30 August 2020

Link round-up for 30 August 2020

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

o o o o o

Take some "fix your life" advice from a cat, if you dare.

Ant Farmer's Almanac interviews a shark.

There is, apparently, a Netflix show called Norsemen.

Time for some stupid people.

I wonder if these Nixon campaign buttons are for real.

"Ten Catholic priests all die in a bus accident....."

Dogs, dogs, dogs.

Back to ancient Egypt.

Here's how one guy dealt with a kid bike-riding on his driveway.

This is a car worthy of its driver.


Let sleeping cats lie.

"Evil" aliens find humans oddly compliant.

No pillow fights, please.

Make an incendiary soap bubble.

No cage can stop this wild beast from roaming free.

Wise words.

Spectacular photos here of Lake Gordon, Tasmania.

See the history of religion in one cartoon (found via Jerry Coyne).

Maybe California is just too flammable.

Here's how fast-food restaurants in the Roman Empire worked.

Compare the caps.

Politics inspires cartoons.

Annie Asks You takes an in-depth look at octopuses.

Wind turbines kill fewer birds than almost anything else does.

Ancient texts erased by medieval Christians still offer traces of almost-forgotten ancient languages.

Be careful of deals that seem too good to be true (especially if they involve China).

Murr Brewster endured the Republican convention.

Here's what Guilfoyle was really saying.  More interpretations here.

Educated wite suburian.

Even hurricane Laura did some good (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

I can't believe they're still writing in this ghastly, clunky travesty of English.

Your answers to these questions reveal something about you to others.

Here's a tip on how to share your faith in Jesus with someone (found via Nan's Notebook).

Bloggers can write about whatever they want.

These are some things Republicans believe.  Here's why they support Trump.

Astonishingly, her commands were not obeyed.

Powell's Books of Portland, the biggest independent bookstore in the US, is ending its collaboration with Amazon.

Jerry Falwell Jr deserves to suffer as his Christian hypocrisy is exposed.

There's always some new crackpot idea out there.

Some questions are not worth worrying about.

Natural selection is at work in north Texas.

Wingnuts have their own view of Jesus.

"Gays, Jews, bees -- where does it all end???"

This kind of mistake should never be made.

We should abandon modern psychology and go back to blaming everything on demons and evil spiritsThese people exist.

Marijuana sales are booming in my state during the pandemic.

Republicans have been pandering to ignorance for a long time.

Donna at Tell Me a Story reports on looting, the Sturgis rally, and a stupid boss.

To deal with the pandemic, Trump doubles down on stupidity.

Fundamentalism makes men weak and pathetic.

Sometimes the trolls slip up.

This teacher is not looking forward to returning to work.

Many teachers taking a stand together can make a difference.

There's a precedent for addressing DeJoy's sabotage of the Postal Service -- which is going to hit rural America hard.

"My actual, literal life is on the motherfucking line."

See how your congressperson scores on upholding secularism.

The Kenosha shooter is a dedicated Trumpanzee.  He does have his supporters.

Don't rely on faith healing.

The University of Alabama has ordered faculty to keep quiet about any covid-19 infections (found via Mendip).  Maybe they're embarrassed about their record (found via New Witch).

Even if the Republicans lose big in this election, they won't get any less crazy.

How concerned should atheists be about offending Christians?

Victoria Smith responds to Rebecca Solnit (found via Butterflies and Wheels).

There was another Republican convention.

Sometimes becoming a machine beats the alternative.

The brain is incredibly flexible and adapts itself to the body it finds itself in.

What would happen on Earth if humans suddenly disappeared?

Covid-19 can cause permanent and serious kidney damage.

See newly-declassified video of the largest human-made nuclear explosion in history, the Soviet "Tsar Bomba (King Bomb)" 50-megaton H-bomb test of 1961.  The video is in Russian -- click the CC icon for English subtitles.  The actual detonation is around minute 23.

North America is not being adequately debugged.

In the UK, 90% of workers now working from home due to the pandemic want to keep doing so when it's over.

In France, government is often not on the side of the pearl-clutchers.

Yet another case of religion making people assholes.

Japan's nationalist prime minister Abe is stepping down for health reasons.

An obstetrician reports on China's gruesome campaign of genocide against ethnic minorities.

After a long struggle, Africa is polio-free (link from commenter NickM).

The Republicans don't have a platform because they no longer have any beliefs to base it on.

"Because it's a desecration."

Shower Cap blog has a guide to the House and Senate races.

Trevor Noah reviews Pence's convention speech.

Keep up the pressure for voting by mail.

Accept reality -- the party base, not the DNC, chose Biden.

The top US general declares that the military will not intervene in the election.

Darwinfish 2 examines the astonishing idiocy of the wingnuts' attacks on Harris.

Twitterers respond to the Republican convention.

More links here.

[1,319 days down, 143 to go until the inauguration of a real president.]

28 August 2020

Meditation #9 -- goddess of the future

Queen over ice, keeper of Heaven
Mother of dreams that last forever
Guardian over the land and sea
And now cast down, and wronged.

