30 May 2021

Link round-up for 30 May 2021

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

o o o o o

Bugs Bunny has too much power and should be feared.

Best internet comebacks here (found via Mike).

Better living awaits -- on Mars.

Just great, I'm sure.

The plan has succeeded -- time for the harvest.

Cryptocurrency traders turn honest in the end.

Watch a prehistoric cave man try to invent the toilet.

Sounds like an insurance scam indeed.

Raccoons make shitty pets.

This person exists.

This person..... ewww.

No diving!

No asses!

Save me from this dangerous monster!

Gorilla pwns lion.

Yeesh, she's not wasting any time.

Get some dating advice and puns from a cat, if you dare.

The item arrives.

Must've been quite a bug.

Maybe phones should just be for phone calls again.

Snowmen contemplate eternity.

This may not have been part of the competition (found via Hackwhackers).

Two guys watch a caterpillar.

Don't do that!

You know it's getting hot when the animals are melting into puddles.

Fear not, you will be re-educated.

Debra She Who Seeks looks at some vapid celebrities.

Murrmurrs reports on postal esoterica.

God?  What God?

Sometimes birds are good for business.

If you've been getting cialis/tadalafil spam, here's what to do.

Arabic words become graphic art.

Carol Seidl continues her report from the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

The Southern Baptist Convention is suffering a dramatic membership decline.

Here's a biker gang with a difference.

Biden reaches out to a gay influencer to promote covid-19 vaccination.

Conspiracy bullshit isn't even funny any more.

Cas d'intérêt reports on Napoléon's legacy, a new strategy against art theft, and more.

A Moonie gun cult in Texas is preparing for war.

If a fetus is a person.....

Bruce Gerencser fends off yet another Christian who won't listen, or understand, or tell the truth.

Trae Crowder looks at Biden's crimes.

Corporate-speak is gibberish.

Here's how Santorum was wrong about Indians and US culture (scroll down a bit).

Stephen Fry contemplates meeting God.

In 2008, Debra She Who Seeks visited desecrated ground and honored its original deity.

Annie Asks You has a poetic rumination on family memories.

This long-vanished bee left a strange relic of itself.

Pyramids are found all over the world (but look different everywhere).

Men and women have distinctly different skeletons.

Geology evokes haunting thoughts of ancient life we will never know.

Fact-check some common beliefs about heart attacks.

Women were second-class citizens in the US just half a century ago.

No means no!  Unless.....

The internet has developed a culture of personal attacks.  Don't contribute to it.  It's usually best to not even respond.

We don't need any more celebrity politicians.

Abusive behavior comes from abusive beliefs, not from repressed feelings.

The Green New Deal will destroy the energy industry!

He didn't want the vaccine (found via Hackwhackers).

Here is what it was like when abortion was illegal.

Connecticut girl runner Chelsea Mitchell writes about having to compete with boys, and predictably gets bullied for thoughtcrime.  Even at the Olympic level, women who speak out on such issues are told to shut up.  If the left refuses to listen to the victims in such cases, they naturally turn to whoever will listen.

Covid-19 infection numbers in the US are dropping despite our numerous missteps -- but not among those who refuse vaccination.

In case you need it explained why Marjorie Taylor Greene's Nazi analogies are bullshit, here you go.  Oh, and this person is an asshole.


"It's one extreme or the other.....No space for normal human behavior."

Democrats need to go big -- people won't turn out in 2022 for a party that didn't deliver.

Trump will be prosecuted, and the country needs to be prepared (found via Miss Cellania).

Follow the money.

Overturning Roe v Wade could backfire on the Republicans.  I'm not quite convinced, but there's a case to be made, and here it is.

Some wingnuts are now comparing vaccines to street drugs.  Anti-vaxxers are a plague on American society.

Madness tends to turn dangerous.

Good discussions here and here about the Democrats' "wokeness" problem.  This issue has the potential to cause us serious electoral damage.  It's no wonder the Republicans talk about it as much as possible -- it's a winning issue for them.

The air pollution alone from animal farming kills 13,000 Americans per year, almost as many as shootings do.

We need to talk about Kevin (McCarthy).

There's no limit to how low wingnuts will sink.

"I think any rational Jewish person didn't like what happened in Nazi Germany" -- "didn't like"???

John McWhorter's upcoming book looks like a must-read.

Here's a look at the black community of Greenwood in Tulsa which was destroyed in the 1921 racial massacre there.

