30 July 2020

Trump backs down

According to this report in our local paper, the federal paramilitary or secret police or whatever you want to call them will begin withdrawing from downtown Portland today.  This is part of a deal negotiated by Oregon governor Kate Brown with the Trump administration, under which state troopers will be deployed in their place to protect the federal courthouse whose environs have been the scene of the widely-reported violence of the last few days.

One can only hope that this deal will defuse the conflict, which has been pointlessly inflamed by the arrival of the feds.  Before they came here, the demonstrations in downtown Portland had been running out of steam and winding down.  But Trump evidently wanted to put on a show of armed force crushing the protests before they could die down by themselves, presumably to present his base with the energizing spectacle of libs being owned, with actual rubber bullets and tear gas this time.  This, of course, provoked renewed opposition here, with turnout at the formerly-moribund demonstrations rising to 5,000 on some nights.

It's not clear why Trump is now backing down, but I suspect some of his more sensible toadies convinced him that the violence -- which included the vicious beating of a Navy veteran who clearly presented no threat -- was not playing well with most of the public and would be a net negative for his re-election hopes.

I must emphasize that the scale of this conflict is far smaller than the media have apparently led most of the country to believe.  I've seen it described as an imposition of martial law, and Trump himself tweeted that "If the Federal Government and its brilliant Law Enforcement (Homeland) didn’t go into Portland one week ago, there would be no Portland -- It would be burned and beaten to the ground."  This is utterly ridiculous.  The number of federal officers/troops/whatever deployed in Portland was a little over a hundred.  The entire conflict has played out in an area of a couple of blocks near the courthouse, leaving the vast majority of the downtown unaffected, never mind the rest of the city.  It's Potemkin fascism, theatrics for the Trumpanzees, not some epic battle.

And now, hopefully, the show is canceled for good.

28 July 2020

The evangelical image

As society's attitudes about homosexuality have evolved, those of most evangelical churches have remained stubbornly stuck in the 20th century (the 20th century BC, in fact).  As a result, among younger Americans, the adjective most strongly associated with evangelicalism (and even Christianity in general) is anti-gay, which is one reason younger people have been abandoning religion in droves.

With the rise of Trump, evangelical pastors and voters have overwhelmingly supported the most vulgar, dishonest, greedy, and immoral man ever to occupy the presidency.  This rush to sell their supposed principles for a mess of anti-abortion judges has branded them as hypocritical in the eyes of the rest of the country -- though in truth they had already richly earned that label through their history of excuse-making, victim-blaming, and "forgiveness" fetishism on behalf of an endless succession of church leaders caught committing sexual or financial abuse.

And now, in the time of covid-19, evangelicals and other conservative Christians have fought tooth-and-nail to defy lockdown and closure orders, hold in-person group services and events, and generally exempt themselves from the rules which apply to everyone else.  This has made church after church a nexus of new outbreaks of the virus, endangering the wider communities in which the believers live (and that post is over three months old -- there have been many more cases of this since then).  Thus they are wrapping themselves in yet another mantle -- that of disease-spreading Typhoid Marys.  We will never know how many non-evangelical lives were lost due to their callous and arrogant disregard for the health of the people around them, but they have earned this label as richly as the other two, and all decent people must ensure that it, too, sticks to them permanently.

That's what you've done to yourselves, idiots.  Good luck converting anybody now.  And don't even think about trying to be taken seriously making moral pronouncements about anything at all, ever again.

26 July 2020

Videos of the day (2) -- the floods in China

Most Americans are hardly aware of the magnitude of the flooding crisis which has overtaken China during June and July.  These two collections of short clips should give you a sense of it.  I assume these scenes are mostly from the Yangtze valley and delta -- but that region is the heartland of the country, containing a third of its population and accounting for a similar fraction of all its industry and agriculture.  Watching these, the extent of the damage to electrical systems, crops, housing, factories, and everything else can well be imagined.

In the first video, 4:57 to 5:45 shows the huge scale of controlled release of excess water through a dam to relieve pressure on it.

The still image on the video below is the Three Gorges Dam, which I discussed here.  To give a sense of scale, the height of this dam is more than half the height of the Empire State Building in New York.

The rainstorms which are causing all this are expected to get even heavier during the rest of July and early August.

Video of the day -- We Are the Worst

This will be more fun if you're old enough to remember the original "We Are the World" video from 1985.

Link round-up for 26 July 2020

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

o o o o o

Faces, faces everywhere!

Nice way to cool down.

Here are some dress ideas for a Halloween wedding.

Dumb criminals are dumb.

No cell can hold him!

Time for some demons.

And three years later, that priest.....

It was quite unnecessary to invent the valve-stem dong.

A blogger discovers a prehistoric beast dating all the way back to 1959.

This guy really knows how to throw a suitcase.

Oh, great, a one-ton rat.

Ant poetry, get yer ant poetry here.

Nice photo (found via Val Boyko).

Patrick Stewart hails a big star.

In certain company, keep your pennies to yourself.

It's the perfect service animal for 2020.

They Live!

I found Morgan Bullock's story inspiring, especially at a time when there's so much drivel about "cultural appropriation".

Oh, yes, I remember.  No one who was alive at the time will ever forget.

Here is how cars get made.

Any Satanists looking for a consecrated host to use in rituals should check whether there are churches in your area that do this.

It is not the responsibility of others to take care of you on the internet.

This very weird movie has a brutal but true metaphor at its heart.

Aristotle was right.

A Portland protester deploys bare-essentials tactics against military police in Portland.

