Botanical Wednesday: Yes, mistress

I don’t know whether to be intimidated or aroused by the description that goes with this image. Or both.

The dominatrices of the orchid world are the Bucket Orchids. They are pollinated by orchid bees that want the plant’s aromatic oils to use them in their courtship dance with females. But what the poor bees go through to get them!

The orchids secrete the aromatic fluid into the bucket-shaped lip, and
the bee will often fall into the fluid at the bottom of the bucket. There are knobs inside that go one way but the rest of the bucket is lined with smooth hairs pointing downwards and so that they can’t climb back up.

Finally following the knobs, the bees come to what looks like freedom, a spout exiting. The orchid, however, has no intention of letting the bee go yet. Instead, it constricts the spout and presses pollen packets against its thorax, keeping it there until the “glue” has set. Finally, it is set free to go and find another orchid and this time displace the pollen packets to pollinate it. It can take up to 45 minutes for the bee to escape the orchid as it is kept trapped for the orchids sexual needs and bent to her will.

Wait, this sounds like my home life!

(Also on Sb)

Targeting Eagleman

David Eagleman is an interesting, prolific, and lively neuroscientist who has unfortunately roused the ire of a few New Atheists with his sloppy criticisms of atheism and his flaky “Possibilianism” label — and now Sam Harris is hunting him with a big ol’ barbed harpoon. This could be fun!

What also makes it fun for me is that Eagleman will be visiting the University of Minnesota Morris campus on the 27th-28th of September, and he’ll also be popping into my Neurobiology course as a guest presenter. His lecture will be open to the public, but he’ll be talking about his latest book, not Possibilianism…but maybe we’ll be able to squeeze in a few questions.

War is peace, lies are truth

Thanks to Ophelia, I have been introduced to the Vision Forum, where fantasy is inconsequential and contradictions can be blissed over. Their Beautiful Girlhood Collection is something to see: it’s built on what they claim is a Biblical vision of femininity.

The Beautiful Girlhood Collection aspires, by the grace of God, to encourage the rebuilding of a culture of virtuous womanhood. In a world that frowns on femininity, that minimizes motherhood, and that belittles the beauty of being a true woman of God, we dare to believe that the biblical vision for girlhood is a glorious vision.

It is, in fact — a beautiful vision. It is a vision for purity and contentment, for faith and fortitude, for enthusiasm and industry, for heritage and home, and for joy and friendship. It is a vision so bright and so wonderful that it must be boldly proclaimed. We are here to proclaim it.

They’re selling a girl’s childhood built around the concept that servility is beauty: girls play with dolls and cook and clean. You really don’t want to look in their science section. I’d be blinded by the brilliance if it weren’t all so dark and dismal.

It’s a big lie everywhere: they’re dressing up a life of faceless hard labor in frilly dresses and calling it good. Everything is backwards.

Personifying it perfectly, when I first went to their web page, the image that popped up was this one.

Nothing says “hope” to a Christian quite like a row of burning bodies on stakes and a couple of hungry predators advancing on unarmed people. They do realize how these scenarios turned out, right? They ended with some slaves picking up the leftover gobbets of flesh and bone and stuffing ‘em in a bucket, and raking fresh sand over the pools of blood. Hope!

Darn it, don’t tell me this

I have decided not to ever debate creationists any more. What settled it for me was the awful Jerry Bergman debate: I was deeply embarrassed to be sharing the stage with that raving fruitcake. It was clear that it was not an opportunity for rational discussion, and further, talking with members of the creationist majority afterwards, they were unanimous in their assessment that a) Bergman was an idiot whose clock got thoroughly cleaned, but b) so what? If FavoriteCreationist X had been there, he woulda showed me that evilution was false.

I felt like I was totally wasting my time and doing nothing but boosting Bergman’s reputation. And I decided on the spot that Gould and Dawkins were 100% correct, and debating was a fool’s errand.

But then, dammit, an ex-creationist explains what brought him over to the side of reason: watching debates.

So that’s why I say that we should debate creationists. I think that the majority of creationists simply were like me, uneducated about what evolution really is, blinded by fundamentalist religion that sees evolution as evil and ill-served by a public school system where biology teachers are afraid to teach evolution or don’t even accept it themselves.

Aaarrgh. I will not change my policy on the basis of this one account.

Maybe we should have a debate about whether to have debates…

(Also on Sb)

Laugh at the Libertarian

There’s a reason I really despise Libertarianism…but still find them hilariously twisted. Here’s a case of a columnist defending the science of Rick Perry. You know that evolution stuff? It’s not that important. Creationism is a waste of time and it makes Perry look “unsophisticated”…but so what? There’s a real problem here, and it is all those liberals who’ve fallen for the junk science of “global warming”.

It is interesting watching the nation’s defenders of reason, empirical evidence, and science fail to display a hint of skepticism over the transparently political “science” of global warming. Rarely are scientists so certain in predicting the future. Yet this is a special case. It is also curious that these supposed champions of Darwin don’t believe that human beings—or nature—have the ability to adapt to changing climate.

Like 99 percent of pundits and politicians, though, I have no business chiming in on the science of climate change—though my kids’ teachers sure are experts. Needless to say, there is a spectacular array of viewpoints on this issue. The answers are far from settled. There are debates over how much humans contribute. There are debates over how much warming we’re seeing. There are debates over many things.

