fester in the Republican base here.  Overall, the British Conservatives are probably a little to the left of moderate Democrats like Biden and Obama.  Johnson has actually moved the party toward the center on issues like public spending and the minimum wage.  NRO is decidedly unimpressed.
As for the Labour party, the main controversy surrounding it is the repulsive anti-Semitism pervading its ranks -- and no, both-siderists notwithstanding, the other major British parties do not have the same problem.  Those parties do have occasional individual bigots (as the US Democrats do), while in Labour it's a pervasive and systemic problem (like racism in the US Republican party).  Again, there just isn't a good parallel here between Labour and the US Democrats.

There is one major issue I would say does hold a warning -- mass immigration and the tendency of political elites (of all major parties, not just the left) to react to voters' concerns about it with scolding and name-calling rather than listening to them.  Such condescension inevitably drives voters toward fringe radicals who do listen to them.  This issue is growing in importance all over the developed world, not just the UK and US -- though it carries more weight in Europe, with its much higher population density and long history of relatively homogenous societies.

Britain is a different country with a different culture, different politics, and different dominating issues.  It's always tempting to interpret any major story from a foreign country in terms of your own concerns.  This US militant Catholic site took the British result as a rebuke to abortion, even though that topic hardly came up during the campaigning, and all British parties basically accept abortion rights.  It would be difficult to think of an issue less relevant to the outcome.

There are various arguments that can be made for and against a strong shift to the left by US Democrats, but the British election doesn't have any light to shed on that question.

18 December 2019

The Hallmark skirmish

It was a battle won and lost at internet speed.  On December 14, the Hallmark Channel took down a few ads for the wedding-services website Zola which featured gay couples, following a campaign of protest by a fundie "organization" called "One Million Moms" (which, despite its name, seems to consist of a few AFA rabble-rousers with a fax machine and a few thousand Twitter followers).  Hard-core anti-gay Christians rejoiced that one media company was willing to "stand up to the gay agenda" -- that is, to cater to their need for the delusion of a world where nothing that bothers them is ever seen or allowed to exist.

Zola responded by pulling all its ads from Hallmark, and there was a substantial public backlash against the channel.  On December 16, after just two days, Hallmark repudiated its decision and announced that it would air the ads again.  The religionists were furious at the sudden evaporation of their triumph (do read the comments on that, if you're in a gloating mood).  One Million Moms called for a boycott of Hallmark.  Arch-bigot Bryan Fischer was whipped into a fine froth of outrage.  None of this will have any effect, and they know it.  Hallmark simply made a blunder under pressure and then corrected it -- they're not going to re-endorse that blunder now.

The corporate world's near-universal embrace of tolerance and acceptance in its advertising does not, of course, tell us what's in the hearts of corporate leaders, but that's not the point.  The point is that they know which way the cultural winds are blowing.  Their goal is to make money, and to that end, they need to be very aware of which groups they need to avoid offending, and which groups' fulminations they can safely ignore.  It's clear what conclusions they've drawn.

I don't know what the hard-core Christians are going to watch if even the Hallmark Channel is now too gay for them.  Maybe they can get Saudi Arabian TV via satellite?  The real problem with their dogged clinging to taboos which everyone else is increasingly abandoning is that it dooms them to an exhausting state of perpetual conflict with their environment.  Homosexuality and even gay marriage have pretty much become routine and unremarkable in mainstream culture.  The bigots' stance is like deciding to be outraged at the sight of doorknobs or trees -- they're setting themselves up for non-stop stress and agitation.  That's their choice, I suppose, but even their own younger generation doesn't seem eager to go on living that way.  The Hallmark skirmish may appear trivial, but it's an unmistakable signal to them that they've lost the war.

17 December 2019


Thank you to everyone who expressed concern.  I don't usually post much about personal things, but.....

I lost the person most important to me, whose needs and care have been the focus of my life for the last nine years.  I did have some warning that this was coming.  Still it left me with a terrible emptiness and loss of purpose.  For much of last week, I wasn't able to sleep normally or concentrate.