Everybody should watch this classic rant on extremism.

Know your place.

Right-wing thought has evolved.

Movie actors eat your kids and there are millions of Germans on Mars.

Land of the free (found via Yellowdog Granny).

The New York Crank looks at lingerie, Dorothy Parker, and freedom of the press.

This hospital has some issues, apparently.

Mrs Betty Bowers has some voting tips for Republicans.

Twitter's internal security is crap.  If they can't protect these guys' accounts, they certainly can't protect yours.

A substantial obstacle to abortion rights has been struck down.

Another nitwit thinks Middle Eastern people aren't white.

See options for a statue honoring Trump (found via Miss Cellania).

Well, Trump didn't invade a foreign country.....

Meet the new tone, same as the old tone.

Wingnut Moore's Law: packing more and more lies into a smaller and smaller space.

Disney is re-opening (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Oregon, Ukraine, it's basically the same thing.

I think they changed his mind.

Green Eagle looks back at an early manifestation of QAnon.

Samantha Bee reviews the horrible mess Republican governors have made of handling the pandemic.

Throw the book at these assholes.

Internal conflict among Republicans is just gang warfare.

I guess she is one of those "very fine people".  Or maybe it's this.

You must offer empathy, but don't you dare ask for any.

It's incompetent fascism.

In Texas, religious schools are free to spread covid-19 as much as they want.  This Texas hospital is already so overwhelmed that it's sending some hopeless cases home to die.

Reality doesn't change just because we change the words we use to describe it.

Trump and his gang must pay a price for their crimes after being removed from power.

The oldest bigotry of all still runs rampant.

Get rid of this.

He terrorized a child to make a political point.

Yet another Christian preacher defied pandemic rules, and at least 22 people got infected.

Here is who Edmund Pettus was.  It's past time to re-name that bridge.

By 55% to 26%, Americans don't think it's safe to re-open the schools yet.

Alicia Strada was savagely beaten by a gang for expressing an opinion.

"You have the right to get sick and I have the right to not wear a mask" (see the comments).  These people are insane.

This is what leadership looks like (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Looks like Trump's renewed pandemic briefings will just be the same old crap.

AOC stands up to bullying.  Watch her speech in full -- you'll be glad you did.

"Choke on my dick, get fucked with the barbed-wire-wrapped baseball bat, I'm going to slice your throat," etc., etc., etc.

Maybe Moscow Mitch is trying to wreck the economy (found via Angry Bear).

New technology claims to protect photos from facial-recognition systems.

What if we meet the Martians, and they are us?

Forced-birth fetishists don't care about mothers.

The more advanced and educated the country, the less it feels a need for religion.

Canada is doing better against covid-19 because of better leadership and fewer stupid people.

But.....but.....muh heritage!

Serbs are rising in protest against an incompetent, EU-backed authoritarian regime.

The Japanese are still smarter than we are.

Indigenous Uighurs in Xinjiang are now forced to have ethnic Chinese observers living in their homes to monitor their compliance with the regime's cultural and political dictates.

No, there probably isn't a big bloc of Trump voters the polls are missing.

65% of Texans say covid-19 is out of control in their state, 80% support mandatory masks.  This is winnable.

Donate here to help win the Senate.

These five reasons why Christians should vote for Trump should be motivating to us as well (more here).

More links here.

[Image at top:  Scene from the classic 1954 giant-ant movie Them!]

24 July 2020

Video of the day -- polar bears, free healthcare, and waterproof money

Amanda the Jedi answers non-Canadians' questions about Canada.

23 July 2020

The internet of delusion -- a (temporary) paradox

By increasing access to information and changing the way people communicate, the internet is obviously having an impact on beliefs and ideas.  One oddity which has occurred to me is that the internet is, paradoxically, strengthening irrational belief systems which have very few adherents, while weakening those which have many.

Consider a person holding a relatively rare irrational belief -- flat-Earthism, for example.  Before the internet, contact with others sharing the same belief would have been limited and difficult.  There were probably small-press publications and occasional conventions of the like-minded (expensive and inconvenient to attend), but by and large, the pre-internet flat-Earther's social interaction was almost entirely with people who didn't share his delusion.  Only somebody totally unswayed by knowing his views were considered absurd by everyone he knew would continue to adhere to those views.  They certainly got almost no external reinforcement.

Today that same person can effortlessly find a whole online community of people who believe exactly as he does.  There is plenty of external reinforcement.  Worse yet, someone who isn't a convinced flat-Earther but is vaguely curious about it may well encounter the same online communities and come to believe that the concept has far more adherents and is far better supported by evidence than it actually is (most people believe their own social and political views are more widely held than they actually are, because it's so easy to find what appears to be a large number of like-minded people online).  The internet makes it easier to recruit new believers as well as reinforce existing ones.

This would work the same way for other crackpot ideas like Bigfoot, Kennedy-assassination conspiratardia, 9-11 "truthism", the Moon landings being faked, etc. -- as well as more dangerous ones like neo-Naziism and anti-vax.  Thirty years ago, in most of the country, the guy who admired Hitler and believed in vast evil Jewish conspiracies was a weirdo who kept quiet about it if he knew what was good for him.  Now he views himself as part of an online community who are "in the know" about the "suppressed truth", in contrast to the oblivious "mundanes" and "sheeple" (the use of the word "sheeple" is an almost infallible sign that the person talking is an adherent of some sort of crackpot cult).  And he's convinced there are a lot more like him than there really are.  In the case of some weird belief systems, like QAnon, it's hard to imagine them existing at all without the internet.

