06 October 2015

Quote for the day -- she knows too much

"There was once a civilization that was the greatest in the world.

"It was able to create a continental super-state that stretched from ocean to ocean, and from northern climes to tropics and deserts. Within its dominion lived hundreds of millions of people, of different creeds and ethnic origins.

"One of its languages became the universal language of much of the world, the bridge between the peoples of a hundred lands. Its armies were made up of people of many nationalities, and its military protection allowed a degree of peace and prosperity that had never been known. The reach of this civilization’s commerce extended from Latin America to China, and everywhere in between.

"And this civilization was driven more than anything, by invention. Its architects designed buildings that defied gravity. Its mathematicians created the algebra and algorithms that would enable the building of computers, and the creation of encryption. Its doctors examined the human body, and found new cures for disease. Its astronomers looked into the heavens, named the stars, and paved the way for space travel and exploration.

"Its writers created thousands of stories. Stories of courage, romance and magic. Its poets wrote of love, when others before them were too steeped in fear to think of such things.

"When other nations were afraid of ideas, this civilization thrived on them, and kept them alive. When censors threatened to wipe out knowledge from past civilizations, this civilization kept the knowledge alive, and passed it on to others.

"While modern Western civilization shares many of these traits, the civilization I’m talking about was the Islamic world from the year 800 to 1600, which included the Ottoman Empire and the courts of Baghdad, Damascus and Cairo, and enlightened rulers like Suleiman the Magnificent.

"Although we are often unaware of our indebtedness to this other civilization, its gifts are very much a part of our heritage. The technology industry would not exist without the contributions of Arab mathematicians. Sufi poet-philosophers like Rumi challenged our notions of self and truth. Leaders like Suleiman contributed to our notions of tolerance and civic leadership."

Carly Fiorina, 26 September 2001

While it's a pleasant surprise to find a Republican who has some awareness of history, I can just imagine the reaction of the rank-and-file wingnut base when one of her opponents in the battle for the Presidential nomination runs across this and drags it out to use against her.  They'll have her being born in Kenya before they're done.

04 October 2015

Link round-up for 4 October 2015

Beware the lustful giant parrot and the dinosaur's frill.

Travel broadens the mind.

John Cleese sums up Fox News.

This was a popular song in Britain during World War II -- mockery is always a fun weapon against the pompous.

Jeb Bush is a dunce for the ages.

I must have the strongest muscles in the world.

Yep, sounds like a plausible story idea (found via What Would Jack Do).

Here's a whole blog dedicated to Halloween art (found via -- who else? -- Mendip).

Apparently natural selection still works.

Murr Brewster looks at money, early retirement, and happiness.

I found a mysterious and chilling piece of writing.

Something is missing from the Black Republican Committee.

See dramatic overhead views of one of the modern world's greatest cities.

This was the last thylacine.  They're all gone now.

Far away, a vast canyon reaches halfway round a world.

Many ancient Romans had better teeth than we do -- here's why.

A new brain implant could help fight memory loss due to aging (found via Mendip).

Dreher's "Benedict option" has been tried and doesn't work (found via Republic of Gilead).  But the fundies don't have much else to do.

Republicans' global-warming denialism puts them out of step with conservatives overseas.

Jerry Coyne presents two great pieces on the need for free expression.

The Bible isn't at all clearly anti-abortion.

Some British club initiations are worse than pigfucking (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).

I'm not personally "terrified" of this, but the commenter invoking teen suicide is right on the money.

It's not just evolution -- here's a round-up of Ben Carson idiocies (found via Politics Plus).

British police, US police.

Hillary promises to expand protections for gays, and reminds us what a Republican President would do.

The wingnuts are trying to destroy the Postal Service again.

Sometimes a bit of cheating is just what you need.

Once again Christianity is the religion of exclusion.

