30 April 2021

Video of the day -- Walpurgisnacht

Best wishes on Walpurgisnacht to all who observe the day.  May your will be done and your ends be achieved.

28 April 2021

Meditation #13 -- crowned with good intentions

Like fine neon ablaze, you enraptured the gaze
Of a world slowly fumbling awake;
And as new life turned long, your defiance in song
Made my soul's prison-wall of lies shake.
A false spirit of theft and corruption bereft
Of the vision you spun as you danced:
You swept it away, and from then you held sway
Gave my will new direction, entranced.

But you've been here before.....

Did your questioning call also cast down the wall
When the Persians came yearning for peace?
Did you know what it meant, see a truth heaven-sent,
When you first met the brave men of Greece?
Did your spirit shine free for the wicked to see
In the dying of Arabia's light?
Does your bright-crowned return call us moderns to learn
That your gentle laws must guide our might?

Codifying greed and kindness.....

Rule seventy-three sets the newcomer free
On the vista the gods did not hide;
Rule one-hundred-nine grants the wisdom divine
That quiet rivers in darkness abide.
Rule one-forty-five proclaims free will alive
Ancient magic creating the best;
And the songs that you sing guide your servant, your king
To the way ever highest and blessed.

Awaken all the world.....

Now all lands are your home, for your avatars roam
Where your hidden avengers' light shines;
God-men cursed your renown, hurled your prophetess down,
But your radiance dooms their designs.
Your image will reign in each free human brain,
And in realms mankind dares not yet know;
With your peace-giving arts, and your song in all hearts,
And your fine neon crown still aglow.

26 April 2021

Book review -- evolution and geography

Here Be Dragons by Dennis McCarthy (2009)

Biogeography is the study of the global distribution of living things and the interaction of geological change, especially plate tectonics, with biological evolution.  It's not really a new field -- biogeographical concepts played a role in Darwin's discovery of natural selection -- but its implications and contributions aren't widely recognized by laymen.  This book (buying info here) gives a good overview of its explanatory power -- why certain kinds of animals are almost never indigenous to islands, why the life forms of the southern continents are so different from those of the north, the dramatic and sometimes catastrophic effects of continental drift, and why invasive species and the ecological disruption they cause have been a part of the story of life since long before modern times or even the appearance of humans.

The book is somewhat reminiscent of Jared Diamond's Guns, Germs, and Steel, which it cites several times -- the impact of geography on biological evolution somewhat parallels its impact on human cultural development, though obviously over a far longer time frame.

Most people are familiar with the separation of South America from Africa in the late dinosaur period, but actually the most important biogeographical event in Earth's history was the break-up of the ancient southern super-continent of Gondwana into the land-masses which eventually became Africa, South America, India, Australia, and Antarctica.  This caused the native Gondwanan species to diversify in often-surprising ways, though much of the animal and plant life of those lands remains noticeably similar (and somewhat bizarre-looking to northern-hemisphere humans).  It also led to the freezing-over of Antarctica, reducing a once green and teeming continent to the icy wasteland we see today.

Quality of writing can be as important to readers as the information being presented, and Here Be Dragons tells its story in a gripping way.  It's at its best in the chapters "The Volcanic Ring that Changed the World" and "The Bloody Fall of South America", illuminating the icy death of the Antarctic biosphere and the effects of the invasion of North American predators into formerly-isolated South America after the formation of the isthmus of Panama just a few million years ago.  These episodes of mass death and extinction, among the worst in the planet's history, get the dramatic treatment they deserve.

There's also a particularly interesting digression on the orca, a highly-intelligent sea mammal which seems to be divided into at least three subgroups which operate more like human cultural or ethnic groups than biological subspecies.

Toward the end, the book touches on a more controversial topic -- the diversification of humans as they spread around the globe.  In fact, humans are a remarkably homogenous species considering the vast range of lands we inhabit -- less genetically diverse than chimpanzees, despite the latter being confined to a narrow belt of habitat across Africa.  But genetic differences between human populations do exist.

Even if you already have a good general understanding of evolution, you'll pick up some new insights from this.  Thanks to Carol Seidl for bringing the book to my attention.

25 April 2021

Link round-up for XXV April MMXXI

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

o o o o o

Sometimes evolution is kind of a letdown.

Actually, do lead me into temptation.

This is an American-style mousetrap.

A little bag of air -- I know the feeling.

NASA has been rather naughty.

How do you prepare the chicken? (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Play a tune on the train.

Kneel at the cross.


Break free!

Know your monsterfuckers.

I'd do the same.

Lots more tree photos here.

Are Roman numerals obsolete?

Don't leave your poem unwritten.

Books are wonderful.

On the Border blog has a poetic tribute to an accident with far-reaching consequences.

Sometimes alone is best.