The case of irrational belief systems with very large numbers of adherents is in some ways the opposite.  Belief systems such as Islam and Christianity, for example, dominate huge blocs of population, so that traditionally adherents within those blocs had all their social interaction with other people who expressed the same beliefs (whether real or just feigned to avoid social ostracism), or at the very least respected them and avoided challenging them.  External reinforcement was the main prop supporting the individual's continued adherence, and there was hardly ever any exposure to opposing ideas that might provoke questions, anyway.

Today, obviously, such people can also find large numbers of like-minded people online, but except for the most fervent, they don't particularly work to avoid encountering different ideas -- because they've never previously had to.  Almost any contrasting belief system ultimately poses a challenge to the existing one -- as I've discussed before, for many religious people, the road to atheism starts not with exposure to atheist ideas, but with exposure to some religion other than their own.  It's no coincidence that the last twenty years has seen such a dramatic rise in questioning and rejection of religion, not just in the US but in Latin America and even the Middle East.  It matches the rise of mass access to the internet.

I think it's a good trade-off.  The widespread crackpot ideas are much more dangerous than the minor ones, if only because they're more widespread.  And as the minor ones become more of a problem, people are becoming more organized to speak out against them and expose the fallacies.  Avoiding such challenges online is possible, but it takes work, and only the most fervent will do it.  The vast penumbra of more casual followers which religions have, and are now losing due to the internet, will most likely never get a chance to build up around neo-Naziism and suchlike in the first place.

In the long run, I think, sanity will prevail in both cases.  The ultimate defense of foolish and evil beliefs and ideologies has always been censorship -- blasphemy laws and the like.  Authoritarians and bullies dread having challenges to their dogmas freely expressed, and for good reason.  The internet has made it far easier for people to circumvent censorship, and to read and see that which someone else believes they should not.  A free mind may not always arrive at the truth, but it has a much better chance than a captive one does.

21 July 2020

Watch the dam

Since early June, central China has suffered its worst flooding since at least 1998.  So far, 28,000 houses have been destroyed, 744,000 people have been displaced, and the official death toll is at 141 -- and that's what is admitted by a regime which is still claiming its death toll from covid-19 was less than 4,000.  There have been massive landslides, presumably caused by waterlogged soil, and in one case authorities blew up a dam to relieve the accumulation of water above it.

The worst flooding has been along the Yangtze, China's largest river, whose valley and delta contain a third of the country's population and account for a comparable fraction of its economic output.  Flooding in Wuhan, the main city in the middle part of the Yangtze, has impacted China's exports of medical protective supplies to the US, since much production is centered in the Wuhan area.

Increased rainfall linked to global warming probably plays a role, but this is not the first time China has suffered severe floods (the worst in its modern history, in 1931, killed hundreds of thousands of people -- perhaps millions, when deaths from consequent starvation and disease are added in).  Things were not supposed to be this bad in the 21st century, because of the Three Gorges Dam.

This colossal structure stretches across the Yangtze a few hundred miles above Wuhan.  It is the largest dam in the world, one and a half miles long and over 600 feet high.  The reservoir behind it is over 400 miles long and contains almost ten cubic miles of water.  Finished in 2006, it was built to generate hydroelectric power (installed capacity 22.5 gigawatts) and for flood control.  But this year's flooding has threatened to overwhelm even such a mighty structure's capacity to regulate the flow of water.

As the reservoir's waters rise, authorities have been forced to release some water to relieve pressure on the dam and alleviate flooding in Chongqing and other cities above it.  But doing so worsens the floods in the middle Yangtze, including Wuhan.  So the damage is not being prevented, merely rearranged.  To be sure, controlled releases of water do far less harm than the wild floods which regularly plagued the Yangtze before the dam was built.  But there's another problem.

Anyone familiar with China knows that the country's standards of construction and maintenance are crap (local but telling examples here).  This is due partly to cultural factors and partly to the corruption endemic to authoritarian states.  It's impossible to know to what extent these problems infect a major prestige project like the Three Gorges Dam.  Certainly nothing the regime says can be trusted, any more than its economic statistics, covid-19 figures, etc. can be.  But the rising water pressure behind the dam is subjecting it to structural strain beyond anything it has had to resist since being built -- and in late July and early August the rain is expected to get worse.  If I were living downstream from the damn thing, I'd move.

(In 2019 it was claimed that satellite imagery showed a slight warping of the dam, but this appears to have been due to distortions introduced by image processing.)

How bad would it be if the dam collapsed, as many lesser dams have done during floods in China in the past?  Long-time readers may recall this post from 2008 in which I speculated on that question.  In fact, no one knows what would happen.  The deluge unleashed by the sudden rupture of a reservoir that size would be unlike anything in recorded history, and the region below the dam is among the most densely-populated on Earth.  Various efforts have been made to model the effects, but we don't really know.

It's probable that abnormally-rainy summers like this will become more frequent in future years, due to the effects of global warming.  Each such season will inflict more structural strain on the dam, likely weakening it year by year.  If it finally breaks, there won't be much warning -- and with tens or even hundreds of millions of people under threat, evacuation would be impractical in any case.  China's biggest engineering project since the Great Wall may yet prove one of the biggest mistakes in its history.

19 July 2020

Link round-up for 19 July 2020

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

o o o o o

Vacuum-clean your cats.

Esme upon the Cloud takes a close look at bollocks.

A dog makes a contribution to a video of a sunset.

