What do we know about the Jedi religion, anyway?


Sarah Jeong highlights a gigantic plot hole in Star Wars, and now that she’s brought it up I can’t stop figuratively kicking myself for not noticing it myself — my excuse is that I avoided thinking about the prequels as much as possible, so it’s unsurprising that a lot would slide by, but this problem is so huge even that isn’t a good reason. The short summary:

At the end of Episode III, Anakin gets three limbs chopped off and then falls into hot lava. He lives.

His wife has babies, under medical supervision. She dies.

Whoa, that’s right. In this incredibly advanced science fiction civilization, they have “bacta tanks” that can heal massive damage, they have amazing knowledge of the nervous system to the point that they can build neurally controlled prosthetics that are indistinguishable from the biological version, but somehow a Space Princess with access to the resources of an entire planet doesn’t even get an ultrasound to determine that she’s carrying twins. This makes no sense. They clearly must have the technology; they have life form scanners and the ability to clone people, which implies a deep knowledge about reproductive biology.

Which means they must choose to reject the use of common, trivial technology to benefit women’s reproductive health.

What could cause people to reject the use of simple medical procedures to save lives? One thing that I can think of: religion. That says a lot about the “hokey religion” of the Jedi; apparently there’s something profoundly evil imbedded within it that suppresses the use of technology and information to benefit the health of women, as if everything in a woman’s reproductive system is forbidden (to be fair, maybe they’re just as prudish about men’s crotches, and perhaps millions of men are dying of untreated testicular cancer in the galactic federation). Now I have to wonder, though — if there is such a strong prohibition against technology approaching women’s nethers, does the Star Wars universe have vibrators?

These are proscriptions even more sweeping than those of the real Catholic church, and suggests that maybe there’s a reason the Empire is so successful in recruiting immense numbers of minions. There’s the cloning thing, which suggests that maybe the secular empire was at least a little bit less squeamish and definitely better informed about baby-making than the Rebellion. Maybe they were also fighting against a repressive religion, the Jedi, that was spreading its toxic, repressive ways throughout the galaxy. I could see how that would inspire military action against the peaceful, meditative religion that still manages to somehow field fleets that make nearly miraculous victories. Perhaps the Jedi are the Islamists of that age…and maybe “Jedi” is a corruption of “Jihadi”.

It also puts the destruction of Alderaan by the Death Star comprehensible. That might be the Star Wars equivalent of nuking Mecca — which does not justify it, of course. But then that makes the Empire analogous to the United States of America, where the people who abhor the weird foreign mystery religion can blithely talk about torture and nuclear weapons and continuous bombardment of populations.

I think I’m going to have to detest both sides now.

The first week of Ecological Developmental biology


We’re off to a slow start in my brand new course, largely because I’m in the awkward phase of trying to catch everyone up on the basics before we plunge into the deeper waters, but also because the 8am scheduling is not good for inspiring interaction. Maybe it wasn’t the best decision to begin with a crash course in introductory concepts in developmental biology, because it’s encouraging the students to think that I’m going to do nothing but pour knowledge into their brains, but I’m at a loss to know how to get right into the primary literature without making sure they’re comfortable with the terminology and ideas of the discipline first.

The theme of the first week really was fundamental: polarity. How does a single-celled zygote figure out which end goes up? The students had to read a few chapters from the Gilbert developmental biology text (which is free online, at least in the 6th edition, which is good enough for a quick summary), specifically the chapter on anterior/posterior polarity (which is almost entirely about Drosophila, I added a fair number of examples from Ciona and echinoderms), and the chapter on the organizer in amphibians. That covered a good range, from an organism in which the orientation is pre-specified by maternal RNA (flies) to a case where it’s determined by an environmental interaction — the sperm entry point followed by a cortical rotation reaction (frogs). I also added a bit about mammals, where the decision by the blastula cells to form inner cell mass vs. extra-embryonic membranes is basically a chance event, biased by location in the cluster of early cells.

In all of the examples, though, the key point is that the decisions are not determined exclusively genetically, whatever that would mean, but are contingent on interactions between genes and cytoplasm, which also has structure and pattern, and that that structure may also be influenced by the external environment.

It was fun and familiar to me, but again I’m concerned that when I do most of the work, I’m encouraging passivity in the students. That role is continuing this week, when I give them the stories of neural tube and limb development, as examples of later organ systems that rely on complex interactions. The third week, though, I completely turn the tables on them: they’ve got some reading assignments for that week, and have to do short presentations in class. I’m just going to sit back and ask questions, and hope I don’t get bleary-eyed silence in response.

In my notes for what to do next time I teach this course:

  • Lobby for a better course time. 8am is too damn early for young men and women, even if it is just fine for us oldsters who don’t sleep as much and get up early anyway.

  • This section is a prime candidate for a flipped classroom approach — I could make some short videos ahead of time that they need to watch in their homes, with an accompanying set of questions that they’ll have to discuss in class. The problem there is that in-class responsiveness is one of their weaknesses right now.

  • Later in the course we’ll be trying some different pedagogical approaches: watch for what works best with this group, and maybe revise our crash course section to use that.

Stop tolerating the intolerable

I had a terrible thought yesterday. I was born during the Eisenhower administration, but I don’t remember it; I do recall Kennedy and the 60s, and Nixon, and the march through ever worsening presidents. Now we have Trump, and I realized that, at my age, he could be my last president, especially since Trump is going to gut the health system during a period I may need it most. This span of time representing the agonizing death of American idealism, decline of liberalism, and collapse into corruption has played out as the background of my life.

That’s depressing. History is not going to remember me, but I managed to live through a terrible period that will be remembered, unpleasantly. It would be nice to go out on a note of optimism, but that’s probably not going to happen.

Unless y’all get cracking on that revolution, that is.

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They got rocks in their hoo-ha


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.


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.


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?