The problem with the Republicans isn't the leaders, it's the rank-and-file, who are determined to enforce their wingnuttery (found via Republic of Gilead).  Boehner was the adult in the room; his likely successor is a fountain of gibberish.

Freedom has to include economic security.

Pope Francis's words on molestation vary depending on the audience (found via Republic of Gilead).  Don't be shocked by his meeting with Kim Davis (on which the Church is now doing frantic damage control) -- his position doesn't allow him to be a real liberal.

Here's Cecile Richards's testimony before Congress (link from Ahab).  Yet another inquiry has cleared Planned Parenthood of wrongdoing (found via Fair and Unbalanced), but that isn't stopping the terrorists.

From the 2000 primaries, a reminder of just how slimy the Bushes can be.

Alabama is hardly even bothering to hide what it's doing.

Michele Bachmann lies about dead Syrian toddler Aylan Kurdi.

Here are 25 reasons to be glad you're not a Republican (found via Rational Nation).

No, there was not a huge rally in Peru to support Kim Davis.  Even her "lawyer" now admits it.

Green Eagle collects the latest wingnut insanities.

Tax cuts don't create jobs.

Here's a sensible-sounding guide to self-defense for women (sent by Natasha Colvin).

Blogger Max's Dad assesses the Republican front-runners (found via Fair and Unbalanced).  Rubio's relative sanity could cost him the nomination, Cruz is going for coded birtherism, Jeb is just floundering like some primordial beast sinking into a tar pit, and as for Trump.....

It's not just that Christians insult and threaten atheists, Christianity itself does so.

One thing that's bothered me about Bernie was a lack of emphasis on foreign policy.  His site now has statements on the Iran nuclear deal and on foreign policy in general.

Young Iranians live in the shadow of a war and massacre they never saw.

Saudi Arabia is declining toward collapse (found via Green Eagle).

A top British official sounds the alarm on global warming.

[Image at top:  Charon]

03 October 2015

The Roseburg murders

First off, in case anybody was wondering -- no, I was not personally affected by the attack.  Roseburg is 260 miles from here, and nobody I know lives there.  There was a period several years ago when I visited that general area of Oregon regularly, but it's very different from Portland -- rural, conservative, and steeped in gun culture.  Roseburg has only 22,000 people and it's the biggest town in the area.

As is often the case with mass murders, it will take some time to pin down the killer's motive.  (I have my reasons for not using the names of mass murderers.  See also Earth-Bound Misfit.)  He was a student in the class where he committed the murders, and the teacher was among those killed, so there may have been some personal issue there.  But it has also been reported that he specifically targeted Christians and described himself online as "not religious, but spiritual" and opposed to organized religion.

Knowing how the wingnutosphere has been blowing up a few cases of Christian business people being made to obey anti-discrimination laws into full-blown hysteria about "persecution", I can just imagine what they'll make of this once they get hold of it.  So it's necessary to call attention to some basic points.

First, it seems unlikely that the killer had much in the way of a coherent ideology of any kind.  He may well have been an atheist, but "not religious, but spiritual" is the kind of mealy-mouthed mush one commonly gets from people who have indeed abandoned religion (far from rare these days) but haven't given any serious thought to what that means or what words like "religious" or "spiritual" mean.  He seems to have been one of those alienated, socially-isolated, angry loners who feel frustrated at how little impression they make on the people around them, and glom on to some charismatic and frightening ideology (it hardly matters which one, though this guy's choice -- Naziism -- is an obvious option) in the hopes that its glamour and intimidating qualities will rub off on them.  Under different circumstances the same person might have become a KKK member, a Muslim extremist, even a militant Christian fundamentalist.

