27 February 2018

On pa-troll

The rising political passions of an election year tend to bring an increase in trolling, though it can happen at any time, and the craziest and most hateful trolls operate purely based on the random neuron-firings of their own scrambled brains, with little reference to current events.  Here's how I deal with them.

First off, there's no freedom-of-speech or censorship issue involved in moderating or deleting comments.  This is a blog, not a discussion forum -- it's my space.  Freedom of speech gives a person the right to put a political bumper sticker on his car.  It doesn't give him the right to put that same bumper sticker on my car, not unless I choose to let him.  It's amazing how many people don't grasp this point.

Not everybody who disagrees with me is a troll.  I almost never reject a comment just because of disagreement.  It's when somebody adopts a rude or hectoring or superior tone, or a particular person never comments except to criticize and attack, or they hijack a thread off-topic -- well, it's obvious when you see it.  I know that rudeness is pervasive on the internet, to the extent of being accepted by many people as part of the norm.  I don't care.  I won't put up with it here.

One common type of troll, what I call the "change the subject" troll, is actually pretty similar to a spammer.  Such a troll starts with "This is just an attempt to distract from....." or "This is ignoring....." or simply goes off on a tangent, telling me what he thinks I should be writing about instead of what I actually did write about.  Sorry, no.  If he wants to discuss something else, fine -- but on his own blog.

Another type which has been growing more common lately is the "time-waster" troll.  His gambit is to post a quite short comment, usually only a sentence or two, at minimum cost to himself in time and energy.  His comments are often full of typos and grammatical errors, since he doesn't bother to proofread them.  They're often barely related, or unrelated, to the post topic.  Their purpose is not to make a coherent point but to get others to waste time and energy responding -- which they often do, to the tune of full paragraphs of argumentation, which the original troll seldom even bothers to read.  At the cost of less than a minute of his time, he's made you waste twenty or thirty minutes of yours.  He wins.

All this being said, again, it's pretty rare that I delete a comment from a real person.  But I've seen what happens to bloggers who let trolls comment freely.  Once allowed to take root, they settle in and multiply, and comment threads turn into an interminable, exhausting mess of back-and-forth bickering.  In the case of right-wing political trolls, it's been credibly claimed that this is a conscious strategy.

As for the real psychos, the ones Cristina Rad (amusing video below) calls "haters" -- the kind of people who develop a weird obsession with you and harass you for, in some cases, weeks or months -- I've had at least two of those target this blog, both several years ago.  One was a Christian fanatic, the other was an atheist with serious mental issues.

What I've learned from experience is that trying to reason with psychos does not work.  Trying to debate them does not work.  Telling them to go away and leave you alone does not work.  Their whole purpose is to get a rise out of you.  If you give them any sort of reaction at all, especially if you're spending substantial time and energy on them and/or getting angry and frustrated, you're feeding them.  And they will not go away.

So I give them nothing.  I delete their comments in moderation, I don't reply to them, I don't answer their e-mails, I don't write cryptic-sounding posts obliquely referring to them, I don't give them any response at all.  Once I get their schtick, I don't even bother to read their comments before deleting.  Eventually, un-fed, they go away.

I've seen what happens on other blogs when bloggers don't get this.  I've seen bloggers write paragraphs meticulously correcting some troll's distortions of what the blogger said (the Christian psycho mentioned above was quite good at deliberately twisting things I'd said in hopes of goading me into replying to correct him).  I've seen them beg and plead with trolls to stop commenting, while I'm rolling my eyes and thinking "just delete the damn comments and save your time and energy".  I've seen them responding with debate or with anger or with ridicule or with whatever, but still responding.  And the troll never goes away.  He knows he's getting under their skin.  He's being fed.

Predictable as the pattern is, it's not normal behavior.  If a blogger were to tell me that my comments weren't welcome, I would immediately stop commenting there.  Why not?  There's more interesting stuff on the internet than I could ever possibly have time to read.  Why waste time on a blog where I'm not wanted?  But the hard-core, obsessive troll is a mental parasite.  He gets his jollies from inflaming you.  I don't play that game.  You probably don't.  But be aware that some people do.

[Re-posted from September 2012 with some modifications.]

25 February 2018

Link round-up for 25 February 2018

This person is dangerously close to inventing the Dalek.

Cat plays with kitten.

A time traveler reveals the dildo metropolis of the future.  Perhaps this insurance company will be thriving at that time.

Is there some sort of contest going on to design the most ridiculous clothes?

He whipped it out and busted a nut right in front of the customer.

Arming teachers could have interesting results.

This blogger is a dragon, apparently.

Ancient images preserve memories of the primordial internet.

Hmm, what character is she playing?

These people are just cool.

Outdated artifacts can be adapted for new uses.

Here are some things you shouldn't do with e-books.

This teacher is quite the artist.

Some politicians shouldn't attempt pop-culture references.

Otters float affectionately.

This is a serpent of color.

Satan is hot as Hell, apparently.

Just how smart were the monsters from the Alien films?

If this bird were a human, he'd be a Trumpanzee.

Here's a cool two-minute dinosaur film.

Trump has his own stages of grief (found via Hackwhackers).

Who would win?

Yet another Lost in Space reboot is coming.

Snob gets pwned.

If you're a writer or artist who is considering using "Underlined", read this (found via 両刀使い).

Respect is a two-way street.

Capitalism comes in the mail.

Fiction serves as a place for things that shouldn't be real.

