18 October 2017

Space case

In a recent post on Canada, Pinku-Sensei looked at the colorful background of that country's Governor General, Julie Payette, which includes two trips into space as an astronaut.  He ended by wishing that we in the US could have a former astronaut as President.

Bah.  Why think small?  We'll soon be able to elect a leader -- well, a Congresswoman -- who has actually been in regular contact with aliens and has even ridden in an alien spacecraft.

Miami Congressional candidate Bettina Rodriguez Aguilera (a Republican, naturally), claims that she was abducted by aliens at age 7 and that they have been in telepathic contact with her several times since then.  There were three aliens, "blond" and "big-bodied", who reminded her of the famous Christ the Redeemer statue in Rio de Janeiro (though I assume they weren't actually that "big-bodied").  Their spacecraft had "round seats" and some "quartz rocks" which "controlled" it.  Fellow bloggers PsiCop and Hackwhackers have posted about Rodriguez's claims.

Apparently these aliens spoke English, since Rodriguez reports that they gave her the following information:

- There are 30,000 non-human skulls in a cave in Malta.

- The world’s "energy center" is in Africa.

- "God is a universal energy".

- Florida's "Coral Castle" is an ancient Egyptian pyramid (it was actually built by a local eccentric less than a century ago).

Curious how the celestial wisdom imparted by advanced aliens sounds exactly like a series of National Enquirer headlines.  Also curious how their grasp of English includes the maddeningly nebulous New-Agey misuse of the word "energy" which is so common among scientifically-illiterate people these days.  One would expect aliens qualified to pilot a spacecraft to have a better knowledge of physics.

In fact, the whole story typifies the annoying inanity of the alien-visitation schtick as we've come to know it.  Rodriguez describes the aliens as essentially humanlike -- suspiciously like a child's concept of angels, in fact -- and most such tales do the same, or describe creatures like the "greys", just an unimaginative slight modification of the human form.  Considering the vast variety of forms of animal life which have developed here on Earth, it's vanishingly unlikely that evolution on another planet would produce a species so similar to ourselves.

Then there's the matter of those pearls of advanced knowledge which these superior beings convey to their contactees.  Like the examples above, what the aliens have to say is almost always dull, trite, tabloid stuff, often with religious undertones, reflecting the ignorance and foggy language of the contactees themselves, often linked to fads popular at the time.  They couldn't drop off some blueprints for a planetary anti-meteor defense system or a primer on their theoretical physics?  Even a few landscape photos of their home world would be nice.  In fact, none of these revelations ever contain any clear, testable information outside the (usually meager) knowledge of the contactee.

(Similar nonsense ruined the ending of what would otherwise have been one of the all-time great science-fiction movies, Contact.  After Earth spends hundreds of billions of dollars building an alien-designed machine to send Jodie Foster to Vega, all she gets to see is an alien disguised as her dead father who spends a couple of minutes reciting platitudes out of some mediocre psychobabble book from the "spirituality" aisle, then sends her home.  Worst return on investment ever!  Earth should have sued.)

One also wonders why beings advanced enough to have achieved interstellar travel would spend decades abducting random obscure people, reciting clichés at them, maybe inflicting a "probe" or two, and then returning them.  I'm fairly sure that if NASA became aware of an intelligent alien race technologically inferior to ourselves somewhere in the Solar system, this is not the procedure they would propose.

Oh, well.  I see no reason to doubt that Rodriguez can secure the Republican nomination and even be elected.  The scientific ignorance inherent in her story is nothing compared with that shown by global-warming denialism or creationism, both of which are pretty much mandatory for Republicans these days.  Where idiotic delusions in government are concerned, boring aliens are the least of our problems.

[Image at top from here.]

15 October 2017

Link round-up for 15 October 2017

It's a battle of metaphors.

There are only two genders.

Photoshop artists rise to the occasion.

Our language can be confusing.

Fight the bank -- with fish.

Well, when you put it like that.....

What if the sinking of the Titanic had happened in 2016?

Link looks at internet ads.  Green Eagle wants to fight back.

Follow the squirrel challenge.

A sex worker comments on counterproductive laws.

Why did Dracula have armadillos?

Judge people by their actions, not their fantasies.

Different stories resonate with different people.

These shadows will make you look twice.

Here's a nice spooky painting for Halloween.

The Greeks had a word for it.

Has God changed?

If you use PayPal, read this.  If you're thinking of getting your DNA tested, read this.

This Friday the 13th was the 242nd birthday of the US Navy -- Crazy Eddie observes the occasion with some nautical superstitions.

As Christianity declines, churches are being rededicated to a higher purpose.

Cowards in academia fail to defend freedom of expression.

Something's very wrong with our child-custody laws.

The Supreme Court has already ruled on protesting during the national anthem (found via Fair and Unbalanced).  A majority of Americans now at least know what the protests are about.  Here are some more opportunities for Pence to walk out (found via Hackwhackers).

Make fines proportional to income.

Weinstein has a defender.

