28 February 2021

Link round-up for 28 February 2021

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

o o o o o

Sexy humor is the best humor (NSFW).

Watch out for the gambling granny.

Apparently this was supposed to be an F.

Leap into the snow!

Let's just do it simply.

"Other birds we think you may enjoy."

Wilkins Coffee commercials were kind of hard-sell.

The cat knows where to go (found via Miss Cellania).

Listen to your ancestor.

They stand ready at their posts.

Some shows change completely when taken to a different country (found via Miss Cellania).  I've noticed this before.

Behold the works of non-smart people.

What do you do when friends change for the worse?

It's possible to be tacky and scary at the same time.

This is why you shouldn't try to go around the gates at railway crossings.

Why does a gender-reveal party require lethal explosive devices anyway?

Go get some sleep.

Some cool photos of Antarctica here.

Explore the deep sea (scroll down -- and down).

These are giant groundsels.  More bizarre plants here.

"The real world doesn't take flight / the way dreams do."

Let nature reclaim it (click photos to enlarge).

The Perseverance rover's parachute carries a message.

FFS we've lost Fry's Electronics now.

Conspiracy theories serve as a distraction.

Sometimes you can't judge the mind by what you see on the surface.

Hackwhackers has a choice for best actress at the Golden Globes.

For Texans being gouged by huge electric bills, some of the info here may be useful.

The design for the stage at CPAC is.....revealing.

The Supreme Court has ruled in favor of the coronavirus.

Yes, there is such a thing as a week for not being romanticMore here.  Also read comment #1 here.

Ignore the control freaks and just write whatever the hell you want.

It's American exceptionalism.

We can learn from the 1920s.

No one is obligated to forgive you.

Here's the problem of evil summed up in one diagram.

Do not make a fetish of "nature" (this book is definitely going on my to-read list; I've already read this one and recommend it).  I have my own thoughts on the issue.

If you want to reduce abortion, this is the right way to do it.

Sometimes people have a good reason for trying to get your attention.

Maybe right-wingers are just too emotional.

Uber doesn't sound like a good investment.

The United States is a backward, low-wage economy.

Bruce Gerencser remembers a religious education.

Our new UN ambassador, Linda Thomas-Greenfield, got where she is by overcoming the worst of America.

Texas blogger Professor Taboo looks at global warming and the great Texas snowstorm.

Video meetings are exhausting.

Men need to be open to getting psychological help (I can attest to the value of this from experience).

Loony conspiracy stuff does exist on the left, though it's far less pervasive than on the right.

If you're the wrong kind of victim, they don't want to hear from you.

Far-right ideology has been part of evangelicalism for a long time.

Natural selection strikes again.

Here are the ten worst boss behaviors (found via Miss Cellania).

DC statehood is the key to overcoming obstruction in the Senate.  There are important things to do.

Orwell warned us about twisting language to restrict how people can think.  Clear language makes the lies obvious.

A Denver program replacing police with health-care workers for certain duties is showing signs of success.

No, Biden did not "abandon" the deportation freeze (must-read, and remember this next time you see someone attack centrist Democrats).

Always wait until you know the full story.

Dangerous stuff happens in bars.  Be wary.

Good discussion here on transgenderism and women's sports.

Republicans don't care if Texas freezes so long as the right people are making money.

Don't call rage-fueled murder a "syndrome".

Governments are increasingly trying to limit what people in their territories can access on the internet.  I foresee a growing market for technological work-arounds to overcome such restrictions.

"Women saying no to males is 'vileness and cruelty'."

Here's what life is like in countries where covid-19 vaccination is already a success.

Letters from Hitler's father shed some light on his background.

France strikes a blow against the new planned obsolescence.

The slums of Casablanca show how both the worst and the best can emerge from deprivation.

Canada's parliament recognizes the Chinese regime's genocide of the Uyghurs.

One man in Malaysia has won a legal victory against Islamist repression of homosexuality.

Good overview here of some current work on aging reversal.

More links here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted the Perseverance landing, an assessment of Democrats' disunity on the filibuster, and a renunciation of bickering.