How rich are the rich?  Here's a look at some of them.

The more we learn about the Sweet Cakes by Melissa story, the worse it gets.

I'm glad my car is old enough to not have this stuff.

If you're running a social media service, don't annoy Kylie Jenner.

There's now a dating site for Trumpanzees, and it already has a PR problem.

Think of clothing as prosthetic fur.  It matters.

Here's an editorial that truly is fake news.

This church will bless your guns (straight couples only).  Other fundies use the Parkland massacre to push their tired old arguments about morality being rooted in religion.

As Mueller closes in, wingnuttery escalates.

This person started the wrong argument, and lost.

Atheists have good reasons to be angry.

Be honest -- which path would he take?

Here's the latest potential American workplace nightmare (found via Lady, That's My Skull).

Condemned to a grisly death to satisfy the depraved appetites of others, she fought back hard, and won.

Our country's devaluation of teachers is a national disgrace.

Two misogynist organizations have been officially designated as hate groups.

I posted a hypothetical question on the far-right forum F169 -- if the Second Amendment were repealed and guns banned, how would gun owners react?  Some of the replies are of interest, especially the one by "Duckford" on page 2.

Rational Nation has a good blogger discussion on gun control.

Will the Parkland students make a differenceTwitter reactions here.  The enemy is attacking them for their activism, though this guy went too far even for a Republican.  YouTube also has its limits, though apparently this guy is OK.  RedState tries to go classy on Dinesh D'Souza, but its commenters don't cooperate.  The Florida legislature has taken decisive action.

Even Scalia didn't support the NRA's maximalist position.  The left, too, must avoid being stampeded to extremes on guns (found via a Rational Nation comment at Progressive Eruptions). Banks have some power to impose controls on unregulated gun sales.  Here are some options for applying pressure, which has worked in one case.  But many companies have ties with the NRA.

Are guns being used to resist tyranny?

The FBI's history illuminates why it didn't act on tips about the Parkland murderer.

It's already possible to make a working AR-15 at home.

My state is trying to restore net neutrality (found via Alle Tanzten mit dem Tod).  This Tuesday is an internet day of action to push Congress to restore net neutrality nationwide -- sign up hereThese are allies.

Expect more of this kind of propaganda as the parasite class tries to phase out retirement as a concept and persuade ordinary people to literally work until they die.

Trumpanzees ooze slime at an Olympic skier (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

We must never accept this kind of brutal and cowardly shooting as normal.

There's less to these reports of violence at Black Panther showings than meets the eye (when you see "hater of sodomy", you kinda know).

Anthony Borges became a hero at 15 -- and he needs help.

Ex-Muslims of North America saves a life.

Here's what our five most vulnerable states are doing about election hacking (not much).  But what did Obama do about the problem?

No matter what, vote against the racist.

I never knew they grew this big.

Universal basic income is a fair way to distribute the benefits of technology.

Some girls can do math.

Jupiter is the slow-moving shepherd of the asteroids.

A treasure trove of ancient fossils has been found in an area Trump just opened up to mining.

The US far surpasses the rest of the developed world.

Ireland has the best curses.

A new form of discrimination rears its head in Australia (found via Tell Me Why the World Is Weird).

Scandinavians master the power of gayness to deter war.

The Dutch parliament defies Turkish government thuggery.

France starts confronting the problem of religious extremists.  When will we?

Trump is trying to bully Mexico again.

We could take as many as 18 Governorships from the Republicans this year.  The country's slimiest Governor is already going down.

Baby-sitting Trump is an exhausting job (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

A few feathers just got ruffled at CPAC.

Romney's Senate run has an endorsement problem.

What would a real President do?

Ideological purists aren't just destructively stupid, they're hypocrites.

Trump supports chain migration in certain cases.

A set of long-shot lawsuits aims for Electoral College reform.

Want more links?  See here and here.

21 February 2018

Random observations for February 2018

Sometimes, kindness is the only way to fight back against the way things are.

o o o o o

The same world could be Heaven or Hell to you -- depending on who you are.

o o o o o

Personal freedom -- control over one’s own body and immediate possessions, and the right of self-defense -- is more important than freedom in more abstract senses.

o o o o o

Non-wasted time is when I'm doing what I want to do.  Wasted time is when I'm doing what somebody else wants me to do.

o o o o o

Why does the word "atheist" even exist, anyway? Why should there be a special word for people who don't believe in God? There's not a special word for people who don't believe in Santa Claus. There's not a special word for people who don't believe in flying saucers. There's not a special word for people who don't believe the Earth is flat.

o o o o o

The only way to know and understand the world is to look dispassionately at the evidence. A factual claim about the world can be judged to be true or false only on the basis of the available evidence. Religious objections, political correctness, fears of offending people, fears of bad consequences if the idea were to be accepted, etc. are irrelevant to truth.

o o o o o

Vehemence won't persuade anybody.  Writing words in all-caps won't persuade anybody.  Being outraged won't persuade anybody.

o o o o o

Man is fundamentally an animal -- specifically, a species of great ape -- and only secondarily a "rational being", a "spiritual being", an "economic actor", or anything else. Any attempt to understand human psychology or behavior which does not take our animal nature into account is a waste of time.

o o o o o

I don't hold anything to be holy or sacred, because those concepts are religious and therefore meaningless to me.  The only thing I feel any reverence for is human achievement.

[For previous random observations, see here.]