Certain species need to go extinct.

".....like a parody of you....."

What crappy behavior (found via Hackwhackers).

Those gender reveal parties are just getting worse.

The stupidity is just getting worse.

A bumbling vandal self-pwns in Arizona.

Who the hell came up with National Rape Day?  Of course it's not real, but it's causing problems.

Wingnuts spin a ludicrous tale of Hillary Clinton on trial.

Bruce Gerencser hears from a passive-aggressive Christian.

No, the ancient Greeks were not color-blind.

Nan's Notebook hosts a debate (in the comments) about colonizing Mars.  I think I won.

For heart disease, treat the underlying causes.

An accountant analyzes AO3's finances.

For some right-wing reactions to the Chauvin verdict, see the comments here.

Somebody is getting ripped off.

Don't these people realize this is horrifying?

Some good tips here on computer and phone scams -- with video from a computer expert who turned the tables and spied on the scammers.

A tragic loss offers a reminder -- listen to what your body is telling you.

Get vaccinated, get free stuff.

California employees don't want to be dragged back to offices after the pandemic ends.

Young white liberals aren't the only ones leaving religion.  For example, many black people are.

The new woke identity politics is a politics of privilege.

Sometimes the brain gets things wrong.

Health-care workers are burned out, overloaded, and ready to quit.

This is a totalitarian mind-set better suited to North Korea than a free society.

The divide between business and the Republican party has been developing for years.

Delusional beliefs are not harmless.

A Tennessee pastor calls on Christians to wage holy war and seize control of the country by force.

After a year of window-smashing, arson, assault, looting, and general terrorization by mob violence, Portland's mayor starts to sound serious about the problem.  The fact that local black leaders are speaking out against the mobs probably stiffened his spine.

You're not obligated to compromise your sexual boundaries to avoid hurting people's feelings.

Religion will never have the moral high ground.

Even a lot of right-wing voters support getting "dark money" out of politics.

This is what dishonest polling looks like.

Evangelicals use God and Satan to avoid responsibility for their actions.

Republican politicians are still scamming their own donors (not the big ones).

QAnon qrackpottery is being encouraged by foreign dictatorships to undermine the US.

This is what happens when people listen to idiots instead of scientists.

Trump voters are sick.

There are many kinds of bad arguments.

Wingnuts have a persecution complex.

If you don't tell the truth, people will turn to those who do.

Australia stands up to China, the regime flies into the usual snit.

The Greens are now Germany's most popular political party.

Putin's mafia state intensifies repression of protests.  He's still bullying Ukraine, too.

40% of Iranians are now atheists, agnostics, humanists, or "nones".  Only 32% self-identify as Shiite Muslim, the official religion of the regime.

In India, cremation centers are becoming overloaded as the new covid-19 surge takes hold.  Looks like they went back to mass public gatherings too soon.

How many T-rexes existed?  More than you'd think, but not many at once.

Democracy produces better decisions than authoritarianism, and may even have deeper roots in nature than we think.

Learn why cheese is fattening and addictive.

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted the Mars helicopter's first flight and a reason for blogging.

22 April 2021

A reason for blogging

The reasons for writing a blog are, I imagine, as varied as bloggers themselves are.  Some have strong views on political or social issues and hope to persuade others to agree with those views.  Some feel an irrepressible desire to simply express their convictions or protest against the way things are, even if they have little hope of winning anyone over.  Some enjoy the back-and-forth of debate and seek to provoke it.  Some are moved by enthusiasm for a genre of books or movies, or for a particular culture, and want to share it.  Some seek to show off their art or writing or photography in hopes of winning admiration from others.  For some, it's a way of keeping acquaintances informed of events in their personal lives -- a form of social media.

Some of those motives apply in my case to varying degrees.  Readers may have noticed that I have strong opinions on a number of issues.  Although I hate arguing with people and will do almost anything to avoid it, I hope that my posts attacking religion or supporting various social policies will contribute something to the arsenal of ideas and arguments available to those who do choose to engage in debate with opponents.  And it's interesting to see what others think of my writing, and rewarding to acquaint others with the things that fascinate me.  But over time, being honest with myself, I have come to realize that there's a rather different motive that drives me to keep blogging -- the desire simply to catch the attention of like-minded people.

For a person like me, making any kind of connection with people I have things in common with can be difficult.  At most of the jobs I've had, for example, once co-workers get to know me, most of them show little interest in any further interaction because they conclude that I have nothing interesting to say -- and by their own standards, they're right.  I know nothing about sports or current TV shows or the latest doings of the Kardashians or the royal family, and I don't care to fake an interest in such things just to socialize.  I'm quite happy to keep to myself, and see no point in actively facilitating conversations I would find boring.