[Image at top:  Casablanca, Morocco, found via Cas d'Intérêt]

26 February 2021

On arguing

Bruce Gerencser's recent post "Why I Don't Do Debates" struck a real nerve with me.  As a former fundamentalist pastor turned outspoken atheist blogger, Gerencser is sometimes urged to engage in formal debates with Christians.  He also attracts a fair number of Christian trolls who attack him or otherwise try to provoke him into argument, usually without reading any of the material on his site which already addresses what they are saying.  He sometimes posts responses to the latter, while firmly refusing to be drawn into the endless and pointless rounds of bickering they seem to want.  As to formal debates, he gives two reasons for refusing to engage:

First, there are numerous atheist and agnostic debaters producing quality -- dare I say phenomenal -- content..... I see no need to add my weak voice to an already crowded field of expert debaters. I ask myself, do we really need another hamburger joint in town? The answer is no.

Second, I am a conversationalist, a storyteller.  This blog has always been one man with a story to tell.  I suspect that if I changed my focus to the rules of logic, philosophy, and debating, my hard-won audience would likely go elsewhere.  Most people who read this blog do so because they find my story resonates with them in some way.  When doubting, troubled Evangelicals show up for the first time, they find a man who understands their pain, what they have experienced and gives voice to their struggles.  Such people have always been my focus, and I see no need to change my course now.

Different people are good at different things.  The skills of storytelling and explaining overlap somewhat with those of debating, but debating is nevertheless a quite distinct thing.  Gerencser is very good at what he does.  It would make no sense for him to burden himself with further tasks which he judges less suited to his abilities.

A further problem with getting into arguments -- one very evident in Gerencser's occasional posts responding to Christian e-mail pests -- is the sheer repetitiousness of it.  Since none of them bother to read much of his site before attacking, each one starts from zero -- each one makes more or less the same kind of trite and shallow "points" and earns more or less the same responses, never realizing that Gerencser has heard the same from any number of previous trolls.  None address his story and experiences.  They just make assumptions based on their own indoctrination, and proceed on that basis.  I don't know how he has the patience to keep writing responses to such cookie-cutter sameness.

I have no such patience.  The "fight-picker" trolls who try to post comments here, similarly, almost never engage with what I say on its own terms -- they simply regurgitate their own talking points.  In most cases, these are tired clichés which others have addressed far better.

(And yes, there are a fair number of fight-picker comments, not to mention flat-out personal insults.  You just don't see them because of the comment moderation.)

Then there are the trolls who get irate about something in the link round ups and, bizarrely, attack me for posting a link to it rather than engaging with the author I linked to whose words actually angered them.  Even weirder are those who triumphantly proclaim "the person you linked to once did or said [bad thing], thus proving they are a bad person", as if that somehow negates whatever actual point the linked individual had made.  Would there really be any purpose in letting such comments through moderation and then trying to explain why they're irrelevant?  It would be like belaboring 2+2=4, and the troll himself would never get it.

Since the content of this blog is rather varied, not everything on it will appeal to every reader.  I believe I too am pretty good at what I do, and the steady growth in number of readers over time seems to substantiate that.  But as the comments policy says, this is a blog, not a debating forum.  The internet has a vast abundance of places where back-and-forth arguments are welcome.  This just isn't one of them.

Finally, debating is simply not something I want to do, and I consider this a perfectly legitimate reason for not engaging with fight-pickers.  Some people actually enjoy arguing back and forth, back and forth.  To me it would be a wearisome chore.  There are only so many hours in the day, and I already have a full-time job.  I choose not to devote any more of my precious time to the drudgery of bickering.

24 February 2021

Problem Democrats and getting things done

I should start this post by putting in a word or two for Joe Manchin, who has been getting a lot of flack lately.  On a couple of issues, he's raised legitimate points.

The money being spent on sending covid-19 relief checks to the entire population would be better spent if it were targeted to those with the greatest need (I made a similar point here last year).  A person like myself still doing a regular job from home, whose income is unaffected by the pandemic, doesn't need to get $2,000 in free money from the government, and a person out of work struggling to pay several months of rent and health insurance needs a lot more than $2,000 to actually get out of that hole.  It would make more sense to take the same money and funnel it entirely to people in the latter category so we could give, say, $12,000 to each unemployed person, while not wasting money on people like me who still have a normal income.

Similarly, while I fervently support raising the minimum wage to $15 to bring the US more into line with developed-country norms, Manchin has a point that in less-developed parts of the US, $15 might be too high for the local economy to absorb in the same time frame that the more-developed regions need to have it.  Perhaps the federal minimum wage could be indexed to the cost of living in each state in some way, or incentives created for each state to raise its own minimum wage to an appropriate level.  It's a legitimate issue.