19 February 2018

Video of the day -- fantasy and common sense

Bill Maher reminds us that humans are complex creatures -- and are able to separate fantasy from reality.  Found via Politics Plus.

18 February 2018

Link round-up for 18 February 2018

Did somebody turn up the gravity?

One basket, two attitudes.

Alien invaders have landed -- and they're chickens.

People do strange things when they're not paying attention.

It's the perfect Valentine's Day gift!

Welcome to Florida.

It's the Year of the Earth Dog.   And this doggie drama has subtitles.

Careful arrangement of lamps can create an interesting aesthetic effect.

Trust the Japanese to come up with toad vore with a surprise ending that involves a farting beetle.

A bigot suffers epic pwnage.

Nature provides colorful roofing.

Ditherpunk is, or was, an intriguing minimalist art style.

Don't have sex!

Thieves pwn a more dangerous thief (found via F3BBS).

See magnificent images of the northern skies.

The water-filled bathroom scene in The Shape of Water was semi-inspired by a real memory.

I had no idea that music used to be bound by stupid rules like this (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

Sometimes people are nice.

They start early.

Check out these role-reversal versions of old ads.

Drive-through restaurants go back a long way.

"You liberal snowflakes....."

This post on time travel provoked me to look up Rudolph Fentz and the Abydos Helicopter.  It seems safe to assume the other examples have equally mundane explanations.

When will the Flat Earth Society be invited?

One item is allowed, the other is not.

No, fictional violence doesn't cause real-life violence.

No, being fat is not like being gay.

This is very true, and I bet it happens with more people than the prigs realize.

Don't count on the FTC to protect you after the end of net neutrality.  Canada is doing it right.  Ajit Pai is now being investigated for corruption (all three found via Alle Tanzten mit dem Tod, a blog with great coverage of net-neutrality issues, now added to my blogroll).

No cuss words in WalMart, please.

Satanic panic was really a thing back then -- I remember.

The town of Bay View, Michigan, is for Christians only.

If a gasoline truck crashes on the freeway, don't go near it.

This is total bullshit.  Save the outrage for real enemies -- there are plenty of them out there.

Critics and bluenoses notwithstanding, the Fifty Shades movies have now made over a billion dollars globally.  Oh, and then there's this.

A post on progressive Christianity is followed by a massive comment thread full of argument and mutual denunciation.  After 2,000 years, Christians can't even agree among themselves on what Christianity is.

It's 2018 and people are still bitching about interracial relationships.

Unilever declares war on fake news.

Green Eagle has a round-up of wingnut reactions to the Florida school mass murder.  And beware, fake news about this is already spreading.  Here's the reality behind the claims of 18 school shootings this year.  The murderer does have his fans.  The Alt-Right, of course, blames the Jews.

This is the reality of hunger in America.

It's impossible to know what the original texts of the New Testament actually said.

Some abuse victims don't get much support from #MeToo.

The flu is exacerbated by crappy American workplace practices.

"Get a job!"

These people exist.  One other person now does not.

An artificial cave in Bulgaria offers hints of our "religious" practices before the Abrahamic blight.

Jesus's own words show that Christianity is rubbish.

Exhortation and scolding never work.  Avoiding risk is a natural impulse.

The arts matter -- they really do.

The ability to open a door is terrifying, apparently.  Then there are the fake lizard nuclear spies.

Don't worry about girls reaching puberty earlier.

Crazy Eddie observes Darwin Day with science videos.

There's a lot we still don't know about our own galaxy.  If you watch the animation at the end, consider that each second of it represents tens of millions of years -- time enough for thousands of civilizations like ours to rise and fall.

A new vaccine eradicates many types of cancer in mice, and is starting human clinical trials.

Artificial bones grown from the patient's own cells are already undergoing testing in Israel.

Different countries are different.  And they do healthcare differently.

Douglas Bader earned the right to use salty language.

Sweden has fake news, but it's easy to spot.

We could learn a lot from this small country.  But I'm guessing we won't.

One island, four seasons.

Things are getting scary in Poland.  Very scary.

Old control rooms are cool.

This is a feminist with courage.

Religious nutjobs protest in support of murderers.

Don't be fooled by a pretty face on a shitty regime.  Another woman tells the reality.  Here's who she is.  South Koreans distinguish between regime and people.

The Catholic Church backstabs its own believers in China to cozy up to the ruling gangsters.

Damage to the Leuser Ecosystem threatens one of our closest relatives.

"Shoot 'em in the pussy!"  No wonder Trump likes this guy.

Steve M. surveys polling on this year's elections.  Democrats must not water down support for abortion rights -- and must give black women reasons to turn out.  An abundance of candidates may help us by weeding out those who can't win in their districts.  But opposing Trump isn't enough of a message -- the problem is the whole Republican party.

Exposure works!  Nunes's fake "news" site goes down after being outed.

This comment dissects Republican defenses of minority rule.

Bureaucrats ride to the rescue of election integrity.

The Trump administration is riddled with incompetence and is an abject failure.  One blunder has already neutralized one of our aircraft carriers.

Hillary won't run for office again, but she's not going away.

Trump tried to make political hay out of a crime that probably didn't even happen.  The FBI has no more patience with his bullshit.

Democrats' leverage on DACA will increase with time (so long as they don't try another government shutdown).

Republicans will pay for that giant corporate tax cut -- by taking the money from ordinary people.

Kushner has a debt problem.

Even if Mueller is fired, the investigation won't end.  The White House knows it's far from over (found via Crooks and Liars).  Adam Schiff reviews the evidence for collusion.  Here's what the Russian indictments mean.  Bad as Pence would be, Trump must still be impeached.