This person exists -- and apparently works for the media.

A Canadian library stands up to the book-burners.

Unmarried mothers in the UK suffered brutal official abuse well into the 1970s.

Keira Bell, the girl at the center of the Tavistock ruling in the UK, tells her own story.  It's gripping and disturbing.

Interesting discussion here on the French approach to race and racism.

Germany has acknowledged its crimes in Namibia from 1904 to 1908 as a genocide.

India's media are finally standing up to Modi's religio-nationalist government.

NASA plans a new series of missions to help fight climate change (found via Hackwhackers).

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted a video on hoarding gasoline, some amusing images, and a discussion of how the "self" is a set of processes, not an entity.

28 May 2021

No ghost in the machine

Science has come far in recent centuries, and in many cases popular perception of reality has kept pace.  For example, most people today know that most disease is caused by bad diet or microorganisms and not by evil spirits or magic spells, and actually behave in accordance with that knowledge, or try to.  Yet in other areas, notably those where cherished illusions are involved, the grip of pre-scientific thinking has proven harder to shake.

One such case is the belief that humans (and perhaps other animals as well) contain some kind of "soul" or "spirit", an entity distinct from the physical body and brain, which inhabits the body and brain somewhat like a ghost inhabiting a haunted house.  Even many atheists who would scoff at a religious term like "soul" visualize consciousness the same way -- that "you" are an entity distinct from your body, sitting inside your body and controlling it the way a driver sits inside a car and controls it.  It's not obvious to me how or why this concept got started, but it is deeply entrenched in human thinking in many cultures.

The study of the mind is a difficult field and our knowledge is still far from complete, but we know enough to be fairly confident that this Cartesian "ghost in the machine" concept, like the pre-Galilean flat-Earth-and-crystal-spheres model of the cosmos, is simply not an accurate picture of reality.  Your consciousness or self or "soul", or whatever you want to call it, is not an entity which inhabits your brain, it's a set of operations which your brain is continuously performing.  When the part of the brain which performs a given type of operation is injured or destroyed, the victim often loses the corresponding aspect of his or her mental ability -- memory, or the ability to feel a particular emotion, or whatever.  The deterioration of the brain which often accompanies aging has the same effect, robbing the victim of various faculties and sometimes even causing changes in personality.  Your "self" is not a distinct entity separable from your physical brain, any more than your heartbeat is a distinct entity from your heart, or your digestive process is a separate entity from your digestive tract.

The "ghost in the machine" delusion brings other concepts with it in consequence.  One is the belief that the consciousness can leave the body and take up residence in another one, or lead a free-floating existence independent of matter, just as the driver of a car could get out and drive a different car or walk around on his own.  Many religious and superstitious ideas are rooted in this belief, such as reincarnation or demonic possession (if the self is a supernatural "spirit" separable from the body, it's easy enough to imagine some other, alien "spirit" barging in and seizing control), or the Christian idea that the "soul" continues to exist after death and goes to Heaven or Hell, continuing to be conscious and have experiences despite the loss of the brain and sense organs which actually do those things.  In modern terms, it's similar to believing that if your heart were destroyed, your heartbeat could somehow continue on as a disembodied "thing" despite the disappearance of the organ which was doing it (a process or action, not a "thing").  If you set a wheel spinning and then destroy it, nobody believes that the rotation of the wheel is a separate "thing" which can somehow still exist independently after the wheel itself no longer exists.  Yet the idea that the "soul" can survive the death of the brain is more or less equivalent to this.

HG Wells wrote a story in which an elderly man tried to extend his life by transferring his consciousness into the body of a young man, rather like a demon possessing a person in medieval superstition.  Modern anti-aging research, fortunately, has not wasted any effort on trying to realize such a strategy.

(Note that this is a separate issue from the existence of free will, which I discussed here.  I consider it to be self-evident that our free will and consciousness are real.  While we don't yet know how free will works, it seems obvious that it is simply another process performed by the brain; there is no reason to think anything supernatural is involved.)

Another such consequential error is the concept of being "born in the wrong body", which has actually been gaining ground recently, leading to further misunderstandings and problems.  Yet another is the ancient belief that some kind of "higher" consciousness or "spirituality" can be attained by renouncing the pleasures of the physical body, perceived as an impure or lowly vessel which degrades or holds back the reified "soul" trapped within it.

