Racial incoherence

Kwame Anthony Appiah gave a lecture on race and globalization, and all I’ve got is a second-hand review of the talk that makes me wish I could hear the whole thing.

Society still largely operates under the misapprehension that race (largely defined by skin colour) has some basis in biology. There is a perpetuating idea that black-skinned or white-skinned people across the world share a similar set of genes that set the two races apart, even across continents. In short, it’s what Appiah calls “total twaddle”.

“The way that we talk about race today is just incoherent,” he says. “The thing about race is that it is a form of identity that is meant to apply across the world, everybody is supposed to have one – you’re black or you’re white or you’re Asian – and it’s supposed to be significant for you, whoever and wherever you are. But biologically that’s nonsense.”

I can almost hear the alt-right whining in rebuttal…but there are genes for skin color, that’s biology, isn’t it? And aren’t there other genes that affect physiology and morphology? Yes, there are, and these can be significant markers of lineage. I can look at my brothers and sisters, and my aunts and uncles, and see an assemblage of traits that confer a familial resemblance. We don’t, however, assume that all members of the Myers clan are identical in behavior and attitude and ability because of the shape of their chin; we lack a social construct that affiliates that undeniably genetic trait with a whole vast host of assumptions about our place in society and every other biological property of the family.

What we do have is a complex social construct that takes one biological property, skin color, and imposes a mess of entirely non-biological assumptions on individuals with it. Worst of all, the people who do that then think that their racism, which is all about history and propagated myths and unjustified beliefs about relative superiority, is based on science because you can empirically measure the density of pigment cells in the skin. Or they do measurements of stuff like “intelligence” (where the tools are flawed and clumsy), correlate them with skin color, and pretend that the influence of cultural ideas and oppression and poverty, all freighted with the constructed social beliefs that they claim to be objectively assessing, are nonexistent.

But Appiah knows all this and is explaining it. I get irritated with the abuse of my discipline to justify nonsense.

Appiah is at pains to point out that, while society has made race and colour a significant part of how we identify ourselves, particularly in places such as the UK and US, it is an invented idea to which we cling irrationally.

Appiah’s lecture explores the notion that two black-skinned people may share similar genes for skin colour, but a white-skinned person and a black-skinned person may share a similar gene that makes them brilliant at playing the piano. So why, he asks, have we decided that one is the core of our identity and the other is a lesser trait?

“How race works is actually pretty local and specific; what it means to be black in New York is completely different from what it means to be black in Accra, or even in London,” he explains. “And yet people believe it means roughly the same thing everywhere. Race does nothing for us.

“I do think that in the long run if everybody grasped the facts about the relevant biology and the social facts, they’d have to treat race in a different way and stop using it to define each,” he says.

At a time when the world continues to divide itself along racial lines and where, in the US, “being put in that black box means you tend to get treated worse and are more likely to get shot by a police officer”, getting people to understand race as a social invention could, in Appiah’s view, save lives.

And expand human potential. Being put in the black box means much more than that you’re more likely to get shot — it carries a multitude of socially constructed biases that mean you’re more like to be imprisoned, less likely to get a job, more likely to face a thousand micro-aggressions every day, less likely to attend a good public school, etc., etc., etc. — and none of those are genetic.

None of this implies that we should be blind to color. I’m quite proud of my family, and I’m not going to deny our resemblance; I’m also not ashamed of my descent from a long line of stolid Scandinavian farmers. I think we should all recognize the struggles and successes and flaws of our forebears, and black people have diverse and complex histories, too, and rightly take some pride in their families. But let’s stop pretending that skin color is a simplistic proxy to excuse the baggage of our biases, OK?

The pink must end

I find myself repelled by the color pink anymore. It’s basically been appropriated by the Susan G. Komen Foundation to represent research on breast cancer, and it’s as if daubing pink paint on something suddenly makes it an accomplishment in cancer research.


So we had pink drill bits. Fracking for the cure!