16 February 2018

Video of the day -- the (or a) key to happiness

He does put some things in perspective.  Note:  NSFW language.

13 February 2018

Some observations on the 2020 census

Most of us know that state-level elections this year are especially important because of the 2020 census.  State governments draw Congressional districts after each census, and the more state governments come under Democratic control this year, the more Republican gerrymandering can be undone after 2020.  However, aside from that, the census itself deserves some attention.

Trump's first nominee to lead the census, Thomas Brunell, has withdrawn after fierce opposition; there was every reason to believe he would have run the census in a flagrantly partisan manner (he has openly supported gerrymandering, for example).  The details of how the census is conducted offer many opportunities for mischief.  Some elements of the population are harder to count accurately than others, and how much effort should be invested in reaching them is a decision that can affect the accuracy of the result.  Trump's next nominee will also need to be carefully examined.

Other issues loom.  Crazy Eddie's Motie News recently posted about the census, including a video which cites several problems.  For one, the 2020 short form is likely to include a question on citizenship, which will make illegals less likely to participate, since they will justifiably suspect the government of using the information later to go after them.  For another, public resistance to cooperating with the census has been rising steadily over decades, and is now at its highest point ever, partly driven by declining trust in government generally.  Finally, while the cost of the census has risen dramatically each decade, the currently-proposed funding level for 2020 is the same as for 2010 -- that is, it makes no allowance for rising expenses.

It's worthwhile to look at these issues in light of the Constitutional mandate for the census.  It appears in Article I, Section 2, which prescribes how seats in the House of Representatives are to be allocated among the states.  "The actual Enumeration shall be made within three Years after the first Meeting of the Congress of the United States, and within every subsequent Term of ten Years, in such Manner as they shall by Law direct."  The preceding language specifying who should be enumerated and how has been replaced by Section 2 of the Fourteenth Amendment: "Representatives shall be apportioned among the several States according to their respective numbers, counting the whole number of persons in each State, excluding Indians not taxed."

The fact that the mandate for the census appears in Article 1, and that the replacement language once again deals with apportionment of Representatives, makes it clear that the sole reason for the census is to determine how many House seats each state gets, which is to be done by "counting the whole number of persons in each State".  There's nothing there that gives any basis for asking people what race or gender they are, whether they are citizens or not, whether they're married, veterans, employed, etc.  It does, of course, technically give Congress the authority to add such questions, or any other nonsense that may happen to cross their minds -- "in such Manner as they shall by Law direct" -- but it strains credibility to interpret it that way when the context makes it clear that the only reason the Constitution mandates a census at all is to count people in order to allocate House seats.

Why does the cost of the census go up so much every decade?  Well, the population is larger each time, of course, but not by nearly enough to explain the huge increases in cost.  A big part of the reason is probably that rising public resistance to participating.  And why is that happening?  Well, a big chunk of the population is just paranoid about government, but even those who are not are naturally resentful of the ever-increasing intrusiveness of the census questions.  It wouldn't surprise me if a lot of the non-Constitutionally-mandated data collected over the last few decades is inaccurate, given the natural tendency of people to put false answers on their forms out of sheer annoyance.

Unlikely as it is, I'd like to see the Democrats make an issue of this for the coming election.  Article I gives Congress authority over how the census is conducted.  Democrats should promise that if they regain control of Congress, they'll reduce the number of intrusive questions as much as is feasible, rather than increasing it yet again.  This would make the public more comfortable with participating.  It might sow a few doubts among conservative voters accustomed to stereotyping Democrats as advocates of ever-more-intrusive government.  It would make it easier to conduct the census without another huge funding increase.  And it would be the right thing to do.  If the invasions of privacy keep getting worse, non-cooperation will eventually reach the point that the resulting data are clearly meaningless.  And my race, gender, income, and whatnot are none of their damn business if I don't happen to feel like telling them.

One final observation:  Be prepared for the Christian Right to notice the wording "counting the whole number of persons in each State" and suddenly remember that they're supposed to believe fetuses are persons -- and launch a campaign to have the census count them as such.  If this happens, at least some Republicans in Congress would feel obliged to take it seriously.  Just imagine the opportunities for them to sound like utter lunatics while making proposals for exactly how this could be done.  It might help us get a few more House seats.  Or at least a few laughs.

11 February 2018

Link round-up for 11 February 2018

These guys came to visit for Superbowl Sunday.

There's no such thing as unskilled labor.

We bobbin'.

All aboard!

Does your grocery store have these for sale?

Catch some cats and kittens.  And meet the dogs of UPS.

Grammar walked into a bar.....

Take advice from nature, or maybe not.

Wise men still seek him.

The cat is not amused.

Freeze!  It's the libertarian police!  And I wonder why the cops pulled this guy over.

There is poison.....

Relish the bitcoin collapse.

What is the Sun?

If you buy a Danish dishwasher, it may insult you.

This is happiness taking a walk in your brain.

Send a letter the easy way.

The Girls Scouts learn to profit from a changing culture.

Why learn calculus?

Cats can't be vegetarian, and it's not a good idea for dogs either.

I can understand being desperate to get a job, but.....

Do your best, the right way.

Don't fall for this widespread scam.

Sherlock Holmes was smart -- his creator, not so much.

I wonder how this tournament is judged.

See sculptures of impossible things.