But there is no such trapped or indwelling "soul".  There is no ghost in the machine.  There is only the machine, performing a great variety of actions, even if some of those actions are too complex and subtle for us to understand yet.

26 May 2021

It's a funny world

(found via Mock Paper Scissors)

Note last line of ingredients.

Well, if we all have to die soon, fucking demons might be an interesting way to go.....

25 May 2021

Video of the day -- kaboom!

A firefighter explains why hoarding gasoline in your car is a bad idea.

23 May 2021

Link round-up for 23 May 2021

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

o o o o o

There's a guest post by me, "Pursuing health in a land of sickness", up at Happiness between Tails blog.

How to make your guard dog more effective, and much more.

Everywhere, there are faces.

Definitely a model of a cucumber (link from comment by E Beyer).

Efficient use of horse semen is the topic of a debate.

Very large fish here.

Interesting job, to some.

Land of the free idiots.

Concerning that guy who messed up the calendar.....

Discovering something new is fun.

So, what kind of music are you into?

One film encompasses gay fashion.  But there are things no one of any orientation should stoop to wearing.

Follow the yellow phallic brick road.....

Go see the beach.

Handy gun-control fact here (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Nice ceiling.

This amoeba has quite an appetite.

It's an old painting but an impressive one.

Down with infidel technology.

Snapeism seems no dumber than any other religion.

"Because life is not Netflix."

Certain fonts are easier for dyslexics to read than others.

Turtle shells manifest intricate patterns.

Carol Seidl visits the National Museum of Women in the Arts.

Civil Commotion remembers the great atheist philosopher Bertrand Russell.

Great photos here of the town of Zell in the Mosel wine country.

Retirees arrive at their new home in Florida.

Beware of mattresses containing fiberglass.

Sixpence Notthewiser plans to continue mask-wearing, for now.

Bitcoin is a Ponzi scheme backed by wishful thinking.

Shower Cap reviews the right-wing antics of the week.

So, you're just going to blindly believe in reality?

Readers' feelings must not become a pretext for limiting writers' freedom of expression.

The Olympics needs a new logo.

Artists and internetters explore a female Jesus.

Every fad and gimmick is now an "identity".

A US attempt to imitate the Eurovision song contest sadly seems to just reflect our country's narcissistic tendencies.

Fake or stolen vaccination cards are already proliferating -- an "honor system" doesn't work with assholes.  But note the possible five-year prison term if you get caught.

Actual Asians reject the "cultural appropriation" nonsense.

This powerful new pickup truck shows that the future of vehicles is electric.

A shroom a day keeps the cancer away.

How can an actor act without even knowing what the movie is?  This is absurd.

61% to 69% of Americans want Roe v Wade upheld.  But Republicans are deadly serious about banning abortion, and Texas has already practically done it (found via Da-AL on Twitter).  A law professor has some questions on the a-fetus-is-a-person nonsense.  "The Liberal Redneck" Trae Crowder also has plenty to say.

You may never know whose life you saved.

"If you need my demographic info before you can decide if you agree with my opinion....."

Asshole frat boys behave like asshole frat boys.

Revenge at last (not nearly enough, though).

Be alert to avoid microaggressions.

Trump continues to gouge the taxpayers.

Twitter does, at least, fight to protect the anonymity of its users, even from corrupt government harassment.

Fundamentalism creates a privileged caste which can get away with almost anything.  The worst persecution is reserved for females who violate sexual taboos (read the comments too).

Stacey Abrams's Fair Fight has a range of options for joining the fight against the new Jim Crow laws (found via Annie Asks You).

Your job should feed your life, not consume it.

How do Christians know what their God wants?

Green Eagle once again plumbs the depths of wingnut insanity on the internet.

Pro-Palestinian mobs have been attacking and beating up Jews (not Israelis, Jews) in New York city.  Anti-Semitism is on the rise generally.

Shitty employers will do anything but offer decent pay.  They don't even understand the free market.

The fight for gun rights is winning allies among minorities and women.

Extremists vote with extremists.

A Christian school in Missouri got a free pass for years on gross abuse of children.

At least one US state is now putting male sex criminals in women's prisons, with predictable results -- and the ACLU is protecting the rapists.  This is madness.

The end of the pandemic is in sight, no thanks to the wingnutsMumbling and fiddling with beads probably won't be as effective as vaccines.

After a year of mob violence, most Portland-area residents want police presence maintained or increased.

Electoral-Vote readers have ideas on how to talk to Trumpanzees.