Some of the drinking water being distributed in Puerto Rico comes from a hazardous-waste site (found via ElectoralVote.com).  San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulín Cruz is asking the UN to provide the aid Trump won't.  The island is already getting help from the private sector -- some from Germany.  Then there's this.  Oh, and these people exist.

Raw Story looks at the Dominionist / "Seven Mountains" fundies and their efforts to take over US society.  Never forget that those nutbars are out there.

This young man embodies the spirit of Ted Kennedy.

What does "efficiency" mean?

Here's how Trump got the power to attack the environment.

Science is preparing for a post-antibiotic world.  And don't forget this.

Meet the prehistoric vampire ant from Hell (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

What a croc.

Devoted doggies save a little girl on a freezing night.

Hillary goes to Wales and speaks Welsh.

Malala Yousafzai starts at Oxford.

John Fugelsang sums up Trump's attack on the Iran nuclear deal (found via Hackwhackers).

Iraq is now trying to arrest organizers of Kurdistan's independence referendum -- and may be threatening an attack.

Russian drivers.....

This museum exists -- in China.

Roy Moore could be in trouble for tax evasion.  And here's a nasty episode from his past.

The Markey-Lieu bill to limit Trump's authority to use nuclear weapons has languished in Congress since January.  It's past time to act.

HecateDemeter looks at the problems that limit Democrats' voting power.  There's grounds for hope that the Supreme Court will do something about partisan gerrymandering.  How much risk is there that we'll suffer another McGovern-style disaster?

WND (!) has some solid info about how Trump's bungling of Puerto Rico could impact future elections.

Bannon is raising an army of wingnuts to Akin/O'Donnellize the Republicans for 2018 -- sanity is now unforgivable.  Mark Plotkin at The Hill points out the obvious.

"The least qualified moron" sums up Trump well.  He may be looking to quit a job he hates.

David French says Trump is turning Republicans into crude thugs -- what, more than they already were?

Hackwhackers has reactions to Pence's NFL stunt.  Even RedState is unimpressed.

[Sorry for lack of posts recently -- it's been a rough week.]

10 October 2017

Trump is attacking the ACA again

This is never going to stop, as long as the wingnuts hold power in Washington.  With Congressional Republicans' floundering efforts to repeal the ACA having ignominiously petered out (for the time being), Trump is apparently going to attack the law via executive order:

Trump's order, expected as soon as this week, would allow small businesses or other groups of people to band together to buy health insurance. Some fear that these Association Health Plans (AHPs) would not be subject to the same rules as ObamaCare plans, including those that protect people with pre-existing conditions. That would make these plans cheaper for healthy people, potentially luring them away from the ObamaCare market. The result could be that only sicker, costlier people remain in ObamaCare plans, leading to a spike in premiums.....Andy Slavitt, a former top health care official in the Obama administration, warned that insurers could drop out of the Affordable Care Act markets because of the order.

There's some uncertainty about whether, or to what extent, Trump has the authority to do this.  If he issues such an order, there will be legal challenges.  If it goes into effect, however, over time it will become harder to oppose, since some voters (healthy people on AHPs) will benefit from it, creating a constituency against repealing it.  The time to stop this is before it's issued, or at least before it's implemented.

That may not be easy, however.  The public helped stop legislative repeal of the ACA by deluging Congress with anti-repeal phone calls and other messages, but Trump is less likely to be swayed by such methods.  The sane people in the Cabinet are probably focused on stopping Trump from blowing up the Korean peninsula and don't have time for this.  Our best hope may be the fact that some insurance companies are apparently worried about the order too -- businesses don't like unpredictable changes in their regulatory environment.  Or perhaps Trump will bungle the drafting of his executive order as he has in the past, making it ineffectual.

But the underlying reality is that it's inherently difficult to keep a system running smoothly when Congress and the White House are held by people grimly opposed to that system's very existence.  The ACA will not be safely re-stabilized until we vote them out.

08 October 2017

Link round-up for 8 October 2017

Keep an eye on Every Day is Halloween blog for seasonal spookiness!

Do not release teh wyrm.

Looks like a perfect day.

A wingnut goes grocery shopping.

Fully charged!  Maybe plug in here next time?

This looks like an "alignment chart" for the blogosphere.

Go for a spin.


I'm almost afraid to speculate about the function of this object.

Halloween attacks!  Impressive decorations here.

This person is way too enthused about Autumn (found via Mendip).

Even the mightiest started small.

This gadget could be pretty handy, if it actually works.

Many artifacts recovered from Pompeii fall into a particular category.

Purity-obsessed antis harass f/f and now m/m shipping into blandness (if you don't understand that, you probably won't understand the linked post).

If Trump were a bird, he'd be this one.

Giant snails in Florida have been involved in a truly disgusting religious cult.

Gallantry can come from unexpected quarters.

Earth-Bound Misfit looks at Hugh Hefner.