Paris Hilton did not invent the selfie.

See the ten worst McMansions in Pennsylvania.  (I bet none of them have house art this classy.)

Trump undergoes pwnage in verse.

Funny how many politicians today aren't even as smart as the ones 2,000 years ago.

Tell Me a Story blog looks at the ethics of toilet paper.

Respect Györstöc Ferentzbür, you philistines.

Clothing is a challenge to sculptors.

The Satanic Temple wins a round in Missouri.

Read about the latest internet invasion of privacy and how to turn it off.

There goes the neighborhood.

Evangelicals realize they need to fake being genuine.

Scientists don't get much respect around here (found via Yellowdog Granny).

19th-century prudes made a huge fuss about wet dreams, while this person had a buttload of cement (both found via Miss Cellania).

Here's a Fahrenheit-Centigrade conversion chart for Americans.

Religious conservatives are bad for birth control, and always have been. So to Hell with them.

When Trump dies, will Americans outdo the British?

Another religious hypocrite gets "forgiven" (found via TYWKIWDBI).

Free speech must be defended against the "hierarchy of oppression".

Ida B. Wells was one of America's toughest investigative journalists.  We could use more like her today.

You don't need vaccines when you've got Jesus!

Whole Foods workers discover the horrors of Amazon.

Some film directors are monsters.

Congress is threatening to wipe out state-level protections for animals.

Two short posts sum up US conservatives.  They have lost their traditional respect for institutions -- and a lot of them never had much.

If Miguel Perez isn't worthy to be an American, who is?

These people exist.  And these people exist.  But there's one thing that even that BBS won't tolerate.

The crash of 1929 was a more complex event than most people think.

It's a mystery why most Jewish voters prefer the Democrats.

This is the reality of facing late-term abortion.

New technology is finding traces of the Roman Empire all over Britain (found via TYWKIWDBI).

See a broad valley older than life itself.

The Economist rates the degree of democracy around the world.

The Berlin wall has now been gone for as long as it stood.

See last week's red supermoon rising behind the Parthenon.

Act to help Taner Kılıç, unjustly imprisoned by Turkey's Islamist regime.

Using bees as fencing brings side benefits.

Some government services in China are highly efficient.

This church beats up gays and charges them money for it.

The generic House poll may not be as reassuring as we think.  But for now, a special election in Pennsylvania has Republicans running scared.

Defeatists believe a Republican-majority Congress will never impeach Trump, but Trump himself seems to disagree.

Democratic politicians are catching up with public opinion on marijuana.

In case you didn't already know this, Jeff Sessions is an asshole.

Trump's parade plan is the last straw -- time to pull the plug on him and his enablers.  Veterans hate the idea.  It would turn our military into mere stage props for his personal self-aggrandizement, at absurd expense (don't miss the video at the end).  Here's a better parade idea, and some cartoons.

Trumpanzees attempt infiltration, but are easily spotted.

Ohio will hold a referendum on ending gerrymandering.

Wingnut alternate reality isn't a reality at all, just whatever delusion is convenient at the moment.  We hold our own leaders accountable, they don't.

Remember the teabaggers?

Rex Tillerson, Putin's poodle.

At the National Prayer Breakfast, Trump bullshitted the bullshittiest bullshit in the history of bullshitting.  He's too incompetent to be a fascist -- we hope -- but if you voted for him.....

[Image at top found via Progressive Eruptions and Jon Andreasen]

08 February 2018

Video of the day -- don't blame the atheists

Atheist activist AronRa speaks in Austin, Texas.  This is the kind of hard-hitting, confrontational stance toward religion that we need more of -- and he doesn't shy away, as so many do, from addressing the international aspect of the problem.  As the importance of technology in every area of life increases, a nation dominated by absurd superstitions and an irrational view of the world cannot maintain its leadership position, not when western Europe and the advanced East Asian nations have mostly left such encumbrances behind.  The influence of the Christian Right is hobbling the United States, slowing our progress and even dragging us backward, while others advance.

Oh, and if you think the humiliating picture he paints is attributable to Trump, this speech was delivered in 2012.  Since Trump took office and the anti-science party assumed full control of the government, the situation has gotten even worse.

05 February 2018

What would aliens want from us?

One of the commonest themes in science fiction movies is the alien invasion.  Technologically-superior beings from another world descend upon Earth intent on conquering it, usually wreaking enormous damage before being defeated by the plucky hero who comes up with some clever idea that negates the vast power of the invaders' superior weaponry.  Is this at all a credible scenario?

To begin with, the plucky hero's clever idea definitely is not.  Sufficiently superior technology almost always wins.  There's no one single clever idea that an American Indian or Australian aborigine could have come up with to permanently thwart the European conquest of those peoples' home continents.  If invading aliens were advanced enough to get an armada of spaceships across interstellar distances in the first place, the imbalance of technology in their favor would be similarly unbeatable.  Many of these scenarios involve the aliens' technology having a single critical failure point -- one single ship, machine, or individual on which everything depends, such that knocking out that one target defeats the whole invasion.  It's unlikely that advanced aliens would design their weapons systems so stupidly.

The more interesting question, though, is why the aliens would be attacking us at all.  An invasion implies at least some cost to the invader in the form of usage of expensive ships, trained crews, etc.  What benefit would they be attempting to gain which would offset that cost?  Those science fiction movies suggest a number of possibilities, but how plausible are they?