If you claim objective reality doesn't exist and everyone's opinion is equally valid, then you have no basis for contesting Trumpist lies and delusions.

Never forget the 6th of January.

The Supreme Court unanimously upholds the Fourth Amendment in a case which would have had truly terrifying implications if it had gone the other way (if it bothers you that guns were involved, imagine a similar warrantless search and seizure of, say, drugs in a private home).

A shocking painting highlights a dark episode in Canada's history.

In the UK you now risk arrest for expressing an opinion, but apparently rape threats are still OK.

It is now "violence" to call a girl a girl.

Anti-Israel protesters show their true colors in the UK.

Australian aborigines have come through the pandemic relatively well, partly due to a strong embrace of vaccination.

What is even satire any more when this is reality?

Despite the survey I linked to a few weeks ago, some Iranians are still deeply religious.

Hamas are very fine people.

Is there a long-term solution in Gaza?  Leaders worldwide -- and in the US Congress -- display hypocrisy.  A blogger in Jerusalem reports from the scene.

The "AP office tower" in Gaza contained a Hamas headquarters, meaning that Hamas was effectively using AP employees as human shields.

This important essay from 2009 has become a must-read again.

A Chinese-regime-backed art contest in Turkey backfires badly as artists call attention to the atrocities in Xinjiang.

Hunger once again stalks North Korea, but the regime makes sure its enforcers are well fed at everyone else's expense.

A proposed new law in Mauritius shows the dangers of government regulation of the internet.

Add pneumonia to the ever-growing list of diseases that meat-eating puts you at higher risk for.

Science discovers bizarre life forms -- and uses them as phonograph records.

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted some improved word definitions, a reminder of the blindingly obvious, a look at divine intervention, and a video on low-carb diets.

22 May 2021

Video of the day -- the big fat lie

An assessment of the most successful scam currently going.  The last two minutes of this are particularly telling -- and yes, people who spread dangerous misinformation for money are fair game.

20 May 2021

The works of God

God, according to his devotees, does more than occasionally appear on pieces of toast.  People have been known to thank God for winning a football game, or for successful surgery, or for surviving some disaster such as a tornado that wiped out the rest of the neighborhood, or even for finding a lost set of keys.  Even in the modern world, apparently, miracles abound and prayers are often answered.

Such claims suggest, though, that God has very peculiar priorities.

Slavery existed in this country for several generations.  Most of the slaves were Christians, having been converted to the religion of (conveniently) "resist not evil" and "turn the other cheek" by their enslavers.  No doubt many of them, in the course of entire lives spent in forced labor and degradation and brutalization, prayed to the Christian God for deliverance from their lot; certainly all of them deserved it.  Yet generation after generation, no such deliverance ever came, except in occasional cases of escape or manumission -- acts of individual human effort or mercy.  The end of slavery was finally achieved via a bloody war and the Thirteenth Amendment, with no sign of any supernatural intervention.

During the Nazi holocaust, millions were murdered purely due to their ethnicity, or in some cases due to being disabled or homosexual.  And again, many of them must have prayed to be saved, and none deserved their fate.  Yet God, whose miracle-working power (displayed again and again before the eyes of the world during Biblical times, according to Christian mythology) could easily have stopped the whole thing in an instant, did nothing.  Turning water into wine to keep a party going 2,000 years ago was sufficient reason for a public display of that power, but stopping a genocide was not.  Eventually the mass murders and other atrocities ended because Nazi Germany's military might was laboriously beaten down by that of other countries, at staggering cost in death and misery and destruction.  Not a scintilla of evidence of even the subtlest divine intervention can be discerned.

And yet the God who never visibly interfered in those horrors casually reaches down to help you find your car keys?  Or to help one side win a football game?  (How does he choose which team to support?)  Perhaps the clearest sign of God's non-existence is his failure to strike down the people making such claims with lightning bolts out of exasperation at their sheer self-importance.

Does the tornado survivor thanking God believe himself to be more worthy of such divine aid, not only than his neighbor whose family was obliterated, but even than the tormented slave on an antebellum plantation or the child facing his last moments in a Nazi gas chamber?  On what grounds?  As for the person who comes through risky surgery, his survival is due to human technology and skill developed over many decades with no noticeable sign of supernatural assistance.  I'd also note that centuries ago, when we had less technology and more faith, the rates of survival in such situations were far lower.