But the internet is global and allows interaction with, potentially, anyone with a computer and a connection.  To the extent that others, however few, share aspects of my view of life or my cultural or artistic fascinations, it's at least theoretically possible to catch their attention.

And so I write this blog because it's a manifestation of who I am, put out there for others to react to as they choose.  Those who find my views and interests boring or repulsive will presumably ignore it in favor of other websites they find more appealing, which is fine.  But if someone feels that something I've posted resonates with them and decides they've found a kindred spirit on some level, then the blog has done its job.

This is why, too, I occasionally post things that most people would find cryptic or bizarre, or that I know in advance will provoke rejection or disdain from the majority of readers.  In some cases I'm using language or imagery specific to some particular subculture or to the enthusiasts of particular concepts, even if it is not meaningful to anyone else.  Or I'm posting an idea, vision, or aesthetic which is not generally popular, in hopes that it will catch the eye of one of those few with whom it does resonate, if they happen to be reading.  If that connection is made, even occasionally, then it's worth putting up with the negativity such posts tend to provoke.

The most interesting blogs are the most personal ones, the ones that express the enthusiasms, the vision, the aesthetic tastes and creativity of the blogger.  That kind of blog is a manifestation, in online form, of its author.  That's what I'm doing here.  What co-workers see when they glance into my cubicle at the office is not the real me.  This is.

19 April 2021

Video of the day -- Ingenuity flies

It doesn't look like much -- just lifting three meters into the air, rotating, and then landing again -- but this is the first achievement of powered flight on another planet.  It's all the more remarkable given that the Martian atmosphere is only one-hundredth as dense as Earth's, and that the machine needed to operate autonomously -- radio signals take several minutes to travel from Earth to Mars, so humans here could not control it in real time.  Ingenuity is paving the way for what will hopefully become the regular use of autonomous robot aircraft in the exploration of other worlds.

The scene at JPL in California as the data from the first flight came in:

18 April 2021

Link round-up for 18 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Sign up today for cat life coaching.

Poor ostrich!

Even one job was too much for these incompetents.

Rawknrobyn pwns a badly-programmed online bot.

Multiple jokes here.

You can save money on property taxes.

A Britisher offers one special fact about each of our fifty states (found via Miss Cellania).

Cartoonists take a look at fairy tales.

Schrödinger's cat serves as an inspiration to artists.

Time for a nap.

Kermit the frog directs a music video, with mixed results.

This could be useful if you get into an argument with a Roman.

Some things shouldn't be invaded.

View some illusions here.

Don't believe the signs.

Remember the phenakistoscope?

Learn life lessons from the wise.

This fish is deadlier than a shark.

Ancient Greek weapons added insult to injury.

Good riddance to an ideology of self-debasement.

He hates Asians.

Satanists rule America, apparently (if we did, the place would be in far better shape, I can tell you).

AO3 is a genuine online library and deserves all the support it can get.

Romance novels may or may not be literature, but they can be entertaining.

A former citadel of darkness and superstition now serves a nobler purpose.

Christopher Lee did some interesting stuff.

Take a few words of advice from a man who made it to the age of 103.

One US president learned English as a second language.

Esme's Cloud has another epic poetic meditation, this time on the theme of helping friends keep their sanity.

Cas d'Intérêt suggests four audiobooks to help pass the remaining time in pandemic quarantine (I assume these are also available in regular book form).  Or, check out these five Oscar-nominated films from the Francophone world.

Cop Car blog joins me in eagerly awaiting the Ingenuity helicopter's somewhat-delayed first flight.

Bruce Gerencser pwns yet another pesky evangelical.

This is exactly what Republicans are like (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Alan Alda of MASH is now helping scientists communicate.

Christianity can't solve "the problem of evil".

Good discussion here on having friends of different ages.

A sleep-deprived writer evaluates eight techniques for better sleep.

Nature documentaries give a distorted view of "wilderness" and especially of Africa.

Don't cut off your nuts.

The ACLU is now suing ordinary citizens for pursuing FOIA requests.

Workers are not at all happy with employers' plans to drag them back to offices with the pandemic still raging.

It's now news that the left has no monopoly on trying to suppress books.

Donate here to help hungry people in the US.

Does the Bible belt have more churches?  Probably, but they're also bigger and more in-your-face.

Some of these "woke" jackasses have now gone full racist.

Let the market decide (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Most of the new Biden gun proposals are pretty much meaningless.  A public-health approach seems more promising, and doesn't involve trying to take guns away from people.

Orwellian twisting of language strives to make us deny reality.

Christians who don't understand why atheists are so determined about separation of church and state, read this.

It's not racism when there's no race involved.

Yes, there is enough money.

If you notice an increase in reports of women committing rape, it's probably because of this.

Explore a vast morass of right-wing lunacy, including a claim that Hitler was Jewish (but so is pretty much everybody).