Stealing Earth's resources.  This is one of the commonest ideas, and the most unrealistic.  The concept reflects our own history of colonialism -- Europeans conquered other parts of the world to get resources Europe wanted.  But the universe isn't like Earth a couple of centuries ago.  Any natural resource available on Earth would likely be available on many uninhabited planets where the aliens wouldn't need to fight for it.  Interstellar distances are so vast that transport costs, in one form or another, would far exceed the value of whatever was being taken.

As an example, the V series postulated aliens conquering Earth to seize all its water, of which their own planet had a shortage.  Just imagine the energy costs involved in lifting the whole mass of Earth's oceans into space against gravity, then pushing all that mass through a space warp or whatever they were using to get it home.  Then, too, water is one of the most abundant substances in the universe.  They could probably have found all they needed on some planet or moon in their own solar system, and not have had to fight recalcitrant natives for it.

The same is true of almost any imaginable resource.  Anything aliens could find on Earth, they could find closer to home, probably in their own solar system, and with no local intelligent life to try to stop them from taking it.

Even if the needed resource were something peculiar to Earth -- say, an ingredient of our own biochemistry that was found nowhere else -- it would almost certainly be much cheaper to get a few samples and synthesize it en masse at home.

Colonizing Earth.  This is a little more plausible, but only if the environment on the aliens' home planet were almost identical to Earth's, which it probably wouldn't be.  The gravity, the mix of gases in the atmosphere, the temperature range, the interaction of local biochemistry with theirs -- at least some of those things would probably be wrong for them, and would require a huge investment in terraforming to correct.  A species with interstellar travel would have access to countless thousands of planets, and could likely find one better suited to their needs which didn't have its own technological civilization capable of making them fight for it -- and possibly ruining the planet in the process, since humans might well use nuclear weapons in the effort to fight off such an invasion.

And after all the investment of conquest and terraforming, all they'd have would be one marginally-habitable (to them) planet a long way from home.  If they needed living space for a growing population, a ringworld or smaller-scale (but still much bigger than a planet) artificial structures in their own solar system would probably make better sense from a cost-benefit viewpoint.

(There's a more fundamental reason why this scenario is unlikely, but I'll get to that in a minute.)

Destroying a potential future threat.  They might fear that once we become advanced enough to cross interstellar space, we'd be a threat to them, so they'd better wipe us out now while they still can.  Please.  We're talking about beings who already have interstellar travel.  When Europeans discovered Australia, they certainly didn't immediately start worrying that the aborigines would someday become so advanced that they could threaten Europe.  The equivalent scenario with interstellar-spacefaring aliens is similarly absurd.

Enslaving humans.  For what?  If they're that advanced, they already have machines with artificial intelligence to do whatever they want, which will never rebel against them and don't require special food, special air, the effort of teaching them the aliens' language, etc.

Propagating a belief system.  I'm not sure whether SF has ever actually used this scenario, but I'll throw it in because it has precedent in Earth's history.  Some of the great conquests of history weren't motivated by economic gain or colonization, but to spread a religion or ideology (the Islamic conquests and the Crusades, for example).  Could an alien invasion be motivated by something similar?  Obviously we can't predict alien psychology, but it seems unlikely.  Technological progress seems to be predicated on transcending irrational belief systems and embracing a scientific view of reality, and the more advanced the technology becomes, the more true this is.  Any intelligent species that can't cast off its irrational belief systems is probably permanently stuck on its home planet at a medieval level of technology, and thus won't ever visit us.

One could envisage a society in which a rational class of individuals builds and maintains advanced technology while a numerical majority (or ruling class) still under the sway of pre-modern thinking decides how that technology is used -- that describes the current United States to some extent -- but I can't see this being stable for very long.  Either the rational class would win out and transform the society (or at least take over the ruling role), or the irrational elements would eventually cause the technology to stagnate and decline.  And if there is a species somewhere which has successfully combined religious fervor with advanced technology, they've probably wiped themselves out before getting very far into space (imagine if the Crusaders and their Muslim opponents, or the Catholics and Protestants during the Thirty Years War, had had ICBMs with fusion warheads).

In fact, any such advanced alien civilization would be radically different from how our invasion movies generally picture it.  Less than a century from now -- likely far less -- our own species will fully develop mind-computer integration and achieve the Technological Singularity, enabling our species to "migrate" from organic bodies and physical reality to consciousness running on nanocircuitry-based supercomputers and inhabiting virtual reality -- allowing human intelligence and awareness to increase without limit, with every individual having access to a vastly richer sensory and sensual range of experience than the organic/physical world allows, and free from such organic constraints as disease, injury, aging, and involuntary death.  I view this as the "maturing" of an intelligent species, its transition to adulthood.  Any species advanced enough to develop interstellar travel has almost certainly already achieved this.  They'll already have reconfigured their own solar system to optimal for a post-Singularity civilization, by breaking up unnecessary planets (like Jupiter and Saturn, in our case) to obtain the material for enough nanocircuitry to "run" the minds of all the billions or trillions of individuals of their kind, along with all the virtual worlds and other projects which all those individuals might choose to create, and for a Dyson swarm around the local sun to power it all.  So what would such a civilization want or need from us?

They won't be interested in stealing resources or in colonization.  The only material resource needed by a civilization like that is computer processing power.  If their needs grow beyond what can be provided by the amount of nanocircuitry they already have (unlikely, when they have a whole solar system's worth of matter to work with), then any kind of matter will do -- they'll just head out to the nearest neighboring systems full of dead worlds and start reconfiguring them the same way.  They'll have no reason to target Earth, even if it's very similar to the planet they lived on when they were still fragile organic creatures.  The idea that they might see us as a potential threat or as potential slaves is totally absurd, for reasons I'll assume are obvious.

