30 March 2021

A terrorist temptation

Now that a week of effort has finally dislodged the Ever Given from the bank of the Suez Canal, the backlogged flow of trade can get moving again.  But we shouldn't dismiss this as a freak event to be forgotten now that it's over.  We should learn from it, because certain others doubtless have.

Any terrorist group worth its salt has surely noted the massive trade disruption caused by a simple accident.  What if, they must already be thinking, such a huge ship were actually sunk (as far as a ship can sink in such shallow water) at a narrow point in the canal?  What if it were induced to roll violently in the process, dumping half its absurd Jenga tower of shipping containers into the canal in a disorderly heap?  What if such a blockage took months to clear?  And isn't the Panama canal, with its system of locks providing ready-made vulnerable points, even more susceptible to such sabotage?

I don't know what kind of weapon would be necessary to blow a big enough hole in an Ever-Given-size cargo ship to sink it quickly in a pre-determined spot.  A mine would certainly do it -- terrorists would not normally have access to one, but pretty much any rogue state could supply it.  Sabotage from within, by infiltrating or bribing the crew or by an armed gang storming and seizing the ship after it entered the canal, might do it.  The point is, after witnessing the mess created during the week of the crisis, terrorists are likely to think such an act would provide an impressive return on whatever effort they had to invest in it.

As ships get bigger and more overloaded (to lower the per-container cost of shipping), various margins of safety get ever thinner, and the potential consequences of accidents or sabotage become more serious.  It's one more vulnerability for evil people to exploit.

Quote for the day -- defiance

I love the spirit of this.  Of course Congress should, and I think will, pass federal voting-rights protection to sweep away the Jim Crow revival being engineered by Republicans across the nation, but the enemy will never stop trying one thing or another, so we all need to stand ready to support those who defy such suppression.  Quote found via Octoberfarm.

28 March 2021

Link round-up for 28 March 2021

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

o o o o o

Don't believe everything you see.

Eldritch evil lives within him.

View an informative guide to Canadian provinces.

If you're going to put a symbol on yourself, at least find out what it means.

Looks like Pepsi made a mistake.

"Have you seen the dog bowl?"

The arrival of spring brings hedonistic verse from Rawknrobyn (NSFW).

They're armed and dangerous.

"Firefox has encountered an unexpected problem with windows."

Truck brake failure?  We've got a ramp for that.

A corncob battle is escalated by technology.

That strange feeling that you're being watched.....

Bitcoin offers an existence free of regulation.

These are all true.  Without standardization, language would change beyond recognition every couple of centuries.

You know the drill, right?

Learn the history of a mountain that isn't there.

This "insult" has been used on me, and probably on a lot of us.

Some people jump the shark -- she threw one.

Just use plain language FFS.

An offer of free fish proves very popular.

Discover the truth behind the cannonball tree of Québec city.

Celebrate Scottish heritage, with a few jabs at Trump.

This actually looks kind of cool.

Here's an interesting comic book page from 1997.

Read whatever you want.

Yes, this is, or was, a real animal.

Do you love the color of the sky?

Crazy Eddie observed Persian New Year, a date celebrated in many countries besides Iran.

Novels can be educational.  Which are your favorites?

I don't understand the purpose of this website.  I never signed up for it or even knew about it until now.  It looks like they do this with a lot of blogs.

These people are cultists.

Always remember, fiction isn't reality.

James Doohan was good guy.

Even a ship blocking the Suez Canal is fantasy fodder for the QAnon qrackpots.  Evergreen, the company that operates the Ever Given, has quite a reputation.  Still, the situation has its amusing side.

Meteors?  Aliens?  Nah, just SpaceX again.

An unorthodox researcher finds clues to the roots of Shakespeare's Hamlet (link from CAS).

Encourage businesses to take "The Democracy Pledge".

This shithead messed with the wrong little old lady.

God is not the answer.

Flaws in human judgment make job interviews pretty much a waste of time.

What's a David to do, when there are so many Goliaths around?

Stay the hell out of Arkansas, especially if you have a medical condition.

Tax Badger might be a good option for offbeat earners.

I guess this is a right-wing idea of "humor".

Amazon plunges deeper into evil.

Religious media struggle to accommodate their own ridiculous taboos.

Who ya gonna call?  Woke-busters!

More Asian-Americans are buying guns for self-defense against hate crimes.  As restrictions loom, the gun industry prepares for the inevitable surge in demand.  Here's a chart for choosing the media narrative after mass shootings.

Republicans are losing the filibuster debate.

".....all you who lobby against making drugs legal..... You're the one who's guilty."

Don't throw a lit match into the powder keg.

