They got rocks in their hoo-ha

Yoni-eggs

Gwyneth Paltrow…oh, hey, I can just stop right there. You’re already cracking up at the joke. We’re done. I’m just going to unwind from classes with a cup of tea, you go on with whatever you were doing.

Oh, OK — Gwyneth is selling “jade eggs”, smooth stones, that you’re supposed to stuff up your ladybits and then walk around, doing your business or whatever, while they do magic things for you. She interviews the person who makes these things, named Shiva Rose, and we are enlightened on a number of strangely twisted ‘facts’.

I learned about the jade egg through the yoga community that I was in, and I sort of went down the rabbit hole of researching the practice—there was not as much information about it then as there is now. But it made intuitive sense to me: The word for our womb, yoni, translates as “sacred place”, and it is a sacred place—it’s where many women access their intuition, their power, and their wisdom. It’s this inner sanctum that we can access when it’s not in use creating life. Sadly most people use it as a psychic trash bin, storing old or negative energy. I see it as a place to celebrate ourselves as sexual, powerful beings, or as mothers, not a place to carry negative or un-dealt-with emotions. I’ve always been into crystals, so learning about jade eggs (which are gems) has been a natural progression for me—this particular jade, nephrite jade, has incredible clearing, cleansing powers. It’s a dark, deep green and very heavy—it’s a great stone for taking away negativity.

This sounds exactly like something the MRAs would agree with: a woman’s power and intelligence isn’t in her mind, but in her vagina. It isn’t. Also, whenever you hear the phrase “cleansing powers”, and it isn’t talking about detergents, you know you’re going to get a load of bullshit. Ditto for “clearing” and “negativity”.

I also find this phrase telling: there was not as much information about it then as there is now. That’s only because frauds like her have been busily making shit up and stuffing it onto the internet. There is not more information now, there is more garbage — she just can’t tell the difference.

If you really want one, Gwyneth is selling them for only $66. Here’s an even better deal, though: a gynecologist is offering free advice. You should take it.

As for the recommendation that women sleep with a jade egg in their vaginas I would like to point out that jade is porous which could allow bacteria to get inside and so the egg could act like a fomite. This is not good, in case you were wondering. It could be a risk factor for bacterial vaginosis or even the potentially deadly toxic shock syndrome.

Regarding the suggestion to wear the jade egg while walking around, well, I would like to point out that your pelvic floor muscles are not meant to contract continuously. In fact, it is quite difficult to isolate your pelvic floor while walking so many women could actually clench other muscles to keep the egg inside. It is possible the pained expression of clenching your butt all day could be what is leading people to stare, not some energy glow.

Gwyneth Paltrow seems like a nice, well-meaning but incredibly privileged person who is affably promoting ignorance and exploiting the gullible for personal profit. She may have a pretty smile and better manners, but she is almost as bad for society as the loud-mouthed trumpkins. She happily enables stupidity and makes it seem like a desirable state.

How are you spending the last day of American civilization?

It all ends tomorrow, so I hope you’ve got plans. I’m spending it teaching — we’ve got to have people prepared to restore the lost promise. Tomorrow the TV stays off, radio (who listens to radio anymore?) is disabled, I’m boycotting all of the news, and I’m going to focus on biology prep work for the next week.

Saturday we begin the long hard slog of trying to crawl out of the slime pit we’ve dug for ourselves. And I get to spend the rest of my life ashamed to have been an American.

Evidence that humans and dinosaurs walked the earth…together!

The Ark Park and the yokels who visit it are made for each other. An article Louisville Magazine describes the awe and wonder the fake ark inspires in attendees.

Golly, someone said when the Ark came into view. Oh my goodness.

Four guys built that, another man said. Unbelievable, isn’t it?

Yep, sure is unbelievable. Here’s a photo of an early phase in the construction.

ark_crew

One, two, three, many. Yes sir, four people made it.

Then there’s the point where visitors explain that gravity doesn’t exist.

Gravity has never been proven, because gravity is a large object attracted to a smaller object, and it’s never been seen. If gravity existed, a BB and a bowling ball should bump into each other. So you see how guys like Newton get caught in their own lies.

So, if I held a BB near, say, a big rock with a diameter of about 13,000 km, they would just hang there and not bump into each other? ‘k.

The reporter asked Georgia Purdom a rather fundamental question: why?

“So why an Ark?” I said. “Why build it at all?”

We want people to see that the Bible is true, Purdom said. Just as there was a judgement in Noah’s day, there’s another judgment coming, and those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their personal savior will spend eternity in hell.

Such nice people.

But really, my favorite part is where he asked Andrew Snelling for evidence that dinosaurs and people lived at the same time. Easy, he claims.