See a turtle's view of life in a pond.

The crowd eagerly awaits a new statue.

It's a Texas heat wave!  But there are places where it's deliciously cool even now.

I support Gun Grandma.

Might as well make good use of them.

2020 has been a crazy year.

Movies are not reality.

Scandinavia has its own ways of solving problems.

A Frenchwoman recalls some early exposure to American culture.

RO looks at make-up, Betty Crocker, repossessed airplanes, and a bunch of other stuff.

"Why should I have to wear a mask if yours works?"

Waaah, waaah!

Pwned, I think (found via New Witch).

These dumbasses can't get the simplest things right.

Enjoy the wit and wisdom of Kanye West.

Oxford hasn't changed much, outwardly.

Behold the dumbest tweet ever.

This person exists.

The topic of the day is masks.

Religion promotes a miserable view of life.

The wolf is just following along (found via Octoberfarm).

Nonnie9999 has suffered a profound loss.

Steve M posts a collection of right-wing reactions to the death of John Lewis.

Civil Commotion remembers Hunter Thompson.

It's time to re-open the schoolsThis graph shows the reality.

She will forever be known for uttering this one immortal sentence.

Some good tips here on fact-checking the news.

Sex dolls have come a long way -- and now they're for gay men too (some NSFW imagery).

Should there be such a thing as atheist pride?

It is not oppression.

He refused to wear a mask (found via New Witch).

Another religious nut, another rip-off.

The Trump family is just awful.

What would it take to convince you God was real?

What would it take to make you stop eating this?

Internet artists are inspired by the monstrousness of Betsy DeVos.

Churches want to be exempt from the rules that apply to everyone else.

The state of Oregon is suing several federal agencies over their strong-arm police tactics in Portland.

The wingnutosphere is like the Mirror Universe.

Samantha Bee looks at the escalating mask culture wars.

A mind is a terrible thing to waste.

Forget masks and social distancing, we can fight covid-19 by mumbling and not eating.

Blue lives don't always matter to Trumpanzees, apparently.

God wants butchery and cruelty.

The wingnutosphere is as full of crazy as ever.

Twitter wags are unimpressed by Trump in a mask -- and by Ivanka's bean-selling.

Religion is stupid (found via New Witch).

Darwinfish 2 looks at statues, and how to judge history.

QAnon qrackpottery is engulfing the Republican party, with Trump's connivance.

Nothing can stop this California pastor from helping to spread covid-19.

Why do some people imagine that the working class is expendable?

This is now largely a red-state pandemic.

Trump is pushing a high-stakes gamble with children's lives.  And he's still trying to sabotage the national response to covid-19.

Don't waste time with puritan activism.

One in three young adults are vulnerable to serious covid-19 (smoking plays a role).

A pastor apologizes -- too late.

Echidne of the Snakes describes a "mild", but still disturbing, bout with covid-19.

The virus does terrible damage even to those who survive it.

No, there were not batteries in ancient Mesopotamia.

38 years after the Argentine invasion, the Falkland islands have become more prosperous yet less close to their roots.

Pakistan has met its climate-change goal a decade early.

A Bangladeshi education entrepreneur is hounded with death threats after supporting gay rights.

The miasma of Beijing's new "security" law settles over Hong Kong.

The US stands up to Beijing's bullying in the South China Sea.

Molester priests have found a happy hunting ground on the island of Fiji.

Modern humanist values are making some inroads in Sudan.

From now on, things just get worse for Trump.

There are solid reasons why the election may not be in the bag -- don't get complacent.

More links here, and some Sarah Cooper.

17 July 2020

Video (channel) of the day -- a change of heart, if not of mind

Most of us are familiar with The Lincoln Project, the anti-Trump Republican PAC whose go-for-the-throat ads against Trump and his enablers exemplify the kind of ruthless attack tactics we Democrats should be using.  Another approach is favored by Republican Voters against Trump (RVAT), whose videos tell the stories of individual voters, decidedly more personal than professional.  They've now posted over 200 of these, most only a couple of minutes long.

These people definitely do come across as Republicans, expressing generally right-wing views, often being infuriated at things like Trump's disrespect for the military after having apparently accepted his many other outrages with little qualm.  (There's a disproportionate number of older white guys from rural areas, but that does reflect the party's base.)  Some on our side may tend to scorn them for their earlier voting habits and dismiss their opposition to Trump as too little, too late.  There may well be some justice in this reaction, but still it should be avoided, for two reasons.

First:  They have, at least, managed a change of heart to some degree, which is never easy.  Liberals are often frustrated at how immovable the hard-core Trumpanzees' support for their man seems to be, but it doesn't surprise me at all.  Admitting that you were wrong and your opponents were right is always highly unpleasant.  All the more so when you’ve invested a lot of emotional energy in demonizing those opponents as not merely wrong, but evil.  The more extreme a position you’ve staked out, the more humiliating is the retreat implicit in abandoning it.  For Trumpanzees caught up in the current frenzy of madness, the prospect of letting the fever finally break -- of falling back into cold, mundane reality -- of needing to recognize that the ones they despised, the liberals, the educated, the experts, were right all along -- is unthinkable.  The people in these videos are not the hard-core ones.  If they were wrong before, they've at least shown a capacity to recognize reality and be swayed by it.