Pink fighter jets! Strafing and bombing for the cure!

They cut support for Planned Parenthood! Who needs mammograms and education when you’ve got drill bits and bullets?

Susan G. Komen has long held deep ties with right wing groups. Now we learn that another aspect of those ties is that they have scheduled major fund raising events at Donald Trump’s Mar-a-Lago.

Komen has held their annual “Perfect Pink Party” at Mar-a-Lago since 2011, and Trump has attended throughout the years. The AP reported today that the party is still planned for January 2017, and that the organization won’t make a final decision about whether to go ahead — or cancel and lose the deposit — until after October. Komen spokesperson Andrea Rader declined to comment beyond the AP story.

The AP also reported that two alleged instances of Trump touching women inappropriately occurred at Mar-a-Lago.

There’s also this little gem.

Nancy Brinker, who is the founder and chair of Global Strategy for the Komen Foundation [but who is currently on leave] endorsed Trump earlier this year.

Trump’s support among women is dismally low — this is a thug who thinks women need to be punished for getting an abortion — and yet Komen doesn’t think this is enough of a problem that they should distance themselves from him.

I’ll never donate to the Susan G. Komen Foundation, and I don’t see how they can stop their slide into irrelevance at this rate. I’m just waiting for the Republicans to slap a coat of pink paint on their logo to show that they are pro-woman. It’s the least they could do.

Bad reasons to colonize Mars


I presume you all already know about my deep antipathy to Elon Musk’s stupid lifeboat rationale for going to Mars — I’m still getting hate mail for not worshipping Musk. In my defense, though, allow me to pull out Kim Stanley Robinson to say exactly the same thing.

What needs to happen for the Mars colony to live sustainably and give humanity the lifeboat Musk envisions?

It’s important to say that the idea of Mars as a lifeboat is wrong, in both a practical and a moral sense.

There is no Planet B, and it’s very likely that we require the conditions here on earth for our long-term health. When you don’t take these new biological discoveries into your imagined future, you are doing bad science fiction.

In a culture so rife with scientism and wish fulfillment, a culture that’s still coming to grips with the massive crisis of climate change, a culture that’s inflicting a sixth mass-extinction event on earth and itself, it’s important to try to pull your science fiction into the present, to make it a useful tool of human thought, a matter of serious planning as well as thrilling entertainment.

This is why Musk’s science fiction story needs some updating, some real imagination using current findings from biology and ecology.

But I’m not posting this to flog Musk some more. I’ve found a rationale even worse than Musk’s — we’re supposed to colonize Mars to expand the sacred worship of gods. James Poulos uses some ridiculously bad history to suggest that a religious impulse ought to drive our colonization.

The traditions of humanism and religion we’ve inherited from ancient Athens and Jerusalem also treat the natural world as a type of “base reality” against which our collective history can take place. Those traditions allow old myths and social orders to be honored and new ones to be founded — fresh starts, but by no means blank slates, where the best of what came before can be retained and given promise on new soil. In this sweeping journey of civilizations, what was begun with the exodus from Egypt and the founding of Rome continued, more or less, right up through the Pilgrims’ arrival on Plymouth Rock, Abraham Lincoln’s “new birth of freedom,” and on, perhaps, to the present day. You don’t have to be pious to think of human history in these essentially religious terms — as a multimillennial journey that is far from over (perennial panic over the literal End Times notwithstanding), and that in its totality can only be fully conceived of and known by a consciousness beyond what our human nature affords.

I must point out that the Biblical Exodus is a myth — it didn’t happen. That’s a very weird justification for a huge secular enterprise, to cite a self-serving and false story. Rome was founded by bandits and rapists who had a poor reputation among their neighbors, and likewise the religious gloss on their founding myth was added after the fact. The Pilgrims? Jesus. Horrible awful religious fanatics who contributed a deplorable Puritan sanctimony to American history. The Gettysburg Address mentions “God” only once, and even that is questioned — there are multiple drafts and transcripts, and they don’t all include the “under God” phrase, which is a peculiar focus to use to claim that the consecration of a graveyard is analogous to colonizing Mars. This guy is really reaching to claim a religious drive behind all of human history.