The Atlanta mass killer was shaped by a corrupt and evil institution.  Forget the bullshit about sex addiction (NSFW images).

No, Trump probably isn't going to create his own social-media platform.

Death threats are still acceptable on Facebook, apparently.

Some tips here on helping to fight the Georgia vote-suppression law.  "You will not win.  We see what you're doing.  We see you for who you are."  And there may be a price to pay.

The tax system makes it easy for the big guys to hide income.  And who's at fault for tax filing being such a nightmarish experience?

Right-wingers, now trying to hijack the cancel-culture issue, have themselves been guilty of attempted censorship when it suited them.

Anti-vaxxers lie about coincidences.

The majority of Americans support DC statehood.

John McWhorter weighs in on translating Amanda Gorman.

Look at other countries on covid-19 relief.

There must be no religious exception to freedom of speech.

A majority of British people want their country's official church to give up its traditional privileges.

"This idea simply won't fly among the wider public.  It's only got this far because they didn't know it was happening."

Yazidi women freed from sex slavery under Dâ'ish (ISIL) face a difficult choice imposed by their own religion.

A Japanese court ruling may soon open up marriage to gay people in that country.

Democratic Taiwan begins mass production of long-range missiles as a deterrent against the threat from fascist China.

Don't worry too much about those North Korean missile tests.

Religionists do religious thing, religiously.

The Inca ruins at Machu Picchu are under threat.

Your vulnerability to covid-19 partly depends on what kind of neanderthal DNA you have.

Two new papers suggest an explanation for the unusual properties of Oumuamua.

Four billion years ago, Mars was an ocean planet.  So was Earth.

One simple mutation explains much of the difference between human brains and those of other apes.

More links here (mostly political) and here (on autism issues).  Miss Cellania's latest collection is here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted a video of liberation from religious stifling and a reflection on NASA's mars helicopter.

26 March 2021

The mind in flight, from 1903 to 2021

It's been just over 117 years since the Wright brothers achieved the first powered flight in December of 1903.  Compared with the full sweep of human history, that's not a long time, but the technology of flight has come far.  Within decades of the Wrights' achievement, humanity progressed to the routine use of aircraft in war, routine commercial aviation, the first human in space (1961), and the first humans on the Moon (1969).  Since then, we've carried out extensive exploration of the solar system, with each planet and several major moons receiving at least one flyby, culminating in the New Horizons probe's visit to Pluto in 2015.

The current Perseverance rover mission on Mars represents yet another step forward.  It carries a helicopter, named Ingenuity, specially designed for flight on Mars.  When it first takes to the air (probably in early April), it will echo the Wright brothers by achieving the first powered flight by an aircraft on another planet, barely a century after we first managed it on this one.  I think the Wrights would have been impressed at how we've carried their work forward.

Designing a helicopter for Mars was a major challenge.  Mars's gravity is only one-third as strong as Earth's, but the atmosphere is only one hundredth as dense, offering little purchase for rotors.  Since low gravity cannot be simulated on Earth on a large scale, it was impossible to test-fly the machine under true Mars-like conditions.  Ingenuity weighs only four pounds and has a rotor span of four feet, so it's comparable in size to a large drone.  Unlike a drone, however, it can't be operated by remote control in real time, because radio signals take several minutes to travel from Earth to Mars (the exact amount of time depends on the positions of the two planets along their orbits).  Ingenuity has its own onboard computers and navigation sensors, enabling it to autonomously carry out instructions transmitted from Earth in advance.

This video is animation depicting what the first test flight will look like -- when the real thing happens, Perseverance's cameras will record the event for us.  Ingenuity's mission is not scientific research as such, but rather putting the technology to the test, gaining knowledge of what flying on Mars is actually like, to help in the design of future aircraft which will explore parts of the planet which rovers cannot reach.

And someone at NASA has a sense of history.  Ingenuity carries within itself a tiny piece of fabric from the Wright brothers' original 1903 airplane, in tribute to those who helped launch this fantastic flight of the mind which has now come so far.

23 March 2021

Video of the day -- freedom from dehumanization

The shroud conceals the humanity of the person, but the person is always there.  The voice-over is in Arabic -- translation:

Look at her
No, don't take your eyes off her
She is hope
She is life
She is love
She is desire
She is the power to be
I missed you in the name [truth] of freedom
You are the power of existence
You are hope
You are life
You are love
You are desire
You are the power to be
The awakening is you
The sunrise is you
Rise again now
Freedom..... freedom..... freedom.....

21 March 2021

Link round-up for 21 March 2021

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

o o o o o

St Patrick's Day has arrived!

UK town names make a road trip more, uh, interesting.

Can you still get this car?

Kinky St Patrick's Day poetry here from Rawknrobyn.