Purdom introduced me to geologist Andrew Snelling, who followed Ken Ham to the U.S. from Australia and for the last nine years has been the director of research for Answers in Genesis. I said,
“There were dinosaurs on the Ark, right?” Snelling nodded. Right.
“Then why aren’t there dinosaurs today?”

Dinosaurs went extinct after they left the Ark. After the Flood, we had the Ice Age. We had a radically different world. Some creatures weren’t able to adapt. But most cultures in the world have some legend about dragons, and these dragons are actually a good description of dinosaurs. The Chinese, for example — their dragons are depicted on scrolls pulling the chariots of emperors. And there was a story called Beowulf in which the king slays a dragon, and this happened in Norway.
“So you take Beowulf to be evidence of dinosaurs existing?”
Yes, Snelling said. It was an eyewitness account.

Huh. I just happen to have the Heaney translation of Beowulf right here, and this is the description of the dragon.

Unyielding, the lord of his people loomed
by his tall shield, sure of his ground,
while the serpent looped and unleashed itself.
Swaddled in flames, it came gliding and flexing
and racing towards its fate.

So it’s kind of a writhing, scaly, giant, worm-like creature. That breathes fire. That’s definite; it repeatedly talks about flames and smoke and burning. Are we then to believe that dinosaurs could breathe fire?

Here’s a Chinese dragon dinosaur for you. It doesn’t look much like any dinosaur species I know of, but apparently we are supposed to take “eyewitness accounts” as the gold standard.

Beijing_Nine_Dragon_Wall

Incredible. Literally incredible.

I get email…from the presidential inauguration committee?

WTF? This junk mail was actually sent to me from a committee which appears to be the real deal.

Thank you for signing up for your 2017 Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration tickets! Together, we’re going to kick-off the inauguration of President-elect Donald J. Trump and Vice President-elect Michael R. Pence. We’re excited that you’re going to be a part of this historic event.

What: Make America Great Again Welcome Celebration
When: Thursday, January 19, 2017
Time: Concert from 4PM – 6PM. Gates open at 12:30PM and close at 3:30PM.
Where: Lincoln Memorial

What: Inaugural Swearing-In Ceremony
When: Friday, January 20, 2017
Time: Ceremony begins at 11:30 AM. Gates open at 6 AM.
Where: United States Capitol

Your commemorative ticket(s) will be emailed to you.

For more information, follow us on social media and be sure to visit the website: www.58pic2017.org

I did not sign up for tickets to Trump’s pathetic “triumph”. One possibility is that some pest signed me up for this, something that happens surprisingly often (I have been signed up for “free trial subscriptions” to all kinds of bizarre magazines, for instance). The other is that they are so desperate for attendees that they are mass-mailing this crap to everyone. Has anyone else been invited?

Nothing matters any more

We are not a nation of laws, if we ever were. We are a rogue state, a banana republic, and we always have been…we’ve been held together with a tissue of cherished myths about Democracy and the Republic and Service and Citizenship, when the truth is that those values are unenforced, and the real rule is that the rich can get away with anything they want.

We’ve also been watching the gradual replacement of “liberty and the pursuit of happiness” with the Libertarian myth of “I got mine, so fuck you.” I can’t even console myself with the old gloss of American idealism anymore when naked capitalism has become the raison d’etre of the state.

So how about them senate hearings on the Trump adminstration, hey? Perfect examples of the failures of our government. We sort of lied to ourselves and said before that maybe the electoral college would save us, that it’s whole purpose was to prevent unqualified demagogues from taking power. We sure fooled ourselves with that one — the purpose of the electoral college is to perpetuate the power of the obscenely wealthy and comfortable elites. And now we have a series of hearings on Trump nominees, all carried out in the vain illusion that they will act to block incompetents and corrupt cronies of the head of state from getting their hands on the tools of state. Do you believe it?

Jeff Sessions is a racist buffoon. The senate will judge him next week. I predict that he will be approved, not because he actually reassured us all that he is a good man, but because the rubber stamp is poised and ready.

Right now we get the spectacle of Betsy DeVos being alternatively praised/massaged by Republican ideologues, and subjected to critical questioning by the powerless minority party.

DeVos is a bigot who profited off the Amway pyramid scheme.

Both the DeVoses and the Princes have been key supporters of Focus on the Family, which was founded by the influential evangelical leader James Dobson. In a 2002 radio broadcast, Dobson called on parents in some states to to pull their kids out of public schools, calling the curriculum “godless and immoral” and suggesting that Christian teachers should also leave public schools: “I couldn’t be in an organization that’s supporting that kind of anti-Christian nonsense.” Dobson also has distributed a set of history lessons that argue that “separating Christianity from government is virtually impossible and would result in unthinkable damage to the nation and its people.” The Dick and Betsy DeVos Family Foundation gave $275,000 to Focus on the Family from 1999 to 2001 but hasn’t donated since; it gave an additional $35,760 to the group’s Michigan and DC affiliates from 2001 to 2010. The Prince Foundation donated $5.2 million to Focus on the Family and $275,000 to its Michigan affiliate from 2001 to 2014. (It also gave $6.1 million to the Family Research Council, which has fought against same-sex marriage and anti-bullying programs—and is listed as an “anti-LGBT hate group” by the Southern Poverty Law Center. The FRC used to be a division of Focus on the Family before it became an independent nonprofit, with Dobson serving on its board, in 1992.)