And that last sentence — can only be fully conceived of and known by a consciousness beyond what our human nature affords — total bullshit. You can imagine all kinds of nonsense, their irrationality does not mean that there must exist a cosmic intelligence that can make sense of it all.

The babble continues.

From this standpoint, the exciting thing about colonizing Mars (and tomorrow, the galaxy!) is not the prospect of accelerating humanity past the point of humanity. Instead, it’s continuing the grand journey of humankind, wherein sacred traditions can be imitatively repeated and re-founded. A colony on Mars, then, is not like a personal trainer, pushing us through some artificial but valuable exercises that end up taking us to a higher plane of aliveness otherwise unavailable to us. Humanity’s achievement of interplanetary life wouldn’t allow us to break with the past and level us up into a new reality. It would humble us in recognition of a newfound, enduring mission — to create new ways to honor our human essence and praise what has allowed it to be sustained over time, whether we call that nature, nature’s God, or something else.

You know what? That’s just noise. Religion is really good at generating well-meaning phrases that can be strung together into a happy collection of sounds that resonate because they’re familiar and often repeated to believers, but to anyone outside the belief, it’s just word salad.

He just keeps going!

Such an act of providence would be restorative for humanity — and there’s reason to think we now require a Mars colony to allow for it. What’s clear is that Earth no longer invites us to contemplate, much less renew, our deepest spiritual needs. It has filled up so much with people, discoveries, information, and sheer stuff that it’s maddening to find what F. Scott Fitzgerald called a fresh green breast of a new world — the experience of truly open horizons and an open but specific future. That’s a problem that does suggest a terrible calamity, if not exactly an imminent apocalypse. But by making a fresh pilgrimage to a literally new world — say, red-breasted Mars — we could mark our pilgrims’ progress from the shadows of ignorance and apartness from God.

Oh, he’s done with Earth. It’s got nothing lovely anymore. So let’s go to a place that isn’t ruined for good Christians!

He thinks we might need a religious litmus test for the Mars colony ship — maybe they should all be religious, with no atheists to pollute the contemplative theology of Mars.

That means asking and answering initially awkward questions, like, would we be best off if our first Martian colonists were religious observers? Especially today, nature and freedom won’t defend themselves, and they’re certainly not taken as a given by some of Earth’s more powerful people. But it turns out that even today, and in the far-flung future, many of those who see our cosmos as supernaturally real are still their best defenders. There may not be much to recommend for life on Mars if we don’t clear a path for Christ on Mars.

Now I’m torn. I’m horrified at the idea of spawning a space colony that is a home to religious zealots, but at the same time, I expect the colony to fail, especially if it is entirely crewed by babbling Jesus freaks. And then I’m further torn by the dilemma of whether to cheer at shipping out fanatics to their inevitable doom, or to mourn the loss of human life, or to regret that the tiny numbers of ‘colonists’ will make no dent in the population of idiots remaining here on earth.

Gets me right in the feels, it does.

My glamorous day

After reading about that photogenic wanker Bilzerian, I thought about what I could do to become an instagram star. I should take a storm of selfies of my exciting life.

Here’s my Monday:

  • Start my morning with a dental appointment.

  • Finish grading 50 cell biology exams. That’ll take me into early afternoon.

  • Spend the rest of the day finishing up my science talk for my Beijing trip. There goes the rest of the day.

  • Go to bed, too tired to play high-stakes poker.

That’s it. That’s the whole day. Maybe if I used a machine gun as a paperweight and had a team of topless supermodels standing around…nah, too distracting and my office isn’t that big.

Toxic masculinity is everywhere, and running for president

Joe Rogan dreams of being Billy Bush. Aim high, Joe, aim high! And now he’s found the ridiculously rich (but probably not as rich as he claims he is) presidential aspirant to leech off of and sycophantically praise for his raunchiness. It’s not Trump, though. It’s Dan Bilzerian.