This being said, the position he and Sinema have taken against eliminating the filibuster is a potentially crippling problem.

The filibuster isn't an issue for the Biden covid-19 relief plan because that's being passed via reconciliation.  However, at the moment, it appears that not one Republican senator will vote for it.  This is legislation which is supported by 83% of the US public (obviously including a lot of Republican voters) and which Standard and Poor says would hugely benefit the economy.  If not one Republican senator will vote for that, what are our odds of getting ten of them to support voting-rights protections or a healthcare public option or reining in the Supreme Court?  Obviously pretty much zero.

And the Democrats need to get at least some of these things done -- in twenty months.  That's the time from now until the 2022 midterm election.  If we don't have some major accomplishments to point to by then, our voters will not be motivated to turn out, and the Republicans will likely get a majority in the House and perhaps the Senate too (despite a favorable map for us that year), causing total paralysis.  Nobody outside DC gives a crap about the "hallowed traditions of the Senate".  They care what the government does to help solve their problems.  "We got X, Y, and Z done" will get our voters to the polls to save our majority.  "We couldn't get anything done because the Republicans filibustered it all" will not.

So if Manchin and Sinema prevent the abolition of the filibuster, they will probably stymie most of the party's agenda and very possibly hand the government back to a Republican party which is getting more and more Trumpified and unhinged as time passes.

However, upcoming legislation offers an opportunity to address this problem.

As Republican state governments double down on efforts to suppress the Democratic-leaning vote (especially the black vote), Congressional Democrats are planning federal legislation to protect voting rights nationally.  There's not a chance in Hell that ten Republicans will support this.  Vote suppression is their party's only hope for holding dominance in marginal states, and for keeping the share of federal power it now has, in the face of inexorable demographic change.

So if the filibuster remains, Congress will be powerless to stop state-level Republicans from continuing to destroy the voting rights that the civil-rights movement fought so hard for, and won at such terrible cost, just two generations ago.  It's as simple and as straightforward as that.

Any argument that it might be OK to keep the filibuster is a dagger in the back of black America.  That's the message that must be hammered home, screamed from the rooftops, put front and center, relentlessly, as soon as the covid-19 relief bill is done.  It must be the only message, the only framing of the filibuster issue.

And then, if Manchin and Sinema are Democrats at all, they'll come around on scrapping the filibuster.

23 February 2021

Video of the day -- Perseverance

Amid the negativity that tends to dominate the news, never forget that humans also achieve things.  Consider the mastery of technology and mathematics shown by this perfect landing of a complex machine on another world tens of millions of miles away -- and by the exploratory work which that machine will carry out on our behalf in the months and years to come, seeking evidence of past or present life in the alien desert.  If only Galileo and Newton could have seen this!  Mission site here.

21 February 2021

Link round-up for 21 February 2021

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

o o o o o

This is what happens when you put a cat in charge of Valentine's Day.

Witness a mighty echinoderm fart.

When you gaze into the abyss, the abyss also gazes into you.

Best airline safety video ever.

Nope, too cold.

That's a pretty bad weight problem.

Do you know Maya? (found via Neko Random).

This map of the US was made by a truck driver who has been through most of it.

You should refuse.

Languages have irregularities.

Trust in God.

Follow the map.

The brave hunter stalks his prey whatever the danger.

It's perfectly translated.

Here's how you can use a fork to lock a door.

Volunteers save thousands of sea turtles from the icy waters off Texas.

This is Kyoto.

Creepy vintage Valentine cards here.

Where can one meet the ladies of antifa?

Apparently people bought these.

Mock Paper Scissors QAnonsplains the Texas blackout.

There's now a vegan KitKat bar, though it won't go on sale for a few more months.

Make better monsters.

See spectacular light pillars.

Everything's big in Texas, including the hypocrisy (found via Hackwhackers).  Here's the Texas-Arkansas border.

Here are 25 great revenge movies (found via Miss Cellania).

Control freaks don't like AO3.

Humans are fascinated by giant waves and their destructive power.

Umberto Eco gave some wise advice on maintaining a rich mental life in a gadget-filled world.

It's not a zero-sum game.

This is a storm in South Dakota.

Don't over-sanitize.

The Bozell sequence tells the story of US conservatism.

Before you set out to study something, make sure it even exists.

This wingnut "fact-checking" site needs some fact-checking itself.