Second:  A vote is a vote.  These people probably represent only a small proportion of Republicans, but in almost every election, several states are decided by very thin margins, and a few percentage points could change the outcome this time.  My overriding concern is to get Trump and his enablers and toadies out of power.  So long as someone votes for Biden and for Democratic candidates for the House, the Senate, and state-level offices, in practical terms it doesn't matter why they do it, only that they do it.  And while the size of the popular-vote margin will not affect the legal outcome, its psychological importance will be enormous.  Trump and Trumpism must be repudiated by the largest possible proportion of Americans, both for the sake of our standing as a people in the eyes of other democracies, and to discourage shenanigans by sore losers.

Here's an example I liked.  He uses some rather rough language, but can you blame him?  And we can count on his vote in November -- which is more than one can say for some of the ideological-purist fringe types on our own side.

16 July 2020

Quote for the day -- the consequences

From Dr Nicholas Peluso, an ICU doctor in Tulsa:

I am mentally and physically exhausted. I lived through hell this week. My team is stretched beyond thin. So many sick and dying, all from a "hoax". A bloated ruse to "microchip" and control you. This isn't a warning. This isn't a lecture. This isn't "fear-mongering". This is reality. This is where we are. I'm done.

Please don't ask healthcare workers what to do. There isn't anything to do but hope. Hope that this thing doesn't kill hundreds of thousands more. Hope that you or your loved ones don't get it. Hope that it's over soon. Hope that our lives can continue.

The time for preparation is over. This country did everything wrong and now we see the consequences. Believe WHATEVER you want. I genuinely do not care. I don't have the strength or the time to waste arguing.

But mark my words and mark them now. If healthcare workers get sick, this is over. If we fail, so do you. There is no plan B. We have no army of healthcare workers waiting to take our places if and when we make ourselves sick caring for you and your loved ones. It. simply. isn't. there.

So, I wish this nation luck. I wish my colleagues health and some sort of rest during this nightmare. Most of all, I wish for a nation that trusts its scientific and healthcare communities, listens to suggestions, and heeds warnings.

We are tired. We are worn out. We are your healthcare. If you've never needed us before, good for you. If you've been through something awful where you needed us and we were there for you, I hope you got the best care and recovered. If you find you need us in 6 to 10 weeks, I hope we will still be able to care for you and we won't be taking up those ICU beds with our own sick bodies.

I fear we've already lost. This is not the nation I grew up in

Found via this post at Nan's Notebook (see comments there as well); originally posted here.

14 July 2020

Another danger posed by religion

Those of us who oppose religion are often criticized for undermining the comfort religious beliefs can provide, especially in times of loss.  If it helps a grieving person to believe that the relative they lost has gone to a better place, who are we to take that away from them?

Whether it's a good or bad thing to feel comforted by a false belief is, I suppose, a philosophical question about which reasonable people can differ.  But there's a more concrete problem here which is anything but philosophical -- one I recently experienced myself.

When people are sure a particular belief is true, they are likely to make decisions on the basis of that belief -- and if the belief is false, the decisions may be dangerously wrong.  To repeat an analogy I've used before, it might be very comforting and reassuring to me to believe that I had a million dollars in the bank.  But if I started making spending decisions on the basis of that belief, I'd eventually get into trouble.  Religious beliefs are even more dangerous because they tend to be about such fundamental things, such as the existence of an afterlife.

When my mother died in December, one of the consequent afflictions I suffered was a tremendous loss of purpose.  For nine years, my life had essentially revolved around her needs and problems.  Even in the last two and a half years, when the help she needed with day-to-day living became more than I could cope with on my own and I had to move her to a care facility, I still visited her every day, shopped for a lot of supplies, monitored how she was being cared for and took it up with the management if something seemed amiss, etc.  The sudden disappearance of such a huge and long-standing responsibility was almost more than my mind could adjust to.  I was haunted by dreams and visions that she was in some kind of afterlife, afraid and confused and still in need of my help -- that I should follow her there, just in case, to continue doing the duty which had dominated my life for almost a decade.

Those feelings have passed, of course.  It's been seven months now, and I've had time to adjust to a very different existence.  But if I had really believed in an afterlife?  Really believed that those dreams and images represented some kind of reality?  I honestly believe it's very possible I would have done it -- throwing my life away for a delusion.

As for the present, while I've never believed in the Christian concept of Heaven, I am obviously aware of it.  Again, if I believed I could see her again as she was before her mind started to deteriorate, visiting for tea and chatting about this and that -- well, I would feel tempted.  It's a pleasant thing to imagine, but if it became a belief, it would be dangerous.

Well, you might wonder, if this is a serious issue, why don't we see lots of suicides among religious people?  For one thing, some religions have a taboo on suicide -- their inventors probably realized that the promise of Heaven might tempt too many of their sheep to abandon what was, before modern times, a fairly miserable existence for most.  More important, most people in the West no longer believe very fervently.  Most people who have recently lost a relative don't behave as they would if they truly believed that the person had gone somewhere better and happier -- they mourn, they do not celebrate.  I strongly suspect that in earlier times, people in a similar position -- especially after the death of a child, a very common event in pre-modern times -- may well have taken refuge in behavior which was not technically suicide (thus evading the taboo) but achieved the same result -- neglect of health, less care to avoid dangerous situations, etc.  And those who are true believers sometimes do atrocious things, not even out of mourning, but simply to get to Heaven as soon as possible -- the obvious case being Islamist suicide bombers.  The 9/11 hijackers certainly believed they would be welcomed into Heaven for their actions, sacrificing their lives in the fight against the enemies of God.  In ancient times, some religions required servants and slaves to be killed when a ruler died, so that they could continue to serve him in the next world.