Like the Light-Bringer fallen before
When we dwelt in the sterile Garden
You came down calling, to bless mankind
With a gift of knowledge.

You caught the unknown, now crystal clear
You showed us the way, you drew the maps
Not to the rock, but beside the stone
Giving peace, teaching truth.

But the preachers of lies rose in rage
Condemned you for a witch, a demon
Goddess forgive them not, for they know
Very well what they do.

History is a river, long and strange
Few know its source, fewer where it flows
Bearing us out to the unseen sea
The future we dared dream.

The risen shall sink, the sunk shall rise
In the howling winds and bitter cold
We may die -- or we may truly live
And claim the world again.

Your day will come, you will reign once more
Standing above all, blameless and high
While those who damned you, and their holy things
Rot away, forgotten.

[Something of a companion piece to my earlier "liberation" post]

27 August 2020

My new favorite YouTuber

Anyone can express an opinion -- what really matters is how much evidence and logic you can bring to support it.  That's where "Mic the Vegan" (he pronounces it "Mike") excels.

Mic evidently has a detailed knowledge of nutrition; he describes himself as a science writer and "currently studying Public Health at the Master's level".  In every video he backs up his assertions by citing actual scientific studies -- sometimes a veritable barrage of them -- which shred the nonsense pervasive in pop culture and fad-diet books.  For any argument you've heard against veganism, any MSM hack piece claiming that butter or eggs or whatever are actually healthy, and of course various aspects of the low-carb mania -- the odds are that he's made a video explaining exactly why it's dangerous nonsense.

A few examples.  In this video, a bit less heavy on those studies than most, he debunks the belief that humans are naturally omnivorous, explaining how our anatomy and psychology are consistent with being herbivores:

This one takes on a related idea -- the view that it was a shift to meat-eating (a practice rare to nonexistent among other great ape species) that fueled the startling increase in human brain size over the last two million years:

Finally, he addresses an anti-vegan book which seems typical of the genre:

Mic much less often addresses the moral problems with eating animal products, focusing mostly on human health -- but that's reasonable since it's where his area of expertise is.  His channel is here.

25 August 2020

When is a priest not a priest?

Matthew Hood of Detroit was ordained as a Catholic priest in 2017.  Or was he?

Hood recently discovered that when he was baptized Catholic as an infant thirty years ago, the officiating deacon mistakenly used the phrase "we baptize you" rather than "I baptize you".  It matters, according to doctrine, because in this situation the officiating cleric is allowing Jesus to "speak through" him, and since Jesus is one person, the grammatical singular is required.

This error means that Hood's baptism was not valid and he has thus technically not been a baptized Catholic all this time.  And since only a baptized Catholic can be a Catholic priest, his ordination in 2017 was not valid either and he has not actually been a priest during those three years, despite sincerely believing he was.  Yes, they are serious.

This has some potentially ominous consequences.  All the attendees at masses he held, who believed they were eating Jesus, were actually just eating ordinary crackers since he did not have the magic power to "transubstantiate" them into the flesh of the deity.  Any couples who were married by him were not "really" married in the eyes of God, and have in fact been committing fornication ever since (and any resulting children are illegitimate) -- not because of any error in the marriage ritual, nor even in Hood's ordination, but in his baptism thirty years before.  Presumably any confessions he heard and absolution he offered don't count either.  People more familiar than I am with Catholicism's intricate rules could probably think of more examples.

Since the error was discovered, Hood has been "correctly" baptized and subjected to all the necessary rituals to make him a "real" priest, but evidently they can't do this retroactively, so anybody he performed rituals for in the last three years has problems.  Hood's archdiocese is trying to contact all such people to straighten things out.

All because some guy thirty years ago said "we" instead of "I".  Well, exact wording is important in magic spells, but didn't Jesus object to this kind of scribe-and-Pharisee bureaucratic hairsplitting approach to religion in his own time?  And wouldn't a loving, or even sane, God cut everybody a little slack in this kind of situation?

How many times do errors like this happen and never get detected?  Oh, as long as everybody accepts a priest as a priest, it makes no practical difference, but in the eyes of Catholic dogma, presumably an invalid baptism or later ordination ritual does mean a priest is not "really" a priest and all the rituals he performs in his career are not valid, even if nobody ever finds out.  I've seen claims that such things could not have happened before the twentieth century because they were doing all this stuff in Latin which is supposedly "more precise", but I've also read that many surviving Church documents in Latin from the Middle Ages are riddled with grammatical errors.  Would God spurn a ritual as worthless because the officiating cleric got the genitive-case plural of an irregular third-declension noun wrong, perhaps reading from a document containing the error?  It seems no more absurd than such dire consequences following from the mix-up of "we" and "I" in English.