Faces, faces everywhere!

Finally, a review site cats will find useful.

Seems it's hard to find a good editor these days.

Witness a desperate chase and escape on the high seas.

Covid-19 isolation is easier for introverts.

Let's give classic movies modern trigger warnings.

Nice little witchcraft story here.

Enjoy your meal.

Why do demons even bother possessing people?  What's their game?

She stood up to an anti-masker, and received an unusual honor.

Find small businesses here, or list your own -- made by this person.

There is now actually a program for escaping from Zoom meetings.

For 28 years, thousands of treasure-hunters in France have been on the trail of the Golden Owl.

An underground grotto in England is richly decorated with millions of shells.  Nobody knows why.

Take a closer look at ordinary things.

Nicely-done fight scene here.

Don't let your job consume your life.

See a surreal cloud formation.

Why are some people so verbose on the internet?

Church assholes are assholes through and through.

Things are nicer now in the US Capitol.

Síle na Gig is an ancient and multifaceted pagan goddess (found via Silverapplequeen).

Perhaps being bi helps you understand the opposite sex.

Claire Bretécher was a prolific cartoonist who lampooned everyday life.

On global warming, beware of contrived distractions.

Anti-mask asshole (from Oregon!) mouths off to Texas cop, gets arrested.

Atheist Revolution examines the modern witch-hunt.

When healthier eating is an "attack on our way of life", we need a different way of life.

The religionist mind fetishizes suffering (these people are weird).

Sorry, some people are just bad at things.

Grovel before me, you worthless worms.

The wingnuts just keep going crazier and creepier.

Professor Taboo laments the continued dominance of the pandemic over our national life -- and over his blog.

Some genuinely wise traditional Navajo thinking here.

A hopeful development for my long-suffering city -- Portland's black community leaders denounce the violence and vandalism which has plagued downtown so long.  Maybe this will help embolden the cops to finally restore order.

The Spartan Atheist has some questions for self-proclaimed "pro-life" types.

Eating a fish?  It may not be what you think.

The fact that so many people have left religion gives hope for those who still remain indoctrinated.

You don't need to "pass as" what you actually are.

Help catch the worst of the Capitol lynch-mob members who are still at large.

Arguing on the internet is pointless.  And it's a waste of time talking to people who won't listen.

The Atlanta murderer was a product of religious indoctrination.  It was probably more about sex than race.  And there's stuff we don't need to keep hearing.

Seduced early into a fundamentalist cult, saved by doubts and Disney movies.

Hell of a sense for public relations these people have.

Evangelicalism brainwashes women into a submissive role.

Police in the UK harshly suppress a genuinely peaceful vigil (no window-smashing here) for a victim of police violence.  More background here.

"The party told you to reject the evidence of your eyes and ears."

In Israel, the ultra-religious are starting to question their community's disastrous response to covid-19.

Turkey's Islamist president Erdoğan has pulled out of a pan-European accord on violence against women.

Sutematsu Ôyama, the first Japanese woman to get a Western college education, had a life worth remembering.

The gangster regimes are getting mad as hell at Biden.  Good.  That shows he's standing up to them instead of kissing their asses like the last guy.

The EU will impose sanctions on China over the Uyghur genocide.

Girls in Indonesia, even non-Muslims, are often bullied into abiding by Islamic dress codes.

No, covid-19 vaccines are not killing people.  With hundreds of millions now vaccinated, in a few cases people will die right after a shot just by coincidence.

Whales can learn from experience, and have.  They're now gathering in unusual numbers, and we don't know why.

This is the sound of driving on Mars (found via Hackwhackers).

More links here (mostly politics) and here (on autism/police issues).

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted some more improved words, a cool music video, and a quote on the plague of stupidity.

20 March 2021

Quote for the day -- a more dangerous enemy

18 March 2021

Video of the day -- can't keep a (maybe not so) good man down

"Я стану дождём" by Larisa Chernikova. No, I don't believe in ghosts, but it's still death being defeated -- and I like the song.

16 March 2021

Improving words (19)

Some more revised word definitions, based on what the words visibly should mean.....