Even in the modern West, suicide and excessive risk-taking are surprisingly common.  While such behavior is obviously the product of a variety of factors, how many of those people were swayed by a belief that another existence was, or at least might be, awaiting them "on the other side"?  Without such beliefs, many of them might still be alive.

I am not taking a moral stand against suicide.  Self-destruction is a decision a mature and self-aware adult has the right to make.  Some people are in situations where they can make a sober and rational decision that life is not worth going on with, even if they don't believe in an afterlife.  But in such a case, at least that person is deciding based on actual facts, not on a delusion.

Religion imposes many unnecessary costs on its adherents in terms of quality of life; this video reviews some examples.  Yet it's the part of religion some people most eagerly defend as valuable -- the concept of the afterlife -- that is potentially among the most dangerous.

12 July 2020

Link round-up for 12 July 2020

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

o o o o o

Bread-making can be more intriguing than you think.

Dellgirl has a few new definitions for words.

Ben the ornithologist is looking for the right woman.

This is art.  And this is music.  And this is a future blogger.

"My heart will go on....."

There must be something in that water.

It's beautiful, but don't touch.

Gaze into the depths.....

Cthulhu seems less scary in person.

"Never stop dreaming."

Many beings, or one?

See award-winning sky photographs.

Donald Trump, Hitchcock villain.

Most ridiculous political propaganda image ever.

Fake Scotland, real Scotland.

Some people apparently believed this was an alien spacecraft.

"That's because of the walls, Phil."

Fireworks are tough on vermin.

This exists.  Nobody knows why.

There's a clear winner in the race.

Sarah Cooper does Trump's cognition test.

It has not been a good year.

"The axe forgets, but the tree remembers."

The minions of the King in Orange spread madness and fear in Dim Costcosa.

Back to school!

A new book teaches kids that the body is the self, to the predictable annoyance of some.

Good sign.

So.....here's the deal with Microsoft Edge.

Censorship affects sales.

Don't fly yet.

It's tough being a sane person in South Carolina these days.

The US is in the grip of demons, according to an exorcist -- yes, never forget, the world's largest Christian sect still employs exorcistsMore demons here.

Viruses, like gravity and reality in general, are unaffected by what people believe or don't believe.

This is the world we live in, for now.

Don't vote for Kanye.

Experts need to be careful how they write.

We're fighting two pandemics at once.

The internet can enlighten people in backward societies about the outside world.

Gort Nation posts an open letter to our Spoiled-Toddler-in-Chief.

There's no common ground between us and the fundies.  And don't trust them.

Keep this and this for the next time you meet someone who believes Trump's bullshit about testing.

Literature has much to teach, if we don't let political correctness get in the way.

It's all about statues.

Fighting for freedom means fighting for freedom.  No, it is not OK to use violence against people just for having opinions you don't like.

Imagine trying to have a rational conversation with this person.

Your tax dollars pay for Catholic priests to molest kids.

It's Trump logic.

The reaction to an open letter on free speech shows why it's necessary.  More here.  I believe the use of intimidation and bullying to silence and punish people with "wrong" opinions is now the West's most serious cultural problem (I've added a link to the letter in the sidebar).

Yellowdog Granny has an e-mail exchange with a Christian.

Mississippi legislators have been refusing to wear masks, with predictable resultsRachel Maddow comments.

A conservative columnist hopes for divine intervention to help Trump win in November.

Frat parties generate a covid-19 outbreak at UC Berkeley.

Religious morality:  homosexuality is absolutely evil, but slavery is basically OKMore here.

"We are done with corona" -- but corona is not done with you.

Religious hucksters made out like bandits from covid-19 aid money.

These are conservative values (found via New Witch).

Satanists stand up for the First Amendment in Mississippi.

Biden should jump on the marijuana bandwagon, especially in light of this.

A network of Christian summer camps becomes a nexus of covid-19 in Missouri.

The "stupid one-third" can't seem to grasp that freedom doesn't include a "right" to endanger other people.

Tucker Carlson says we hate America -- forgetting that we are America.

If an arrest seems suspicious, check what time of day it happened.

Employees at Voodoo Doughnut in Portland struggle to unionize under pandemic conditions.

A Florida church apparently sponsored a "covid party".  At least one teenager is already dead.

Here's another huge collection of crazy from the wacky world of wingnuts.

Despite high unemployment, hazard pay for essential workers may be coming back.

Republican presidents are consistent in their effect on the deficit -- Trump is just the worst of all.

Covid-19 is now hitting red states the hardest.

Churches hate being held accountable.

Yeah, they fired this piece of shit.

Trump's Tulsa rally was followed by a spike in infections.

Funny how these same numbers keep cropping up, just by coincidence.

At least one more person who went to a "covid party" has died.

Congress could cause an economic disaster if it fails to extend economic aid beyond July.

In ancient times, worshipers of the god Moloch used to sacrifice children to him.  Modern people would never do such a thing -- certainly not modern leaders.

Do Americans understand what a disaster this country has become?  Here's a view from Germany.

The Supreme Court should have been tougher on Trump.

There was even a Confederate monument in Seattle -- was (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

The big prize the right wing got from its Faustian bargain with Trump was packing the federal judiciary with wingnut judges -- but it probably won't last.

Covid-19 can cause delirium and severe brain damage.  Any immunity you get after having it seems to be weak and last only a few months.

By leaving the WHO, the US would give up a lot.

Greece is forging ahead with clean energy.

Poland's wingnut anti-gay president faces a liberal challenger.

