Terry Pratchett, the author for our times

io9 has compiled 10 most appropriate Pratchett quotes for those of us feeling a bit unhappy right now. Here’s two I really like..

Commander Vimes didn’t like the phrase “The innocent have nothing to fear,” believing the innocent had everything to fear, mostly from the guilty but in the longer term even more from those who say things like “The innocent have nothing to fear.”

There are, it has been said, two types of people in the world. There are those who, when presented with a glass that is exactly half full, say: this glass is half full. And then there are those who say: this glass is half empty.

The world belongs, however, to those who can look at the glass and say: ‘What’s up with this glass? Excuse me? Excuse me? This is my glass? I don’t think so. My glass was full! And it was a bigger glass! And at the other end of the bar the world is full of the other type of person, who has a broken glass, or a glass that has been carefully knocked over (usually by one of the people calling for a larger glass), or who had no glass at all, because they were at the back of the crowd and had failed to catch the barman’s eye.

They left out the one I’m feeling right now.

If there was anything that depressed him more than his own cynicism, it was that quite often it still wasn’t as cynical as real life.

I bet some of you have a favorite Pratchett quote. Share.

Another sign of doom: the climate change denial of Rex Tillerson

I’ve seen moderate Democrats actually say that Rex Tillerson, Trump’s nominee for Secretary of State, seems reasonable, especially compared to the crew of ratfucking incompetents he’s packing into the rest of his administration. It’s not true. He’s as bad as the rest of them, and what we’re seeing is a gradual acclimation to the new politics of corruption and ignorance.

He’s a former ExxonMobil CEO. Do you think he’s going to lead our country’s work to resist climate change? No, he is not.

After more than six hours of testimony, Tillerson backtracked even further, telling senator Jeff Merkley (D-OR) that though the evidence of a changing climate was clear, the cause wasn’t. “The science behind the clear connection (to human activity) is not conclusive,” Tillerson said, an assertion as false as the scientific consensus is clear.

He’s just flatly wrong, in defiance of the scientific evidence. That ought to be enough to scuttle his nomination, but you know it won’t be.

He knows what his mission is. It’s to undermine funding and support for initiatives that might hurt the profits of the coal and oil industries.

Senator John Barrasso (R-WY), who believes government money currently spent fighting climate change could be “better spent” elsewhere, pushed Tillerson to commit to abandoning US funding for anti-climate change initiatives. Specifically, Barrasso opposes support for the Green Climate Fund, an international program set up to help developing nations deal with the effects of climate change. The US under Obama has pledged $3 billion.

“In consultation with the president, my expectation is that we are going to look at these things from the bottom up in terms of funds we’ve committed toward this effort,” Tillerson said.

Even in his non-answer, it’s clear Tillerson was open to dropping such funding. Instead, he opined on the power of electricity to lift people out of poverty. A noble aspiration, perhaps, but one that would provide little consolation to communities ravaged by climate change now and in the future. In today’s hearing, Tillerson may not have out-and-out denied the existence of human-caused climate change or the need for the US to help combat it. But his tepidness on global warming betrayed one clear fact: if confirmed, the US will no longer lead on climate change. It will be at the table, sure, but as a difficult guest, not the host.

This is where we’re at. We are the Soviet Union of 70 years ago, when the science of genetics was rejected for ideological reasons. The comparison to Trofim Lysenko’s career is obvious; just substitute climate science for genetics, Tillerson for Lysenko, and the whole damn Republican party for Stalin.

By 1948, scientific dissent from Lysenko’s theories had been outlawed in the Soviet Union, even though the vast majority of Soviet biologists, with increasing (if surreptitious) access to Western publications, knew that those theories were nonsense. The theory that human-induced climate change is not real is likewise nonsense. It is a theory that is only held by those who do not wish to face facts. Those facts, such as record atmospheric carbon dioxide levels and inexorably increasing global temperatures, speak for themselves. We are already in a situation where the 1.5C temperature increase that was the center of the Paris agreement seems to be an absurdly optimistic goal. It is almost sure to be exceeded, although we don’t know where, and we don’t know when.