She will demolish public education to promote racial inequities.

Yet, for all of the Obama administration’s education policy failures, the DeVos appointment has the potential to be catastrophic. It represents a clear and present danger to the wellbeing of scores of students of color who have been most heavily impacted by privatization and the gutting of multicultural education. Nationwide, African-American, Latino, and Native-American students continue to have the lowest graduation and college-going rates. They are less likely to be taught by well-qualified teachers and more likely to be in schools where college counselors are either absent or saddled with too many students. Indeed, some urban schools of color have more school police than college counselors. And because many students of color don’t have equitable access to college prep curricula in the humanities and STEM disciplines, they have higher attrition rates when they go to college.

She is criminally incompetent and unsuited to the post.

As nearly as I can tell, the nominees for the president-elect’s Cabinet fall into several different categories. There are the people you’d pretty much expect from any Republican administration. (James Mattis, Stephen Flynn, Ryan Zinke). There are the people who understand the mission of their departments and have spent their lives undermining it. (Jeff Sessions as Attorney General, Rick Perry at Energy, Andrew Puzder at Labor). And there are the people who are fundamentally clueless about the general nature of public service. (Rex Tillerson at State.) On Tuesday night, DeVos demonstrated that she is that rarest of Trump administration fauna: Someone who fits capably into all three categories.

She and her family and the Amway gozillions they control have been a bottomless reservoir for the dark money that is the engine behind a dozen different conservative fetish objects, from right-to-work laws, to gutting campaign finance regulations, to injecting splinter Protestantism into every part of the political commons. So she’s pretty much what you’d expect from any Republican administration. She understands the mission of the Department of Education and truly dislikes it. And, as was graphically demonstrated even in the truncated questioning Tuesday night, she doesn’t know enough about education policy to feed to your guppies.

Do any of you believe for one minute that her nomination will be stopped by anyone in our government? Not I. She has demonstrated her talent for kleptocracy in Michigan already, she is an ill-gained billionaire, she intends to promote ignorance, and she has all the petty bigotries of the capitalist ruling class, so of course she will sail through and get a choice spot in which to loot the educational system and be a cheerleader for theocracy.

All that stuff about separation of church and state and an informed citizenry and responsible representative government from the founding fathers (who are deified by the Republican party) was a smokescreen to cover a wealthy power grab. I can’t believe it any more. Many thanks to the Republicans and Trump for at least stripping the pretense and exposing the naked truth.

I fear my own views on the American government. When a nation works so hard to lose all the confidence of its people, upheaval is not far off.

I’m a little worried about teaching genetics

I start teaching my genetics class today, and usually I plunge right in to simple Mendelian genetics to get through the easy stuff quickly. I’m making a big change, though, for social and political reasons. In a country rife with neo-Nazis and racism, it’s a bad idea to encourage simplistic thinking about genetics — too many people know a little bit about Mendel’s pea plants (trust me, those traits were chosen for their discontinuous properties and apparent simplicity), a teeny-tiny bit about Darwin and selection, and turn that into sweeping pronouncements about the True Nature of Humanity, as understood by idiots. It’s embarrassing. So I’ve decided to start the genetics course with a little demonstration of humility. Think before you leap to conclusions about how genetics works!

This page on the myths of human genetics is extremely useful for that purpose, so we’re going to go through a few examples right there in the classroom, and show some of the data. There has been a historical tendency to shoehorn traits into a simple Mendelian model, and it’s easy to show that there are cases where that doesn’t work, at all.

We’re also going to take on that popular nonsense about finger lengths, which is just a classic example of overinterpreting tiny amounts of variation (which is still statistically significant!), and making grandiose claims about human nature as derived from a morphological feature. It’s little more than modern palmistry…I’ve even found a page on palmistry that just runs on at length about these ridiculous claims about personality derived from the length of your index finger. And then there’s Joseph Mercola, who claims that you can use finger length to predict your IQ, SAT scores, and of course, autism, in addition to your sexual preferences.

In the end, I’m going to give them a short list of basic intellectual and ethical ideas they ought to have when beginning a study of genetics.

  • Avoid value judgments. What is a flaw to one person might be a virtue to another.