I can imagine only one thing we have that they might possibly want -- one thing that they couldn't simply create for themselves.  And that's our minds.

In a post-Singularity civilization, most individuals will probably occupy much of their time with the pursuit of new experiences -- creating new virtual worlds, interacting with other individuals and their virtual worlds, absorbing imagined experiences created by those with a special talent for doing so (we already do this in a low-tech way by reading novels and watching movies).  But every intelligent species will be the product of a different evolutionary process.  Each species will have different experiences, different senses, different ways of thinking, different desires and passions and lusts.  If there is "trade" between post-Singularity civilizations, it probably doesn't consist of the exchange of physical goods, but the exchange of recorded experiences and mental patterns, alien novelties to be absorbed, known, felt.

Even a species like us, not yet "mature", probably has psychological features unique to itself, even if somewhat pallid and limited by their standards.  That's what they would want from us that they couldn't get elsewhere, because our thoughts and emotions and experiences would be different from theirs, novelties to them.

It would probably be quite easy for them to scan the brain of every human on Earth (maybe other higher animals as well) and record every thought, memory, emotion, desire, and perception of every one of our billions, to be absorbed at leisure back home by those among them who had an interest in primitive beings.  They could likely do this without harming us at all, without us even being aware that it had been done.

In fact, this could have already happened.....any number of times.

04 February 2018

Link round-up for 4 February 2018

What if Harry Potter had had a different adoptive family?

Consider buying a compact VCR.

Stop the zombie apocalypse before it starts.

This one guy can't park properly, so.....

View the horrors of Hell itself as imagined in 1929.

Who ordered an operating system cake?

Guillermo del Toro once saw an alien spaceship -- a clichéd, crappy, horribly-designed one.

Flying reptilian predatory giraffes once existed.

Which way is north?

Seven German words describe life in the time of Trump.

I have the right to read a story even if someone else doesn't like it

This actor is enthusiastic about his upcoming zombie movie.

A compromising photo of Trump has surfaced (found via Yellowdog Granny).

Here's a good response to outrageous nagging.

Forget The Ring, this book could actually kill you if you "read" it (found via Mendip).

Bill Maher is doing his thing.

Don't ask your girlfriend to the prom.

The slogan "America first" has been used before (found via Miss Cellania).

This is unconstrained capitalism.  And this is.....I don't think there's a word (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

Apparently this is what passes for writing among wingnuts (found via Fair and Unbalanced).

This hard-line Catholic news site is unoffended by Courtland Sykes's vulgar and contemptuous remarks about women, but the commenters object to his "living in sin".

As American society rebels against coddling sex abusers, the churches are lagging behind.

These are some good tips for escaping an abusive relationship.

Kushner Companies treats its tenants like shit.  Trump wants to treat waiters like shit.

The Satanic Temple has tips on effective protesting.  Meet the civic-minded Satanists of Texas (from a comment by Ranch Chimp).

Here's a report from the heart of the real America (found via Hackwhackers).

Nasty prigs get a bunch of women fired from their jobs.  More here.

The Bible is so badly written that in many places it's almost impossible to figure out what it means.

Trump's administration abandons Puerto Rico, then thinks better of it.  Incredible that after four months, 35% of Puerto Ricans still don't have electricity back.  Crazy Eddie has an in-depth look at the issue of Puerto Rican statehood.

More and more younger Americans have no interest in religious nonsense.  The hard-core believers, while few in number, are holding steady for now.

You may not want to know what's underneath this parking lot in Baltimore (found via Miss Cellania).

Fitness trackers are creating a national security problem.

Republicans have exploded the deficit -- as usual.

Black Americans had to fight hard for the vote, and the fight continues.

Christian love:  A woman threatens her own daughter in church for daring to speak out about being raped, and -- well, just read this one for yourself.

He'd probably be welcome in Saudi Arabia.

Vagabond Scholar has a gripping post on the casual inhumanity of the Holocaust. Our own education on the subject is incomplete.  Remember those whom the US turned away.

2017 was the second-hottest year in 137 years of scientific record-keeping.  The American Meteorological Society is trying to educate Trump about global warming.

Technology is replacing jobs fast -- making universal basic income a necessity.

A shithole by any other name..... (found via Crooks and Liars).

British efforts to use AI for censorship have encountered a problem.

Scotland has its priorities.

Ireland will hold a referendum on legalizing abortion.

In Germany, a fervently anti-Muslim politician has converted to Islam.

People in Latin America are abandoning religion in droves (and not only Protestants, despite the headline).

Kurdish forces are holding back Turkey's invasion of their territory, but bombing and shelling have displaced 15,000 people.

A South Korean newspaper reports an ominous remark.

A picture is worth a thousand words, but it may not be the truth.

The discovery of fraudulent bank reporting casts new doubt on whether China's economy is really as strong as we're told.

Memo-mania!  Vox says the Nunes memo is a dud.  A national security lawyer finds it a "pathetic joke".  Rick Wilson entertainingly ties it to the general lunacy of Trumpism.  Hackwhackers has some Twitter responses and more from dissenting Republicans (don't miss the gif link!).  Electoral-Vote.com details its flaws.  Green Eagle says it's a molehill waiting to be made into a mountain (and has the full text); here are reactions from around the wingnutosphere.  The Mahablog cites more sober views.  Even RedState is dubious.  Republicans have just been acting randomly paranoid.