Worse yet, only a validly-ordained cleric can ordain someone else as a priest -- so if a cleric whose ordination was invalid due to such an error ordains a priest, that priest is not "really" a priest either, and neither is any future priest he ordains in the course of his career, and so on.  One blunder a few centuries ago could result in a whole proliferation of undetected "not-real" ordinations, with dozens of priests today unknowingly being fakes -- meaning countless couples not validly married, sins not validly absolved, altar boys not validly molested, etc.

Such absurdities follow inevitably from this kind of bureaucratic, Kafkaesque approach to religion, where what are basically magical spells and incantations are believed to have such powerful effects on personal status -- where it is mere words rather than the nature and behavior of a thing or person that determine what or who that thing or person "is".  If Satan exists, he's laughing his ass off over this one.

(See also here for another curious implication of Catholic doctrine.)

Blogging reprieve?

Last announcement I saw from Blogger, August 24 was the final date after which the old Blogger interface would cease to be available and we would all be forced to start using the frustrating and difficult new one.  Well, it's August 25 (at least in my time zone) and the old interface is still available.  So I'm hopeful that, as in 2015, Blogger listened to its users and abandoned an obnoxious change.

Curiously enough, right now WordPress is evidently implementing a shift to a new "block editor" which its users also hate.  Why the pervasive need to fix things that aren't broken?

23 August 2020

Link round-up for 23 August 2020

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

o o o o o

Time for some bugs.

Is it data, or something more (or less)?

Cats are so graceful in motion.

This missile test launch did not follow proper safety protocols.

Choose a queen.

Appearances can be deceiving.


This would catch one's attention.

The Antichrist stands revealed (found via Jerry Coyne).

These plants have attitude.

A good school provides transportation for students.

Plankton put on a light show on an Irish beach.

"We actually know what color it was."

This was really too big to eat.

Tinariwen is a rock band with an unusual background.

Some sharp outfits here.

See one critic's listing of the 25 most important sex scenes in movie history.

Mark Alexander waxes poetic over orthography (see a somewhat comparable effort of my own here).

Murr Brewster remembers a lively neighbor.

Preview the roll call of states at the Republican convention.

And I thought shooting yourself in the foot was bad.

He should've just obeyed the law.

Mar-a-Lago, January 21, 2021.

It's the reality of nature.

Here's an invention for dealing with anti-maskers.

Dump Trump.

Kamala Harris posters are cropping up in some surprising places.

Where are the televangelists?

This is what Republican "wit" looks like.

Some mailboxes that weren't removed are being padlocked.

Jehovah's Witnesses adapt to covid-19.

Embrace your doubts.  They can help you find the truth.

Here's a message from a resident of Flint, Michigan (scroll down).

This could raise some real money for the Post Office.

A Navajo code talker remembers Iwo Jima.

Sometimes a company behaves honorably.

"This isn't a pandemic, it's an IQ test."

He still lives in fear.

It's a strange country.

Blogger Donna is now among those put at risk by an anti-mask jackass.

Hearing voices in your head is bad -- believing them is worse.

"What freedoms have you lost?"

Some history wasn't so long ago.

Make America great again (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Christopher Hitchens wrote the best obituary for Jerry Falwell.

Some postal workers are not just following orders.

This is what happens when you get so befuddled by words that you lose sight of the real world they exist to describe.

The Spartan Atheist looks at Kenneth Copeland.

What kind of person is Stephen Miller?

Meet Steve Bannon's friend, a busy guy.

Here's what the wingnut side of the internet has been up to lately.

From Michigan, news videos expose the destruction of mail-sorting machines.

Lyndsey Graham is a whiner and Trump's ambassador to Iceland is a loony.

A Texas Christian school defies the law to help spread covid-19.

This "pardon" was an insult.

Watch for warning signs that quarantine is causing mental issues.

Protecting women from injury is just not worth the hassle.

Two months after Trump's rally, the Tulsa area gets another super-spreader event.

The Bible is hopelessly confused about how to avoid going to Hell.

"But to praise despair is to condemn delight, to embrace violence is to lose hold of everything else."

One who formerly lived under a dictatorship sees warning signs here.

Trump comes up with a new way for his followers to poison themselves.

You are not out of your lane.

The enemy declares Michelle Obama's convention speech to be of the Devil.  More evidence of Satanism here.

The Republicans now toadying to Trump knew what he was right from the beginning.

Don't teach your kids gender stereotypes.  You could be saving them from a disastrous mistake.

The sabotage of the Post Office has already had its effects.  The purpose is to force people to vote in person so all the standard vote-suppression scams can work.  More here.

Trump consults with his imaginary friend about the economy.

Sexual abuse is sexual abuse, no matter who commits it.

The boss at this Texas company is a religious nut who bans mask-wearing.

"Those who flock to beaches, bars, and political rallies, putting their fellow citizens at risk.....are displaying.....the weakness of a people who lack both the stoicism to endure the pandemic and the fortitude to defeat it."

My city's downtown is sinking into barbarism, with violence between rival gangs and this kind of thing in the streets.  This needs to stop.

Trump no longer bothers to hide his dictatorial intentions -- never forgive those who still collaborate.