CafePress caves to medieval taboo.

Your e-mail is probably spying on you, but there's a way to stop it.

Shower Cap reviews the week in wingnuttia.

It's not easy, but it's possible to get banned from Parler.

Remember January 6.

Libby Anne of Love, Joy, Feminism is retiring from blogging.  Perfect Number has a retrospective of her best posts.

Embracing violent wingnuttery is bad for business.

Is the Kensington runestone evidence of a 14th-century Scandinavian presence in Minnesota?  Probably not.

A Pennsylvania blogger looks at where Trumpanzees come from.

Sorry, this is dangerous nonsense and should not be taught in schools.  Nor should this.

A trial is farcical when half the jury are co-conspirators of the defendant.

"Life After Hate" uses psychology to bring people out of violent hate gangs.  The group's site is here.

Here's how things went so wrong in Texas, and the ways people died.  Make no mistake, Republicans are to blame -- the system design is tainted by ideology.  Texas bloggers Matt Barsotti and New Witch (more here) report from ground zero.  Some tried to help.

The pill was a revolutionary innovation.

Limbaugh is not worthy of mourning.

Cause and effect, cause and effect.

Some good Twitter takes here on what's going on around the country, plus the Athenian Acropolis snowed in.

You never know when a knife may come in handy.

Darwinfish 2 looks at Moscow Mitch's hypocrisy and the latest wingnut bullshit.

Evangelicalism is a death cult.

Racist ideology is driving people out of academia.

US life expectancy decreased by one year in 2020.

Almost all the Congressional Republicans who voted for impeachment or conviction have been censured by their home-state parties.  The party is doomed to Trumpism because it has no other options.

Using the police to handle issues involving autistic people is dangerous, and a recent reform in Iowa won't help.

"Deal with the GOP as it is, not the fantasy of how it was, not the fantasy of how it could be."

My city's strict adherence to covid-19 precautions has probably saved about 2,000 lives.  But perhaps guarding dumpsters from hungry people shouldn't be such a priority.

Barely a month into his term, Biden is keeping promises.

Expose the effects of corporate ownership of news media.

Yellowdog Granny has images from a memorable week.

Traditionalist Catholics celebrate the proposed Tennessee law I linked to last week, which would enable any man who impregnates a woman to block her from having an abortion.

Donate here to help those economically impacted by the pandemic.

The far right is splintering as people suspect each other of being informants (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

No, free money doesn't make people lazy.

Respect a trans person's right to define her own identity.

With adults back in charge, the US is re-engaging with Europe.

Religio-wingnuts spread lies about covid-19 vaccination in the UK and Ireland.

The Catholic Church in Germany is still trying to cover up its child-abuse scandals.

Israel's vaccination program is a model for the world.

Kenya reports zero rhinos killed by poachers in 2020.  The reasons are revealing.

Strange life lurks beneath the ice shelves of Antarctica.

Science is making progress on reversing ageing.

Remarkably, we've known of the existence of Pluto for less than a century.

Congratulations to NASA on the successful landing of Perseverance on Mars.  Here's the main mission site, and some info on the Ingenuity helicopter, which will be the first aircraft to operate on another planet.  The rover has a Twitter account.

More links here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted observations on independent thought, a video on the aftermath of Chernobyl, and a meditation on those who dare not state their case.

19 February 2021

Meditation #12 -- pariah

Not for us the upraised book
And the upraised voice in the public square.
Not for us the pleading words
Calling hate-blinded souls to care.
Not for us the persuasive skill
That Socrates taught when the mind was new;
Logic, arguments, reason, facts
All are in vain in a world askew.

Make the case and speak it clear,
Rational words in the enemy's ear,
And they see who you are, and robotically,
Their minds slam shut and their rage bursts free.

That isn't the way.

The rock that no hammer or bullet could shatter
Yields to the patient erosion of water.

Images, wordless hints, beauty in art,
Subtle but bright in their films and TV,
Sway the subconscious, seducing the heart;
Their guard isn't up when they like what they see.
If words from without merely trigger their hate,
We'll reach them instead through the quiet voice within.
Show them, don't tell them, to open the gate;
No more tribe-against-tribe when all visions are kin.