Advent:  To let loose your frustration about the plague of ads clogging up the internet

Betray:  A beam of energy which induces people to gamble

Booming:  Jeer at him for being merciless

Carouse:  To use an automobile to sexually excite someone

Catacombs:  Implements for grooming felines

Cobra:  An additional breast support

Curfew:  There aren't many nasty dogs around

Electrocute:  To vote for a Star Trek character as the prettiest

Equinox:  A cross between a horse and a bull

Fundamentally:  A friend of giant tree-like Lord of the Rings creatures who live near an enjoyable barrier across a river

Illustrate:  The charge for satisfying your sick desires

Infallible:  Easy to fall into (for example, a large hole in the ground)

Inundate:  Even though she's renounced sex, I still go out with her

Lampoon:  A harpoon which also provides light

Lassitude:  A girl's attitude

Managed:  As old as an adult male human

Oxymoron:  A person with stupid opinions about invigorating gas

Palindrome:  A stadium reserved for performances by a dingbat former governor of Alaska

Perverse:  For each poem

Pretender:  Soft in advance

Repair:  Atmospheric gas generated by your good name

Vanguard:  A sentry who protects a box-like vehicle

Wanton:  A pale 2,000-pound weight

[The previous "improving words" post is here.]

14 March 2021

Link round-up for 14 March 2021

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

o o o o o

Sigourney Weaver doesn't want to stop.

Actions have consequences.

Time for some fish.

Apparently in Korea McDonald's has a different menu.

Negativity is like a monster, but.....

Debra She Who Seeks explores the "yelling at a cat" meme.

He knows how to offend an ostrich.

Time for another fish.

England has the best place names.

Prove you're not a robot.

Dogs keep us entertained, even riding on a dog train.

Finally, a useful Bible.

Good book, bad cover (found via Miss Cellania).

Solve the mystery of the ancient alien skull.

The path to inner peace begins with four words.

Sir, those are respectable occupations.

Fox News displays professionalism.

No pets on board, please.

Does anybody know what song this is?

Aesop was right.

Check out this colorful squid.

It's an amazing new technology.

Yes, this is still funny (good comments too).

Madison Cawthorn punches out a tree.

Cultural appropriation!  Real figures from Satanist history have been exploited to create a (mediocre, apparently) novel.

Take a virtual walk through a distant city (found via MBRU at Crooks and Liars).

Check out these paraprosdokians.

See the domino effect, with cards (found via Miss Cellania).

Buy real books -- Microsoft can't take them away.

Some cool architecture photos here, mainly from France.

This is Finland.

Yeah, it's time for daylight savings time again.  Why don't we stop doing this?

Sorry, this is not an improvement (found via Yellowdog Granny).

These songs gave us lines to remember.

Shower Cap reviews the week in politics.

Who's the most concerned about dong size? (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Some bosses are just clueless (found via Miss Cellania).

Stop subjecting yourself to things you know will make you angry.  You don't owe anyone your time or energy.

"You will live on inside me.... Forever."

Here's yet another reason to avoid shopping at Amazon.  I'm not five years old and I don't need some government or corporation deciding what is or isn't right for me to read.

The four-day work week is an idea whose time may be coming.

Don't let conflict over the minimum wage divide us.

Kamala Harris is a fitting subject for International Women's Day.

A religious pest has a problem with Bruce Gerencser making a little money from his writing.

By Hook or by Book reviews the Dr Seuss controversy, and numerous commenters weigh in.

Freedom of the press doesn't include doxxing, and people need to read beyond a headline before jumping to conclusions.

Even Christians are getting disgusted with church.

Women formerly dominated a crucial industry (found via Miss Cellania).  Crazy Eddie looks at women in the US space program.

Many politicians are assholes, but some are assholier than others.

Some info here for disabled people about fire safety.

The translation of Amanda Gorman's poetry is the latest arena of political correctness gone mad.

They don't even realize what this evokes (found via Hackwhackers).

So much for Trump's stupid wall.

I want my representation.

This kind of nonsense is why many people no longer take claims of racism seriously.

There's a new budget sheriff in town.

Churches already get many exemptions from the laws everyone else has to obey.  Some legislators want to let religio-nutters deny healthcare to those in need.  Time to rein in their ridiculous demands.

The word for the day is "girl".

Not even the covid-19 relief bill can stop the relentless wingnut bullshitting.

You need more "non-time".

Don't let anyone tell you your ethnicity bars you from writing about some particular topic.

Meet Marc Elias and Dale Ho, lawyers defending democracy against Republican attacks.

Apparently "#superstraight" is the hottest new sexual orientation, thought it really just means the same as "straight" does (TW for predictable death threats).

Oregon's governor is trying to stampede schools into re-opening while the pandemic still rages.  Only the teachers' unions are standing up to her.

Mike Lee thinks voting-rights protection is "a bill as if written in Hell by the Devil himself".

This is neo-rape culture.

Guantánamo prisoner Ahmed Rabbani has a message for Biden.

Global leadership has a new face these days.

A UK councillor quits the Green party.

".....many of them gay men and women in despair at what is being done in their name."

A new covid-19 wave is overwhelming Brazil.  Widespread refusal to observe precautions is the culprit.