A world in which God routinely intervened for our benefit, as so many believers claim that he does, would look very different from the world we actually see around us -- especially its history.  A world in which anything like the God they believe in existed at all would look very different from the world we actually see around us.

You found your own car keys.  Give yourself the credit, if you want to make that big an issue of it.

19 May 2021

To the trolls (2)

The concept I'm going to explain here is so absurdly obvious and simple that it really should need no explaining. However, after a hiatus of almost a month, the trolls are back in force, explicitly challenging me on this exact point -- so I thought it would be worth a try on the off chance that their brains are up to the task of comprehending it. Normal readers with an IQ above single digits should feel free to skip this post.

There are sometimes situations in which one needs to do things one does not want to do. For most of the last one-third of a century, I've spent forty hours per week doing boring and inane things at the behest of various bosses, because they were paying me to do so and I needed the money. This is a normal part of the life of pretty much anybody who isn't wealthy.  From time to time I do things like taking out the garbage or filling out tax forms, even though I don't like doing them, because various bad consequences would result if I didn't do them.

But in cases where you dislike doing something, and there are no bad consequences which follow from not doing it, why do it? For example, if you don't like TV soap operas, presumably you just don't watch them, since nothing bad will happen as a result of not watching them.

Different people have different reasons for writing a blog. In my case, there are several. I have ideas which I hope may be of interest to some people. Although I don't engage in debates with ideological opponents, I occasionally think of arguments which I post here because I hope they may be useful to those who do choose to engage in such debates. In some cases I run across information or ideas from others which I think are of value and should be given as much visibility as possible. In many cases I post things simply in the hope of attracting the attention of other people who have similar interests or aesthetic tastes. And on a certain level, I just write because I like doing it. I'm perfectly aware that some people may find my posts uninteresting or distasteful, and that's fine. They don't have to read the blog.

However, I don't like arguing and bickering with people. This has nothing to do with whether or not engaging in debate is objectively a worthwhile form of activity. It may very well be; it probably is. But I, personally, simply don't like it; and as with the TV soap operas, I don't see any negative consequences likely to follow from not doing it, so I don't do it.

Aside from that, a blog doesn't have the same function as a discussion forum. I am not trying to run the latter, and I'm not obligated to provide a platform for views I find offensive or abhorrent. This has nothing to do with censorship. Anybody who wants to say something I choose not to allow in the comments here is free to start their own blog and say it there; and I neither can, nor would want to, stop them. As I've said before, freedom of expression gives you the right to put an opinionated bumper sticker on your car. It does not give you the right to put the same bumper sticker on my car. And I have no obligation to engage in verbal squabbles with whoever feels some entitlement to pick a fight over something I said that they don't like.

To any trolls who have read this far: You may well regard the above as rude, weird, selfish, mean, petty, or any other negative adjective of your choice. You may even take it as evidence of narcissism or some form of insanity. If so, you're fully entitled to your opinion. Equally, you're fully entitled to ignore my blog. The entire rest of the internet -- millions of websites -- is open to you. But this is who I am, and I'm not going to change, and I'm not going to argue with you about it, or about anything else. Period.

[Comments are closed.  This is a one-way broadcast from me to the twits.  Please respect that and don't leave responses to this in the comment threads on other posts.  Adult-level posting will resume in a day or two.]

17 May 2021

Improving words (20)

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

Apocalypse:  Darkness caused by an ape passing in front of the Sun

Appliance:  An alliance of apples

Barrage:  Anger in a tavern

Catastrophe:  An apostrophe used by a cat

Clover:  A devotee of the speed of light

Conflagration:  A limited supply of banners for prison inmates

Decent:  To rob someone of a penny

Depot:  To take someone's marijuana away

Furrow:  An argument about animal hair

Hearse:  A British male posterior

Hibernate:  To become Irish

Industrial:  Middle Eastern currency lying in the dirt

Insisted:  Theodore who is doing something improper with his sister

Laterally:  A public gathering which doesn't start on time

Lavish:  Similar to molten rock from a volcano

Looking:  A toilet monarch

Primrose:  A red, priggish flower

Ramshackle:  A restraint for male sheep

Reinvest:  A garment worn over the chest while driving horses

Rumpled:  Guided by an ass

Succumbed:  A bed in which you suck..... well, you know.

Taxonomy:  An economy based on taxes

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

16 May 2021

Link round-up for 16 May 2021

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

o o o o o

Some jokes here.