17 February 2021

Video of the day -- lessons of Chernobyl

A look at the long-term effects of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.  There are some disturbing images of mutated animals near the beginning, but the overall picture is a surprisingly positive one.  The wildlife in the affected area has recovered and is doing remarkably well, despite the elevated radiation level and the apparently permanent disappearance of many species of insects.  Ecosystems are not fragile and prone to domino-effect collapses at the slightest disruption -- they are resilient and recover quickly from what humans think of as crippling damage.  (After all, in the course of hundreds of millions of years, life on Earth has recovered from several mass-extinction events which dwarfed the effects of a full-blown thermonuclear war.)  Note also the interesting demonstration of natural selection in action -- grossly-mutated animals died, but lesser mutations actually helped species survive and adapt to the changed environment.

15 February 2021

Independent thought

Strictly speaking, independent thought is the only kind of thought that exists, or can exist.  Thinking, in the true sense of the term, can happen only within the individual brain.  There are many activities, including some mental ones, that humans can do collectively, but thinking is not among them.

I would hate to be the kind of person who can be defined by words ending in "-ism" or "-ist".  Yes, I know, I've got six such words in my blog profile -- but they're there only to give a general impression of what I'm about, in a necessarily very brief space.  For each one of those words, there are areas where I differ substantially from some part of the phalanx of ideas generally associated with it.  (The exception is "atheist", but that word doesn't represent an ideology or idea-system at all -- it just means a person who doesn't believe in any god.)  In the case of some of the ideas most important to me, such as those expressed here and here, I don't think there even is any such one straightforward term that unambiguously refers to them.

It is odd and unfortunate that people so often say "I think" a thing when what they really mean is "I believe" that thing.  All too often, belief does not proceed from thought, but even serves as a barrier against it.

Here's a simple test to differentiate a blind follower from a thinking human:  Find out what politician or other leading figure the person most admires, then challenge him to give an example of some point on which he disagrees with that figure.  If he can't come up with even one, he's not thinking for himself.

The use of chants and slogans inspires me with a kind of horror because it represents a lapse into a subhuman state.  It constitutes a blanking-out of individual thought and judgment in favor of voluntary submission to a collective attitude.  This is very well illustrated by the recurrent bleating of "four legs good, two legs bad" in George Orwell's Animal Farm.  Such slogans are not arguments.  They're hardly even assertions.  They're acts of self-hypnotism.

I don't believe regimentation and groupthink are natural to humans.  No one thinks of himself as a blind follower or takes pride in being one (well, other than the most fervent religionists).  But regimentation and groupthink are useful to those who control, or seek to control, other people.  Most cultures inculcate an unquestioning, even belligerent subservience to some kind of orthodoxy in any number of ways, and do so mainly in childhood -- think religious catechisms, the pledge of allegiance, the way adult reactions demonstrate to children which ideas and people are to be approved or disdained.  The fact that today more and more people question or reject such traditions is a sign of human awakening.

14 February 2021

Link round-up for 14 February 2021

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

o o o o o

He sees his enemy, and he attacks.

Where did they all go?

Not everyone fits in with a computerized world.

Beware the shitting cat juggernaut.

The forecast is for snow, or.....

Here's how to scare a baboon.

Vote here for the best hate valentine (I think today is the last day to vote).

Normalcy is overrated.

Canada has snow too.

And you thought the cat filter thing was unfortunate..... (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Imagine Lord of the Rings characters as Girl Scout cookies.

Visit Namibia, see the upside-down flying rhinoceroses (found via Miss Cellania).

Speaking French, how does it work?

Speaking English as a native, what must that be like?

Learn the lore of evil whales.

Here's a question for the Flat Earth Society.

US currency originally had a better motto.

You won't catch me walking on this vertiginous horror, but it's a spectacular shot (use fullscreen).

This army managed to lose a battle when the enemy wasn't even there.

Jules Verne was a visionary storyteller, but often betrayed by his English translators.

"Clearly, it doesn't do to annoy love-filled Christians."

Some impressive photos here of Utah's Red Rock Country.

Create your own wingnut conspiracy.

You may not have heard of this man, but he influenced what you heard.

What did people do before modern technology?

I know the feeling.

You don't actually own e-books.  Buy the real thing.

Never, ever let the Republicans off the hook for supporting Trump.

Don't bother with that guy on the internet.

You do not have a "soul" or "spirit", so you cannot use them to "know" things.

There's such a thing as sexual introverts and extroverts.

This brief clip shows the extreme conditions faced during the Vendée Globe sailing race.

Many people are sick to death of hearing about Trump and need some time off from it.