I'm starting to feel more normal again.  I've gone back to work; sometimes getting back into a normal routine helps.  But you don't really "get over" something like this.  You just come to terms with it.  I take comfort from the fact that I did all I could, while it mattered.

This is all I'm going to say about it here in public.  I've got my reasons.  And there are characters lurking around the net so toxic that they would be quite capable of getting snarky or nasty with me even at a time like this (or pestering me with religious crap).  Again, I'm closing comments on this item -- please respect that.  I'll be back to regular posting soon.

08 December 2019

Personal notice

I will be absent from the blogosphere for a while.  I have suffered a major personal event.  I posted the link round-up yesterday because it was all written and ready to go (they are put together over the course of the whole week), but I'm not going to be doing any more writing for some time.

I am closing comments on this and I ask that people respect that.  At some point later I may talk about what happened in detail, or I may not, but I don't feel up to it now.  I need some time to myself to deal with this.

07 December 2019

Link round-up for 8 December 2019

Various interesting stuff I ran across on the net over the last week.  Posting a day early due to some uncertainties about tomorrow.

o o o o o

Start your day with some jokes and signs.

Give these nuts a try.

A talking donkey.....

Debra She Who Seeks has an advent calendar with a difference.

This "debate" is worthy of an unmoderated blog comment thread (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Jesus gets around.

Is there still a place for nuanced characters?

Maybe it's best not to live near the palace.

Here's your December, all planned out.

The herd attacks!

Cats and Christmas trees do not mix, but you can take precautions.

"Until they came knocking at his door one night....."

Lady M decorates for Creepmas -- she's been posting daily on this, so check out the rest of the blog.

It's an old cartoon, but still relevant.

"You drop a small piece of food on the floor, and....."

Now this is architecture.

What the heck was frankincense anyway?

These are mountains near Las Vegas (click images for bigger versions).

I guess some religionists think this is a telling argument.

It's Nazis vs. orgasms (easiest choice of sides ever).

The purpose of proselytizing isn't what you think.

"Decisions are made by those who show up."

Monetizing what you love doing may not be such a good idea.

Some trolls go beyond being a nuisance (NSFW images).

"That was me."

The Propaganda Professor looks at James O'Keefe, the wingnuts' bumbling Don Quixote.

Small-town culture is a barrier to economic revival.

Don't look to the propaganda arm of the 1% for insights into student loan debt cancellation.

Fundies continue to fume over Chick-fil-A's change of direction.

Have yourself an alt-right Christmas (warning: nasty).

Trump uses his personal cell phone to deny using a personal cell phone.

Life expectancy in the US is falling further behind other advanced countries.  And there's something weird going on in the red states.

An Apple customer-service employee speaks out.

We need to rein in the Reefer Madness hysteria about opioids.

Darwinfish 2 debunks some anti-tax talking points.

Professor Taboo looks at the suffragettes.

Hard-core religion survives by cutting off its children from the real world.

Trump didn't change the Republican party, he just brought its underlying nature to the surface.

Fundamentalist religion's alliance with America's parasitic oligarchy is turning people against both.  No matter how powerful it looks now, fundamentalism is in a death spiral.

The Postal Service is shitting up rural letter carriers' jobs.

Religionists use the "sanctity of life" to attack individual freedom.

Office plans that make employees miserable are bad for productivity (found via Billions).

In most cases, North America's declining bird populations are nothing to worry about.

US health-care costs and practices horrify British citizens.

Here are some "highlights" from a recent damning report on anti-Semitism in the British Labour party.

Some leaders stand up to Putin.

Support the freedom of women wherever they are.

The Arab world is beginning to turn away from religion (if the image is cut off on your screen, here's the whole thing).

The spirit of #MeToo spreads to Tunisia.

People in India still have to protest against this kind of shit.

Religion is gross and disgusting.

On Trump's support for Hong Kong, read the fine print.