His job has an unusual fringe benefit, apparently.

Time to go big on health care.

Consistency?  What's that?

All these people have one thing in common.

Drive carefully.

Canada has wingnut morons too.  And it took over a year to shut down this cesspit of disease.

NATO warns Russia about its threats to Ukraine.

Many British people don't share the media's obsession with Prince Philip.

Denmark is launching a wind-power project that will supply enough electricity for three million households.

India is seeing a surge in covid-19 as it works to vaccinate its huge population.  Might be something to do with this, I suppose.

South Korea has a 20-mile bike lane shaded with solar panels.

Don't cry.

.....be a shame if somethin' were to happen to it.

Surface contact poses little risk of covid-19 infection.  We need to focus on airborne transmission.

NASA will soon launch an actual test of an asteroid-diversion weapon, the kind of technology which could someday save the Earth from a devastating impact.

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I reviewed a book on how the world has changed and posted on volunteering as an abortion-clinic escort.

16 April 2021

Saturday mornings at the clinic

In September 2003 I began volunteering as what is known as a "pro-choice escort" at a Portland abortion clinic. For about the next year I went every other Saturday morning, Saturday mornings being the time when the clinic is typically besieged by anti-abortion protesters and thus needs defending.

On any given morning there were typically anywhere from three to six escorts on duty. Most of them came when they could; the only ones who were there every Saturday were W and S, the informal "leaders" of the team. We were always careful, by the way, to use only first names and avoid mentioning any identifying information which the protesters might overhear. We had once had a case where the protesters had somehow found out an escort's home address and had sent him threats through the mail. (I am using initials here since I have no way of knowing whether they would care to be even that identifiable in an internet posting. W was a man, S a woman.)

The term "escort" is somewhat misleading. In theory an escort's job is to stand outside the clinic and, if needed, intervene to shield clients from harassment by the protesters on their way into the building. In practice such cases seldom arise. Most clients park in a parking lot which is off limits to the protesters and enter through the back door, and even when a client uses the front door, the protesters rarely attempt to approach her. In fact, the role of the escort is a more subtle one. The aim of the anti-abortion protesters is intimidation -- making the clinic's clients and staff feel isolated and surrounded by opposing forces. The role of the escorts is to negate this, providing a visible positive presence to counter the protesters' hostile one, making the environment more comfortable for clients who might otherwise feel they were in completely unfriendly territory. More than doing anything per se, one's job is simply to be there. It seems very likely, for example, that protesters would routinely approach and harass clients if there were no escorts present. Knowing that the escorts are ready to intervene if they do so deters them from trying.

The protesters themselves were a varied crew. Most of them were regulars, and we knew their habits. Some of them just stood around holding signs. Some engaged in religious chanting or ostentatious praying. Some stood as close to the clinic as the law allowed and gave vent to long, bellowing diatribes which usually seemed to be more about God and the Bible and so forth than about abortion per se. One protester always wore a holstered gun. He had a permit for it, so there was nothing we could do about this. Due to some previous incident, there was a standing police order forbidding him to be on the same side of the street as the clinic itself, so he stood across the street, scowling at us. Another protester had a bizarre personal fixation on S. He had once said to her, "Women like you deserve to be raped." I once heard a protester shout at a man who was accompanying a woman into the clinic, "Why are you letting that woman kill your baby? Be dominant, sir! Be a man!"  Yes, he really said that.

I never saw any actual violence, but the level of tension was sometimes considerable, especially whenever there was a new protester whom we hadn't seen before. A new person was by definition unpredictable. As we all know, in other parts of the country there have been a few cases of abortion clinics being bombed and doctors murdered by Christianist terrorists, and there has been at least one case in which a volunteer escort was killed. So we were always on the alert for any sign of possible danger.

Why did I do it? I've always held individual freedom to be the highest value. If you allow others to encroach on your absolute freedom to decide what will happen inside your own body, then what freedom can you lay claim to? As for the others, W was a libertarian who similarly felt repulsed by the protesters' goal of suppressing self-determination on religious grounds, while S had strong feminist convictions; most of the more transient defenders, as best I could tell, had similar motives. Incidentally, though most of them would generally be classified as leftist, most agreed with my own views on the Islamist threat.

It's one thing to study religious fanaticism by reading books about it. It's very different to come face to face with it. During my time as a clinic escort, I came to understand in my gut, not just in my head, what these people's mentality is really like. They will not be satisfied until what you and I and everyone else can and cannot do is dictated by the taboos of their religion, backed up by the power of the law, as in Taliban Afghanistan.