If there are things you want the Senate to do, then you need to vote for Democratic Senate candidates.

Have sex with me or you're a bigot.

The pandemic has made it clear -- it's time for government to go big.

It's a series a toobs!  Enormous toobs! (found via Miss Cellania).

Not everyone needs the same amount of sleep and the Moon is too dusty.

California scientists are developing a new line of defense against covid-19.

Higher humidity seems to offer some protection.

The UK's "Jesus Army" was a hotbed of abuse, sexual and otherwise.

New Zealand is still doing way better than the US against covid-19.


In France, male activists have taken over and trashed a women's meeting space, and driven a feminist leader out of her home with death threats.  This is starting to look like the racist backlash against the Civil Rights movement in the 1960s.

Israel and Germany are increasing military cooperation, a remarkable reconciliation just 75 years after the Holocaust.

Religious activists in Brazil swarm to prevent an incestuously-raped ten-year-old from getting an abortion.

Japan in 1945 narrowly escaped a third atom bomb.

In Meiji-era Japan, women had to notify the government of hairstyle changes.

Modern Japanese have discovered the benefits of not being assholes.

Somalia is considering legalization of forced child marriage.

In a religion-based society, you can get the death penalty for "hurting the feelings" of idiots.

Electoral-Vote assesses the Democratic convention.  Here are some reactions to Biden's speech.

Obama's message:  We're in danger.

Biden is not the lesser of two evils.

There's a reason why Trump's campaign is full of mediocre people.

Right now there's nothing more important than the election.  It's our last chance -- don't blow it.

There are two options, and only two.

State-by-state voting tips here.

More links here.

[Image at top:  It's a lynx!  For the round-up of links!  Get it?  Get it?  OK, I just had to get that pun out of my system.]

20 August 2020

What are aliens, really?

As I said here, one reason I reject alien-abduction stories is that the aliens they describe -- "greys" and suchlike -- are just unimaginative modifications of the human form.  It's very unlikely that evolution on another planet would produce anything so closely resembling us or any other Earthly species.  Aliens with a technological civilization would probably have sophisticated sense organs and organs of manipulation (like hands or tentacles), but that's all we can assume.

Such visions are clearly products of the human mind.  But why do human minds even come up with such fantasies at all?  Does the fact that reports of alien encounters are limited to the last eighty or so years mean anything?

During the Dark Ages, reports of personal encounters with angels and demons were very common.  If angels and demons actually existed -- and people at that time certainly believed they did -- then there's no reason to think that such encounters would be any less common today than back then.  Yet such reports are pretty rare today, and generally heard only from people with intensely-religious backgrounds.

Humans seem to have an occasional tendency to hallucinate vivid encounters with human-like but often grotesquely distorted beings, who may be either benevolent or menacing.  It could be a sporadic survival into adulthood of the "imaginary friend" phenomenon seen in children.  Such hallucinated entities are interpreted according to (and perhaps derive their visual form from) the library of concepts and images available to the person having the hallucination.  In a time and place where most people's thinking was dominated by Christianity, they manifested themselves as angels and demons.  Since rocketry and space travel got going, and beings from other worlds using such technology to visit Earth became a common theme of science fiction, they've manifested themselves as aliens.

In both cases, the encounters often include sexual elements (succubi and incubi, alien "probing" and even impregnation), and sometimes feature the superior beings delivering statements which are received as profound wisdom, but in fact are usually just trite platitudes drawn from the trash culture of the day.

It also seems that aliens are taking on some of the functions humans formerly assigned to gods.  There are claims that aliens created the human race (by interbreeding with apes, or something equally silly) or that they will be coming here soon to save humanity, or some favored subset thereof, from the various intractable problems we've created for ourselves.  The quasi-religious quality of such ideas is obvious, and given time and more coherent "doctrines", such ideas could even evolve into religions.  Scientology already involves ancient aliens in roles similar to those given to gods or devils in other religions.

In case you were wondering, by the way, there is no substance to such claims.  The human genome and that of our closest relative, the chimpanzee, have been exhaustively mapped -- since the differences are of obvious interest to anthropology.  None of those differences (which are surprisingly small) look like anything other than ordinary results of mutation and natural selection.

There's a more niche cult which oddly parallels the "God of the gaps" concept -- the argument that if there's no obvious explanation for some phenomenon seen in nature, God must have done it.  I'm referring to the "ancient astronauts" cult fomented by writers like Erich von Däniken, which claims that various pre-modern structures like the Egyptian pyramids or the fortifications of pre-Columbian Peru could not have been built by people at the time, therefore aliens must have helped.  As with scientifically-unexplained natural phenomena, the sensible response -- that we simply don't yet know the explanation -- is ignored to promote a favored claim.

And, as with the natural phenomena, in most cases there is actually no mystery.  It's pretty well understood how the pyramids were built, for example.  The Egyptians of 2600 BC were not grunting primitives -- they had a literate civilization with agriculture, cities, and a total population of about four million.  The pyramids could have been built by a few tens of thousands of workers in a couple of decades using ordinary techniques known to have been available at the time.  Ancient Egypt was an absolute monarchy, so the pharaoh could easily have assembled a workforce that size for a project he considered important.