US religionists gloat as Russia institutionalizes religion and homophobia -- and entrenches Putin's dictatorship indefinitely.

In what could become a global trend, Fujitsu plans to halve its office space and shift many employees to permanent work-from-home.

Even if Trump isn't re-elected, the Russian and Chinese regimes have gotten plenty of good value out of him.

China's new "security law" in Hong Kong is already imposing censorship.  The UK and US are enacting sanctions.  Australia and some other countries are taking action.

In Cameroon, too, an activist fights to remove statues honoring colonialism.

Racist trolling has a global reach.

Remember the names of Trump's most powerful enablers -- and support their opponents.

What if something really crazy happens right before the election?

It's not just voting against Trump -- we have a lot to vote for.

For now, our side is mostly united.

Don't let the polls make you complacent -- the enemy fights dirty.

Here's why Trump's campaign against vote-by-mail is likely to backfire.

More links here.

[1,270 days down, 192 to go until the inauguration of a real president.]

11 July 2020

Video of the day -- stupidly bigly

Stupidity, ignorance, and superstition have been festering in the bottom third of American society for generations, and they are not harmless.  The mentality that accepts psychics, faith healing, astrology, and a 6,000-year-old Earth makes QAnon, Pizzagate, anti-vaxers, and global-warming denialism inevitable.  Trump as president is simply one more consequence of this, and not even necessarily the most serious one.

10 July 2020

Making a point about censorship

From now on, all comments supportive of censorship laws -- that is, laws against advocacy of certain opinions or against certain forms of artistic expression -- are banned from this blog and will be rejected in moderation.  Here's why.

Any person who supports such laws -- and I explicitly include the "hate speech" laws in Europe and Canada which in practice are mostly used to harass people who tell the truth about Islam -- is calling for the use of state force to deny certain others the right to explain or defend their views.  It is therefore entirely appropriate for me to unfairly and high-handedly deny him the chance to explain or defend his views.  If he supports laws that would stop me from expressing whatever views I want, then I will stop him from expressing that support, at least as far as this blog is concerned.  It is merely doing to him what he advocates doing to others.

This includes efforts to split hairs about what is or is not censorship.  If you support or defend any limits on opinion or art whatsoever, I will not allow you to explain or defend your support here, regardless of the reasons for it -- because that's what you advocate doing to the views you disapprove of.  I know this is unfair and unreasonable.  I'm doing it because it's unfair and unreasonable -- to drive home the fact that censorship itself is unfair and unreasonable.

Note that my doing this is still not actually censorship, since anybody who gets a comment rejected here can still say whatever they want elsewhere on the internet, and I neither can nor would punish them for doing so -- whereas censorship laws seek to ban people from expressing disfavored views anywhere and actually punish them if they do so.

I posted in more detail about the issue of censorship here.  Atheist Revolution has a good recent post here (see also comments).

08 July 2020

Familiar absurdities

Imagine you're walking down the street, minding your own business, and a stranger walks up to you and points disapprovingly at the belt you're wearing.  "You know belts are against the law, don't you?"  You naturally stare at him in bafflement.  "Yes, they are," he insists.  "You can get a year in jail for wearing a belt."

"I don't believe there's any such law," you scoff.

"That's foolish of you," he insists.  "You're going to end up going to jail for a year.  You've already worn the belt; you've already broken the law.  There's only one way out."

By now you're getting just slightly nervous, so you ask, "And what's that?"

"Well," he explains, "a long time ago another guy got sent to prison for something he didn't do.  And because that was so wrong, the courts decided that from then on, people who commit crimes could get out of going to jail for them -- so long as they believe that this guy went to prison back then."

By now you're figuring this person is totally nuts.  "That's ridiculous.  No sane court would do things that way."

"Oh, there's one other thing," the stranger says, pulling a thick wad of paper out of his pocket.  "That guy who went to prison had a long list of things he didn't like people to do, and you need to promise you'll never do any of them for the rest of your life.  Then you can get out of going to jail for wearing that belt, because he went to prison all those years ago."  He pushes the wad of paper toward you.

You don't take it.  "Look, just go away," you demand.  "I don't believe you can go to jail for wearing a belt, I don't believe you can get out of it just because some other guy years ago was wrongly imprisoned, and I don't see why I should care about all these things that guy didn't like people doing.  None of it makes any sense."

"But," he replies, "it's a year in jail if you don't believe me and do what I say.  Do you really want to take that risk?"

o o o o o

This story is obviously ridiculous, but as I'm sure all readers noticed, it has the same basic "logic" as the central myth of a religion which is dominant in large areas of the world.  We don't see the absurdities of the Christian scheme of salvation because it's familiar and we tend not to analyze it.  We don't see the fundamental immorality of it either, for the same reason.  Not only are most religious taboos stupid (being gay, trimming your beard, working on Sunday, etc. don't harm anyone else and there is thus no legitimate reason to prohibit them), but if you really have done something seriously wrong that you deserve to be punished for, it is neither logical nor moral that you could escape punishment because Jesus was unjustly killed 2,000 years ago.

There are many such absurdities which we don't see as such simply because they are familiar.  If somebody told you that he, by reciting certain words in Dutch over a candy bar, could transform that candy bar into the actual flesh of Captain Kirk from Star Trek, you would figure he was either bullshitting you or suffering from delusions.  Yet it is one of the central dogmas of the world's largest Christian sect that if a child molester recites certain words in Latin over a piece of bread, that bread is "transubstantiated" into the flesh of Jesus.  A talking rabbit luring a girl down a rabbit hole immediately marks Alice in Wonderland as a fantasy tale, but a talking snake tempting a woman to eat a piece of fruit (with even more dire consequences) is a "spiritual belief", supposedly entitled to respect even if one does not share it.