Local people in that neighborhood would sometimes stop and chat with the escorts, bring us hot drinks on cold mornings or otherwise offering encouragement. On one occasion an elderly woman approached me and said, "I don't agree with abortion, but I'm glad to see a man standing up for women's right to make their own decisions." That's what this is really about: the freedom of all of us to make our own decisions, not have them made for us by somebody else's religion. That's the freedom that requires our eternal vigilance.

[Reposted from 2006]

13 April 2021

Book review -- it's not 1965 any more

Factfulness by Hans Rosling (2018)

This book (buy it here), by a Swedish doctor and medical researcher who has worked in some of the world's poorest countries, has points in common with Steven Pinker's Enlightenment Now and The Better Angels of Our Nature.  It's an evidence-based look at the real condition of our world and the way things are going, and at how most people's perception of those things is so badly mistaken.  Rosling's book, however, is shorter and more accessible than Pinker's, and focuses more specifically on health and economic development.

He starts off with a self-test -- a list of basic factual questions on global education levels, life expectancy, population growth, vaccination rates, etc, and invites you to check your own answers against the correct ones.  He then points out that when he's given this test, even most educated people get the answers not only wrong but drastically wrong.  Almost everyone believes that in all these areas, the global situation is not only worse but far, far worse than it actually is.

Part of the problem is that people's perception of the world is still stuck in a half-century-old framework which no longer describes reality.  In that framework, the world was divided into rich and poor countries, "developed" and "developing", with the latter category having the large majority of the world's population.  But this is no longer a realistic view of what the world is like.  As an example, he gives a chart plotting countries on a graph that shows number of children per family and the proportion of children that die before growing up.  It looks like what we expect -- a large number of countries clustered in the "large families, many deaths" category, a smaller number in the "small families, few deaths" category, and very few countries in between.  But this chart is from 1965.  A chart of today, using exactly the same criteria, shows most countries -- with 85% of the world's population -- now in the "small families, few deaths" group.  By this criterion, 85% of the world is now "developed" by 1965 standards.

He looks at per-capita income in the same way.  Half a century ago, the world was pretty clearly divided into rich countries and poor countries, and most people in the West think it still is that way.  In fact, most of the countries that were poor back then have moved into the middle-income category, with some encroaching on the lower reaches of the "rich" category.  The chart no longer looks like two separate clumps of countries, rich and poor -- it's more cigar-shaped, with most countries in the middle and relatively few at the poor extreme.  There's no sharp discontinuity between rich and middle-income, no obvious place to draw a dividing line between a favored minority of developed countries and the rest.

Measures of global health -- life expectancy, vaccinations, infant mortality, and so on -- show the same pattern.  Most of the former "Third World" is in the process of catching up with the developed world (there remains a "straggler" group of seriously poor countries, mostly in sub-Saharan Africa, but even these are better off than they used to be).  We haven't yet reached the point where most of the Earth's population is as prosperous and healthy as the US, western Europe, and Japan, but things are clearly heading in that direction, and it will take just a few more decades -- certainly not a century -- to get there.

If you're my age, you can remember decades ago seeing appeals to donate to help victims of massive famines in places like Ethiopia and Bangladesh, complete with pictures of pitiful stick-limbed children with swollen bellies.  Notice you don't see those any more?  It's because those places aren't like that any more.  In Bangladesh, for example, in 1972 the average woman had seven children and the child survival rate was under 80%.  Today it's two children per woman and 97%.  Life expectancy there has gone from 52 to 73 years over the same period.  Still not as good as France or Japan, but the magnitude of the change is undeniable.

Pages 60-63 have a series of striking charts showing the global changes from a few decades ago to the present in dozens of factors like literacy, malnutrition, oil spills, female education, air pollution, clean water, laws protecting nature, the percentage of the world's population living under democratic governments, and so on.  In every single case there has been substantial improvement -- in some cases, so huge as to be revolutionary, in just a few decades.

So why does the perception persist that everything is terrible and getting worse?  Rosling discusses ten "instincts", as he calls them, that lead people to misperceive and misinterpret reality (useful information in a broad range of situations), and offers suggestions for how to correct for them.  The media tend to over-dramatize and over-simplify how they report things and to treat exceptional cases -- deep poverty or large families in poor countries, for example -- as if they were still typical.  There's also the fact that people who are now in the age ranges that are socially dominant (40 to 70, say) got their education decades ago when the world was very different, and their picture of reality has not evolved to keep up with how things have changed.

Like Pinker, Rosling knows that many readers will be viscerally resistant to believing much of this, so he provides a great deal of supporting data, though it's not as overwhelming as the mountains of evidence that make Pinker's tomes so massive.

The fact that so many people, even those in positions of power, have such a drastically-mistaken view of the world can all too easily lead to despair, paralysis, and bad decision-making.  We need to understand reality, and the future we're heading for, the way it actually is.

11 April 2021

Link round-up for 11 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Cats are such graceful animals.