Actually, "tweet" is not the term I'd use for this.

Teh stoopid, it burns.....

A cat expresses an opinion.

Need a pie?  This will satisfy.

Idiotic idiots are idiotic.

Signs remind us of proper library behavior.

Learn history via cartoons.

"Oh shit, what's this?" said the fish.

Really, dogs and parrots don't mix.

Debra She Who Seeks does therapy -- and litigation.

Time for some goofy animals.  Then there's this one.

Great movie scene here based on one person being in accelerated time relative to the rest of the world.  Does anybody know what movie this is from?

Yeah, this would work, but.....

"Dual purpose."

God has spoken.

Dealing with this business would make me a bit nervous.

The end is near!

Today's weather:  cool and clear with a chance of instant cloning.

The express is delayed.

Kids perform Rammstein's "Du Hast" (found via Calvin).

Murrmurrs has the latest QAnon qrackpottery on pedophilia, pizza, cannibalism, and Hillary Clinton.

This person exists.

This person exists, just barely (found via Hackwhackers).

This person exists -- and gets to vote on legislation.

If you do what you love for a living, you may stop loving it.

Read a moving story of an aging patriot.

Trae Crowder pwns Confederate Memorial Day.

This is not learning how to deal with reality.

Fundie views of the role of women are stuck in the 1950s.....BC.

Check out the view from above.

Two mothers find feelings in common.

They don't make 'em like they used to (I have a 1999 Honda and it runs fine).

How do you build something to last ten thousand years?  The biggest problem is water.

Mike has even more tree pictures.

Know your horse history.

A Victorian-era magazine asked women why they stayed single (#7 should have been a poet).

Real change begins when workers start talking back.  Some employers are starting to wise up (found via Mock Paper Scissors).  Some aren't.

Wise words here from Benjamin Franklin.

A blogger confronts the grim possibility of dementia.

There are two kinds of people.

Fiction is a place to explore things you wouldn't want to do in reality.

People only hate Elon Musk because.....

Slut-shaming doesn't become OK just because it's women who are doing it.

Congress needs a bouncer.

In so many cases, religion makes people horrifically cruel even to close family.

Home appraisals are a crooked disgrace (found via Hackwhackers).

My favorite political/social commentator, Bill Maher, has just tested positive for covid-19.  He's fully vaccinated and is asymptomatic, but has canceled the taping of this weekend's show.

Under new management -- the US is starting to catch up with the rest of the world in developing wind power.

There's an alternative to Goodreads you can use to avoid supporting Amazon.

If you're a sane person but still a Republican, it's time to leave.

No, your workers aren't lazy, you just killed too many of them.

Religion is the perfect milieu for con men to find marks to fleece.

There are things nobody needs "awareness" ofThis is getting completely ridiculous.

Yes, people really do learn better from print than from other kinds of media.

The Gosse defense of creationism -- that God created the world 6,000 years ago with evidence of an earlier history that never happened -- doesn't work when examined in detail.

ADHD and autism might be evolutionary adaptations that were beneficial in earlier environments.

Everybody I don't like is possessed by demons.

Is this rapey enough yet?

Use this site to find out whether the people near you (or in any area you're thinking of moving to) are mostly Democrats or Republicans.

Blogger Daedalus Lex has ideas for restoring real radicalism.

Bitcoin "mining" is an incredibly stupid waste.

Research suggests a way to discourage people from spreading misinformation on the internet.

Freedom doesn't include a right to seriously endanger other people.

Moline Skeptics looks at acupuncture.

Ladies and gentlemen, the language police can go fuck themselves.

Darwinfish 2 dissects the latest wingnut baloney.

Here's the full text of Liz Cheney's speech before being condemned by her party.  But Republicans are not having, and will not have, a "civil war" among themselves (I figured that out three months ago).

Use common sense in judging the past.

The long-term equilibrium of the Senate isn't in our favor, but that could change.

Billions are spent world-wide on skin-lightening products, even though they're often dangerous.

Political must-read of the week:  In the UK, more and more women are turning away from the left, a trend that would be disastrous if repeated in the US.  Which could happen, if things get this bad here too.  You can now be "investigated" for the equivalent of saying 2+2=4.

They say the biggest lie is easiest to believe, but it seems that the worst truths are also the hardest to believe.

This French teenager is the latest victim of Islamist bigotry, hatred, and intolerance.