This uncertainty has been taken as an opportunity by today’s climate change Lysenkoists. Like the cigarette manufacturers who refused to accept the increasingly obvious link between smoking and lung cancer in the 1960s and 1970s, the new Lysenkoists will grab on to any expression of uncertainty to justify their self-interested beliefs. They include, but are not limited to, the representatives of the fossil fuel industry and their political allies. Their pernicious influence is not just confined to the U.S. In my own country of Australia, for example, the Government has been lobbying strongly for more Chinese purchases of coal, and is also about to advance a loan of $Aus 1 billion for the establishment of a giant new coal mine near the already-threatened Great Barrier Reef.

Every person on Trump’s team is a shill for a fraud. Don’t be fooled. Every one of them is purest poison, not just to America’s future, but to the whole of humanity.

They can move quickly when there’s the opportunity to kill people

I’m almost afraid to go to sleep at night any more. The rats are busy, busy, busy, plotting destruction.

Last night, while most of us were unconscious, the Republican senate pulled some procedural games to allow them to act unilaterally. They really are determined to destroy people’s health insurance.

Thursday’s Senate procedural vote will set up special budget rules that will allow the repeal vote to take place with a simple majority in the 100-member Senate, instead of the 60 votes required to move most legislation.

That means Republicans, who control 52 seats, can push through repeal legislation without Democratic cooperation. They’re also discussing whether there are some elements of a replacement bill that could get through at the same time with a simple majority. But for many elements of a new health care law, Republicans are likely to need 60 votes and Democratic support, and at this point the two parties aren’t even talking.

They also discussed what they don’t like about the Affordable Care Act. Among the things they definitely want to kill are preexisting conditions protections, the ability for young adults to stay on their parents’ plan, and, of course, contraception. Those all sound like wonderful things to me, and I can’t understand how anyone can think we ought to dispose of them, so the logic escapes me — the drumbeat of hatred for all things Obama has led to people voting to demolish even those accomplishments that help them.

Oh, and also, Trump is going to announce his Supreme Court pick within two weeks.

We are so fucked. And by “we”, I mean all of the American people, including those who voted for these Republican scum.

(Important: Even if you stay awake all night, wide-eyed and staring in terror, the Republicans are still going to do everything they can to ruin your life and the lives of your children. You might as well try to get some sleep.)

We growed a little more

Quietly, in the dead of night and in disguise, we stealthily slipped in some new people on the FtB roster. Shhh. Don’t tell anyone.

You can go visit them yourselves, but keep it on the down low. If it ever got out what a hive of rapscallions and scallywags we were nursing at the SJW teat, they might call us rude names or something.

I can’t claim to be a prophet…yet

A reader has warned me that I might be guilty of the sin of prophecy. Back in 2014 I wrote this:

I will make a prediction, right here and now. The number of people identifying as “nones” will grow in this country in coming years, because we’re on the right side of history, and because organized religion is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on other-worldly issues that don’t help people. The number of people identifying as atheists will stagnate or even shrink, because organized atheism is happily in the process of destroying itself with regressive social attitudes, scandals, and their bizarre focus on irrelevant metaphysical differences that don’t help people.

And then they pointed out the results of this Gallup poll from the summer:


Nope. Not going to claim I’ve been sadly vindicated yet. As the article from Gallup points out, there’s a lot of wobbliness due to the precise wording of the question. I’d also suggest that the previous year’s abrupt downswing in religiosity looks more like noise, so this year’s upswing is nothing but regression to the mean. There are still signs of a slow trend away from belief in gods, but it’s nothing dramatic, and we’re not seeing widespread acceptance of overt atheism. As the article explains, the variations may not be meaningful of any kind of shift in ideas.

The exact meaning of these shifts is unclear. Although the results can be taken at face value in showing that fewer Americans believe in God than did so in the past, it is also possible that basic beliefs have not changed — but rather Americans’ willingness to express nonreligious sentiments to an interviewer has. Whatever the explanation for these changes over time, the most recent findings show that the substantial majority of Americans continue to give a positive response when asked about their belief in God.

I’m still going to argue that atheism needs something more than a denial of the existence of gods if it is going to achieve wider popularity. We’re riding on a slow swell of anti-clericism, but we need to get into the curl of a more active social relevancy.

We also can’t deny that we hold a minority view. But the “good” news is that the resurgence of Republican theocratic meddling might yet inspire more anti-religious views!

Another one down!

Today was Genetics day, the other big class I’m teaching this term. Syllabus done! Lab supplies ordered! Now I’m just going to work on redoing my introductory lecture (I’m completely revamping that to set the students up for some of the upcoming complexity.)