James Randi and others have done a thorough job of documenting the idiocy and dishonesty of von Däniken's claims -- he even found it amazing that early Peruvians knew what human skeletons looked like when they didn't have X-rays, for example.  And no archaeological site anywhere on Earth has ever yielded any unambiguous trace of the advanced technology aliens would have had and were supposedly using to help build these structures -- not one dropped screw or wire or discarded food wrapper or anything showing signs of precision manufacture or made of a material unavailable to people at the time.  There's also an odd element of racism involved.  No one has ever claimed that aliens must have helped build the Parthenon or the Köln cathedral -- because those were built by Europeans, who were presumptively smart enough to have done it themselves.  It's only non-Europeans who must have needed alien help to build great works.  Sorry, no -- early humans were surprisingly ingenious, all over the world.

There certainly might be other technological civilizations elsewhere in the universe, perhaps even within this galaxy.  My own assessment is that there probably are not, but we just know far too little right now to come to firm conclusions one way or the other.  But the tales of aliens, UFOs, ancient astronauts, and the like which entertain credulous modern people have nothing to do with any such possibility.  They're just new manifestations of the same old visions, scams, and errors of logic which have plagued us in various forms for thousands of years.

19 August 2020

Blogiversary XIV

Today marks fourteen years I've been doing this blog.  Thanks to all the readers who encourage me to keep going.  I've made it through arthritis, surgery, Trump, troll outbreaks, and (so far) covid-19, so I fully expect to be around for quite a while yet.

18 August 2020

The Indian side

Much has been made of Kamala Harris's status as the first black woman on a major-party presidential ticket, and this is indeed a historic milestone.  But the other side of her background -- the Indian side -- deserves attention too.

Harris's early exposure to Indian culture was substantial.  As a child in California she attended both a Christian church and a Hindu temple (this in itself an encouraging sign that her parents were not dogmatic about religion), and also visited her mother's family in Chennai in India several times.  The name "Kamala" is of Indian origin.  Even if she doesn't strongly self-identify as Indian-American, she's certainly far more familiar with India and its culture than most Americans are.

This matters because she has a strong chance of succeeding Biden as president.  If at some point in the next four to eight years Biden decides that his energy and mental acuity are no longer equal to the demands of the presidency (a real possibility, given his advanced age), I think he would do the honorable thing and resign in favor of his VP.  If this does not happen, Harris will still be a strong contender for the Democratic nomination in 2028, or in 2024 if Biden chooses not to pursue a second term.  It's not inevitable that she will be our 47th president, but the odds seem far better than even.  And of course Harris may wield substantial influence even as vice president, as some recent holders of that office have done.

Harris's new prominence as Biden's running mate has already attracted considerable attention in India.  As a senator, she has quite properly been critical of the current religio-nationalist Modi government, and she and Biden won't turn a blind eye to Modi's politics of division and exclusion.  But the Modi government, like the Trump administration here, won't be around forever.  One can even hope that a return to normality in the US will help encourage voters in India, Brazil, and elsewhere to turn out the dangerous authoritarian leaders who have sprung up in the miasma of the time of Trump.

India is one of the world's major non-Western civilizations.  It's the world's largest democracy and a rising power whose importance to American foreign policy is bound to grow in the coming years -- especially since its location and its own national interests will make it a vital part of any effort to contain and limit the power of fascist China.  A vice president, or president, with a strong connection to India and understanding of the country, would be a substantial asset to the US in the years to come.

One final observation about Harris's background:  her mother was a scientist who advanced our understanding of the role of hormones in cancer, while her father was a professor of economics.  She will bring a respect and understanding for science and education quite different from the attitude of the current passel of ignorant fools in power.

[Image at top:  Harris with her mother Shyamala Gopalan (1938-2009) and sister Maya]

17 August 2020

Video of the day -- doin' all right

From the International Space Station.  Found via By Hook or by Book.

16 August 2020

Link round-up for 16 August 2020

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

o o o o o

Read Jurassic Park's Twitter account.

Dreams, dreams, dreams.....

Book time!

Now this is parking.

"What if you go to Hell?"

It's a hot time down at the vampire disco.

Teach him to jump.

Bill Maher delivers Trump's funeral oration (Trump doesn't like it).

Here's how kids define politics.

For the time of covid-19, there's now a drive-in haunted house (found via Old Fashion Halloween).

Gag, retch, barf, vomit, puke.....

No more HOAs, more purple houses.

It was a snazzy vehicle in its day.

They're excavating a surprisingly large city.

Lots of fine travel photos of Rome here (text is from a Catholic viewpoint).

"There are always men like you."

Here's the right way to add Trump to Mount Rushmore.

Get your back-to-school supplies here.

"Grab him by the ballot."

RO looks at birthdays, covid-19 in the family, hot dogs, and gifts.