Capt. Fogg offers some sanity on the Las Vegas mass murder (found via Fair and Unbalanced).  Pat Robertson offers total insanity.  Here's a good debate on guns (and I'm not saying that just because one person linked to me), going beyond the usual mere exchange of clichés.

Noah Smith takes a thoughtful look at freedom of expression on campus (the comments are worth a look too).

Brotha Wolf has a message for "patriots" about black people (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Don't be fooled by this fake photo.

Very often, censorship is about suppressing women's sexuality.

Sometimes, Texas makes sense.

The US public develops more confidence in the media in the face of Trump's constant bashing.

Watch as much as you can stand, and try to imagine the horror of living with this view of reality.

The US may have failed Puerto Rico, but not vice-versa.

When people say feminism is sexist, this is the kind of thing they're talking about.

The creator of Pepe the Frog launches a legal campaign against the Alt-Right for stealing his work -- and in at least one case he's gotten results.

Here's another reminder of what the Civil War was really about.

"It's not murder if they're black."

These people exist.

A Christian and ex-fundie looks at slavery in the Bible.

There's no justice for a victim of false accusation.

Experts assess the chances of a new civil war in the US in the next 15 years (the consensus: it's about one in three).

The "ghost gunner" machine is the latest advance in making your own guns at home.

Here's a collision bigger than you can imagine.

GM plans to phase out the internal combustion engine.

NASA has a plan to save the world from super-volcanoes -- and generate energy too (found via TYWKIWDBI).

This is the Solar eclipse as seen from the International Space Station, with the Milky Way in the background.  Notice the shadow on the Earth.

Imagine stained-glass windows that can produce electricity.

No, you twit, Europe is shaking off its earlier colonization by Christianity.

Thanks goodness we still have the Bill of Rights.

A neo-Nazi march in Sweden leads to violence and a mass counter-protest.

Germany was once led by a Trump-like figure, and the results were not good.

Charlie Hebdo will soon have an online edition in English.

Sorry, but Howard Dean is an idiot.

Swing your chicken do-si-do.....

It's been a century -- but remember this genocide.

Iran's foreign minister has a few words for Trump.

Don't get too excited about Saudi Arabia letting women drive -- it's still a barbarous country.

An American in Japan contrasts its health-care system with our own (found via Crooks and Liars).

Putin assesses the possibility of a military strike on North Korea.

A talented Chinese sculptor wins admiration -- and one weirdly-racist response.

China may have found a solution for its serious shortage of women.

India takes conservation seriously.

It's worked before -- humor is being used to fight extremism (found via Mendip).

Caption this photo.

Trump puts his foot in it with the base again.  The wingnuts are unhappy with Gorsuch, and right-wing donors are getting frustrated and turning to Steve Bannon.  But Booman Tribune warns us not to count on Republicans' divisions to defeat them.

Democrats should focus on the big issues and avoid trivia.

While Pence's dimwit Chief of Staff demands that all Republicans support Trump, the latter's actual approval rating is dragging them all down.  No wonder, as he fumbles and stumbles.

[262 days down, 1,200 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

06 October 2017

The voters are restless

Alabama is not the only place where a significant election happened in the last couple of weeks.  Here are three cases where votes carry implications reaching beyond the countries in which they were cast.

Catalonia:  The Spanish government is doubling down on its efforts to suppress Catalonia's independence movement.  Leading figures from the region are being hauled into court to face accusations of sedition, while King Felipe VI (who, like the British monarch, is supposed to be an apolitical figurehead rather than an actual ruler) has condemned Sunday's independence referendum.  Catalonians are not backing down; infuriated by the government's brutal police crackdown during the referendum, which injured over 800 people, a protest and general strike on Tuesday drew 700,000 participants, almost a tenth of Catalonia's total population.  The head of the region's government, Carles Puigdemont, has threatened to declare independence within days.

It's hard to overstate the magnitude of the Spanish government's blunder in resorting to violence.  While the ballots cast and counted show 90% support for independence, the disruption caused by the police attacks prevented so many people from voting that the result can't be considered a true reflection of the popular will; polling beforehand showed less than half of Catalonians favoring independence.  Since the government insists the referendum was illegal, a better course (as a commenter here pointed out) would have been to do nothing, simply declaring that it would not recognize the results.  Given the polling, a peaceful vote might well have delivered a majority against independence, as the Scottish referendum in 2014 did, and laid the whole issue to rest for the foreseeable future.  As it is, the brutality doubtless turned many Catalonians against Spain.

There's ample risk of further escalation, given that both sides have used rhetoric which will make it hard to back down.  The European Union is useless, with European leaders, as usual, showing more concern for order and legal technicalities than for justice (with some exceptions) -- a response which has been well noted in Catalonia.

Kurdistan:  On September 25, the Kurdish autonomous area in northern Iraq held a referendum on full independence.  Unlike in Spain, although the Iraqi government opposed the vote, it was unwilling or unable to use force to try to suppress it.  Turnout was over 78%, and 93% of votes cast favored independence.