Second, we who have thought seriously about religion and fervently oppose it must take every opportunity to make it clear what that means.  Christianity and Islam are the enemy -- but most individual Christians and Muslims are not.  Yes, the violent extremists and those who seek to impose religious taboos on society by legislation are the enemy, but the great majority of people who call themselves Christian or Muslim are much more victims than villains.  The explanatory metaphor of disease is a useful one here -- the fact that one opposes AIDS and wishes to see it eradicated does not mean that one has hatred or violent intentions towards people infected with AIDS.  Quite the opposite.  I do regard religions as mental parasites, harmful "memes" in the original Richard Dawkins sense, which have developed to infect human brains and alter behavior to help themselves spread from brain to brain.  Yes, I hate Christianity and Islam, but I want to see their adherents cured, not killed.  A murderous sociopath who acts in the name of hatred of religion is no different from, and no better than, any other murderous sociopath who acts in the name of anything else.

This guy is not evidence of a general atheist problem any more than the Charleston church murderer was evidence of a general white-people problem.  They're both evidence of a general violent-sociopath problem.

Finally, I'm not oblivious to the fact that, as always seems to happen after mass murders like this, most of the blogosphere is once again making it about guns and gun control.  I'm frankly too weary and nauseated with that whole argument to get into it again, but I'll reiterate a few painfully-obvious points.

While I have nothing against basic controls like background checks, it's absurd to think they could prevent attacks like this.  They probably would prevent some impulsive murders and suicides, but in the case of premeditated mass killings, a determined person will always be able to get hold of a gun, no matter what the law is.  If the government tried to ban most private gun ownership and disarm the general population, it would just do to guns what similar bans have done to drugs and prostitution -- drive them underground, out of reach of any regulation or supervision.  Besides, in that scenario we would likely no longer be worrying about isolated mass shootings, because we'd be preoccupied with the all-out civil war which would engulf the country.

Countries like Israel which are serious about stopping mass killings at vulnerable places like schools require armed guards at such sites.  The primary concern is terrorism, but armed guards would be equally effective at stopping a lone crank like the one in Roseburg.  It's hard to see what else would be.

There are other countries where private ownership of guns is common but mass shootings are rare or nonexistent.  Guns are not the problem and laws restricting them would have little impact on the problem.  The problem lies in the sheer number and degree of aberration of those angry, hate-filled loners we're generating -- that is, it's basically a problem with American culture.  See the higher rates of violence in red states and in conservative areas generally, relative to more liberal areas, despite the fact that (different local laws notwithstanding) anyone determined to get hold of guns can easily do so regardless of where in the country they are.  See the high rates of violent crime in the 1980s vs. much lower rates today, though accessibility of guns hasn't changed.  These variations represent cultural differences.  That's where the roots of horrors like the one in Roseburg -- and the clues to what we can really do about them -- are to be found.

30 September 2015

International Blasphemy Day

29 September 2015

Odds and ends

NASA confirms that there is flowing liquid water on Mars, at least during the summer.  This seems strange given that the temperature is still below freezing, but the water is probably salty, which can lower the melting point.  This doesn't mean there's life on Mars, much less intelligent life -- but it has again confirmed the existence of stupid life on Earth.

By 60% to 32%, Americans believe that any budget deal must fully fund Planned Parenthood, and if there is a government shutdown, 40% will blame Republicans while only 26% will blame Democrats.  This was never a winning issue for the wingnuts -- most media reports I've seen on the videos that started this latest kerfluffle have mentioned the fact that they were deceptively edited to give the false impression that Planned Parenthood was selling fetal tissue, so voters outside the right-wing bubble are well aware that this claim is a lie.

Among the Muslim migrants arriving in Germany, substantial numbers are abandoning Islam and converting to Christianity.  Likely their true motive is to improve their odds of winning permanent residency, since Islamic law (as actually applied by some Middle Eastern regimes such as ISIS) imposes the death penalty for any Muslim who renounces Islam, and a civilized country won't deport refugees back to where they might face such a fate.  But if people will convert from one religion to another out of expediency, they probably don’t have much of a fanatical commitment to either one. Once they’re settled in Germany they’ll easily be swept along in the general trend toward secularism among the general population in Europe which is making religion meaningless, regardless of which religion a person starts out with. They're not the kind of people Europe needs to worry about.  What Europe needs to worry about is slimebuckets like this guy who refuse to assimilate.  Like the fundies in the US, they are getting fewer but remain dangerous.