Watch for media piracy to make a comeback.

Some tips on short story writing here.

Perhaps aliens would just become an outlet for our worst habits.

Margaret Hamilton paid a steep price for her iconic role in one of the most famous films ever made.

It's the nightmare of late capitalism.

".....and I think to myself, what a wonderful world....."

Even Twitter is now introducing a form of comment moderation.

Perhaps "religious freedom" can be used to protect abortion rights.

They're not all nasty.

Trump is so incompetent he's even fouled up the Republican plan to destroy democracy.

There is no possible justification for this behavior.

What an asshole.

It's as if Jesus wanted people to go to Hell.

This must be the craziest wingnut conspiracy fantasy yet.

Yes, schools can enforce mask rules if they choose to.

It's not your job to save decaying regions that won't save themselves.

Guess I won't be relying on Newsweek for information.

Defend the real meanings of words (Orwell warned us about thought control via manipulation of language).

The top executives get millions in bonuses, the people who do the actual work get laid off.

In Portland, state police who replaced Trump's mystery feds are now pulling out, citing local unwillingness to prosecute crimes.

Stop subsidizing germ-spreading freaks who think they're above the law.  79% of Americans agree that churches should obey the rules.

They're ripping out Postal Service infrastructure right in front of our eyes.  But the people are starting to rise up against this outrageous sabotage.  One of America's most influential leaders calls on her followers to vote early.

This person exists (and will vote).

This person exists (and will also vote).

A lot of American Christians aren't really Christians.

No, we are not all fine.

Endless sickness and death, brought to you by the "right-to-life" party.

Two private schools in Pennsylvania have joined in a "Christian school district" to maximize the spread of covid-19.  This California county is now a "sanctuary county" for the virus.

There is no common ground (found via Hackwhackers).

It's only a myth that the Republican party was sane and decent before Trump.

Say goodbye to Fred the skeleton.

They fired him, then lied about the reason.

The governor must do his job even if the fundies don't like it.

Science and rationality aren't just for white people.

Trump has found yet another quack doctor.

MAGA "tough guys" are weak men.

It's not Congress, it's the Republicans.

A new Johnny Appleseed roams the land, sowing orchards of lies.

They're not pro-life (found via Octoberfarm).

SpaceX is screwing up astronomy.

Science is gaining ground against nonsense in our schools.

The explosion in Beirut sheds some light on what's gone wrong with the US (read the comments too).

Islamist authoritarian regimes in Iran and Turkey condemn the new peace between Israel and the UAE.

Biden and Harris make a good combination.  Their clash on race during the debates will be a positive for the party and the country.

Here's why eastern Tennessee will vote for Trump no matter what.

They chose the QAnon qrackpot over the neurosurgeon.

Republicans are already (incompetently) slinging mud at Harris.  And they're already right down in the gutter.

Trump's attack on the Postal Service is an election issue in its own right.

Here are some tips on how to vote safely and make sure it counts.

Silicon Valley is preparing to push back against election shenanigans.

Which one is "in decline"?

Progressives are largely supportive of Harris.  Electoral-Vote has more on reactions.  She's the attack dog we need.

More links here and here.

o o o o o

I'm saddened to learn that blogger Ed Brayton, whose posts have sometimes been included in these round-ups, has decided to end his fight against the final darkness.  Farewell.

15 August 2020

Video of the day -- upholding slavery

There's another historical figure who has at least as much to answer for as the Confederates do.

13 August 2020

Random observations for August 2020

I always find it a bit presumptuous when some American says "If such-and-such candidate wins, I'm moving to Canada."  Why is he so sure Canada would want him?

o o o o o

One reason I don't believe alien-abduction stories is that the aliens they describe -- "greys" and suchlike -- are just unimaginative modifications of the human form.  It's very unlikely that evolution on another planet would produce anything so closely resembling us or any other Earthly species.  Aliens with a technological civilization would presumably have sophisticated sense organs and organs of manipulation (like hands or tentacles), but that's all we can assume.

o o o o o

It's odd that people think of ghosts as being scary.  If ghosts were real, how could they harm you?

o o o o o

I will never tolerate being lectured on morality by people who eat meat.  That would be absurd.

o o o o o

If we were able to bring back dinosaurs like in Jurassic Park, they would all have terrible digestive problems.  Dinosaurs were probably dependent on ecosystems of gut bacteria just as modern animals (including ourselves) are, bacteria which are now long extinct, and we have no way of knowing anything about dinosaur gut bacteria, much less bringing them back.

o o o o o

Not only do I support abortion, in the case of certain people I'd like to see it made retroactive.

o o o o o

There's nobody more naïve than a cynic.

o o o o o

There's a saying that taxes are the price we pay for living in a civilized society, and I wouldn't mind paying for a bit higher level of civilization around here.