Saudi Arabians have a forum for free speech, but it may not last.

India is projected to be the world's fastest-growing economy this year.

Different countries have different priorities.

Ten years later, the effects of the Fukushima tsunami linger.

The UK and France and other allies deploy their forces to help the US contain China.  Biden strengthens cooperation with fellow democracies instead of picking fights as Trump did.

An independent report by global experts confirms that China's brutal behavior in Xinjiang qualifies as genocide.

This is a cool illustration of the scale of the universe (found via Mike) -- be prepared to spend a bit of time with it.

Great T-rex statue and info here, and no, they didn't have feathers.

See Earthrise through the eyes of JAXA's Kaguya orbiter.

Three new books explore life and death.  Remember, there are alternatives to Amazon -- all these books can be ordered from Bookshop.

Here's why electric cars should have solar panels.

What would our sky look like with another star in place of the Sun?

It sees the light, but chooses the darkness.

The Alcubierre drive, or something like it, is looking just a little more practical (but we're still far, far away from actually being able to build faster-than-light spacecraft).

More links here and here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted Mary Chapin Carpenter, an assessment of the covid-19 relief bill, and a favorite quote.

Reminder -- if this blog ever suddenly disappears, it's probably because of this.

13 March 2021

Quote for the day -- the cynic and the striver

One of my all-time favorite quotes, and eternally relevant.

11 March 2021

A huge win, and a good omen

This week's passage of the $1.9 trillion covid-19 relief bill is a major accomplishment, achieved under dauntingly unfavorable conditions.  A long list of positive agenda items passed, less than two months into the new government's term in power, despite razor-thin majorities in both houses and unified Republican obstruction and a couple of fractious senators.  Biden, Pelosi, Schumer, and the party are definitely showing they can get things done.

We didn't get everything we wanted (it's politics -- nobody ever gets everything they want).  The failure to bring our minimum wage into line with what most developed countries have is a disappointment, and that effort will need to be revisited.  But look at what we did get.  A new round of stimulus checks.  An extension of the federal addition to unemployment benefits.  An expansion of the child tax credit which is expected to substantially reduce poverty.  A reform of ACA premium subsidies which will make health insurance affordable for millions.  Billions in aid for schools, hospitals, renters, small businesses, vaccine development and distribution, and state and local governments.  No wonder Republicans are whining that this is a wish list of liberal agenda items.  Yes, that's exactly what it is, and that's grounds for celebration, even gloating.

That so much was accomplished, in such a short time, despite such obstacles, bodes well for the future.

I said back in October that Biden's kumbaya talk about bipartisanship and working with Republicans was just a necessity of the campaign, and that he knew full well from his time as Obama's vice president that Republicans would never cooperate:

Biden is a lot smarter than most people give him credit for. He's running this campaign on multiple levels. He gives the naïve the unity-and-reconciliation talk they want to hear, while signalling to those of us who live in the real world that he, too, lives there. As president he'll probably make a genuine effort to work with the residual Republican minorities in the House and Senate, and when they spit in his face and pledge their undying hatred and obstructionism as they did with Obama, he can say that he gave it an honest try -- and then he'll get down to doing what needs to be done.

I'd say that's exactly what we've just seen.  Biden made it clear that he wanted Republicans on board -- but also that the train was leaving on time with or without them.  Democrats this time didn't waste months negotiating with Republicans who clearly just wanted to kill or cripple the bill.  And now the Republicans have shown their true colors.  If they unanimously refused to cooperate on a bill which was supported by the vast majority of the public and even a majority of Republican voters, then they aren’t going to cooperate on anything.

Which brings us to the filibuster problem.  The next big issue on the table is renewed federal protection for voting rights, which Democrats cannot allow to be stymied by the filibuster.  Yet Republicans will be more motivated to block this than almost anything else -- in much of the country, vote suppression is the only way they can win.  It's the irresistible force of victory or defeat on an absolutely critical goal, against the (supposedly) immovable object of Manchin's and Sinema's dogged support for an antediluvian relic of Senate procedure.  Manchin has already signaled willingness to make the filibuster much harder to use, even if not abolish it outright.  Manchin and Biden are apparently engaging in a bit of political kabuki theater on the issue.  There will be movement on the filibuster.  Not all the way, not immediately, but there will be movement.

And then, we'll have more winning to look forward to.

10 March 2021

Video of the day -- perfection is an illusion

08 March 2021

A week without Amazon

Do it to support the workers fighting for a union in Bessemer AL.  Details here.

07 March 2021

Link round-up for 7 March 2021

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

o o o o o

Bears, bears, bears!

Let a high-fiber diet bring excitement to your life.

Obviously a horrific attack indeed.