28 September 2015

Video of the day -- I am the very model of a modern fundamentalist

Found via Squatlo Rant.  Slightly NSFW.

27 September 2015

Link round-up for 27 September 2015

Maybe "insert" wasn't the best word to use here.

Time to put down one of the walking dead.

Reading is good for you.

Meet Guillaume de Gentil, the most frustrated scientist in history.

At least 155 people are really into Mary Tyler Moore (NSFW, found via Mendip).

Lowry pwns Trump on Fox, Trump throws tantrum on Twitter, much mockery ensues. But he's still very much in the lead.

Many people find themselves drawn to this lifestyle, but it has its unhealthy side.

Here are ten beautiful bridges -- I find #10 the most beautiful (though they got the name wrong), #8 the most impressive when you consider how long it's stood since it was built.

Witches' Pond in Virginia is shrouded in myth, but has one genuine mystery death to its credit (found via Mendip).

We are the fastest-growing group in the US.

Supporting an anti-bullying campaign is now "anti-Christian hate and oppression", apparently.

A Catholic shrine in France illustrates what a scam religion is.

Here's a bad person and a good one.

Probably best not to resettle any Syrian refugees in this part of South Carolina.  It seems to be full of the same religious hatred and potential for conflict that they're fleeing from.

More and more of ISIS's fighters are abandoning the group.

Fox's January stories about Muslim "no go zones" in Britain may finally have gotten it in legal trouble.

Here's a message from 2013 for the anti-Planned-Parenthood nuts.

Sex workers in South Korea march for decriminalization, encouraged by Amnesty International's support.

Christian songs play a growing role in worship -- and they're terrible.  But religion's Orwellian use of words (found via Republic of Gilead) is worse.

A teenager in North Carolina is facing felony sex charges for taking nude pictures of himself.

Secular Ethics blog dissects the weirdly-common "what if everyone was gay" argument.

The government-shutdown push was a con game -- against the wingnut base (found via Zandar).

If you're rich and Christian, read this.

Here's more police abuse, this time from Boston.  And an ex-cop looks at the James Blake case.

Stop treating the Pope as a liberal hero. He's still evading the one issue any true reformist Pope must address.

Some Tennessee Republicans don't understand the Supreme Court's Constitutional power (found via Republic of Gilead).  But wingnuts do tend to miss details that don't fit their delusional world-view.  Now they're claiming that questioners who embarrass their candidates are Democratic plants.  And no, there's no equivalence between left and right here.

Ben Carson may be a great doctor, but he's scientifically illiterate.

Progressive Eruptions looks at the "Obama is a Muslim" claims.

North Carolina Republicans loot the cities to benefit their rural power base.

Colorado will make about $125 million in tax revenues from legal marijuana this year (found via Earth-Bound Misfit).  The stupid feds still don't get it.

Religious fanatics have published a hit list of bloggers they're threatening to kill.

When you bring two million people into a confined urban space to perform emotionally-charged, poorly-organized rituals, you have to expect this kind of thing.  With 769 dead, international tensions are rising.

Worst historical revisionism ever.

To save its economy, China needs reforms more radical than the regime contemplates.

Asshole tourists make life miserable for sea turtles.  In Florida at least there's some effort to protect them.

It's just awesome when God kills your baby.

Visit the graveyard of extinct species.

The world could shift entirely to renewable energy by 2050 -- and make a profit on doing so.

If you've ever been to Greece, Italy, or Iran, and haven't yet replied to my travel questions, please click here.

[Image at top found via Progressive Eruptions.]