In this case, the result could hardly have been otherwise.  Iraqi rule has been a bitter experience for the Kurds, especially during the regime of Saddam Hussein, whose "Anfal" campaign in 1988 used mass deportations, concentration camps, and outright extermination to thin out the Kurdish population.  Estimates of the death toll range from 50,000 to 180,000.  Moreover, the Iraqi state is an artifact cobbled together by British imperialism less than a century ago, containing three groups (Kurds, Sunni Arabs, and Shiite Arabs) who have no particular sense of common identity nor any reason to feel loyal to that state.  In both Iraq and Syria, Kurdish militias did a huge share of the fighting against Dâ'ish (ISIL), and naturally feel all the more right to the lands they defended and liberated with such courage.

Besides Iraq, large Kurdish populations live in Syria, Iran, and especially Turkey.  The governments of those countries, fearing that Iraqi Kurdistan's referendum will embolden their own Kurdish subjects, have reacted with hostility and vituperation (but one Middle Eastern country has been supportive).  The US, despicably, has dismissed Kurdish independence as illegal and an additional headache in a region already brimming with complex problems -- but some within the government are dissenting.  I've already argued that the Kurds deserve our support.

Germany:  Angela Merkel's re-election as Chancellor in September came as a surprise to those who were convinced that the influx of refugees from Syria during her tenure had rendered her hopelessly unpopular.  In fact, Germany's economy has generally been doing well, and the refugee issue is not so dominant in German politics as outsiders seem to assume.  Even so, Merkel's party, the conservative Christian Democrats, lost seats in the Bundestag and will need to form a coalition to govern.

More dramatically, the nationalist AfD (Alternative für Deutschland, or Alternative for Germany), got 13% of the vote and won seats in the Bundestag for the first time, becoming the third-largest party there.  In many cases, the use of the term "far right" in reference to European nationalist and anti-EU parties is simple ignorance or sloppiness, but the AfD believes in German superiority, supports military conscription, and has been plausibly accused of anti-Semitism.  That doesn't mean, of course, that the nearly six million Germans who voted for the party hold those views; they basically represent the segment of the population for which refugees and immigration are an overriding issue.  Germany is smaller than Montana and has 82 million people, and for most of its history has been ethnically homogenous.  Like most Europeans, Germans naturally view large-scale immigration quite differently than Americans do.  But the rise of such a party in Europe's dominant country (and the world's fourth-largest economy), which has spent decades establishing itself as a stable liberal democracy and utterly repudiating the ghastly atrocities of the Nazi period, is an alarming development to say the least.

04 October 2017

Videos of the day -- the natural world and its challenges

Rather than re-embed all of these, I'm just going to refer you to Crazy Eddie's Motie News, which has them all posted already.  First, these eight clips on nature and biology, which have spectacular visuals -- though the very last one may not be for all tastes.  Then there are these, looking at a wider range of scientific issues (including the one above).  All of them are from longer works which you may well want to seek out and watch in full.

01 October 2017

An attack on self-determination

As voting proceeds in Catalonia, the Spanish government has escalated its efforts to shut down today's independence referendum, sending paramilitary thugs to attack polling places and using clubs and rubber bullets on Catalonian civilians.  Hundreds of people have been injured.  The BBC, the Guardian, and Deutsche Welle (in English) have current coverage.

I can't help contrasting this with Scotland's referendum on independence from the UK in 2014, which the British government allowed to proceed freely.  As it happened, the Scottish people voted to stay in the UK by a margin of more than 10%.  Spain may be able to hold on to Catalonia by force, but its present tactics seem doomed to create permanent hostility and resistance to its rule over the region.

Link round-up for 1 October 2017

This plate of crab is certainly fresh (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Tree wars!

Follow a kitten's Halloween adventure.

Savor these cream-filled waffles from Thailand.  Wear these earrings too.

This driver meant it.

Letter spacing is important.

Perhaps Cassini avenged the dinosaurs.

Ancient Greek and Roman soldiers added insult to injury.

Ancient Egyptian religion was different from what exists now.

Looks like this dog is in no hurry.  Or maybe there's no dog at all.

A desperate prisoner cleverly escapes.

Somebody give this horse a record contract.

Worst ad ever, or maybe the best.

Here's an interesting re-interpretation of the Greek tale of Medusa.

Change a light bulb?  These guys have a bigger job.

Barnes and Noble takes another step toward obsolescence.

Got your Halloween costumes for right-wingers right here.

Huh?  It's a Nazi gay wedding.

Animals are pervs.

There's a good reason for planting trees like this.

New York man pwns red-light cameras.

Help catch these jackasses.

Some teachers need to be in a different line of work.

It may be that men and women have a different idea of what "friend" means.

God makes no mistakes.

If you need to call 911 but there's a threatening person with you, use the pizza trick.

Remember, this was only sixty years ago.

A man who once fought for freedom defends it again.

Fox admits that equality, diversity, and inclusion are leftist values.

Remember Hugh Hefner.

Here's how a real leader handles a racist incident.