o o o o o

The sexual revolution ended the system under which everyone had to fit their lives into a single Procrustean one-size-fits-all pattern (inevitably generating a vast penumbra of hypocrisy), allowing individuals to live according to their own standards as best they could.  When two people are involved, it’s difficult to achieve a good fit, and even more difficult to keep it that way for the long haul.  If you can just stay honest and avoid hurting anybody, you’re doing better than most.

o o o o o

None of us is strong enough to face the cold and dark of the world alone.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

12 August 2020

Bring it on

So now we know the identity of Biden's running mate and, very likely, our country's 47th president.  Electoral-Vote has a good overview of the choice, which won widespread acclaim from anti-Trump forces across the spectrum.  So far I've seen surprisingly little caviling from the usual ideological purists, despite occasional grumbling in the past that Harris's history as an attorney general was "problematic".  No doubt the Russian/Republican trolls will provide them their talking points soon enough; it remains to be seen how many will take the bait.

Our explicit enemies, of course, have shown no such restraint, wasting no time in denouncing Harris as an abortion-backer, an enemy of religion, and an ultra-leftist.  There have also been some less-adult responses, and I've seen occasional comments that Harris is "not a natural-born citizen" (???) and "slept her way to the top" (an apparent reference to her earlier relationship with Willie Brown).

But we always knew that no matter whom Biden chose, the enemy's reaction would get very ugly very fast, with rank-and-file wingnuts quickly sinking into the ooze of the special misogynistic filth that the orange vulgarian they follow has legitimized for deployment against women specifically.  Bring it on.  After three and a half years of the Trump shit-show, we can endure three months of their rhetorical diarrhea if it helps drive even more women voters (and men with post-Neolithic values) out of their tent.  And Harris is a fighter.  She knows how to hit them hard without sinking to their level.

We'll see who has the last laugh in November.

10 August 2020

The dead and the gods

It is now more than eight months since my mother's death, yet I still sometimes have a powerful feeling that she is still "here" in some incorporeal sense, perhaps in need of my help or reassurance in some way.  I've heard that it is not unusual to keep feeling the presence of someone to whom we feel closely connected, long after the person's death.  When you know someone very well and spend a lot of time and energy interacting with them or thinking about them, this becomes one of your brain's major accustomed activities, a habit -- and when the person is no longer there, the brain, so I assume, keeps on doing what it is used to doing.

Once last week we had rain in the morning, and a cool day interrupting the August heat.  My mother used to love rainy days, especially in the summer -- they reminded her of her native England.  When I realized it was raining, I went to the room where I keep her ashes and opened the window, to let her hear the rain.  I know full well how irrational that is, yet it felt very natural.

Later, though, this set me thinking about the gods which have beset humanity throughout its history, and where they might have come from.

If it is a common thing to feel an awareness of the "presence" of the recently dead whom we knew well, and an urge to continue the interactions we had with them while they were alive, then this has probably been the case for at least as long as we've been fully human, perhaps much longer.  Primitive people would very easily interpret this feeling as the real continuing presence of the spirits of the dead, somehow still around in disembodied form and watching the living.

Because I spent the last nine years of my mother's life taking care of her or, towards the end, closely monitoring her care at the residential facility where she had to live, my sensations of her presence take the form of a feeling that she needs my help in some way -- because that was the form my actual relationship with her took for almost a decade.  But what about someone like a tribal chieftain or elder in a primitive society, one for whom others felt awe and respect, and whose judgment they feared?  If his people had a strong sensation of his presence after his death, likely they would feel the same awe and fear toward that presence, feel that he might still be watching them and passing judgment on their behavior.  People might even alter their behavior to avoid offending the dead chief's spirit, and warn others to do the same; they might offer up things or actions they knew he would like, to please and propitiate him.

In the case of an especially feared or respected leader, I can imagine such habits becoming so ingrained that people would pass them along to the next generation, those who were born after the great man's death and never personally knew him.  This would be accompanied by tales of his acts, his judgments, his power during life -- and tales, as we all know, grow in the telling.  After two or three generations the dead chief would have evolved into a being of superhuman power and wisdom, whose spirit you had damn well better avoid offending -- a primordial god.  People would no longer have the true feeling of his presence that those who had actually known him had felt, but stories and teachings would provide a compelling, if less viscerally felt, substitute.

Once the belief in such beings became established, it would tend to persist.  And as society gradually grew more complex, a few especially clever and unethical people would manage to position themselves as spokesmen for the disembodied superbeing who had evolved from tales of the long-gone chief who had seemed to live on after his death in the minds of his contemporaries.  They would issue pronouncements in the supreme spirit's name, and thus gain power over their credulous fellows -- and the essence of religion as we know it today would be fully formed.  Then, when writing and civilization arose, religions would be free to develop the kind of scope and complexity they have today.

Note that a few cultures explicitly worship ancestors rather than gods, and many cultures also believe in ghosts or other kinds of disembodied spirit beings.  I suspect that these are cases where the process I'm describing only ran partway, and beliefs are still fairly directly based on that feeling of continuing presence of the dead.