In San Francisco, cancel culture goes off the deep end (again).

Lindsey Graham is a slimebucket, worthy of this portrait.

In Bessemer AL, Americans try to unite against the real oppressor.

"Democrats have a clear choice."

What if the super-rich believed their own bullshit?

Shower Cap inventories the cowardice and madness of the Republicans.

This man fought for freedom, in his own way.

God is still going to make Trump president again, just wait.

The New York Times doesn't like people pointing out its moral vacuity.

Trump let the Morlocks out of the basement and now they're not going back.

A country with this kind of economy is not "the greatest nation on Earth".

Pat Robertson says the Biden covid-19 bill is a socialist plot.  But 83% of Americans want it to pass.

Yes, things are improving (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Ideology should not have a veto on scientific research.

Reagan began our country's decline.

This change in administrative policy could help Americans understand the social safety net better.

Juli Briskman, fired at Trump's instigation, gets the last laugh.

Super Bowl, super-spreader event.

Biden learned from Obama's experience.  His bold plans are turning economists optimistic.

How does a woman want an abortion?

"I'm a fucking idiot but it's someone else's fault."

Pray, and God will reveal himself.

Trump must be held accountable.  Now, his real problems begin.

This woman ruined her life for a dream of "fitting in" (also read comment #1).

140,000 people left the Republican party in January, in the 25 states with readily-available data.  Anti-Trump Republicans' plan to form a third party will go nowhere.

Tennessee is considering a law to allow men who impregnate women to prevent them from having abortions.  Yes, that includes rapists.  And Arkansas is considering a law that would allow religious healthcare providers to refuse to treat gay patients.

Asian-Americans continue to be targeted with violence and vandalism after a year of the wingnut media calling covid-19 the "Chinese virus" and suchlike.

The Capitol lynch mob left a hell of a mess.

Darwinfish 2 looks at the drive toward premature school re-openings.

There must be no place allowed to exist where you can say anything I disapprove of.  Not even rape victims are exempt.

Many disappointed QAnon qrackpots are leaving for other extremist groups, not for reality.

In the worst-hit US states, one out of every five hundred people has died of covid-19.  Here in Oregon, for the first time ever, deaths outnumbered births last year.  But competent leadership will make a huge difference.

Agree with me or I'll beat the shit out of you.  In fact, I'll kill you.

Europe welcomes the US return to normal relations, but concerns about the future linger.

Saudi women's-rights activist Loujain al-Hathloul is finally out of prison, but not yet free.

India is upgrading its military to better meet the China threat, but there's a lot to do.

Tanzania's president opted for a Trumpesque response to covid-19.  It's not working out very well.

What happens if you miss your second dose of covid-19 vaccine? (found via Miss Cellania).

Evolution keeps producing crabs -- they're a surprisingly versatile life-form.

The uniqueness of the human brain may be due to a single simple mutation.

Jupiter shepherds the asteroids.

More links here and here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted another "dream world" collection of images, a brief Bible video, and some speculations on extraterrestrial life.

12 February 2021

Extraterrestrial life

Nan's Notebook recently posted a question about the possibility of discovering extraterrestrial life.  It's a question I've thought about a lot over the years.

On whether life exists somewhere other than Earth, there are simply too many unknowns at this point to say.  Arguments along the lines of "there are so many whatever-illions of planets in the universe that there must be life elsewhere" cut no ice with me.  While we understand evolution (which governs the development of existing life) quite well, we know much less about how the first self-replicating molecules arose from ordinary chemistry.  That might be a very low-probability event, so low-probability that even in a universe of a trillion galaxies with a trillion planets each, it would happen only once.  Until we've actually discovered life (or explored a wide range of solar systems and failed to find any), we have no data or even much basis for hypothesizing.

Certainly if we find life, even mere bacteria, on some other planet or moon in our own solar system, and can confirm that it originated independently rather than spreading from Earth somehow, that would be evidence that life is very common, since it arose twice in one solar system.  So continued study of such prospects as Mars and Titan is very valuable -- finding life in one of those places would tell us something about the whole universe.  Seeing what differences and similarities it had with Earthly life would also tell us something about the range of types of life that can exist.