Amber Ruffin pwns Trump over his NFL comments.  Former CIA Director John Brennan gets it too.  The players aren't the first to receive such criticism.

Christian teachers in Colorado allegedly sabotaged a student because of her outspoken atheism. Some Christians can't even tolerate other Christians.  But don't treat them all the same (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

Wingnut boycotters are going to have a lot more boycotting to do.

The inner reality of the Alt-Right is scarier than its public face.  But they still stink at getting things organized.

As the country declines, looters take the money and run.

Cruise lines are helping Puerto Rico.  Trump still hasn't done all he could.  And why the hell will it take four months to get the electricity back on?  When the going gets tough, the "tough" go golfing.  Even RedState realizes this looks terrible.

This is what a hurricane can do.

Even exotic life a mile and a half under the sea is threatened by Trump.

Listen to the stars.

Project Blue will search for Earthlike worlds in the system of our nearest stellar neighbor (sorry, it's still about 7,000 times further away than Pluto).

It was only a fish.

Here's how it might look if the Earth were destroyed by a black hole.

Australia prepares to venture into space.

Foreigners use US locales metaphorically. But silly redefinitions of words don't travel well.

How long does a queen last?

Donna at Tell Me a Story is visiting Iceland.

Catalonia votes on independence today despite brutal efforts by the Spanish government to stop the referendum.

Brazilian wingnuts attack gay culture -- others push back on social media.

Venezuelan professionals resort to sex work to survive.  But read this too.

The technology North Korea struggles to copy is hopelessly antiquated -- we can do better.

Traditional beliefs and practices continue in east Africa.

Last year, Russia actively supported Jill Stein and Bernie Sanders as part of their effort to elect Trump.

Here's a look at the winners and losers in Alabama.  Roy Moore is a lawless theocratic lunatic (found via Mendip).

Trump has a history with the NFL (found via Progressive Eruptions).  His DoJ is going after info on his opponents.

Who gets to complain?

Enough with the "empathy" for Trumpanzees -- they need to learn to empathize.

NRO takes a gloomy view of Republicans' chances next year and the Bannonization of the party.  A couple of local election results drive home the point.  And their tax "reform" plan won't pass easily.

[255 days down, 1,207 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

29 September 2017

Video of the day -- 30 days on a ship

A timelapse video of 30 days on a cargo ship.

26 September 2017

Keep an eye on Bannon

No More Mister Nice Blog observes that Steve Bannon has been maintaining a pretty high media profile lately, and speculates that this might foreshadow a run for political office.  It's a possibility we need to consider carefully.

On fringe-right websites, I've already seen a few Trumpanzees (among those disappointed in Trump's capitulations on issues like DACA) talking about Bannon as a 2020 Presidential candidate.  Such talk probably isn't widespread on the far right.....yet.  But as Trump continues to compromise and be generally ineffectual, Bannon may well be able to position himself as a new rallying point.

If so, we can't rule out him getting nominated.  2016 exposed the Republican establishment as utter dithering cowards when tasked with stopping a determined demagogue.  And the party will enter 2020 either with a pitifully-failed Trump still at its head, or with Pence as President and the party disastrously divided in the aftermath of impeachment.  Either case would create an opening for someone like Bannon.  He could sell himself to the Trumpanzees as the true believer, the embodiment of the Trumpism which Trump himself failed to uphold when the chips were down.

If you're thinking that someone as extreme and obnoxious as Bannon could never be a plausible Presidential candidate, think again.  Trump is even more personally obnoxious and identified himself with comparably extreme positions during the primaries.  Bannon has never held elective office, but his stint in Trump's administration and the fact that he served for seven years as a US Navy officer are better qualifications than Trump could claim in 2016.  On election day in 2020 he'll be 66, slightly younger than both candidates in 2016.  His position at Breitbart will allow him to stay in the limelight, at least among the kind of people who support Trump today.

If nominated, could he win?  I think it's unlikely.  Trump's "victory" was a fluke dependent on the coming together of three factors -- vote-suppression laws (it's now virtually certain that this cost Hillary Wisconsin at least), Russian interference, and the distorting effect of the Electoral College (never forget, Hillary got three million more actual votes).  Absent any one of these factors, Hillary would be in the White House today.

Whether vote-suppression laws will still be as big a factor in 2020 depends on whether Democrats can regain control of some swing-state legislatures in 2018.  That's hard to predict at this point.  Putin is unlikely to want a fervent nationalist like Bannon in office unless he gives clear signals of willingness to cater to Russian interests -- and it's remotely possible that by 2020 US authorities will have done something about the vulnerability of our election systems to hacking (don't laugh, it's possible).  The Electoral College will still be in place, but there is a way of neutralizing that problem without a Constitutional amendment if enough state legislatures get on board.  To understand the importance of the latter point, remember that the Democrat won the popular vote for President in every election since 1992, with the sole exception of 2004 (which was a Republican incumbent running for re-election in wartime, and still a very narrow win).  If the President were chosen by popular vote, Republicans would be practically shut out.