  • Do not concatenate assumptions. An individual might have a particular trait, but it does not imply that they have another, and another, and another, creating a false picture from a single data point.

  • Genetics is a mighty fine hammer; it does not mean everything is a nail. In particular, individuals are the product of gene products interacting with each other and the environment. Don’t disregard one component at the expense of another!

  • Reductionism is essential for a beginning of understanding, but is not sufficient for a thorough understanding. We start simple because that’s what we’re sure of; but our purpose is to build a more accurate model on that foundation, that will inevitably be more complex.

  • We do not understand everything about heredity. An ethical culture refuses to stereotype people on the basis of limited knowledge…or worse, false knowledge.

  • Nullius in verba. Critically assess all claims.

On Monday we’ll review basic Mendelian genetics, which seems to be all students come out of high school knowing anything about (and even at that, they’ll make lots of mistakes). It just seems to me, though, that in the current political climate it is irresponsible to put off a discussion of the limitations of science and ethical concerns until the very end of the course.

The Vogons have landed

You know how everything Trump says should be read as pure projection? When he complains about corruption it’s because he’s about to launch a kleptocracy, etc.? You should read the poem written for his inauguration.

My god.

Oh my fucking god.

Come out for the Domhnall, ye brave men and proud,
The scion of Torquil and best of MacLeod!
With purpose and strength he came down from his tower
To snatch from a tyrant his ill-gotten power.
Now the cry has gone up with a cheer from the crowd:
“Come out for the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!”
When freedom is threatened by slavery’s chains
And voices are silenced as misery reigns,
We’ll come out for a leader whose courage is true
Whose virtues are solid and long overdue.
For, he’ll never forget us, we men of the crowd
Who elected the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
When crippling corruption polluted our nation
And plunged our economy into stagnation,
As self-righteous rogues took the opulent office
And plump politicians reneged on their promise,
The forgotten continued to form a great crowd
That defended the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
The Domhnall’s a giver whilst others just take,
Ne’er gaining from that which his hands did not make.
A builder of buildings, employing good men,
He’s enriched many cities by factors of ten.
The honest and true gladly march with the crowd
Standing up for the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
True friend of the migrant from both far and near,
He welcomes the worthy, but guards our frontier,
Lest a murderous horde, for whom hell is the norm,
Should threaten our lives and our nation deform.
We immigrants hasten to swell the great crowd
Coming out for the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
Academe now lies dead, the old order rots,
No longer policing our words and our thoughts;
Its ignorant hirelings pretending to teach
Are backward in vision, sophomoric in speech.
Now we learnèd of mind add ourselves to the crowd
That cheers on the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
The black man, forgotten, in poverty dying,
The poor man, the sick man, with young children crying,
The soldier abroad and the mother who waits,
The young without work or behind prison gates,
The veterans, wounded, all welcome the crowd
That fights for the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
Whilst hapless old harridans flapping their traps
Teach women to look and behave like us chaps,
The Domhnall defends the defenseless forlorn;
For, a woman’s first right is the right to be born.
Now the bonnie young lassies that fly to the crowd
Have a champion in Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
But for all his great wisdom, the braw gallant man
Is matched by his children, the handsome Trump clan,
And the flower of Europe, Melania the fair,
Adds a luster and grace with her long flowing hair.
May they flourish and prosper to form a great crowd
Around the good Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!
Is there man left in Scotland, without base alloy,
Who remembers the Wallace, the Bruce, or Rob Roy?
Or have five hundred years of a blasphemous lie
Robbed your manhood of might that you lay down and die?
Get up and walk free, all ye brave men and proud!
Long life to the Domhnall, the best of MacLeod!

JESUS, I’M BLIND! Or at least, I’ve really got a terrible headache.

Don’t tell the Cuttlefish. He’ll be whirling in his grave, moments after that poem killed him.

I’m doing him no favor, but I will acknowledge the author, Joseph Charles MacKenzie of The Society of Classical Poets, who, I think, might be related to Ewan McTeagle.

First class done!

David_by_Michelangelo

It’s going to be a l o n g semester. 8am is rough; I provided hot water and tea, and we had a mid-class break so anybody could run out for coffee or just slap themselves awake. Then, to ease them in, we talked about an easy topic. We talked about Italy! I would love to visit Italy someday — it’s number one on my list of desirable travel destinations that haven’t visited yet. I also saw an opportunity to get all liberal artsy and talk history and philosophy and art, as well as science, because these are all related.

Here’s my cryptic whiteboard at the first half of the class. Can you guess what we talked about, and how it was at all relevant to developmental biology?

IMG_2299

The students weren’t particularly responsive — I think they were regarding this as something like a dental appointment. But it is the first day, and I’m going to be hammering on them that they need to be alert and interactive and contribute, so they’ll warm to it eventually. Or they won’t, and it’ll be a really long semester.