26 September 2015

Replacing Boehner -- a reminder

By now everyone knows John Boehner is resigning as Speaker of the House, effective at the end of next month -- though as to his reasons, one can only guess.  There's already a frenzy of speculation about whom the Republican majority will choose as the new Speaker.  One Kevin McCarthy, a moderate (by current standards) Republican of the same general ilk as Boehner himself, is said to have the best shot, but the wingnut factions will doubtless hold out for a lunatic from among their own ranks.

Please put down the popcorn for a minute and remember that the Speaker of the House is next in line for the Presidency after the Vice President.  If something were to happen to both Obama and Biden at the same time, it's the Speaker who would step into the Oval Office.

And as scary as it is to picture Agent Orange in that position, we could do far worse.  Louie Gohmert has been mentioned among the possible candidates.  For that matter, there's no actual rule that the Speaker has to be a member of the House, although historically it always has been.  In theory they could choose Sarah Palin or Rush Limbaugh or Kim Davis.  Anybody.  And whoever it is will be two heartbeats away from the most powerful office on the planet.

Boehner's resignation is effective at the end of October.  And what's at the end of October?  Halloween.  Get ready to be spooked out of your wits, for real.

24 September 2015

Images for the day

A few more pictures with a point.....

From Betty Bowers.

Found via What Would Jack Do.

Created by Tengrain.

23 September 2015

Image for the day

Obviously I don't believe in reincarnation, but sometimes these things are true in a more abstract sense.

20 September 2015

Link round-up for 20 September 2015

The latest right-wing freak-out is over gay Doritos (found via Mock Paper Scissors).

Fear the wrath of the mortified moggy.  Sometimes even a box is too much.

I'd love to try this on Jehovah's Witnesses and the like (found via Mendip).

Helloooo Mr. President blog is back.  And for those who didn't know, TomCat of Politics Plus blog has been in hospital for several days in critical condition.  Friends are keeping the blog going and posting updates on how he's doing.

Here's a trolling campaign we can all support.

Cats + kittens = cuteness overload.

Ice can be kind of cool.

What if cats really did have nine lives?

Sometimes an asshole pushes you too far (link from commenter Blurber).

Mencken asks after the graves of the dead gods (link from Mendip).

Here's the story of the making of The Wicker Man (link from Marc McKenzie).

Britain commemorates the 75th anniversary of its most important victory in modern times.

Syrian migrants are putting new stresses on the European Union and prompting an unusual effort by Denmark to discourage them.

Iran's President sends Rosh Hashanah greetings.

Western Europe's subjugation and abuse of Greece dates back almost two centuries.


Cities rule!  Half of all Americans live in these blue areas.

This guy must be the gold standard of idiots.

Never forget how outrageous Republican behavior has been throughout Obama's time in office.

Atheism makes you fat, apparently.

Yes, teacher-student sexual tension is inevitable, get over it.

Here's a good point about the Ahmed Mohamed clock case (found via Progressive Eruptions).

Solar power is making inroads in Michigan.

Physicist Lawrence Krauss makes the case for militant atheism.

As racism comes out into the open, one of the stupidest novels ever written wins new popularity (see also my review here).

If you doubt how extreme some Christianists are, read this -- even pro-gay opinions are worthy of death (found via Mock Paper Scissors).  Then there's Kim Davis's lawyer.

Anti-abortion hysteria is a trap for Republicans.

How does the "war on police" meme spread?

Fair and Unbalanced has a good overview of the real significance of the Dred Scott case.

Huckabee is shockingly ignorant of Constitutional law.

Cynicism is laziness masquerading as insight.

Fiorina's pwning of Trump resonated with many, but she's still a Republican, and a liar. Never fear, Hillary's going after him.

Will Kim Davis be the latest winner of the anti-gay lottery?

The Republican establishment has a plan -- a boring plan.  The "Club for Growth" isn't doing much better.  And the right-wing "slobs vs. snobs" civil war has reached National Review.

