Adult Onset Atheist

Thursday, September 21, 2017

Equinox Ice GIF

The autumnal equinox is tomorrow. The dark season will begin in the arctic, although it has been pretty close to dark there for about a month. Late last week (on 13 September) the extent of Arctic sea ice reached what is likely to stand as its minimum extent for 2017 (4.64 million square kilometers, 1.79 million square miles).

It will be a couple weeks before the sea ice starts rapidly building towards its spring maximum. Likewise it will be a couple weeks before the Antarctic sea ice starts rapidly melting.

There are all sorts of numbers that can be teased out of polar sea ice measurements that can help illustrate the warming of the planet. How late the sea ice minimum is reached is a great number; it has been getting a little later. Of course the extent of the minimum is great; the minimum has dropped dramatically in recent years. I’ve decided to take the Arctic sea ice extent around the equinox and compare them. I decided to use pictures to do this.

Here is an animated GIF made with sea ice extent pictures downloaded from the National Snow and Ice Data Center. It is made from 38 images that span the equinoxs from 1979 to 2016; the picture for 2017 is not ready yet. Feel free to use the GIF if you want. Please credit NSDIC for the data if you do.

Arctic sea ice extent for autumnal equinox years 1979-2016.  Data downloaded from National Snow and Ice Data Center.

Hope you enjoy the animation, and happy equinox!

Wednesday, September 13, 2017

The Big Sur Summer of Love Semicolons of San Francisco

Labor Day in the USA is the ceremonial end of summer. Days are noticeably shorter, and the patio furniture in the big box stores is sprouting clearance signs. The fiftieth anniversary of the “Summer of Love” was this year, and I spent the week of the Labor Day holiday in san Francisco. The “Summer of Love” was long over and I got a nasty little summer cold.

Curious residuals of a “Summer of Love” marketing campaign dotted the city. Sheltered bus stops had “Summer of Love Trading Card” posters, and a couple of the shuttles at San Francisco International Airport (SFO) were decked out in contrasting flower power paintjobs. At the SFMOMA I was tricked by an Andy Warhol print into following a Lichtenstein around a corner where I lost close to a quarter hour staring at an enormous Chuck Close portrait of Roy Lichtenstein, but I think those were more likely residuals of that famous summer’s artistic sensibility than of a targeted marketing campaign.

I was staying in Embarcadero, and from my hotel room at night I could almost make out the Ferry Building from reflections in the mirrored glass across the street. A large backwards PORT OF SAN FRANSCISCO sign tinged with the neon red that faced the bay. The ferry building houses a marketplace of attractive eateries; the champiƱones empanadas at El PorteƱo Empanadas were awesome.

I hit the city with no real plan beyond a vague set of possible destinations. Perhaps the best formulated of these was to hit the famed City Lights Bookstore up on the border of North Beach and Chinatown. I wanted to buy an attractive copy of Jack Kerouac’s “Big Sur”.

The “Summer of Love” was the long Labor Day weekend to the Beat Generation. “Big Sur” is the story drunk on alcoholic madness that comes to a head over a Labor Day weekend less than a decade before the “Summer of Love”. It was published just after Labor Day in 1962. John Steinbeck would win the Nobel Prize in literature in 1962. Alcoholism would kill Kerouac in October of 1969.

I have yet to finish reading this new copy of "Big Sur" all the way through . The words demand to be savored, and I want a bongo playing in my head to sync the rhythms of his words to my pulse.

"Big Sur" begins with Kerouac entering San Francisco with elaborate secret plans concocted with his friend, and founder of the City Lights Bookstore, Lawrence Ferlinghetti. The plans dissolve into the mundane liquid logic of booze and alcoholism and Jack escapes to the south into the land where Henry Miller had written “Big Sur and the Oranges of Hieronymus Bosch” just a few years earlier. Miller lived for 18 years in Big Sur, and the summer that Jack Kerouac visited Ferlinghetti’s Big Sur cabin was living just a dozen miles south.

Hieronymus Bosch captured in pigment, in the right-hand panel of his famous triptych "The Garden of Earthly Delights", the emotional jumble of basal human horror like that revealed during the Delirium Tremens .  His oranges are found in the left and center panels.

I entered San Francisco from the north.

I, like many people, have enjoyed misattributing the quote: “The coldest winter I ever spent was a summer in San Francisco.” To Mark Twain. This year, when I looked over at San Francisco from the Marin headlands, the temperatures in the city were over a hundred degrees Fahrenheit, which is hot anywhere, but hellishly hot for San Francisco.

The heat had burned off any fog that thought of forming; the Sutro tower tempted from behind a haze of smog like a Kaiju lure. There was a giant ship full of shipping containers generically labeled “China Shipping Line”, but no Godzilla.

I arrived in San Francisco without a plan, but it is hard to loose a weekend in a haze of espresso and Hetch Hetchy water. It is a city that begs the stroll into a walk and the walk into an exploration. Each day put more than a dozen miles onto my shoes.