The Autism Peril

The latest media frenzy is over reports that Russia had compromising information about Trump’s sexual practices and other sad, bitter, pathetic obsessions. I don’t care. The Trump name is already so thoroughly soiled that the fact that the allegations are entirely plausible tells us all we need to know about the dignity and gravitas the man brings to the office. He has pissed all over our country’s reputation and has already been long known for his pettiness, his cheesiness, and his total lack of class, so it really doesn’t do any more damage to the Trump brand than everything else he has done. In a pissing contest between his crassness and his bedroom habits, the fact that there is a pissing contest at all means he has already lost.

But here’s a different name that is being flushed down the toilet: Kennedy. I grew up when the Kennedy name was almost magical: it was Camelot, it was glamorous liberalism, it was tragedy. And now Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. is doing his best to make it synonymous with crankery and quackery and incompetence. Good job, scion of a the John & Robert Kennedy political dynasty!

Anyway, RFK Jr met with Trump — which was troubling enough, especially after Trump had met with Andrew Wakefield as well — and came away with the startling announcement that he was going to chair a commission on vaccination safety and scientific integrity. He is not qualified! His head is packed full of pseudoscientific nonsense on this subject, so we need a stronger word…he is anti-qualified. This is as criminally antithetical to the goal of such a committed as appointing Myron Ebell to head the EPA. It’s a clear signal that Trump intends to wreck preventative medicine in the USA.

Of course, this immediately provoked a sewer overflow of criticism on social media, and we already know how responsive our fickle president-elect is to the noise there, and Trump walked that claim right back. No, RFK Jr will not lead a commission on vaccine safety, but one on autism.

Vaccines, autism, same topic, right? We can tell what kind of bullshit the two of them were slinging in that convo by the fact that they link those two together, when we know from the science that there is no connection between vaccines and autism. We know that Trump is dead wrong on this subject, but he has brought it up repeatedly over the years, and you just know he’s itching to push lies into the science.

Remember when Trump said this in the debates?

I’m totally in favor of vaccines — but I want smaller doses over a longer time.

You are not a doctor, Donald Trump. Neither is Robert F. Kennedy, Jr. It was doctors who worked out a vaccine schedule, using empirical data to optimize as best they can. Contrary to your conspiracy theories, doctors also have no vested interest in inducing autism. I can’t even imagine what convoluted reasoning you would invoke in order to invent a connection, but I’m sure you’ve got some stupid, flimsy excuse that won’t hold up under any rational inspection.

But just read Orac’s commentary — he rips the routine nonsense promoted by anti-vaccine ideologues apart. It’s actually easy. What always impresses me is the lack of rigor and the unimaginative repetitiveness of the anti-science advocates. Like creationists, the anti-vaxxers have a limited litany of tropes they repeat endlessly, which makes it easy but dead dreary to shoot them down…but with the awareness that they’ll just ignore the rebuttals and repeat the same ol’ same ol’ all over again.

One more thing I have to mention, though: one part of the anti-vaxxer litany is to deplore the rising tide of terrible, damaged people as a consequence of the autism epidemic. The problem with that, of course, is that it treats autistic people as garbage, and as a plague that must be ended. I know autistic people. You know autistic people. Some of you are autistic. It’s a different way of thinking that can (but doesn’t always) conflict with expected social norms. You might just as well howl in protest at the rise of people who think scientifically, or artistically, or are glibly sociable, or are atheists. What are you going to do, go on a campaign to eradicate poets? I wouldn’t put it past these people who are so quick to demonize others who don’t fit their mold.

Adapt or die. Autistic people are first and foremost people, and if they are increasing in numbers, we need to consider helping society to accommodate itself to them. We can see through the coded language and dog whistles to your true desired solution: you despise and want to eliminate our children.

Course Design: Behold! A Syllabus!


Wow. I think I’m ready to go. I’ve put the Biol 4182 EcoDevo syllabus together, I’ve got the courseware (we use Moodle) site ready to go, and I’ve put together the notes for the first week’s lectures/discussions, and now I just have to upload that syllabus and make it available to all the students…and then watch the course withdrawals come flooding in.

No! They’re going to appreciate it! We’re going to learn so much together this term!

Classes start a week from today. I’m more prepared than usual.