Take it from a blogger who really knows about guns.

We're up to our eyeballs in early-human transitional forms -- and here's another.

It got buried among all the other Republican lies and stupidity, but Santorum told a whopper about Shiite Islam.

August data confirm -- global warming is speeding up.

18 September 2015

Europe's refugee problem in perspective

If you read European news websites at all, you know that for at least a couple of weeks they've been thoroughly fixated on the wave of Syrian refugees entering and crossing Europe (or trying to do so) to escape the civil war in their own country.  European popular reactions range from welcoming to threatening, while national governments are going every which way, arguing among themselves about which countries should take how many people, and in some cases (notably Hungary) actively trying to stem the flow.

Rather than throwing around words like "hordes" and "flood" and "siege" as sensationalist websites are prone to do, let's look at some hard numbers.  The highest estimate I've seen for the number of Syrian refugees in the European Union is about 350,000.  That's a lot.  However, the EU is a group of 28 countries, most of them wealthy, with a combined population of 508,000,000.  That is to say, the Syrian refugees in the EU are equivalent to substantially less than one-thousandth of its total population.

Jordan, the country immediately south of Syria, has a population of about 8,000,000 and a per-capita income less than one-third of the EU average.  Jordan has taken in, by latest estimate, about 1,400,000 Syrian refugees, four times as many as the entire EU, and equivalent to almost one-fifth of its own population.

Lebanon, Syria's western neighbor (and long-suffering victim of the Asad regime's meddling over the years) has about 4,500,000 people and a per-capita income less than half the EU average.  Lebanon has received an estimated 1,200,000 Syrian refugees, more than three times as many as the entire EU, equivalent to a quarter of its own population -- though in truth Lebanon had little choice in the matter, given that the hard-to-control Lebanon-Syria border runs close to several major Syrian cities.

Turkey, north of Syria, is a rather different case.  With 78,000,000 people and a per-capita income slightly higher than Lebanon's, it's also a military colossus by Middle Eastern standards, and unlike Lebanon could easily have sealed off its border with Syria.  Yet Turkey has taken in more than 2,100,000 Syrian refugees, six times as many as the EU.

As if these numbers weren't daunting enough, even more people -- something like seven million -- are "internally displaced" within Syria, meaning they've fled where they normally live due to the war but ended up somewhere else within the same country, and are thus technically not classified as "refugees" even though their situation may well be worse, without benefit of whatever assistance a stable government and international organizations can offer in places like Jordan or Turkey.

Which makes the relatively small contingent of refugees in Europe a sideshow to a sideshow.  I don't know why Europe is suffering such tremendous chaos and political upheaval dealing with a problem one-fourth as large as what tiny Jordan is handling with far less fuss, but it's difficult to feel very much sympathy.

Remember, too, that when the bathtub is overflowing, it makes little sense to focus only on mopping the bathroom floor -- what you really need to do is turn off the faucet.  The "faucet" driving this flow of human misery is the Syrian civil war, especially the expansion and brutality of ISIS.  And most of the burden of fighting ISIS and ultimately restoring peace is being borne by Middle Easterners as well -- primarily the Kurds and Iraqis and various forces in Syria, who are bearing the brunt of fighting ISIS on the ground and making most of the sacrifices involved. In this, they're supported primarily by Iran, though the US and some European countries are also providing important air support (as are Jordan, Iran, and other Middle Eastern states).  If the Europeans really want to stop the flow of refugees, or even just the relatively small portion thereof which is reaching Europe, they'd be well advised to ramp up their support for the Kurds and other fighters who are trying to crush ISIS.  The problem isn't going to stop until that is accomplished.

In the meantime, maybe we should take pity on the frazzled Europeans and take in their 350,000 Syrians for resettlement in the US.  In light of the recent episode of Ahmed Mohamed's clock and some of the reactions from the dregs of our own society, I frankly suspect it would improve the gene pool here.