Green Eagle looks at the history of impeachment.

It's not "a difference in world views", it's reality vs. self-serving delusion.

No, Trump is not on track to win the Electoral College again.

More links here.

06 December 2019

Quote for the day -- when falsehoods are sacred

03 December 2019

Frozen 2

Note first off:  S P O I L E R S !  It's not possible to discuss the points that interest me without them.  So if you haven't seen the movie yet, be aware.  (To skip over this post without having to scroll through it, click here.)  Some of this won't make sense unless you've seen it, anyway.

This isn't really a comprehensive review; I want to focus on a few themes that especially interested me.  I do strongly recommend it, though.  If you liked the original for its visual beauty and spectacle, you'll love this.  The characters have all developed substantially since the first film, while remaining true to themselves.  There's plenty of humor, largely from Olaf, the naïve snowman turned storyteller and amateur philosopher.  As to the songs, there's no second "Let It Go", but several of them are excellent.

On the whole I'd say it's as good as the original.  It seems on track to be at least equally popular ($739 million in 12 days).  The showing I went to was at 10:30 AM and there were well over 100 people there, mostly families with small kids, and there was widespread applause at the end.  As I've discussed before, pop culture is important because it reaches millions of people who ignore or actively avoid politics and political media; its messages influence those whom conventional discourse cannot.

The storyline concerns a mysterious threat to Arendelle.  To learn about this menace and defeat it, Elsa, Anna, Kristoff, Olaf, and Sven travel to a remote forest which has been cut off from the world for decades.  There they find the Northuldra -- the forest's indigenous people -- plus a group of Arendellian soldiers who have long been trapped there.  After much struggle, conflict, disturbing revelations about the past, and encounters with supernatural monsters, they come to understand the threat and what to do about it.  The points I find particularly interesting are:

The villain.  There isn't one.  This is unusual because drama requires conflict, and the easiest way of generating conflict is to have an active antagonist trying to thwart the heroes.  Even the first movie had Hans, whose slimy machinations drove a lot of the story.  Here, the main obstacle the heroes face is ignorance -- they don't know the underlying reason for the threat to their country, and need to discover the truth in order to save the day.

This doesn't fit the usual pattern of storytelling, but it does reflect how problems and solutions most often work in the real world.  Eliminating smallpox wasn't a matter of defeating an evil villain any more than getting rid of that suspicious noise from your car engine is.  Such problems are solved by understanding what's causing them so you can devise an appropriate countermeasure.

As in real life, the ultimate horror is death itself, an impersonal force.  And as in the first movie, even death wins only temporarily, with life being restored by the power of doing the right thing.

Human mastery of nature.  A recurring theme that appeals to me is how human intelligence and determination achieve dominance over "spirits" (and the natural forces they embody), however frightening and powerful the latter appear at first.

In the most obvious example, late in the movie, Elsa tries to reach Ahtohallan by running across a stormy ocean, which despite her powers does not go well.  She is attacked by the Nokk, a water spirit in the form of a horse.  She fights back and manages to mount the Nokk, staying on despite its efforts to throw her, until it is "broken" like a real horse.  For the rest of the film the Nokk is her obedient servant, which she rides wherever she wishes to go.

After entering the forest, Elsa's party is bedeviled by the mischievous wind spirit "Gale" which eventually sweeps them all up into a tornado.  After overcoming initial panic, Elsa freezes the tornado, ending the danger to herself and her friends.  By the end of movie, Gale has been tamed and is helpfully carrying written messages back and forth between the two sisters in their separate realms.

Soon after meeting the Northuldra, our heroes are attacked by a terrifying, sentient outbreak of fire which leaps from tree to tree, scatters all humans in the vicinity, and threatens to incinerate the Northuldra village.  Rather than flee in terror, Elsa fights back with blasts of ice, beating down the flames (especially when they threaten Anna), saving the village, and eventually reducing the fire to a tiny pocket of combustion which then reveals its true form as a small salamander-like creature which befriends her and never again threatens humans.