Once wasn't enough for this hunter.

Mock Paper Scissors brings us some unfortunate signs.

Even burglars are incompetent these days.

Behold the true origin of the Easter Bunny.

Sometimes, where you are is important.

Corporate slogans get improved (found via Miss Cellania).

See you in the Northern Territory.

Honesty may or may not be the best policy.

He is risen.

Time for some unicorns.

By Hook or by Book observes National Library Week.

Don't stop jumping (yeesh, those things are big).

Blogger Bilbo selects the right-cheek ass clown of the month.

Accept the truth about dong size (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Great variety of trees here.

Some disliked buildings here.  This one is better.

Finally, a "porn" website I can get into.

See who has the world's largest door.

This may or may not be art, and may or may not have been vandalized.

We deserve better movies.

I guess this is the only word you need to know, since it means everything.

Big Bad Bald Bastard has received the Pfizer vaccine, praise be unto Bill Gates.

SilverAppleQueen gives us some erotic poetry.

This building will knock you down and set you on fire.

See the creepy art of Omar Rayyan.

Don't believe everything you read about Easter.

In 2029 an asteroid will hit Earth, bringing a virus which will allow the Antichrist to rise to power.  Until then, watch out for zombies.

Knowing topology can be useful.

You'll hardly believe these are pencil drawings.

Can somebody who's good with the new WordPress block editor give Esme a hand with it?

A local hero returns home.

Make-up -- for men -- goes back a long way.

I see nothing wrong with how she's dressed.  Wingnuts just want something to make a fuss about.

Religionists' anecdotes about scientists shouldn't be taken at face value.

Writers comment on the nature of good and evil.

What can the Bible teach us?  That some gal named Oholibah back in the Bronze Age was really into big dicks.

I envy this guy, and hope to do the same as soon as possible.

Striking image here of part of the Veil Nebula, 2,100 light years from Earth.

Jeanne Barret was the first woman to travel all the way around the world.  It wasn't an easy trip.

Here's what walking will do for you.

Maybe we should stop treating things like this as normal (found via Miss Cellania).

Giuliani's son has political aspirations.  This could be fun.

Artificial intelligence isn't really intelligence, and the ways it goes wrong are almost beyond our ability to describe.

Respect their religion.

Defend sex-positivity.

Covid-19 PPE is necessary, but don't forget the problem of waste disposal.

Autism makes the trauma of sexual abuse even harder to cope with.  Much more here, including advice for non-autistic people and some very disturbing personal experiences.

Religion is becoming less and less important to Americans.  The churches are getting desperate.

What's really going on with Joe Manchin?

Working from home will be even better after the pandemic is over.

Yard signs abound in the dreary Trumpanzee wasteland of rural Ohio.

Plowing through Life remembers a long-lost brother and makes some important points about mental illness.

Fellow Christians accuse senator Warnock of heresy for saying non-Christians can get into Heaven.  What %^$!#@ century is this?

Exercise in Futility blog dissects wingnut claims that the Chinese regime unleashed covid-19 on the US deliberately.

Accept their true identity!

Against Georgia's voting law, Congress can fight back, and so can we (found via MBRU).  Trae Crowder has some thoughts about boycotting the state.  Max Boot debunks defenses of the law (found via this post at Progressive Eruptions, which has part of the text if you can't access that link).

If job requirements seem like bullshit, there's probably something else going on.

I've heard before of doctors sexually abusing their patients -- but a veterinarian?

Trump's massive credit-card rip-off of his supporters sets an example for other Republicans to follow.

No, covid-19 lockdowns did not cause an increase in suicide, at least in the US.

But that's cool, this is all about me!  I get what I want!

Evangelicals' resistance to vaccination will prolong the pandemic.  Then there's the whole fuss over "vaccine passports".

A sampling of tap water from across the US shows alarming results.

Here's what happened after the liberation of Auschwitz.

A small democratic country sets an example by standing up to China.

The US vows to stand by Taiwan in case of a Chinese attack.

Forced sterilization and abortion are part of the Chinese regime's genocide of the Uyghurs, but the ethnic Chinese population is in danger of shrinking too.

Here's an episode from the brutal military repression in Myanmar.

The Ingenuity helicopter's first flight may be as soon as this Wednesday.

See more links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted a brief video of living on another world, and some observations on the blood cult.

08 April 2021

The blood cult

Christianity has a bizarre obsession with blood.  A common metaphor for being "saved" is being "washed in the blood" of Jesus, often stated as "washed in the blood of the lamb", a reference to the sacrifice of Jesus being an extension of the barbaric animal sacrifices which occur so often in the Old Testament (and in primitive societies generally).  The basis of the metaphor isn't hard to understand.  If Jesus was crucified, he would have bled to death, and since the death of Jesus supposedly enables sin to be removed so that a person can enter Heaven, then one could imagine the deity's blood as a sort of spiritual Lysol washing sin away.  Some Christians believe that it can remove guilt for actual crimes against persons, as if the crime had never been committed.  If you're not familiar with this concept, Bruce Gerencser provides a brief discussion.