If you’re like me, you said “who?”, but apparently Dan Bilzerian is huge on instagram, with millions of followers. His specialty is looking masculine while hanging out with expensive cars, big guns, and naked women. He’s filthy rich because he inherited huge sums from his criminal father, and, he says, from winning at poker. He sounds like a truly horrible person. Sadly, that seems to be a path to fame, and also sure enough, he is running for president of the US.

But Joe Rogan is even more pathetic. He did a three hour interview with Bilzerian in which he’s practically drooling over him and openly saying that he wants to be just like him. The sycophancy is gross.

I wasn’t able to cope with more than a few minutes of the interview, but someone wrote to me with an annotated breakdown of key moments. Thank you! I could not have made it through the whole thing, nor do I want to. So I’ll just put it all right here.

First Joe Rogan Defending Donald Trumps attack on the Miss Universe shaming her for being fat https://youtu.be/sywnldE9YIA?t=59 That’s not why I wrote you. It’s for the Podcast he did With Dan Bilzerian. This Is so bad, and yet no one has said anything against this monster. If you listen to nothing else just got to link 8. As a mother this broke my heart.

This is the perfect example of 2 white man, essentially promoting rape culture. People where surprised at Billy Bushes behavior, being the sycophant that he is. I was not surprised because as a woman I have seen the bro culture as it is now referred too my whole life. In a recent Joe Rogan podcast,
Joe talks a Dan Bilzerian who markets himself as a playboy He 40 million followers on intagram and facebook https://www.instagram.com/danbilzerian/?hl=en Notice all the groping in the photos.

The whole conversation they spend talking about women as objects being refereed to only as bitches and pussy.

1 Here is Joe Rogan emulating Billy Bush https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=3 @20 second he calls woman bitches.

2 Here, Bilzerian refers to woman as pussy https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=96

3 Here again Bilzerian braging about sleeping with woman even though he didn’t want, and Joe Rogan doing he best interpretation as BIlly Bush. https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=279

4 Here they go on a long rant about woman being gold diggers. https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=1451 Women are almost always talked about in the context of being evil whores that want to steal rich guys money.

5 In Bilzerian calls someone a cocksucker https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=2063
I see you often talk about Donald Trump, and wonder how he could become president. Here is you answer, this behavior is so normalized, that men like this look up to Trump. This and no one in the mainstream speaks up against this type of interaction. 50 Million people take these seriously.

6 They talk about fame and again women only being attracted to money. Listen to Joe refer to it as Balling. This is a 49 year old man https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=2887

7 This is the saddest part. I genuinely feel sorry for his wife and daughters who one day will listen to this. Joe Rogan laments that he has a wife and kids. He says it as if his family are a burden. https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=2901 TO say this publicly is just monstrous. I would not be happy if my husband said this about me.

8 famous for being a baller, https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=2922 Joe loses his dignity here. Look at Bilzerian’s face here, even he feels awkward with Joe Rogans ass kissing. https://youtu.be/RX5Iw-XsWu4?t=2949

If Bilzerian were at some point to get serious about running for the presidency (I don’t think he will, but I’d have said the same thing about Trump), the opposition research has already begun. I have to say though, that I don’t envy the people who have to go through the sludge of youtube and other media sources. It does help when you’ve got point sources like Rogan who revel in the slime.

Keep in mind, though, that there are millions of people who admire these two assholes.

Neither stigmatize nor celebrate mental illness

One of the odd things about NerdCon is the focus on John and Hank Green, an interest I do not share at all, but there were people there who were only attending to see a Green. They write books that I haven’t read, and I’ve seen a few of their videos, but the cult following is baffling to an outsider like me. I didn’t attend any of the Green events while I was there.

But maybe I should have. John Green posted the text of a talk he gave this weekend, and it’s quite good. It was about his battles with mental illness, and the myths around such illnesses.