Watch a man walk backwards -- backwards.

Borat offers a shout-out to Giuliani.

Who's actually driving this thing?

The art teacher holds the attention of her students.

Learn the true meanings of road signs.

Debra She Who Seeks observes one year in lockdown.

Yeah, those cobblestone streets.....

The mechanic found the problem with the car.

Group projects are educational.

Can't say they didn't warn you.

Interesting art here (click for bigger).

Get on board the plane (found via Hackwhackers, who advises, "don't try this at home").

The Perseverance rover carries a family portrait.

Esme's Cloud outdoes herself with this poetic saga of self-subjugation and awakening self-respect.

"Today, I'm rocking who I've fought to become."

Janis Ian went deeper than most pop singers.

Paris boasts an innovative underground shroom farm (found via this post at Cas d'Intérêt, a round-up of French culture and media).

Be good to your inner child.

Many people these days are slobs -- this man is not.

Fight for yours, not against theirs.

Blogger Ami encounters a super asshole.

Don't destroy memories, even bad ones.

See an affecting short about a child who's "different".

16th-century German witches were perceived as affluent and powerful.

Bad guys are suffering some techno-pwnage these days.

Math is not racist, but this teaching plan is.

A few QAnon qrackpots did march forth on March fourth.

The e-book version of blogger Nan Yielding's book on the Bible will be on sale for 99¢ from now until March 13 (I reviewed it here).

From 2016, one thing that's not a good reason for criticizing Melania Trump.

Whoever tells you "we forbid you to read that" is your enemy.

Honor Carol Lindeen's final request.

The Sedlic ossuary is a fittingly morbid temple for a death cult.

Quitting a job is emulation-worthy behavior.

So, he won a race.

Texas is dropping its covid-19 precautions just as spring break super-spreader events are nigh.  An ICU nurse speaks out.  Republicans kill their own supporters to own the libs.  Texas believes in freedom, except for women.

Preachers tell lies for God.

More here on CPAC's "odal rune" stage design.

It's a good thing for autistic people that autism isn't accepted as an excuse for violence.

Christianity is the last refuge of the haters.

"The public will judge Democrats on what they pass, not how."

Religion teaches you to trust everything except yourself.

The wingnuts are churning out as much bullshit as ever, but maybe lawsuits can slow them down.  Green Eagle is getting a little bored with it all.

An ex-Muslim celebrates freedom.

William Kristol believes Trumpism is an existential threat to democracy.  Thomas Friedman has some ideas for saving it.

Real men support women who stand up for themselves.

Yes, Tommy Tuberville is a bona fide ignoramus.

The weekly rate of new covid-19 cases in nursing homes has dropped 89% since mass vaccination began.

Sometimes snow is just snow.  Usually, in fact.

Anti-vaxxers are dirty disease-spreaders.

As an atheist, you must cast off the self-loathing inculcated by religious indoctrination.

Obesity makes covid-19 far deadlier.

Apparently racist murders by freezing have been a thing in a few parts of Canada.

The UK has a new organization, Sex Matters, to fight the trans-ideology madness.  Progress has already been made, but there's much more to do, notably where freedom of speech is concerned.

The liberation of Paris in World War II involved a couple of unlikely German heroes and a mysterious barrage of gunfire.

Europe and the US (under new management) impose sanctions on Russia over its persecution of Navalny.

Bolsonaro tells his people to quit whining about the pandemic which has killed a quarter-million of them.

A global journalists' organization has filed a criminal complaint against bin Salman over the Khashoggi murder.

If you think our Supreme Court has some bad judges, check out this guy.

People in the Third World understand effective social action better than Westerners do.

Africa is bigger than you think.

Perseverance takes its first test drive, in preparation for checking out a nearby delta.

Robot dogs join the police, and there may someday be a submarine on Titan.

We don't sleep as well when the Moon is full.

More links here.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- last week I posted an essay on cultural change and activism, a video on true evil, and some ruminations on censorship and cancel culture.

06 March 2021

Some ruminations on books, statues, and canceling

As pretty much everyone now knows, Dr Seuss Enterprises recently ceased publication of six of the popular author's books because they contained mildly-racist imagery.  I'm not going to launch a lengthy explication of my own views about this, which long-time readers can probably guess anyway.  Blogger Wordifull Melanie has a post up which presents the broader issue pretty well, and Nan's Notebook hosts a discussion (now up to 70 comments) which is worthwhile.  Instead I'm going to look at a more specific related question -- how is "canceling" books or art deemed "offensive" different from removing Confederate statues?  If we reject the one act so as to preserve free expression, don't we need to reject the other?