But why opt for such a revolting metaphor?  Blood has its proper place, inside the body, but humans do not normally think of shed blood as a clean or cleansing substance.  If you notice that you have blood on you, especially the blood of another person or an animal, you don't consider yourself clean until you've washed it off.  When we describe a person or institution as "bloodstained", it usually means "murderous".  When stories are told of a person actually washing or bathing in blood, the intent is to depict the person as depraved and disgusting.  The act of dying to save others is not normally described with such expressions.  When we pay tribute to those who have done so, such as fallen soldiers, we don't speak of their blood as washing away whatever threat they fought to ward off.

We all remember the Ohio woman who believed herself safe from covid-19 because she was "covered in Jesus's blood":

What kind of mind, seeking a way to express the concept of being purified and protected, reaches for "covered in his blood"?

The doctrine of the Eucharist takes the blood fetish a step further.  In Catholicism, when the priest recites certain words over bread and wine, those foods are "transubstantiated", actually becoming the flesh and blood of Jesus, which are then consumed by the worshipers.  (Most Protestant sects hold the transformation to be metaphorical, not literal, but they still take the consumption of bread and wine as a symbolic eating of flesh and blood.)  Some misguided humans do often eat animal flesh, but they usually try to avoid thinking about the fact that it is animal flesh, and eating human flesh -- cannibalism -- is almost universally condemned as barbaric and disgusting.  Drinking blood is even less acceptable.  Even in most human cultures where meat-eating is common, people do not drink animal blood.  Drinking human blood is a practice exclusive to vampires -- evil creatures of folklore.

This doctrine is, of course, rooted in the Bible itself -- see for example John 6:53-56:

Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you.  Whoso eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, hath eternal life; and I will raise him up at the last day.  For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.  He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him.

One could argue that Jesus was speaking metaphorically here, though the actual wording doesn't at all suggest that.  But it's bizarre that he, or rather those who wrote the sacred texts and cast the mythology of Jesus in its permanent form, would choose such a repugnant method for believers to access the blessings said to flow from his mission.  And it's even more bizarre that the religion itself would make such an act the center of its most important ritual.

We often recoil from the weird and repulsive beliefs and practices of the alien religions of other cultures.  But Christianity too is awash (so to speak) in equally nauseating ideas.  We just don't easily see them for what they are because of their familiarity.

06 April 2021

Video of the day -- Not Home

Even if we someday find another planet which is basically habitable, it will probably be different enough in subtle ways to never feel quite "right".  How much less will humans ever be able to feel at home, for lifetimes, in a giant tin can flying through space, or in a poisonous frozen desert where the gravity is only one-third what we evolved in.  The void and the wastelands beyond are for our machines.  So long as humans remain a biological species, there can be only one home.

04 April 2021

Link round-up for 4 April 2021

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

o o o o o

Let these new TV channels really exist, please.

US law strictly regulates imports of this vital substance (link from "Bob" in the comments last round-up).

See the true size of the Ever Given, and how important its cargo was.

They found something better than a box.

Face your pun-ishment, visually.  More here.

Understand the five laws of stupidity.

Look, Moses has returned!

Dolphins are assholes.

Join the true Space Force.

Have some Easter bunnies.

He's never met a happy feminist.

As if just displaying a skeleton in a hardware store wasn't weird enough.....


Imagine if sea lions were woke.

Equaff ass, aliect ass, tyionin.....

Our distant ancestors would be pleased.

This little submarine is full of activity.

The object of Giuliani's illicit lust gets some recognition.

That's a big dwarf.

Every writer on the net gets this.

I had the same reaction too.

This was the sky over Iceland a couple of months ago.

Shrinking dongs and weakening jizz are part of the price of unwise eating habits.

Both sides, both sides!

Learn how to sabotage a golf course.

Home technology has come far.  In some cases, customer service hasn't.

This building exists.  So does this one.

This person exists.  But I wouldn't say he's really alive.

Maybe relationships aren't meant to last forever.

Nichelle Nichols did a lot more than play Uhura on Star Trek.

You can't change what's already happened by talking to someone who isn't there.

NFTs, a gimmick allowing people to "own" digital art, are apparently not a safe investment.

Cas d'Intérêt has a few choice items from France, including initial preparations for the restoration of Notre Dame.

For the first time ever, fewer than half of all Americans belong to a church.

You can now visit the Louvre online.

Caesar's last words may not have been what you think.

Some men are not comfortable with women in power.  Or speaking up at all.