Once the concept of gods had become firmly established in the human mind, it would be a relatively easy matter for prophets con men to reveal make up entirely new religions, based on new gods or new interpretations of existing ones.  That's probably the origin of most or all of the religions we have today.  But the original concept of gods had to come from somewhere.

09 August 2020

Link round-up for 9 August 2020

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

o o o o o

He's a rockin' penguin (found via Mock Paper Scissors) -- be sure to watch the soundtrack version.

Be ded!  Go a little fart.....

This dog park witnessed a historic event.

Some people take things too literally.

Happy Sextilis, and how's your underwear?

Time for masks -- and dogs and cats.

Trump does national parks (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

"I thought you were a ghost."

See innovative computer design.

Math time.

Murr Brewster has some choice words about leaf blowers.

This is a debate Trump could win.

The future is always a mystery.

Music hath charms.....

Get your Halloween supplies early.  Keep the holiday spirit alive despite the pandemic.

We create boring, unimaginative aliens in our own image.

People wear the wit and wisdom of Trump.

Every writer lays claim to something from you.

It was what he really needed (found via MBRU at Crooks and Liars).

Old stone face.

"Dial down the feminism."

He decided he didn't really need an aspirin just then.

Karens?  There's a better term.

Trainride of the Enigmas discovers internet pests.

I've always hated music being played in offices.

Blessed are the con men, for unto them shall a fourth plane be given.

What personal boycotts are you engaged in?

Here's how artists can avoid hand pain -- probably helpful to writers as well.

Fire in the White House!

"You folks are broken.  You are failed humans.  And congratulations, you've ruined everything for everyone else."

This is what comes of ignoring science (found via Calvin).

Executives at failing companies scored millions in bonuses just before the companies went bankrupt.

Mask required for service.

Thousands of unemployed people are being ordered to pay back the benefits they've received.

He said the president must be held responsible.

Hackers hack a hacker's hearing.

Everybody's gotta hate something.

By Hook or by Book has another covid-19 report from Alabama.  Don't miss the space station video.

Georgia has a new law to protect the most vulnerable.

Donate here to provide meals for the destitute.

Trump's Axios interview was the crowning spasm of narcissism.

Evidently my concerns about political pressure to rush a covid-19 vaccine approval are shared by experts.

The world would be a better place without billionaires.

A highly-religious culture cannot be an educated one.

Moline Skeptics looks at QAnon.

No, Junípero Serra was not a good guy.

Based on this, the military would not support a Trump coup attempt.

A small South Dakota town looks to be come the next covid-19 hotspot.

Some good tips on voting here.

Knock it off, you jackasses.

Imagine trying to have a rational discussion with people who believe this stuff.

Religion has to get people before they're old enough to think for themselves.

A teacher who voted for Trump realizes her mistake.

Unexpected supporters don't make evil leaders OK.

Even when we have a vaccine, defeating covid-19 will take a lot of work.

The Postal Service is critically important and must be saved.

She has more reason to hate Trump and the Trumpanzees than most do, and isn't shy about saying so.

It starts with corrupted language and ends with self-righteous bullying.

One church service, ninety-one infections.

This person monster exists.

Here's what a real school re-opening would mean.  This case didn't go well.

Only people with correct opinions deserve police protection (seriously, this guy should be fired).

The DHS was established to prevent another 9/11 and 20 years later it's spying on reportersNever trust a government with too much power.

Should parents have the right to inflict religious brainwashing on their children?

Steve Schmidt assesses Trump.

You're right to be angry, but choose your target wisely.

Iowa's Republican governor will punish schools that fail to do their part in spreading covid-19.

This guy launched a smear-and-harassment campaign against critics of the Chinese regime.

This week saw the anniversary of the first electric-chair execution (found via Jerry Coyne).

Never forget what that flag means.

There's a word for what Kushner and Trump did.

Between stupid people and crappy leaders, we're in deep coronaviral shit.

Celebrate the machine that made further world wars impossible.

No, you are not swallowing spiders in your sleep.

Here's an interesting take on cat psychology.

Autism is being over-diagnosed to the point of meaninglessness.

Weird symptoms linger for months after a bout with covid-19.

Artificial antibodies could protect health-care workers until a vaccine is available (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Herpes could save your life.

Machines can identify birds and the universe is clumping wrong.

Dinosaurs got cancer.

Murderous extreme-right groups are infiltrating Germany's police and military.

Lebanon was in a mess before the explosion.

Dâ'ish (ISIL) lives on in the trauma of its former slaves.

Saudi crown prince Mohammad Bone Sawman is once again threatening a dissident overseas.

Growing numbers of people in Hong Kong have had it with Chinese rule and plan to emigrate.

Namibia has had some success at fighting rhino poaching.

Africa now has over one million confirmed covid-19 cases, and the real number must be far higher given the inadequacy of testing in many countries.

Political apathy is unacceptable.

Tough-on-China Republicans prefer Biden.

It would be almost impossible for Trump to steal the election.

More links here.

[1,298 days down, 164 to go until the inauguration of a real president.]