Perhaps this is why, for many people, the road to escape from religion starts with learning about some religion other than their own.  It's easy to see that unfamiliar nonsense is nonsense, and this leads to taking a fresh look at the familiar nonsense.

It also helps explain why so few non-religious people nowadays become religious, compared with the much larger numbers of religious people abandoning religion.  Yes, people who were brought up believing this stuff tend to keep doing so out of inertia, but to start believing in it when you previously didn't?  The mental contortions involved are almost beyond imagining.

06 July 2020

Videos of the day -- getting out while the getting's good

The two guys who made these videos, who have both lived in China for many years, finally fled the country just a few days ago.  Their stories are revealing.  This is not only a grim totalitarian state, it's rapidly getting worse.  And remember, there are another 1,400,000,000 people living under that regime who have essentially no hope of ever getting out.

05 July 2020

Link round-up for 5 July 2020

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

o o o o o

Size matters.

BugsMore bugs.

A kid makes church less dull.  Kids can also improve language.

It really is the year of the rat.

Biggest collection yet of gender-swapped Star Trek characters.

Have some geek cartoons.

But can he shoot a basket?

Meet her mini-shroom.


"If you think artists are useless....."


I didn't know they take passengers.

He has his own conception of reality (found via Questionable Motives).

If 2020 were a piñata.....

Men's fashion shouldn't be so dull.

Masks protect against more than just disease.

Startling views of animals here.

Don't mess with this bird.

A superior race (found via New Witch).

God gives really good handjobs, apparently.

One Massachusetts town takes a little step forward.

Art anticipates reality.

The internet is full of ghosts.

Leanna at New Witch doesn't much care for the new Blogger interface.

This is real patriotism.

Best pandemic store sign so far.

".....it's a miracle your brain doesn't dynamite its way out of your skull and run screaming into the night."

American culture ruins fun by judging everything by whether it makes money.

If you need somewhere to vent about pandemic precautions, go here.

Trump understands covid-19 better than you think.

Give Russia some credit.

She warned us, too many didn't listen.

For decades, US employers have held wages down and expropriated the fruits of workers' increased productivity.

Read this short post about a Catholic diocese's covid-19 precautions, then read the comments (click on the middle one of the five blue squares at left) -- this is what we're up against.

Listen to Robert Reich.

These people are too stupid to be in college.

No, the economy is not "roaring back".

Republicans give away hundred of billions to corporations, but don't want to give $600 a week to waitresses and store clerks laid off due to the pandemic.

Mississippi is taking the Confederate crap off its flag, but scrubbing it out of the soul is harder.

Victims of CHAZ/CHOP are suing the city of Seattle for allowing the prolonged thug occupation of their neighborhood.  With such a graphic display of government failure to maintain order, is it any wonder that gun sales are at unprecedented highs?  I'm seriously thinking about getting one myself.  If it happened in Seattle, it could happen where I live.

What an asshole.

Greedy, selfish anti-mask types existed during World War II as well.

The temper tantrums of ignorant macho morons are turning Texas into a pandemic hot spot.

The Freethinker File has some suggestions for reading on atheism.

Here are some views on why the pandemic followed this course.

John Roberts is no reliable ally of abortion rights.

It's leadership!

Even some sensible people become anti-vax nuts in this one case.

Move over, Benedict Arnold -- we have a new number-one traitor.

This is what politics as usual now looks like.

A wide range of hard-won women's rights are now under threat (I think this blogger is in Canada, but the same applies in several countries).

Hot weather isn't slowing down covid-19, much to Florida's misfortune.

The Russia bounty scandal inspires cartoonsMore here.  Mothers of US soldiers killed in Afghanistan are demanding an investigation.

If you see one of these, it's fake.

Super-spreader megachurches pose a political problem for Trump.

Green Eagle has another huge collection of insanity from around the wingnutosphere.

Pictures.....sometimes do lie.

Our country has one Confederate monument which can never be torn down.

The problem is Republicans, not just Trump -- a competent Republican president would have been even more dangerous.  They're not just the party of Trump but the party of QAnon as well.

Police in a democracy should not look like military occupiers.

The US must overcome its anti-science mind-set, which benefits only our enemies.

Acceptance of homosexuality is on the rise throughout the West -- as is religionists' bitching about it.

Learn 15 facts about Canada.

Academia now punishes people for dissenting from fashionable ideology.  There's less freedom of thought at some universities than in the broader society.

A Spanish town hall was forced to take down its rainbow Pride flag -- so the townspeople put up 400 of them.

A wedding party goes viral.

A new report details the treatment of ethnic minorities in China -- forced sterilization, forced abortion, huge fines and other punishments for those who have "too many" children.  I'm not going to stop saying it -- China is the new Nazi Germany.

Democrats have a strong hand -- and need to play it more aggressively.

A new blue wave is building in the Texas suburbs.

It takes integrity to admit a mistake.  More of this, please.

Here's how Biden's approach to covid-19 will differ from Trump's.

Do the Democrats have their own tea party?

82% of white evangelicals say they'll vote for Trump again.

More links here.

Reminder:  If my blog ever mysteriously disappears or seems to have been hacked, the reason is probably this (yes, that problem is still ongoing in various forms).

[1,263 days down, 199 to go until the inauguration of a real president.]