The obvious difference is intent.  Most of the Confederate statues were put up three or four decades after the Civil War, as explicit celebration and assertion of the restoration of white supremacy and the crushing of what rights blacks had won after the end of slavery.  That is, they're willful expressions of racism, not casual or accidental depictions of it.

That doesn't get to the root of the distinction, though.  Some books are also willful expressions of racism.  As I mentioned at Melanie's post, I myself have Mein Kampf and have read it, and that book is at least as deliberately racist and hateful as a Confederate statue.  Yet no one (except those with a genuinely totalitarian mind-set) would say Mein Kampf should be banned or otherwise made unavailable.

A more useful dividing line is government endorsement of viewpoints.  Most Confederate statues are on public property or otherwise displayed in ways which imply government approval.  It's clearly intolerable for government to endorse racism -- we wouldn't accept the government publishing racist print propaganda either, even though private individuals obviously have a free-expression right to do so.

But what about a Confederate statue on private property but publicly visible?  If a private individual has the right to express and publish racist opinions, wouldn't the statue be acceptable as well?

Here, I think, we're in one of those awkward situations where a difference of degree really is decisive, and it's hard to be sure where to draw the line.  A person's right to do whatever he wants on his own property does not extend to things which unambiguously violate the rights of others -- playing loud music which disturbs neighbors, for example, or storing large quantities of explosives which would endanger neighbors if they went off.  The question is how bad the danger or nuisance factor has to be to override the individual's right to do what he wants.  That's where a hard line is difficult to draw.

It absolutely can't be offensiveness.  If a "right" to avoid being offended is recognized, any semblance of a free society vanishes, because nearly anything could be offensive to somebody, and almost all controversial expression -- the very thing the First Amendment is specifically needed to protect -- is seriously offensive to substantial numbers of people.  The fraction of the population that was sincerely offended by the gay liberation movement fifty years ago may well have been larger than the fraction offended by Confederate statues today.  And, as always with questions of censorship, don't assume that you or people like you would be the ones who get to decide what's too offensive to be allowed.  Truly robust protection for free expression must be viewpoint-neutral.  In order to protect things you say that offend your enemies, it also has to protect the things they say that offend you.

Even people who would reluctantly accept a Confederate statue on private property might well draw the line at somebody displaying a swastika flag in his front yard.  It's a symbol whose shocking nature is much more widely agreed upon.  Yet it's hard to make a serious argument that the two cases are dissimilar in any fundamental way.  And what about the crosses displayed on churches everywhere?  Aren't they just as insulting and offensive given Christianity's centuries of persecution of gays, Jews, and unbelievers?

Pornography presents an analogous problem.  On the consumption of pornography in private, I'm pretty much an anti-censorship absolutist (the exception would be photographs or video of actual rape or child molestation, not because of the offensiveness of the final product, but because violent crimes against persons would be necessary to produce it).  But I wouldn't much care to see explicit pornography on display everywhere, even though in general the re-sexualization of the public space is an important part of the de-Christianization of Western culture.  Like the swastika flag in the front yard, public displays of actual porn would create a distraction-and-disturbance problem pushing close to the same territory as the neighbor's loud music.

So there are some genuine grey areas here.  However, it's abundantly obvious that the pendulum has in fact swung way, way too far in the direction of suppression, and that some robust mockery of idiocies like pulling the Dr Seuss books is not just a right but practically a duty.

Please do watch this.  "Cancel culture" is a very real problem, and it threatens people of every political leaning.  The fact that the right wing is trying to appropriate the term does not change this.  People are getting fired, humiliated, or hounded into cringing apologies over a careless word or a figment of somebody's imagination.  We all need to stand up to this, and to support those who refuse to back down when set upon by the "woke" mob.  Because any one of us, no matter how careful we think we are, could suddenly become a target at some point.

04 March 2021

Video of the day -- true evil

Evil exists.  This is evil.

02 March 2021

Stages of culture and choosing battles

In social activism, it's important to be aware of the concept of stages of cultural progress.  Culture evolves in a step-by-step way, and in many cases each successive step lays the foundation for the next one.  At any given point in history, you need to understand what stage your culture is at, and to know which changes are realistically achievable and which are not yet possible.  The former are worth fighting for, the latter are not -- not because they are any less morally imperative, but because energy wasted on an unattainable goal is energy not available to use where it could actually do some good.

For example, during the first couple of decades of the twentieth century, it would have served no purpose to fight for the right of gay people to get married.  Western culture at that time was simply not ready for such an innovation.  Homosexuality itself was still illegal in most countries, and attitudes toward it were largely shaped by the Bible.  Gay people had just as much right, in an abstract sense, to marry as they do now, and denying them that right was just as much an injustice as it is now.  But it would have made no sense, at that time, to fight on that issue, when there would have been no chance of winning.