Finally, the immense rock giants appear terrifying, but in the end they are easily manipulated by Anna into using their vast strength to serve the purpose she sets for them.

The lesbianism thing.  In the first movie, the epic song "Let It Go" was widely interpreted as a coded paean to gay self-discovery and liberation, while Elsa's lack of any romantic interest in males (in marked contrast to Anna) left the door open to reading the character as lesbian, with the repression and fear directed at her ice powers paralleling society's reactions to homosexuality.  Much of the blogosphere hoped that the sequel would make this explicit, with a "hashtag" #GiveElsaAGirlfriend in support.  The movement attracted enough attention to trigger religious prigs to start a petition against it.  So Disney was certainly aware of the campaign and knew that at least some of the audience would be looking for clues along these lines.

First off, no, Frozen 2 does not explicitly or even implicitly make Elsa a lesbian.  But it does include certain details which the writers must have known would be read that way by those who were interested in doing so, while flying under the radar of viewers who weren't.

In the forest, Elsa meets a young Northuldra woman named Honeymaren.  Their on-screen interactions are limited to two brief episodes.  In the first, Honeymaren explains the symbols on a shawl Elsa is wearing; it's a "getting to know each other" moment.  In the second, after the film's main action is over, Honeymaren tells Elsa "you belong here" -- in the forest, not back home in Arendelle where she is queen.  These scenes suggest friendship, while not ruling out something closer for those who want to see it.  There's no other apparent reason for this character to even exist in the story.

But Elsa does then stay in the forest, abdicating as queen of Arendelle in favor of Anna, leaving not only her home country but the sister to whom she's been so devoted for most of two movies.  The script offers no logical reason why Elsa would do this.  It's not that her powers make her too dangerous.  Unlike in the first movie, when she ended up staying in Arendelle after almost destroying it, she's now just saved the kingdom from destruction by flood.  It's not that she's tired of the hard work of being queen, or at least, the early part of the film gives no hint of such feelings.  Yet it would take something fairly weighty to get her to leave her home and her sister permanently.  The script never explicitly suggests that it's to be near Honeymaren, but there's no other obvious explanation.

Some might be disappointed that the film is not more upfront, but this misreads the way movies work and the environment in which they deliver their message.  An explicit lesbian theme might well have gotten the movie banned in major markets like China and Russia (as it is, there was a bit of editing in some places), and would have triggered a storm of controversy from religious crazies in the US, barring it from millions of potential viewers and overshadowing its main mission of light entertainment.  Movies that throw a blatant message in the audience's face are usually clunky and arouse resistance, as the godawful "Christian movie" industry shows.  The first Frozen's subtle approach with Elsa's powers and "Let It Go" flew under the censors' radar and reached hundreds of millions of people in ways that an explicitly "gay" film could never have done.

In any case, fans seem to be falling for Honeymaren's briefly-displayed charms, with fanfic and fanart already appearing, and even a riff on a classic joke.  As for the now-inevitable third movie, you can take this for whatever you think it's worth.

02 December 2019

Troll issues

Based on a recent upsurge in trolling and fight-picking comments (readers aren't seeing them because of the moderation), it's time to link once again to the "On pa-troll" post, which I hope will also be of some value to other bloggers who touch on politics.  I doubt I'm the only one with this problem.  See also my post on internet pig-fighting more generally.

Further, I'm acutely aware that there are elections coming up (in 11 months here, in 10 days in the UK), and disinformation has become a common tactic.  I don't have the time or energy to fact-check every dubiously-sourced claim about a politician or party that someone posts in a comment here, and I'm certainly not obligated to provide a forum for views I consider abhorrent.

And remember, trolls -- if you don't like the way I run my blog, you're free to start your own where you can say anything you like.

01 December 2019

Link round-up for 1 December 2019

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

o o o o o

See signs of the times; more signs here.  Then there's this one.

"Are they twins?"

Exercise may not work for everyone.