Complex life, in the sense of a biosphere with plants and animals comparable in size and variety to Earth's, would obviously be a much more interesting possibility.  We can already be pretty sure that this doesn't exist on Mars, though (multiple rover missions have seen no trace of animals or plants), and the prospects for the moons of the outer solar system don't seem good -- being so far from the Sun, they don't receive as much energy to power an ecosystem as Earth does.  But it can't be completely ruled out.  We have plenty of examples here on Earth of how evolution can adapt animals and plants to what seem like hopelessly hostile environments.  If a future Titan rover sends back video of bizarre-looking animals and plants there, it will certainly rank among the most electrifying scientific discoveries of all time.

In the universe more generally, again, right now we have no data to judge how common complex life is.  Even if basic bacteria-like life is common, a "Cambrian explosion" jump to large, complex plants and animals may still be very rare.  Or it may be almost inevitable given enough time.  Right now we simply don't know, and it will be a long time before we or our machines can visit the planets of other stars to find out.  One thing I'm pretty sure of -- if alien complex life does exist, it's really alien.

Intelligent life, in the sense of life intelligent enough to create a technological civilization, is a very different question.  I feel on firm ground in believing there almost certainly isn't any.

We humans have been systematically developing technology for only about four hundred years, and that has been enough to get us from believing the Sun and planets orbit the Earth on crystal spheres to creating the internet, space probes, and the Large Hadron Collider, and understanding physics down to a very fundamental level.  Given that the universe is billions of years old, if there were (say) a hundred technological civilizations in our own galaxy, the odds are that many of them would be millions of years older than we are, some of them tens or even hundreds of millions of years older.  Knowing how far our technology has come in just four hundred years, it's obvious that a civilization which had been progressing for ten million years would be doing things we could easily see and recognize as the unmistakable work of intelligence, even if they were located on the far side of the galaxy.  We see no such works.  In this case, absence of evidence really is evidence of absence.

(I don't buy the idea that all civilizations self-destruct at some point and therefore never progress to such a level.  Evolution tends to imbue complex life forms with a strong urge to self-preservation, and beings intelligent enough to build (for example) nuclear weapons would also be intelligent enough to figure out how to minimize the dangers they present, as we ourselves have done.  Civilized species which evolved on different planets would all be quite psychologically different from each other.  Some might indeed self-destruct, but it's absurd to postulate some flaw afflicting every single one of them so fundamentally as to make self-destruction inevitable.)

Maybe this absence shouldn't be surprising.  Even if complex animal life is common in the universe, I see no reason to think that natural selection usually favors development of high intelligence.  Intelligence doesn't seem to have much survival value until it reaches the human level.  Highly-intelligent animal species such as chimpanzees or elephants are not notably more successful in the wild than the dumber animals around them.

Here's another way of looking at it.  If that hypothetical 10,000,000-year-old civilized species elsewhere in our galaxy which I mentioned above actually existed, they would have spread out and colonized the whole galaxy about 9,900,000 years ago, and we wouldn't even be here because we wouldn't have gotten the chance to evolve in the first place.  Given enough time, a technological civilization would eventually spread through the entire universe, and that might not take as much time as you'd think, if a solution to the problem of travel being limited to the speed of light is possible.

If one assumes the universe contains a billion planets which would each produce its own technological civilization if left undisturbed to develop, then the appearance of those civilizations over time probably follows a bell-shaped curve distribution -- that is, a few planets will develop much earlier than most of the rest, with the very first one likely being tens of millions of years ahead of even the second one.  So the first technological civilization to appear will spread out and colonize the universe in less time than it takes any of the others to develop at all -- which means that none of those others ever will develop.  They'll have been pre-empted by the first one.  The first technological civilization to appear in the universe will be the only one.

The fact that we do exist means that we just happened to be the first.  If we weren't the first, we wouldn't be here at all.

11 February 2021

Video of the day -- Christian nation

Law and morality should be based on the Bible.

09 February 2021

Dream world (6)

Oh, the visions some people entertain..... (some may find one or two of these slightly disquieting or NSFW).

[Cat-and-mouse teapot found via Esme; beer-bottle Christmas tree found via RO; the rest I'm not sure about.  Previous "Dream world" post is here.]

07 February 2021

Link round-up for 7 February 2021

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

o o o o o

Uh oh, it's a warning from the alien reptile humanoids.

"It wasn't hard."

What service exactly is being offered here?

Discover the pros and cons of old-fashioned clothes.

Worst bird names ever.

Rawknrobyn observes Valentine's Day (NSFW).

Learn everything you ever wanted to know about animal farts, and some things you probably didn't want to know.