[Image at top:  Syrian refugee children at a clinic in Jordan]

15 September 2015

Pleasure, horror, and The Wicker Man

One of my favorite movies is The Wicker Man (1973), a British production starring Edward Woodward and Christopher Lee.  The film has achieved some notoriety and most people have at least a vague idea of it, even if they haven't seen it.  In case you don't, a summary:

Sergeant Howie (Woodward), a Scottish police officer who also happens to be a devout Christian, travels to a remote island off the Scottish coast to investigate the apparent disappearance of a young girl.  He quickly discovers that the locals have some rather unusual habits.  They engage in various ancient pagan rituals, and pagan art and symbols are on display everywhere.  Sexuality is spoken of, and practiced, in startlingly frank and open ways (heterosexual only, but this film was made 42 years ago).  The repressed and priggish Howie finds all this rather offensive and disturbing, but pursues his investigation.  Eventually he meets the community leader, Lord Summerisle (Lee), who explains that his grandfather had revived ancient Celtic paganism among the people in connection with introducing new strains of fruit which made the island prosperous.

Howie suspects that the girl whose disappearance he is investigating is being held somewhere to be used as a human sacrifice.  As a major pagan ritual event is under way, he infiltrates the site, only to be unmasked.  The pagans had tricked him into coming there so that they could.....

.....and then comes one of the most jarring shock endings in film history, as the charming and hedonistic pagans turn murderous.  They force Howie into a huge wicker structure in the form of a man (hence the title) and burn him alive.  He, not the missing girl, is their human sacrifice.

Not only is this almost too horrific to watch, it achieves a remarkable flipping in the viewer's perception of the characters.  The annoyingly prudish and judgmental Howie instantly becomes a figure of profound sympathy, while the carefree pagans, dancing and singing as their atrocity proceeds, look like insane monsters.

The film interests me for several reasons.  Until you reach the ending, it evokes, to some extent, the dream of what the modern world might have become if Christianity had never existed (I doubt the ancient Celtic world was quite this sexually liberated -- casual sex gets a bit problematical without reliable contraception).  But the ending too has an important lesson, which is connected with the reason why modern pagans and "neo-pagans" don't commit human sacrifices.

I don't know whether ancient Celtic pagans actually sacrificed people by burning them alive (the Carthaginians did, though under circumstances quite different than those depicted here).  Ancient pagan northern Europeans certainly did commit human sacrifice, often by stabbing or strangulation, and plenty of corpses have been found in peat bogs which preserved them down to modern times.  The Christian fanatics of the Dark Ages routinely burned people alive, not as sacrifices but as punishment for witchcraft, heresy, and the like.  And in modern times ISIS used this method to murder captured Jordanian pilot Mu'âdh al-Kassâsbah, and has performed many other horrifying ritualistic killings.

What did all these people -- pagan, Christian, and Muslim -- have in common?  They were true believers.  They believed, fervently, in the literal truth of the religions they practiced.

In recent decades there's been an increased interest in paganism, with Druidic rituals being practiced at Stonehenge and a temple to the old Norse gods being built in Iceland, while syncretistic "neo-pagan" religions like Wicca and Thelema claim hundreds of thousands of adherents in many countries.  But no one seems to think this is dangerous; nobody who visits to observe the rituals at Stonehenge worries that he's going to be strangled and thrown into a peat bog.

The reason is that these modern pagan systems are more a matter of ritual and feeling a connection with ancient tradition (and having fun) than of actual belief.  Do modern enthusiasts of Norse paganism, for example, believe in the literal existence of Thor and Odin the same way ISIS believes in the literal existence of Allah?  I find that awfully hard to imagine.  And that's why they're not dangerous.  You don't commit atrocities for the sake of a god that you know is really just a traditional symbol, a projection of human passions, and not a living entity.