God sent covid-19 to punish Democratic voters, Trump will soon be president again, blah, blah, blah.  More here.

Here's why machine translation only works with major languages.

A dead squid "dances" (may be disturbing to some).

Wingnuts demand the "right" to spread disease wherever they want.

If you're on Facebook, read this.

Even believers can recognize the hypocrisy of the Evangelical church.

At least three-quarters of Americans support various aspects of Biden's infrastructure plan, and over half support raising taxes to pay for it.

Annie Asks You contemplates how to win over those who are hesitant about the covid-19 vaccine.  One approach is to use history.  Or you could explain the risks of the disease (found via Billions).  Here's a sample of what the opposition is putting out.

Very good overview here of how the culture war actually works, though I'd describe it as a still-ongoing effort that started in the 1970s, not one we've already "won".

Companies manage to turn even working from home into a nightmare.

"How about talking to girls about it?"

Don't suppress your doubts -- give them a fair hearing.

Green Eagle brings us a mountain of lunacy from around the wingnutosphere, starting with some rather desperate potshots at Biden's press conference.

What is SpaceX really doing?

Baltimore has stopped prosecuting phony "crimes" like drug possession and prostitution, with positive results.

Amazon's propaganda department is slipping.

Georgia's vote-suppression law is starting to have consequencesThe business world knows which side it needs to takeThe worst part of the law isn't getting much attention.

It matters what news you listen to (found via Hackwhackers).

Analysis of the 2020 House elections shows that going hard left loses the Democrats more votes than it gains.

A top figure in the US Catholic hierarchy considers excommunicating Biden because he opposes forcing women to carry unwanted pregnancies to term.

A former sailor looks at the Ever Given fiasco.

If some members of Congress collaborated with the January 6 lynch mob at the Capitol, prosecution will take some time, but that doesn't mean they're off the hook.

Fanny Brukner should have turned 87 this week.

Students in the UK support free expression -- which is under attack in that country.

Egypt has tightened security in the Suez canal, already foiling one terrorist plot (link from Dave Dubya).

Amazon drivers in India plan a nationwide strike.

To fight global warming, South Korea will spend $43 billion to build the world's largest wind-power facility.

The fascist Chinese regime has destroyed the last traces of real democracy in Hong Kong.  Japan and Indonesia are strengthening military cooperation in the face of the Chinese threat.

Scientists now believe that once we get greenhouse-gas emissions down, the climate will return to normal relatively quickly.

We're starting to understand an alien ocean.

See more links at Fair and Unbalanced and AutisticAF.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted an expression of defiance against vote suppression, a concern about the Suez canal, a religious potential super-spreader event in India, and a new song.

[Image at top:  the new strange fruit, found via Hackwhackers, which regularly posts collections of political cartoons]

03 April 2021

Video of the day -- Loose Canyon

A new indie group from the UK.  Found via Hackwhackers, which has some background.

01 April 2021

Diseases of the body, diseases of the mind

As the global deployment of vaccines brings the end of the covid-19 pandemic into view, the coronavirus is enjoying a final surge with the help of its strongest ally -- religion.  The most dangerous situation is emerging in the world's largest democracy, where the world's largest religious pilgrimage is under way.

India's Kumbh Mela festival typically draws tens of millions of Hindu pilgrims to various sacred sites near the Ganges river.  People are now starting to arrive for this year's festival -- though the government has decreed some restrictions on access in an effort to reduce the obvious danger, they sound far from adequate, and many pilgrims are ignoring them out of a belief that participation in the religious rituals of the event confers some kind of protective immunity.  Given the numbers involved, the potential for a super-spreader disaster is clear.

There is a considerable history of religion spreading disease and death in India.  The Ganges plain is one of the most densely populated areas on Earth, and with sewage-treatment technology widely inadequate, the huge river is horribly polluted.  But it is also considered "sacred", and some Hindu religious rituals involve bathing in its waters because they are considered "pure" spiritually, even though biologically they are anything but.  Since the early nineteenth century, this behavior has generated seven cholera epidemics so massive that they spread beyond India's borders, making the disease (which originated at the Ganges) endemic in many areas around the world.

Defecation in the open is a huge public-health problem, and persists mainly due to a religious taboo on the presence of excrement within enclosed spaces, which many people interpret as forbidding the use of indoor toilets.  The Indian government has been campaigning for years to change this behavior, with mixed success.

In the West, too, throughout the covid-19 pandemic, churches have fought hard to help spread the virus, endlessly suing to overturn restrictions on their group rituals, or simply disregarding them.  For centuries, Christian clerics have fought tooth and nail against modern contraception, stem-cell research, and other medical advances.  Diseases of the body spread and sicken and kill far more effectively when they have diseases of the mind to assist them.