But if 2016 taught us one thing, it's the danger of complacency.  Everyone, including me, thought Trump couldn't possibly win.  President Bannon would be essentially President Trump with brains and a real ideological commitment.  It's hard to imagine a more dangerous combination.

24 September 2017

Link round-up for 24 September 2017

The end of the world predicted for yesterday mysteriously failed to happen.

Cats are weird.

Get drawn into the dog vortex.

And it has the virtue of being true.

It's sign language, are you dumb?

Don't put a dong where it doesn't belong (found via Mendip).

The Romans knew there are no limits to art.

Make love, not war (NSFW).

Menus should be translated carefully.

Some words just don't make sense (but that's OK).

Enjoy these Scandinavian skies.

It's the good timeline.

Learn the eleven steps to becoming a wingnut.

Free Melania?

This salad is not properly vegetarian.

Get your woman shirt from the original source (but the Arabic isn't quite right -- it's plural whereas the others are singular).

Yes, AA really is a religious organization, full of irrational and self-defeating dogmas.

I'm still glad I didn't go into academia -- too many menacing crazies.

Here's a ton of advice for how to live a life of guilt and misery.

It's been a while, but people still offer prayers.

Christianists promise to "reveal the secret to ending abortion and gay marriage in America", but deliver only a laborious metaphor about coal.

The wingnuts are being as crazy as ever.

"Purity culture" is really messed up.

There's a historical reason why some ethnic languages are disappearing (this is not unique to the US, though).

Neo-Nazi women face acceptance problems.

These people exist (scroll down a bit).

Lesbian?  Jew?  We don't want your help.

The decline of religion in the US is most dramatic among the young.

Libertarian goofballs are doing the start-your-own-country thing again.  Here's an example of how well they manage things.

A discussion -- was DACA unconstitutional?

Here's an example of how honest Breitbart is.

Read why Pi Pizzeria in St. Louis is suffering harassment.

Bannon and his ilk are cafeteria Catholics.

Yes, the FRC is a hate group.

A lot of people still want to hear what Hillary has to say.

Enforced stagnation of belief is death to the mind.

Trump's policies are creating a brain drain.

Milo Yiannopoulos's Berkeley free speech event looks like just another money scam.

Nutballs go apeshit at the thought that the Catholic Church might relax its taboo on contraception.

Personalized kinks are saving an industry.

US credit practices put personal data at risk.

Just the increase in military spending the Senate just approved would be enough to make college free throughout the US.

Republicans don't want us to be like other countries (found via Hackwhackers).  Graham-Cassidy is the worst ACA repeal plan yet, and they still hope to pass it even without McCain.  If they succeed, will you die too?  One Republican starts to get it.

The achievements of Cassini remind us what technology can do.

The ruins of a Roman town offer a small glimpse into our ancestral civilization.

The Vancouver Pride Parade is run by ignorant cowards.

In the UK, 71% of young adults have cast off religion.

The Spanish government is using harsh methods to suppress Catalonia's independence referendum. A Catalonian speaks out.

Anti-fascists in Greece train to fight.

This is Mexico, the reality.

Brazil has decriminalized gay "conversion therapy".

Iraqi Kurds will vote on independence from Iraq tomorrow.  The European Union, still allergic to referenda on national independence after Brexit, snivels about "unilateralism".

The situation in the Philippines sounds bad.

Why would Facebook censor reports of the Rohingya ethnic cleansing?

Trump wants a Soviet-style military parade on Independence Day.  I love this accompanying depiction of the parade.  Trump doesn't suffer from headaches, but he's a carrier.

Manafort is the first domino to topple in Russiagate (found via Mendip).

The Electoral College makes our elections vulnerable to foreign subversion.  And certain news sites actively collaborate.  While red states seek to limit voting, Oregon leads the charge in the opposite direction.

Violent protests will be a potent issue for Republicans in 2018, as long as Democrats are perceived as defending them.

In Trump's America, Jews live in heightened fear of attack.

Roy Moore cements the Republicans' status as the theocratic, anti-science party.

22 September 2017

Video of the day -- how to do an industrial economy right

Short version:  don't be China, and don't do things the way the US does.

20 September 2017

Ad-clog agonistes

Two and a half years ago I wrote this post about the growing plague of ever-more intrusive and distracting (and numerous) ads on the internet.  Since then the problem has, if anything, gotten worse.  Besides the pop-ups, autoplaying videos, ads that shove the text you're reading sideways as they push in from one side, etc., there are now ads that expand into existence from nowhere right in the middle of the column of text, video ads where the pause button doesn't do anything, pop-up ads with no X to close them (or at least none that I can discover), YouTube ads that interrupt the video in the middle instead of just at the beginning, and in the case of one site, video ads that actually forcibly scroll you up or down the page to where the ad is, snatching you away from what you were reading, and keep on doing so again and again when you try to scroll back.  And the sheer quantity of ads, the overall visual clutter, is overwhelming on some sites.