The charm of The Wicker Man's islanders is that for most of the movie they look like the same kind of people.  This is a place where something vaguely like Wicca or the Stonehenge revelry has become normative and evolved into a whole culture.  It's only when you reach the ending that you realize that's not what it is at all -- these people really believe this stuff.  And that's what makes the horror possible.

In this scene earlier in the film, the culture clash comes to the surface as Howie confronts Lord Summerisle, who explains how the island got the way it is.  The pagan leader's urbane and civilized manner contrasts with Howie's bigoted fury, but towards the end he shows a hint of fervor that adumbrates something dangerous.

One more video (NSFW):  In Howie's most-human moment except for the ending, he struggles to resist an almost-irresistible pagan temptation -- writhing in the torment of fighting against his own human nature which he has been taught is sin.

13 September 2015

Link round-up for 13 September 2015

Who the hell decided to put that there?

Pwned!  Satan is coming to Arkansas.

What if great literary works were repackaged as trashy paperbacks?

Coolest adult toy evah.

Sleestak lays an old and silly story about NASA to rest.

Alexandra Reeves looks like an artist to watch.

Here's why you shouldn't pour water on a grease fire, and other helpful advice.

This person is, apparently, rather easily fooled.

We are the introverts.

Llanfairpwllgwyngyllgogerychwyrndrobwllllantysiliogogogoch doesn't faze this weatherman.

Here's a dramatic September 11 story which I haven't seen before.  And from almost a century ago, a gripping history of German zeppelin warfare against Britain during World War I (found via Mendip).

New discoveries affirm the former power of the now-dead religion that built Stonehenge -- with a lesson for our own time.

The family of two of the Syrian refugees tripped and kicked by Petra László speaks out.

Is Corbyn a mistake for Britain's Labour party?  Maybe not.

Republicans are trying to suppress scientific evidence that conflicts with their dogmas.

Pope Francis is about to canonize an architect of cultural genocide (found via Republic of Gilead).

Jessica Valenti makes the case for getting rid of online comments.

If you enjoyed the Labor Day holiday, remember the unions. What astonished me about this story is that 44 million US workers still don't get paid sick leave.  What century is this???

Sauce for the poly goose, sauce for the poly gander?

The flower of Kentucky baggotry turned out to support Kim Davis, who is not being hateful!  But she can't win, and she's just the opposite of freedom fighters like Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks (found via Republic of Gilead).  The lost fight against gay marriage will cost the bigots a bundle.

Surely we have enough trouble with nitwits getting hold of guns without allowing this sort of thing.

Sane(r) Republicans worry that Trump is hardening the party's racist image and may be dangerously authoritarian.  At least some conservative voters are turning against him.

Pope schmope -- on the whole, US Catholics are pretty tolerant.

From New York, news of another horrifying police killing.

Green Eagle looks at another mighty display of conservative strength.

An Islamotard stewardess goes all Kim Davis on alcohol sales, but Huckabee, for one, doesn't sympathize.

ISIS is now using mustard gas.

Religious bigotry grows in Russia, and in its Donetsk puppet region.

Is it really your opinion, or are you simply wrong?

We're now 37.9% of new entrants into Harvard, outnumbering Catholics and Protestants combined.

Mock Paper Scissors looks at Jeb's tax plan.

Christians need to realize the US isn't a Bible-based society (found via Progressive Eruptions).

I predict this "sanctuary city" concept is going exactly nowhere.

WTF is going on in Stockton, California?  This sounds like barbarian hordes running amok.

A lot of the US is still suffering roasting heat in September, and I think we all know why.  Though 2015 is by far the hottest year on record, 2016 will likely be even hotter.  At least Obama has out-maneuvered McConnell again, and California is fighting for our survival.  Republicans are also hopelessly bungling their opposition to the Iran nuclear deal.

We may now have a 100%-effective AIDS preventative.

A baboon troop in Kenya illustrates how life can change when bullies are eliminated from the group.  Can we please arrange something like this for human society?