Not everything should be bought from Ikea.

Don't eat this.

Should you date the mailman?

One of the annoyances of work is putting up with the boss's idiosyncrasies.

Not sure I want to know exactly how they planned to do this.

There's more than one message here.

They look fierce.  Get a roomba.

Whose bowling ball is this?

The New York Crank experiences nightmarish visions.

There is such a thing as tarot fashion -- and, this being the internet, tarot cats as well.

Art imitates helps explain life.

"When he died, the lock rusted."

Connect with the land.

A poet reflects on birth.

Apparently space Jews can't aim very well.

Elephant behavior is fascinating.

Some great pictures from Italy here, including the tomb of Galileo.

Gustav Doré was a prolific creator of awesomely-detailed engravings.

It's the American dream!

Atheist Revolution is getting off Facebook.  May others follow.

No need to study science (found via Yellowdog Granny).

We need more boring stories.

AO3 revolutionized fandom.

As the eagle flies (use fullscreen).

Failed wingnut prophets remain in denial.

"Empaths" are not the only ones with this amazing power.

More of this, less of that.

Some great Eisenhower quotes here.

"Call this civic barbarism."

The ever-mutating nonsense about bigfoot sheds light on religion.

62% of business owners in downtown Portland say the central city is no longer safe.  A third are planning to move out.

Some wingnuts are still clinging to fantasies of Trump staying in power.

What do you mean by "atheist"?

Not all browsers are alike.

Newsmax is desperately trying to avoid getting sued.

Younger people are abandoning religion in droves, but "coming out" to evangelical parents can still be risky.

Censorship empowers abusers.

There's a solution to homelessness -- money.

Biden's initial actions have broad popular support.  Standard and Poor's analysis concludes that his covid-19 package would hugely benefit the economy.

Lean the reality behind those cheap Costco chickens (found via AutisticAF).

The wingnutized Supreme Court rules in favor of the coronavirus.

Nonsense remains nonsense no matter how many people believe it.

Don't believe the lies about a $15 minimum wage.  Democrats should hold firm.

Snake-handling Pentecostals now increasingly rely on real doctors, not just prayer, when their idiocy results in bites.

Republicans and Democrats take opposite paths on voting rights.  But the former's approach has been backfiring.

Southern Texas is suffering an explosion of covid-19 cases.

Josh Hawley is the wingnuts' rising star.

Fifteen wins.

The campaign to purge non-Trumpy politicians out of the Republican party forges ahead.  The party crawls back to its true master like a groveling dog.  They've fully embraced the crazy -- even CNN can see it.  Shower Cap has more.

You'll never guess who hoovered up $3 billion in government covid-19 aid last year.

These idiots have already come up with a plan to hand back the Senate to the Republicans.

Oregon has decriminalized all street drugs, shifting to a rehabilitation-based approach.

Sometimes the guilty betray themselves.

New York pension funds are divesting from fossil fuels.

The Smartmatic lawsuit against Fox has real teeth to it.

This is the impact of covid-19 (must-read).  This thing is nowhere near over.

Georgia has genuinely become a purple state.

It's back to the Dark Ages, demonizing the Jews.

Religious fundamentalism played a big role in fomenting the Capitol attack (found via Hackwhackers).  Many members of the lynch mob have been caught because ordinary people did the right thing.  The attack has left the Capitol police demoralized and with high rates of covid-19.  Internet sleuths helped catch one of the ringleaders.

Murder and other violent crimes have risen in the US during the pandemic.

Europe's oil companies bet on the future, ours bet on the past.

Rich Canadians resort to trickery to get vaccinated early.

The UK's experience shows how women can preserve the last century's gains in personal safety.  Sadly, some now feel the Green party has no place for them.

Here's some of what's going on in France these days.

Religion is declining in Mexico and among US Latinos.  Mexican immigration no longer threatens to make the US more religious.

Religion is also declining sharply in the Middle East, with (for example) 47% of Iranians saying they've become non-religious.

India's covid-19 infections have plummeted, and it's not clear why.

The Myanmar coup is bad news for the country's already-persecuted minorities.

The "Lion Guardians" conservation effort in Kenya succeeded by aligning local people's self-interest with saving the lions.

No, covid-19 vaccines are not killing people (I've seen a few headlines to this effect on wingnut "news" sites).

More links here and here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted criteria for judging the Democrats, and Bill Maher on people who get things done.