Germany honors Sophie Scholl on what would have been her 100th birthday.

We have a vivid record of life in a Russian penal colony in 1890, thanks to one of the country's greatest writers.

The Russian oligarchy is using SLAPP lawsuits to silence journalists.

The media are, as usual, grossly distorting what's happening in Israel and Gaza (read the comments too), sometimes including flat-out lies.  Rocket attacks have been accompanied by mob violence within the country.  No other nation would have shown the restraint Israel has shown.  More here.

Gay organizing and visibility in India face serious challenges.

China faces economic stagnation due to its collapsing birth rate.

Research is still in early stages, but bioelectricity shows promise in areas as diverse as organ and limb regeneration and fighting cancer.

See technology saving lives in real time.

China has landed a rover on Mars to search for evidence of life.

More links at Fair and Unbalanced.

Reminder to trolls:  read this.

o o o o o

In case you missed it -- this week I posted on changing political parties, the impact of covid-19 on the class struggle, and empty language.

[Image at top:  The salamander, a vertebrate comparable in complexity to a human, can re-grow lost limbs.  Technology may enable us to do the same.]

14 May 2021

Empty words

While I dislike engaging in arguments, I hope that some of what I post will be of use, in the context of arguments, to those who do choose to engage in them.  With that in mind, there is an issue often encountered in internet "discourse" which I believe it would be useful to discuss explicitly.  Consider two statements:

"I believe X."

"I believe X for reasons A, B, and C."

There is a tendency to consider these statements equivalent.  They are far from equivalent.  The first is essentially a zero-content utterance; only the second has anything to which you should, or even can, give your thinking attention.  The substance of a statement about belief is not the belief itself, but the reasons given for believing it.

(The exception would be cases in which a statement of fact either is not in dispute or will be accepted as self-evident by the likely readership, such as "China is a dictatorship" or "World War II ended in 1945".  But such statements are generally not formulated as assertions, since they are things which don't need to be asserted -- they're more likely to be used as supporting facts in a line of argument.)

Let me use my recent post about Mars as an example.  If I had merely said "Humans will not be able to colonize Mars in the foreseeable future" and left it at that, readers would have learned nothing except that I hold a particular belief which might or might not have any basis in fact.  It would have been a zero-content utterance.  The substance of the post was not the conclusion it reached, but rather the evidence I cited supporting that conclusion.  Similarly, if I'm trying to make a serious case against an opponent's position, then I need to address whatever evidence and arguments that opponent has cited to back up their stance.  Just saying "I don't agree with your position" would be another zero-content utterance.

Now consider the following statements, each of which is commonly encountered in certain contexts:

The Bible is the word of God
Silence is violence
Socialism has always failed
Trans women are women
America is the greatest country on Earth
Humanity is doomed to wipe itself out

Whether any of these statements is true or false is irrelevant to my point here.  My point is that, the way they are actually used, they are not positions supported by evidence -- in fact, they are not really even assertions.  They serve two purposes -- first, they signal membership in a tribe defined by adherence to a particular set of beliefs; and second, like the "four legs good, two legs bad" in Orwell's Animal Farm, they drown out any doubts or questions challenging that set of beliefs, especially doubts or questions within oneself.  That is, they are chants or slogans, tools for hypnotizing and browbeating the human mind into a fundamentally sub-human state of unquestioning acceptance beyond the reach of facts or logic.

Always be aware of the essential distinction between empty words and meaningful language.

13 May 2021

Fighting back at last

Finally got my covid-19 vaccination yesterday, now that it's available in this state at regular pharmacies.  I went to one which is less than half a mile down the street, to minimize driving time back home, in view of the unpredictable side effects.  This turned out to be a wise decision, since within minutes I started feeling drowsy and spaced out.  But that was gone when I woke up this morning, and I've seen no sign of any other side effects.

I got the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which works with just a single injection -- no need for a second shot.

I'll still be taking serious precautions until herd immunity is achieved in this area, but it's nice to know there's that extra layer of protection in case I do get exposed.

12 May 2021

Viruses, waitresses, and a new order

The Black Death which struck Europe in the mid-fourteenth century, killing anywhere from one-quarter to three-quarters of the population in whole regions, was certainly one of the great disasters of European history.  Scholars have long recognized, however, that this ill wind did blow some good.  At least in England, the labor shortage resulting from the massive depopulation, along with the disruption of the economy, sharply changed the relations between the powerful and the formerly powerless.  Peasants who had formerly been little better than slaves now found themselves in such demand that they were able to sell their labor to the highest bidder, simply leaving in search of a better offer if their local landowners refused to change with the times.  Laws were passed to restore the old feudal arrangements, but were unenforceable in the face of the new economic reality.  The later part of the fourteenth century saw a substantial rise in the standard of living of the poorest.