In the end, I feel that romanticizing mental illness is dangerous and destructive just as stigmatizing it is. So I want to say that, yes, I am mentally ill. I’m not embarrassed about it. And I have written my best work not when flirting with the brink, but when treating my chronic health problem with consistency and care.

Now if only we had a society that believed in consistency and care…

How about that big storm, Seattle?


I have friends and family in the Seattle area, so I’ve been following the news about the impending doom-storm that was supposed to strike the Pacific Northwest with some interest. There was a little worry, but mainly I figured it would give my mom something exciting to talk about on the phone. At least I heard about all the pre-storm rush to stock up on candles and flashlight batteries and food, and how Fred Meyer shelves were getting cleaned out; I told them it wasn’t anything to worry about until they were selling out of big sheets of plywood.

And then it just fizzled out. I hear that all you Seattleites got was some gusty blustery rainfall, and then it was over.

How can weather forecasting fail so badly? Here’s a helpful summary of how the models got tricked. Weather is still pretty darned complicated.

It also includes my favorite meme for the non-event.


Of course, it could have been much, much worse — the consequences are far more dire if a major storm materializes that was not predicted. Read this account of the Armistice Day Blizzard of 1940 to get some perspective — hundreds of people died because back then, they didn’t have the tools to predict the weather as well as we do today, so people went cheerfully off to hunt ducks and walked and boated their way right into catastrophe.

It is easy to forget that there was a time — not so very long ago, really — when there was no Gore-Tex, no Thinsulate, no neoprene, and no polypropylene. There was a time when outboard motors, far from the sleek and powerful marvels of today, were crude, cumbersome beasts, unreliable under the best circumstances and all but useless under the worst. There was a time when there were no cell phones, no emergency beacons, no Flight for Life helicopters.

There was a time, too, when there were no weather satellites, no telemetry to provide data that could be plugged into sophisticated formulas and fed into supercomputers for timely forecasts. Indeed, that the weather could be predicted with any degree of accuracy then — November, 1940, to be precise — seems almost miraculous, meteorology in those days being one part science and two parts the divination of omens, signs, and portents.

I think a few false alarms are an OK price to pay.

The honest-to-god truth finally comes out

I woke up this morning to learn that Donald Trump has totally destroyed the credibility of all of those WOMEN who have been accusing him of sexual harassment and assault. He has proof that WOMEN have been lying.

And that proof is a MAN.

Case closed. Donald Trump has a witness who as an 18 year old British BOY was flying first class on a domestic American flight, and HE had his eyes locked on the WOMAN who claims Trump was pawing at her, and HE swears it was actually the WOMAN who was pawing HIM.

HE has no evidence that HE was even there, but you should believe HIM because HE said so, and HE also said HE has a photographic memory, and also was clearly witnessing the scene through eyes made of cells containing Y chromosomes, and perceiving it with a MALE brain.

The person who was being pawed and might be expected to retain a more vivid recollection than a random passenger on the flight was, well, a WOMAN, and bitchez be lyin’, am I right, fellas?

Of course, Anthony Gilberthorpe also claims to have procured rent-boys for the Thatcher cabinet, that he was engaged to a beautiful American woman who doesn’t exist (is this like the Canadian girlfriend trope, only for the British it’s their American fiance?), and he fed a story that he had AIDS to the newspapers so he could sue them for defamation. HE is not exactly a source with a great reputation for probity, but HE says what the Trump Campaign wants to hear, and HE is a MAN, which adds +10 to all reliability rolls.

That Trump accepts this MAN as a credible source, by the way, adds another oily, repulsive sheen to his trusted television surrogates, Corey Lewandowski, Kayleigh McEnany, Jeffrey Lord, and Scottie Nell Hughes. That isn’t the reek of cadaverine and hydrogen sulfide coming from those people, it is the scent of sanctity and the aroma of veracity, soon to be bottled and sold under the Trump™ brand as the perfume, Honestly.