If that week-long weekend of past-tense and future punctuation defines the sentence of my life I suspect the nature of that punctuation is like a semicolon.

Thursday, August 17, 2017

The Excommunication of Ayla Stewart

Several religious organizations have officially condemned the violence, and the white national activity, that occurred this last weekend in Charlottesville Virginia. It is much more important that religious groups do this than atheists. Many of the white nationalists espoused their moral superiority (given to them by a Christian God) as part of their motivation to travel long distances to be violent in Charlottesville Virginia.  I suspect very few Atheists were amongst them; though I’m sure there were some. The Mormon, or LDS, church here in Utah issued two statements, and these have filled the press and airwaves; I’ve heard the statements repeatedly quoted on the local NPR station during my commute to and from work. The statements ring hollow in light of the way the LDS Church silently accepts active white nationalist Mormons; not to mention the very vocal way the Mormons repeatedly came down on the wrong side of race history.
“Church members who promote or pursue a ‘white culture’ or white supremacy agenda are not in harmony with the teachings of the Church.” – Official statement by Mormon Church issued on 15 August 2017

One of the speakers at the “UNITE THE RIGHT” rally in Charlottesville was one Ayla Stewart. She blogs and vlogs as “wife with a purpose” and “Nordic Sunrise” from deep in the heart of Mormon ideology . Over the past few years her followers have grown until they now number over thirty thousand (according to numbers given for her Twitter followers), and she is considered an important voice in the Mormon Alt-Right movement.
“My church just declared that I, as a white person, have no culture.” -- @apurposefulwife tweeting in response to Mormon Church’s 15 August official statement

Loosely corresponding with Ayla’s rise is the Utah Valley-based Utah Vanguard group. This group is identified as a hate group by the Southern Poverty Law Center. It is a full-on white nationalist-supremacist-neo-Nazi group. It recently put up posters on the University of Utah campus in Salt Lake City that promoted things like “controlling the Blacks” to reduce crime. I’ve asked AYD to get me pictures , or copies, of the posters if she sees them (classes start in a few days), but so far they have been taken down so fast that neither of us have met anyone who has actually seen one. Vanguard regularly retweets content from @apurposefulwife (aka Ayla Stewart).

I don’t spend a lot of time perusing what white nationalist groups have to say. I know it is important to understand the dark parts of my culture, but there are only so many hours in the day, and there are so many things more worthwhile than neo-Nazi crap; like internet kittens for instance. Perhaps I shouldn’t say that in a post about neo-Nazi crap, but I wanted to explain how it took me a little while to realize that an awkward symbol I kept seeing (on shields in Charlottesville, on flags, on the Vanguard websites…) was the very item from which Fascism got its name.

A “fasces” (fascis in Latin) is a bundle of sticks. As a symbol it is often shown as a bound bundle of rods with an axe attached to or bundled inside it. The idea is that a single stick is weak, but a bundle is strong. I once was treated to a demonstration by a job candidate who brought popsicle sticks to the interview to demonstrate this effect as a metaphor for his team-building management philosophy. He gave everyone a stick and we easily broke them, then he taped a dozen together and had each of us try to break it; I thought the demonstration was cute, even if it was contrived. This is an important engineering principle, and why plywood and OSB are so strong. This fascis symbol for “stronger united” was the symbol, and the origin of the name, for Mussolini’s political party (Partito Nazionale Fascista), and because of this eventually gave rise to the term “Fascist” that we are all familiar with. You can see the symbol accidentally used in a lot of places, like on the back of older dimes. However, these white nationalists are using it in order to advertise the fact that they identify as Fascists. It essentially means the same thing as a swastika to them, and that is why they use it.

Right now the Vanguard Utah neo-fascist group is the only hate group of its kind recognized in Utah. However, the interwebs suggest that it may only be a manifestation of mainstreaming Mormon white nationalist tendencies. The fantasy that the LDS church abruptly changes its stance on an issue like divine racial inequality and all Mormons change their beliefs is not evident in the openly racist flushing through the great pipes of the internets.
“Every nation is the gathering place for its own people. The place of gathering for Brazilian Saints is in Brazil; the place of gathering for Nigerien Saints is in Nigeria; the place of gathering for Korean Saints is in Korea and so forth” -- quote from LDS authority Russell M. Nelson that is used by white nationalists

Many radical religious activities coming out of Utah are part of this hate-web. In one Twitter conversation @purposefulwife presents to @gr8walloftrump (DeseretNnationalist) a list of 16 “core Alt right philosophy” points collected last August by Vox Day (he ironically has translated the list into several languages). Point 11 states that: “The Alt Right understands that diversity + proximity = war”. My readers should remember Vox Day from his activity undermining the Hugo awards in 2015. He succeeded in filling the Hugo ballots with his super-theist authors; many of whom were published by his Castalia House publishing operations. The Hugo attacks were part inexpensive marketing ploy by a small publisher and part theistic crusade. I reviewed many of the works that made it onto the ballots that year, and they were almost all too awful to be simply called unfortunate. Day collaborated with a couple Utah people on the Hugo attacks.