It's starting to look as if the covid-19 pandemic, on a more modest scale, may have an analogous effect in the US.  Before, millions of Americans in bottom-tier jobs worked under grossly exploitative conditions for a minimum wage barely half of what's typical among developed countries (or, for tipped workers, even less), subject to ever-more intrusive monitoring, pressure to work at inhuman speed, and the risk of being fired or disciplined for taking time off sick or similarly outrageous reasons.  The pandemic initially made these workers' lot even worse -- millions of jobs were eliminated, and for those that remained, conditions grew more dangerous as bosses flouted basic precautions to protect workers from the new disease.  Hapless floor employees were regularly forced to deal with anti-maskers' belligerent assholery, while waitresses suffered decreasing tips and increasing sexual harassment by customers, doubtless a function of what type of people most often dismissed covid-19 and continued going out.

But the pandemic also brought higher unemployment benefits (for many), a series of "economic impact payments" (for practically all), a new child tax credit, more help with health-insurance costs, etc.  Perhaps equally significant, it seems to have brought a greater awareness of the raw deal such workers had been getting.  Now that restaurants and other customer-service-intensive businesses are re-opening, expecting workers to come back to the same shitty working conditions (actually worse, since the covid-19 danger is far from gone) for the same shitty wages, many are finding few takers.  A couple of samples of the types of sentiment I've seen widely expressed:

Predictably, in an echo of the fourteenth century, some Republican state governments are trying to cut off federal unemployment-benefit supplements in an effort to force the serfs back into their traditional bondage.  In reality, getting people back to work isn't that simple, and cutting benefits will weaken the consumer-spending boom which is really driving the economic recovery.  Bullying and scolding are, so far, not enough to drive people back into underpaid jobs which are now not only miserable but actually dangerous.  This is all the more true given that Democrats hold the presidency through at least January 2025 and Congress probably through at least January 2023.  While the drive to bring the US minimum wage closer to developed-country norms has stalled for now, that issue is still far from dead, and there are other measures a willing government can take to help.

For white-collar office jobs, too, things have changed.  The old model of dragging everybody into an office to do jobs that were basically being done on the internet anyway has been technologically obsolete for at least a decade, but little progress was made in transitioning to a work-from-home model due to management conservatism and desire to maintain tight control and supervision.  The pandemic forced along the change that should have happened long ago.  Everyone has now seen that such jobs can be done from home just as well and often more productively.  Employees have had a year free from the misery of commuting, the idiocy of dress codes, and the harassment of petty, nitpicky office rules and policies which were inescapable because the boss was right there in the workplace with you.  Survey after survey has shown that large majorities of office workers want to keep working from home after the pandemic is over.

Many upper-tier managers seem to think they can force everybody back into offices as if nothing has changed, hiding anxiety about the erosion of their control-freakery behind a squid-ink cloud of "teamwork" and ineffable magic of face-to-face conversations in hallways.  I have been doing that kind of work myself for over thirty years, and that stuff is horseshit, and we all know it's horseshit, and they know we know it's horseshit, and it's not going to fly.  The balance of power has shifted.  For months I've been barraged with e-mails from employment agencies I used to work with, trying to interest me in this or that job despite my repeatedly telling them I already had a job which I wasn't interested in leaving -- and I'm almost at retirement age, hardly the most desirable employee profile.  The post-pandemic boom will only increase the competition for workers.  Employers who don't offer work-from-home will find themselves at a real disadvantage in that competition.  Even if some do manage to force their workers back to the office, every minute spent stuck in traffic will now be accompanied by the knowledge that the hassle is an unnecessary one forced on them by management for no good reason.  Good luck with "employee morale" when every work day starts and ends with that.

I've long believed that the political left in the Western world has somewhat lost its way, getting distracted from its focus on class struggle due to identity politics and differences between the cultural values of the working class and the college-educated.  If the pandemic has awakened a greater level of self-awareness in workers and given them a lever to force changes in the way things are, the Democrats in the US must be ready to support them in every way possible -- and, in so doing, may find their soul as a party again.