But even if one believed the most terrifying projections of global warming alarmist “science,” it certainly doesn’t mean one has to support the anti-capitalist technocracy to fix it. And try as some may to conflate the two, global warming policy is not “science.” The left sees civilization’s salvation in a massive Luddite undertaking that inhibits technological growth by turning back the clock, undoing footprints, forcing technology that doesn’t exist, banning products that do, and badgering consumers who have not adhered to the plan through all kinds of punishment. Yet there is no real science that has shown that any of it makes a whit of difference.

It’s perfect: the author is trying to set himself up as a defender of good science, but he does it by 1) trivializing the importance of the most fundamental concept in biology, and 2) being a denialist about climate change. Scientists are certain (to a reasonable degree) about predicting the future in this case because all the data points in this direction — you have to willfully reject the evidence in order to disagree. Maybe if he were a little less blasé about evolution he’d also realize that this isn’t an issue of capacity to adapt — trust me, you don’t want to live under an intense selection regime that changes the population’s mean physiology in a few generations — but of a common sense recognition that rapid climate change will be disruptive and have a severe economic cost.

And the answers are settled. Ongoing climate change is a fact. Pretending there is a serious debate about it is what the creationists do.

I suppose one solution would be to blow up all the factories and return to a 15th century lifestyle…if we didn’t mind killing a few billion people in the process, and wanted to live lives of hard labor in squalor. I don’t see anyone on the left advocating that, though. Instead, I see advocacy for sustainable energy policies and a demand that industry factor in all of the invisible, long-term costs that they’ve been hiding — which is, of course, anathema to Libertarians who believe in giving corporations a free ride at the expense of human beings.

(Also on Sb)

The sentiment pleases me

I haven’t seen this movie — heck, I never even heard of it before — but I was sent this clip and I rather liked it.

You see, no one’s going to help you Bubby, because there isn’t anybody out there to do it. No one. We’re all just complicated arrangements of atoms and subatomic particles – we don’t live. But our atoms do move about in such a way as to give us identity and consciousness. We don’t die; our atoms just rearrange themselves. There is no God. There can be no God; it’s ridiculous to think in terms of a superior being. An inferior being, maybe, because we, we who don’t even exist, we arrange our lives with more order and harmony than God ever arranged the earth. We measure; we plot; we create wonderful new things. We are the architects of our own existence. What a lunatic concept to bow down before a God who slaughters millions of innocent children, slowly and agonizingly starves them to death, beats them, tortures them, rejects them. What folly to even think that we should not insult such a God, damn him, think him out of existence. It is our duty to think God out of existence. It is our duty to insult him. Fuck you, God! Strike me down if you dare, you tyrant, you non-existent fraud! It is the duty of all human beings to think God out of existence. Then we have a future. Because then – and only then – do we take full responsibility for who we are. And that’s what you must do, Bubby: think God out of existence; take responsibility for who you are.

Bill Nye is good

Go watch this video of Bill Nye explaining global warming to a Fox News babbler. You can see why he’s a national treasure: he cocks those eyebrows, he clearly thinks he’s dealing with a knucklehead, but he goes on to slowly and carefully explain the science to him. All those years of children’s programming pay off perfectly when dealing with our conservative media — treating the announcers like small angry children is just perfect.

You can also see the shortcomings of television, though. The patient, thorough approach bumps up against the tiny time windows and short attention spans all too soon.

(Also on Sb)

A whole new world of quacks

My wife and I have three kids, and while that pregnancy and childbirth thing is way, way back in the past, we did have some strong opinions after our experience. Midwives were wonderful, we had only the best and most positive experiences with them, and they were the indispensable supporters we were glad to have there. The doctors…meh. They didn’t seem to be involved much, and it was rather strange when they’d come by after all the work was done and sign the birth certificate, as if they were taking credit. But my wife had relatively uneventful, uncomplicated deliveries (the second was a bit rough, and she had to stay overnight for observation afterwards; that kid was gigantic), and we knew that the doctors were essential if things went wrong, and we would have been horrified and greatly worried if they hadn’t been there. All our kids were born in clinics, with professionals all around us, because we weren’t going to take any risks. Childbirth is dangerous when things go wrong, and they really can go very, very wrong.

But now I’ve discovered The Skeptical OB, and it’s all about this crazy kooky weird world of homebirthers — people who, just like anti-vaxxers and HIV denialists, refuse to recognize that modern medicine is actually incredibly powerful and useful, and have these bizarre myths about what is “natural”. So they insist on having their babies at home, away from those horrible doctors, and they end up with dead mothers and dead babies.

That last case is particularly eye-opening. A woman writes into a forum dispensing this quackery, and complains about ditching her OBGYN and going with an unlicensed midwife, and proceeded to go into labor for eight days and delivered a dead baby.

Or this case, where a homebirther is irate because doctors recommend against her desired natural childbirthing experience, because she’s “high risk”. She thinks she isn’t, because her first delivery was easy. But then she mentions that her second delivery had a minor problem: the kid got “stuck” and required resuscitation (!) after delivery, and her third child was born unresponsive and died two days later. And then she wonders why doctors are so worried!

It’s all very disturbing and new to me, but I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. There are all these strange people around who, for some unfathomable reason, worship pre-18th century medicine and make a fetish of “natural”. Heart attacks are also entirely “natural”, but you won’t catch me suggesting that we skip the doctor if I have one.

(Also on Sb)