Now comes a consummation supposedly surprising but in fact entirely predictable -- it turns out there's considerable evidence that online ads don't work and are even counterproductive.

The linked post (by writer Charles Hugh Smith) focuses on "data-mining", the practice of using information collected from internet behavior to tailor ads to a particular individual.  We've all seen this.  If your browsing suggests any interest in something commercial, whether by googling a product or service, visiting a vendor's website, or actually buying something online, you'll be barraged with ads for the same or related things wherever you go.  This is supposed to be good for sales because it targets you with ads for things you've already shown an interest in.

But much of that data is, from the advertiser's viewpoint, wrong or misleading.  In many cases, once you buy something, you won't need to buy another one for a long time, or ever.  Somebody who goes to the trouble of researching something they're thinking of buying probably won't be swayed to an impulse purchase by seeing an ad.  An established habit, like going to a particular restaurant or gas station regularly, doesn't need to be reinforced with ads, and if the customer loses interest, a barrage of targeted ads won't help.

(Tip:  With all the concerns about Google collecting information on people, I now mostly use DuckDuckGo instead.  It claims not to track users at all, and appears to be on-the-level.)

But to me the real meat of the matter is something Smith mentions only in passing:

What this tired narrative never includes is my dismissal of the advert as a matter of habit, and the possibility the advert alienates me in longlasting ways. Most of us never look at ads, and the more you make them intrusive, the more we hate the website, the advertiser and whatever product/service is being pitched. Advertisers may have unwittingly poisoned themselves and their product/service. The net result of the data-mined, contextual, statistically targeted advert may well be a consumer who blacklists the pizza shop from then on. This alienation is of course completely opaque to the data-mining software: there are no data traces left by blacklists/alienation.

How in Hell's name is it possible that the people who design these intrusive and aggravating ads didn't anticipate this reaction?  Who are these people who set out to make themselves the internet equivalent of the neighbor blasting loud music, the mosquito buzzing around your head that you can't ignore and can't swat, the door-to-door evangelical pest -- and didn't realize this was going to make people actively reject and avoid whatever they're pushing?

At best such ads must be utterly ineffective. My only reaction to them is to go for the X or pause button to stop them or get rid of them. It's practically an automatic reflex now. I almost never even notice what's being advertised. If the ads are too persistent I'll just abandon trying to read the site and go somewhere else. I can't imagine anyone reacting to the current level of internet ad-clog by actually wanting to buy something that was being thrown at them that way.  And yes, in cases when an ad is so intrusive and annoying that I can't help noticing what it's selling, it does evoke in me an antipathy to that brand or whatever.  To the extent that I remember the ad, it kills any chance that I would ever buy anything from the advertiser.

All this isn't just my opinion.  As Smith points out, Proctor and Gamble recently made deep cuts in its online advertising -- and the effect on sales was zero.  This makes sense only if those ads weren't generating sales in the first place.  Others will take note.  Spending on online ads runs to tens of billions per year nationally.  Once companies realize they can cut or eliminate this expense without negative consequences (and, indeed, with the positive consequence that they are no longer annoying the shit out of potential customers), they will, especially since older forms of advertising with a proven track record of results still exist.  Ad creators will have to earn their paychecks by making ads that people actually find appealing and want to see instead of just getting in your face over and over.

So hang in there.  Companies are starting to realize that online advertising is a Potemkin village built of hype with no substance to it, and in many cases is actively damaging their interests.  The free market will work its magic and the siege of ads that make reading some of your favorite sites so exasperating will abate.  We will be avenged upon our tormentors.

17 September 2017

Link round-up for 17 September 2017

Meet Hurricane Shark, a dedicated fan of big storms.

How many kittens can fit in the bowl?

"Oh, dear" indeed.

Modern Japanese cooking is highly innovative (remember this too).

Texas shoplifter Toscha Fay Sponsler opted for a last thrilling joy ride in a stolen police car after police bungled her arrest.

Lion time!

The world will end this coming Saturday.

Life imitates art.

Stop tickling me, you assholes.

What if humans are the toughest intelligent race in the universe?  (Actually I've read at least one novel which used this concept.)

Hurricanes are punishment for the horrifying Gay Agenda.

Wonder Woman meets Victim-Blamer (found via Hackwhackers).

What a ridiculous concept.

Marriott doubles down on a PR disaster.

Younger Evangelicals are being massively turned off by their elders' support for Trump and the Nashville Statement.

Here's some intelligent commentary on the "cultural appropriation" nonsense.

Tell Me a Story looks at the real Democratic e-mail scandal.

The eight-hour workday is a failed concept.

If there's no Hell, Evangelicals will create it.

Kudos to Dallas as another Confederate statue comes down.

ESPN screwed up big time by failing to defend Jemele Hill.