What did make sense at the time was fighting for the right of women to vote.  The culture had reached the point where this was an imaginable reform, and was being seriously debated within Western society. It was achievable, and it was in fact achieved (in 1920 in the US).

I have read that many of the founding fathers of the US, at the time of the country's independence, were morally troubled by slavery, but never seriously considered trying to abolish it because, as a practical matter, doing so was impossible, even unimaginable.  Any such effort would have failed to attract the kind of public support it would need to succeed.  Over time, of course, this changed, and as the 19th century progressed, slavery became more and more controversial until the argument about it came to consume society and politics, with the abolitionist movement becoming a powerful force whose eventual success became so plausible that the slave-owners finally tried to divide the country in order to escape it.  It's not that the objective moral status of slavery, or the horrors it was inflicting on the enslaved, were any different in 1860 than in 1780.  But the attitudes prevalent within mass culture changed.  What had once been unthinkable -- full abolition -- became thinkable and doable decades later.

Even the most profound changes follow the same pattern.  Religion was no less false and absurd in 1500 than it is now, but the kind of anti-religion arguments that bloggers today routinely make would have been met, back then, with shock and horror and incomprehension (and would have made you the victim of some very nasty form of public execution).  The culture had to pass through several successive stages of development for religion to be challenged, debated, put on the defensive, and eventually driven into unmistakable retreat.

(Note too that it is possible for societies to regress.  In the ancient Greco-Roman world, an almost modern disdain for religion was fairly common in the writings of intellectuals.  But later, the destruction of that civilization due to the rise of Christianity led to the dogmatic repression of the Dark Ages.  During the Middle Eastern golden age of roughly 800-1100 CE, again, many of the educated questioned and even mocked the dominant Islamic religion and its taboos, but the hard-line theocratic resurgence of the 12th century destroyed this freedom, an intolerance which has only recently begun to be challenged again in the region.  But I don't think we'll see any more such reversals.  Occasional temporary revivals of repression, such as the 1950s, barely constitute speed bumps by long-term historical standards.  The Trump regime doesn't even qualify as a speed bump.  It was a brief, freakish political event which had no impact on culture at all.)

So it is in our own time too.  The choices of what causes to fight for must be made largely on the basis of what changes the culture is ready to accept, or is becoming ready to accept.  This is why, for example, I pay a lot of attention to issues like drug legalization and meat-eating.  Mass public attitudes about drug laws in the US are clearly at a tipping point -- the madness and injustice of incarceration for private behavior which harms no one but the user is becoming widely recognized.  As for meat-eating, I believe it's at a similar stage as slavery was around, say, 1800.  Most people still unthinkingly accept it as a normal part of life, but a growing number are beginning to realize what a profound moral evil it encompasses.  American culture is not yet at a stage where the total abandonment of meat-eating is possible.  But I believe it's moving in that direction.

It's even possible to speed up the underlying cultural changes that make behavioral and political change attainable.  The most remarkable thing about the success of the gay acceptance movement is the speed with which it happened.  A core religious taboo -- one of the toughest nuts to crack -- was driven from almost universal prevalence to the fringes of society in just a few decades.  There are a number of reasons for this, but as I've written before, I think that a sustained yet subtle campaign within mass entertainment (movies and TV, mostly) to normalize homosexuality played a major role.  This is a tool which was not available until the rise of visual mass media a century or so ago, but it is with us for good now, and the internet has increased its power.

If popular film and TV were to become pervaded with the same kind of subtle but consistent messaging about the cruelty, health effects, and ecological damage caused by meat consumption, it is possible that the necessary cultural shift on that issue could be greatly speeded up, as happened with the issue of homosexual acceptance.  This doesn't seem to be a priority for those who shape such works, however.

What I say here may repel or anger some readers, because it seems to require acceptance of some forms of cruelty and evil which should be fought against.  I deeply understand this reaction.  It is horrifying and maddening to watch, say, people being sent to prison for things that should not be crimes, as (for example) harmless drug users have been for decades.  But I'm a pragmatist -- I believe what's important is to actually get things done, not just strike the right pose.  Each generation faces a range of evils, and must choose which battles to fight -- which battles can be won.  Pressing a cause which the culture is not yet ready to accept may even get you damned as a monster or a lunatic (think of someone actually taking up advocacy of gay marriage in 1900) and destroy your effectiveness in fighting for things where you could have made a real difference.  The battles which one generation cannot fight, the next may fight and win.  But the goal must always be to achieve real change and real improvement.  To do that, we must understand the stage of cultural development in which we find ourselves, and direct our efforts accordingly.