Day was one of the rabidly right-wing “GamerGate” fanatics who used his considerable right-wing media backing (much of which undoubtedly came from family connections) to ride the anti-feminist GamerGate flame wars into a more public spotlight. I don’t really understand GamerGate, and that might be due in part to just how infantile the whole thing sounds whenever I try to read about it. However, there are aspects of this white nationalist Mormon group that still cling to a GamerGate “gg” identification, and rehash it when not supporting their holdover racist Mormon ideology.
“The church is in apostasy when it contradicts the words of Prophet Joseph Smith who revealed we are form the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” – Tweet from @comissarofgg )Commissar of GamerGate) to @purposefulwife and @EscapeVelo (EscapeVelocity)

If “the tribes of Ephraim and Manasseh” sound like code to you then you have a reasonably good idea of what is going on in the above quote. Code is just one of the many apologist tools the white nationalist Mormons use to obfuscate their interests. They often use ever-popular-with-apologists of wishy washy morally relativistic false equivalencies. Each time they praise a racist or retweet a racist meme or saying they will categorically state that they are not racists; in fact, they will often point out, those people calling others racist are the real racists. This kind of purulent crap is intrinsically disingenuous and dishonest, and I don’t care if they have repeated it in the mirror till they believe it by rote.
“I don't consider myself a racist, I don't hate other peoples” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

I have been amazed by the train wreck that has been the POTUS (President of the United States) responses to the white nationalist activities in Charlottesville Virginia, and I am not alone. I thought it was more than enough to be introduced to new terms like “neo-confederate” while watching clips of young white men bathed in the warm glow of torches chanting “Jews Will Not Replace Us”. Then, in a stunning example of apologetic moral relativism, the POTUS equated the level of blame for each side in this weekend’s Charlottesville violence. He also pointed out that there were some “Very Fine People” who were there for a good purpose, and that the “alt-left” came ready for violence. I think he is honestly saying that things would have been fine if people hadn’t interfered with the objectives of the white nationals.
"I think there's blame on both sides. I don't have any doubt about it and you don't have any doubt it either. And if you reported it accurately, you would say it." -- Statement given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

“What about the fact that they came charging – they came charging with clubs in their hands, swinging clubs?" -- Statement about “the alt-left” given by President Donald J. Trump 15 August 2017

The wishy washy apologetics that apparently permeates our culture from the president on down to racist mommy-bloggers in Utah serves to prevent action. It is important for public figures and institutions to not undermine their “base”.

A day or so before the POTUS made the statements I quoted above he read a more condemning statement that called out hate groups by name. Trump supporters like David Duke (famous KKK spokesperson) angrily shot back that he was being manipulated and false. They were pleased when the POTUS responded with the apologetic wishy-washy moral relativism I quoted.
“I have spoken all over the world and I have great respect for Muslims, I have great respect for the African people, I have respect for the other races.” -- David Duke podcast 25 August 2006

The Mormon neo-fascists responded angrily to the statements made by the Mormon Church. They felt betrayed, and that their church was caving in to political correctness. However, they probably have as little to fear from the rigid authority structure of their church as the various wings of the greater Alt-Right movement had to fear from the fleeting words the POTUS had called them out with. The Mormon Alt-Right movement is a significant part of the “base” for the Mormon Church. If the Mormon Church disciplined even the vocal minority of Alt-Right Mormons it would be like plucking out their eye to spite their face.

The Mormon Church has been making empty statements about racists not being proper Mormons since well before the Alt-Right groups became a thing. Individuals, like Ayla, have risen in popularity while the great authority of the Mormon Church has excommunicated people like Kate Kelly for suggesting that some women could be given the same magical “blessings” reserved for eight year old boys. This leads the outsider to think that, to the Mormon Church, respectfully discussing aspects of magical wacky-woo is much more egregious than openly espousing neo-fascist ideology.
“‘No man who makes disparaging remarks concerning those of another race can consider himself a true disciple of Christ. Nor can he consider himself to be in harmony with the teachings of the Church of Christ.’” – Statement by late LDS prophet Gordon B. Hinckley (1910–2008) as quoted in official statement by Mormon Church issued on 13 August 2017

This is not a small issue. I believe there are tens of thousands of Alt-Right Mormons. I do not think the Mormon Church can ferret them out with anything approaching the vigilance with which they might investigate potential Latte consumption within their ranks. Even disciplining a couple thousand Utah Vanguard supporting or #WhiteCulture promoting members might seriously dilute the influence of the Mormon Church.

They could, however, eliminate the most vocal neo-fascist elements and hope that scares the rest. This would not really be sufficient to cure the Mormon fascist problem, but it could dull criticism.

Maybe they will excommunicate Ayla Stewart sometime in the next few weeks?

That would put a surprised look on my face.