In Missouri, one religious group is stalwartly defending abortion rights (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

Gloating time!  Breitbart commenters seethe at Trump's DACA deal as Trumpanzees burn their MAGA hats.  RedState cries amnesty and betrayal as wingnut Twitter erupts.  My co-gloater PM Carpenter assesses the mess.  Meta-gloat:  They see us gloating and there's not a damn thing they can do about it.  But a lot of Trumpanzees are standing by their man, so far.

Burr Deming looks back at the celebrations which greeted bin Laden's death (I posted about this at the time).  Also read this post on September 11 by Comrade Misfit from 2008.

Mueller is investigating how Russia interfered in the election, not just Trump's possible collusion.  Congress is acting to protect him from being fired.

Republicans are making one last stab at ACA repeal.  More info here.

Christianists lament society's abandonment of their taboos (I'm not the Phoenix1977 posting in the comments, but he speaks for me).  If you aren't anti-gay, you open yourself to demonic influence.

We're taxing the wrong things.

Trump's CIA director is trying to Christianize the agency, but agents are pushing back.  Then there's this kind of shit going on.

Noahpinion looks at why a white American ethnostate wouldn't work.

The story of a Holocaust survivor reminds us what "Nazi" really means.

Antitrust is back as backlash grows against too-powerful technology companies. This won't help matters.  Some corporate technology is designed to actively trick us (and the government).

The SR-71 Blackbird was the fastest plane in the sky, and pilots made sure everyone knew it.

Texas wind turbines, unlike oil refineries, came through Harvey just fine.

Clouds are varied and spectacular things.

Crazy Eddie says goodbye to Cassini.  Hackwhackers posts the last image sent back.

Australian English has some unusual features (I'd be interested in what Australian readers think of this).

Here's another look at where Hitler died, and what's just down the street from the spot.

This is a waterfall in Romania (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Insulting and antagonizing Mexico is a deadly-serious mistake.

There's something about Colombia.....

Tunisia has only just legalized Muslim women marrying non-Muslim men.  I imagine gay marriage will take a while yet.

Russian meddling in our election was so blatant that even Russians are bragging about it.

Holy cow!  Religious nutballs are lashing out.

An Indian ad goes for consciousness-raising.

Republicans have lost their bet on Trump.  But he hasn't stopped being a Republican.

The Democratic primary was won by.....the Democrat.

Single-payer would be nice, but this won't get us there.

It's Bannon vs. McConnell in Alabama.

Win future elections by focusing on gender, not just race -- and unity on our own side.

"He'll always be your better."

[241 days down, 1,221 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

14 September 2017

Video of the day -- the climax of a great achievement

The Cassini space probe set off on its voyage to Saturn in 1997 and arrived in 2004.  In the thirteen years since then, it has sent us a vast wealth of information about the planet and its moons.  Tomorrow, its mission ends -- plunging into the very atmosphere of Saturn, about which it will continue transmitting data to the last.

Cassini illustrates perfectly why we have been wise to give up long-range manned space flight and use unmanned probes to explore our solar system.  At our present level of technology, a manned expedition probably could not have endured the seven-year voyage to Saturn.  It certainly could not have been kept on-site there for thirteen years to gather so much information.  It could not have been subjected to the risks of multiple high-velocity passes through the narrow gap between the planet and its rings.  And it obviously could not have been sent on this final "suicide" mission into the atmosphere.

It is natural to feel a little sad at the sacrifice of Cassini after all it has accomplished for its distant creators.  But in reality, Cassini should be remembered as one of the most successful scientific research projects in history -- one which achieved a great expansion of human knowledge without any risk to human life.

[Video found via Hackwhackers, which has its own post on the Cassini mission.  Here's info on NASA's live coverage Friday morning.]

Random observations for September 2017

The most precious treasure of all is time you can spend your own way.

o o o o o

Understatement has a power all its own.

o o o o o

Smart people ask questions.  Stupid people think they already know all the answers.

o o o o o

Analogy can clarify a point, but can never prove it.  When applied in ignorance, analogy can even confuse.  An example of this would be efforts to explain the politics of a foreign country by treating its political figures or parties as equivalents of familiar American ones -- something that almost always leads to wildly-wrong conclusions.

o o o o o

If you find that the language you use to condemn someone else sounds just like the language others once used to condemn you, reconsider what you are doing -- and whether you have fallen prey to the poison of excluding in order to belong.

o o o o o

A multicultural society such as ours is less vulnerable to propaganda, fascist subversion, etc. than a monocultural society, for the same reason that a genetically varied population of organisms is less vulnerable to being wiped out by a single pathogen than a genetically homogenous population is.  When a society is made up of many groups who will respond to the same kind of propaganda in different ways, it's far harder to design a campaign to sway the whole population in a common direction.

o o o o o

Human activity cannot be rationally regulated without the application of human judgment.  Just mechanically applying any set of rules, no matter how ingenious, to human behavior will always produce insane and unjust verdicts in at least some cases.

o o o o o

Anybody who thinks socialism and communism are the same thing is too stupid to argue with.

o o o o o

Better my own way to Hell than someone else's way to Heaven.

[For previous random observations, see here.]