Goodbye Spring Break, hello Spring

It’s officially the first day of Spring. I looked outside to see if flowers had suddenly erupted, but it’s too early and too dark to see.

It’s also the end of our Spring Break, and I have to get back to work, although it’s not as if I took it easy this last week. I’m actually prepared! This is my agenda for the week:

  • Genetics: We’ve been working through chromosomal changes, and I’ve been a little concerned about some of the students not quite understanding what’s going on, so we’re going to spend the first half of class with me leading them through some visualization exercises. I’m going to give them some word problems and have them draw the answers — it should also be a gentle warm-up to the class. Then it’s all sex and mapping for a while.

  • Genetics lab: Our mapping experiment is done, we just have to collate the results and do the calculations. Simultaneously, we’re starting a new experiment, a complementation assay.

  • Ecological Development: Endocrine disruptors! That’s always a fun way to start your week. Even more fun: an exam! An oral exam! The last half of this week and the first half of next week are going to be dedicated to meeting one-on-one with students to grill them on general concepts.

  • Biological Communications: I don’t think I’ve mentioned it before, but I’m also teaching a course in science writing — this semester it’s more of an independent study sort of thing, where they’re supposed to be putting together a substantial term paper on a subject of their choice. So far, it’s been little stuff — come up with a topic, do the preliminary research, give me short writing samples to demonstrate that you’re actually working on it — but their first full rough draft is due this week, so I’m getting stacks of papers to grade over the coming weekend.

  • We also have a guest seminar this week from an immunologist, Amy Weinmann, who is going to talk to us about epigenetics and development, which will fit in just fine with my eco-devo course.

I’m actually all planned out for the next two or three weeks. I just have to do the actual work. At least I think I know what I’m doing.

Glistening!

On the penultimate day of Spring Break, I cleaned up my office! It looks…majestic!

officephoto

Philistines and non-academics may look at that and complain that there are still an awful lot of heaps and piles and what they would call “clutter” everywhere, but the cognoscenti will be more impressed that there are multiple clear surfaces there.

And…ermagerd! The ghost of Charles Darwin has manifested in the room! He’s…smiling! Clearly, my efforts have been blessed.

It would be nice if it lasted

Cory Doctorow praises Minnesota.

Last fall, I wrote about the strange case of Minnesota governor Mark Dayton, a left-wing billionaire heir to the Target fortune who came to power and reversed his Republican predecessors’ Reagonomic idiocy, instead raising taxes on rich people, increasing public spending, and creating shared prosperity for the people of Minnesota.

The results of the experiment continue to surprise and delight: unemployment is down to 3.7%, private sector earnings are up 1.5% to $891/week, 47,000 new jobs were added to the economy in the past year, and the state just declared a $1.8B budget surplus, even as Forbes ranked it 9th in its table of best states for business.

And our neighboring states are all doing much, much worse under Republican regimes.

I have to add a reality check, though. We’d be doing even better if the other states in this region were sharing in our successes — we are not an island.

And more worrisome still: in the last election, the idiot citizenry elected a Republican legislature. Why? I don’t know.

America for sale

He thinks the Clintons had political opponents murdered. He thinks we should have seized all the oil in Iraq. He believes the nuclear fallout from the bombing of Japan made the Japanese healthier. Civil rights was a terrible mistake, and black people were better off in the 1950s. He’s a climate change denialist. He “believes that human beings have no inherent value other than how much money they make”. This profile of hedge-fund manager and political king-maker Bob Mercer is horrifying for its details about the man — Mercer truly is a Randian incompetent and obnoxious ignoramus with way too much money — but the paragraphs I found most chilling were not about Mercer, but about the way American politics was corrupted by a single Supreme Court decision.

Although Mercer has recently become an object of media speculation, Trevor Potter, the president of the Campaign Legal Center, a nonpartisan watchdog group, who formerly served as the chairman of the Federal Election Commission, said, “I have no idea what his political views are—they’re unknown, not just to the public but also to most people who’ve been active in politics for the past thirty years.” Potter, a Republican, sees Mercer as emblematic of a major shift in American politics that has occurred since 2010, when the Supreme Court made a controversial ruling in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission. That ruling, and several subsequent ones, removed virtually all limits on how much money corporations and nonprofit groups can spend on federal elections, and how much individuals can give to political-action committees. Since then, power has tilted away from the two main political parties and toward a tiny group of rich mega-donors.

Private money has long played a big role in American elections. When there were limits on how much a single donor could give, however, it was much harder for an individual to have a decisive impact. Now, Potter said, “a single billionaire can write an eight-figure check and put not just their thumb but their whole hand on the scale—and we often have no idea who they are.” He continued, “Suddenly, a random billionaire can change politics and public policy—to sweep everything else off the table—even if they don’t speak publicly, and even if there’s almost no public awareness of his or her views.”

We are so fucked.

Sniny!

Got it done. My lab is all cleaned up and shiny and organized, except maybe for the bits behind the camera that you can’t see. So many beakers and flasks and bottles scrubbed! So many jagged shards of glass tidied up, pools of toxic chemicals siphoned off, untriggered bombs detonated, bones of previous adventurers interred!

LabPhotoMar2017

Tomorrow…my office. This was just the warm-up.

By their lies you shall know them

One of those anti-Cultural Marxism folks who are always claiming that their racism is justified by science just sent me a Darwin quote to shut me down. This one:

darwinlies

There are a few problems here, though.

  • Darwin is not our god-king. We recognize that he got quite a few things wrong, and also that his attitudes towards other races were a bit on the patronizing side. Perhaps an authoritarian thinks that citing an authority is persuasive, but we expect a little more.

  • Anyone who is at all familiar with Darwin’s writings would immediately recognize that there’s no way Darwin would have written that. Something’s fishy. This is the Darwin who wrote “I was told before leaving England, that after living in slave countries: all my options would be altered; the only alteration I am aware of is forming a much higher estimate of the Negros character”? He could be accused of condescension, fair enough, but not that kind of ignorance of African history.

  • Most definitively, Glenn Branch reports on the actual source of that quote. It’s not from Darwin at all. It’s from a notorious racist novel and play, The Clansman: A Historical Romance of the Ku Klux Klan. It was a maliciously misattributed by a guy named John Huppenthal, who was a Republican politician who was in the habit of spreading lies under various pseudonyms. I expect he’ll be joining the Trump administration any day now.

The bottom line: anyone who promotes that bogus quote is ignorant of how science works, hasn’t read a lick of Darwin, and is spreading a lie.