Ending the shutdown was not a "cave".

Trump is very unwise to fight the FBI.

Be in the right room.

Dan McLaughlin at NRO is gloomy about the course Trump is setting (I hope he's right about point 4).  The right wing is right to be worried.

Michele Bachmann was waiting for a sign from God about running for Senate -- and she got it.

Modern Bizarro-world Republicans hate law enforcement.

Read media reactions to the SOTU at Hackwhackers and No More Mister Nice Blog.  Here's a Dutch view.

Impeaching Trump wouldn't require all Republicans in Congress to go along, just some of them.  In any case, there may be another option.  62% of Americans want a law to protect Mueller.

Want more links?  Miss Cellania and Fair and Unbalanced have some.

[381 days down, 1,081 days to go until the inauguration of a real President!]

02 February 2018

Fake morality and coddling criminals

Libby Anne at Love, Joy, Feminism has a posting up on the Andy Savage case which well illustrates the difference between religious taboo-based "morality" and real morality.  Savage is the pastor who recently confessed to his church's congregation that he had sexually abused a 17-year-old girl in 1998 but had "repented" -- to which the pious church members responded by giving him a standing ovation.  The case manifested the usual institutional responses -- minimizing the offense, shifting blame onto the victim, talk of "healing" rather than justice -- but also brings out what's fundamentally wrong with the religious concept of morality.  Here's the key passage:

But the problem goes deeper, and elucidates a fundamental difference in how wrongdoing is understood. Progressives, particularly those who are secular, typically define wrongdoing in a way that centers harm -- it is wrong to cause harm to another person. Having consensual sex outside of marriage, then, is fine -- raping someone is wrong. But evangelicals do not typically define sin as harm-based. They define sin as going against the commands of God -- whether or not harm is caused to another person is irrelevant -- and talk of sin as being against God.

What Savage did was wrong because God forbids sexual contact outside of marriage. That Savage harmed Jules Woodson through his actions is less important -- the important part is that he sinned against God. And God -- evangelicals contend -- forgives those who sincerely repent, and washes away their sin, and restores them.

This is the difference between taboo and real morality.  Real morality is, at least in principle, objectively definable based on the harm or benefit that actions cause to humans and other self-aware beings.  Taboo is random and arbitrary, based on nothing but what "God" (or rather, whatever holy book purports to contain the edicts of that imaginary tyrant) happens to have forbidden.  It does not matter whether a forbidden act causes anyone harm or not.  One might as well have covered a wall with a written list of every imaginable act a human could perform, and then thrown darts at the wall blindfolded, declaring every act "hit" to be taboo.  Beard-trimming, eating pork, homosexuality, drinking alcohol, etc. -- in each religion, the list is arbitrary.  Some genuinely harmful acts are also taboo, but the point is that an act's status as "sinful" is independent of whether it's actually immoral.

Another consequence of this garbled concept of morality -- the marginalization of victims of actual abuse -- is visible in the responses of religious institutions in the Savage case, the Duggar molestation scandal, the Catholic priest child-abuse scandals, etc. It's inherent in the twisted mentality of Christianity that focuses on "sin" and redemption. Since sin is defined by violation of taboo rather than by whether it does any harm or not, victims are of secondary importance. The focus is always on the "sinner" and his internal mental and "spiritual" state, on whether he achieves redemption or not. Victims are mere props, part of the scenery for the drama in which the perpetrator is the protagonist.

The fact that the perpetrator claims to have repented and been forgiven by God doesn't do the victim any good -- since repentance is an unverifiable internal mental state and God, even if he existed, isn't the real offended party in the first place, the emphasis on these things amounts to a "get out of jail free" card.  But victims who insist on going public about the abuse and demanding justice are treated as uppity nuisances -- they're not following the script!

(Note the contrast with the fundie stance toward pure taboo violations like homosexuality.  They relentlessly condemn and shun gay people who have harmed no one, and treat baking a cake as Armageddon because it implies some distant "approval" of homosexual sin.  But for an actual abuser of other people who has repented, the coddling and excuse-making flow like water.)

This is not only a matter of protecting leaders of religious groups, though that's probably part of it.  Libby Anne quotes an evangelical writer who uses the Weinstein case to rebuke more worldly Christians who do call for justice:

Christian backlash presents a different challenge. Good Christians are calling for Savage to resign. Were the church to force his ouster it would send a powerful message to the culture: We police our own and will not tolerate abuse. The culture would applaud. But maybe the culture needs a different message: Jesus restores not only the abused but also the abuser. The culture is not rooting for the restoration of Harvey Weinstein. It does not want a wicked predator to know the mercy of Jesus, but the church should want just that.

Indeed, "the culture" is not "rooting for the restoration of Harvey Weinstein" because he doesn't deserve it.  "The culture" is rightly focusing its attention on his victims, on their right to justice, and on the need to deter behavior like Weinstein's in the future.  But to the evangelical mind, even a thoroughly secular abuser like Weinstein is a candidate for "repentance" and Godly "forgiveness" and "redemption", all of which are worthless to the victims and undermine the drive for justice.

Fortunately our culture is now predominantly secular, and sees the evangelical sniveling about repentance and "washing away sin" for what it truly is -- the coddling and enabling of criminals, the cheating and pushing aside of victims, and the antithesis of justice and morality.