Have some bird cartoons.

Frustrate a squirrel.

Kids in sex-ed class have questions.

Debra She Who Seeks does Thanksgiving her own way.

Australian warning labels are a bit punchier than ours.

June Cleaver asked a question.

Why wasn't this done a long time ago?

Maybe not the best place to punch a hole.

A stained-glass window depicts the coming of Jesus.

Hysterical Raisins has a new theme song for Trump's latest toady.

This building is as bizarre as its creator's name.

The domestication of cats made a lot of sense.

The "stable genius" is gender-bending a dog.

Check out this Vile music.

Stay away from caves.

Back to the War on Christmas.

This is the Faroe Islands.

Read a black cat's tale.

As an atheist, you need to find your own comfort level in dealing with religious relatives.

Disney's new streaming service is all fouled up, apparently.

Fundies rage against Chick-fil-A for "abandoning Christian values" -- which tells you something about what those values are.  Speaking of which, opposing Trump is "demonic".  Hardly surprising, since Pelosi and Schiff are actual demons.

Read a few quotes relevant to the times.

These people exist.  They'll vote, too.  Will you?

Fiction is not reality.

Fundies interpret loss of dominance as being persecuted.

Trump is really costing us.  But he's found something to be thankful for.

Here's one church that isn't a tax scam.

Roy Mo[lest]ore laments the "immorality" of our times.

No, anti-Nazi does not mean anti-white.

A Christian wedding photographer sues for the right to reject gay customers.  Because Christianity is all about shunning and excluding people.

Working for this company is a shitty experience.

Donald Trump Jr wants families to fight.

Most of what you hear about sex trafficking is bullshit.

The governor of Utah strongly supports a ban on conversion therapy for minors.

House Democrats are trying to get things done; Moscow Mitch is the obstacle.

Religious freedom doesn't come from religion.

Vindman's testimony is a bulwark against cynicism (found via Hackwhackers).

US military leaders are increasingly concerned about Trump's meddling in support of war criminals.

The church of child molestation considers lesbian relationships "toxic" because they're too supportive and caring.

Walmart is awful; see also this comment by Rautakyy.

The Big Sky Conference's "female athlete of the week" -- isn't.  People are talking about the implications even if the media won't.

Gun sales are surging in anticipation of possible restrictions.

The DHS created a fake university to entrap and deport foreign students.

Ruthless time standards at Amazon are causing a rising rate of permanent injury to employees.

An AI program is now unbeatable at Go (found via Mendip).

It's time for a rethink about what we eat.

Cannabidiol oil (not to be confused with marijuana) can help with a variety of medical problems.

Take a video tour of the Moon in high-res.  Version with narration here, though it didn't play properly for me.

Britain's Labour party comes under increasing fire for the anti-Semitism engulfing it.

Be grateful for the First Amendment.  Under "blasphemy" and "hate speech" laws, you get punished for telling the truth.

Russia cheats at everything.

Apple grovels to Tin-of-Pu's demands; DC Comics kowtows to the Beijing mafia.

India's economy is slowing, a challenge for the ruling religio-nationalist party.

This is what a real attack on religious liberty looks like.

The truth about China's concentration camps is coming out.

Chinese police beat and arrest protesters, but not in Hong Kong this time.

If you boldly confront bullies, they will often back down.

In case she can't get Medicare-for-all, Warren has a back-up plan.

The right wing is waging an all-out war on voting.

What do Democratic candidates have to be thankful for?

Economics can't explain why Trumpanzees support Trump, but bigotry can.

Don't let a major Republican donor pose as a Democratic candidate. Also, watch this (found via Mendip).

Yes, the right wing still wants to destroy Social Security.

New citizens could flip some states next year, but probably won't.

Russian/Republican election meddling next year may be quite difficult to recognize.

The South Bend city council's longest-serving black member endorses Biden over Buttigieg.

There's a reason why most Republican politicians don't turn against Trump when they retire.

More links here.