I never want to see another baby-eating joke about atheists

Yeah, sure, accuse atheists of eating babies. Do you know who actually consumes fetal tissue, though? Suburban new agers with a weird fetish for “natural” and “organic” BS.

I just learned about Minnesota Placenta, a place that does placenta encapsulation (pdf). It’s easy! After your baby is born, it comes with this hideous lump of fetal support tissue, the placenta, that looks like a lump of hamburger and a piece of raw liver got into a serious barroom brawl, and neither won. Scoop up that bloody sac slathered with slime and mail it off with about $250 and it will be steamed, chopped, ground, powdered, and packed into tidy pill capsules for you to consume at your leisure.

There are photographs of the process. The only thing that would make this more unappetizing would be if Guy Fieri were involved.*

Bonus! The company that charges $250 will also shape the umbilical cord into a short script message (“love”), and dry it down into a hard, leathery, mummified sign the color of old dried blood that you can hang on the wall and terrify your offspring with for years to come. I really missed out on this opportunity.

By the way, these outfits have lots of anecdotes about feeling more “energized” and “peppy” after consuming these discarded scraps of their baby (for a more entertaining version of this myth, see the movie Ravenous), but there is actually no evidence that it provides any benefit. No benefit. None at all. Lots of ick, though. Probably no worse than chowing down on calf’s liver, though.

*Would it perverse of me to say I really want to see what Fieri would do with placenta as an ingredient?

That’s a Minnesota kind of story

If only we had video of this daredevil stunt.

By daylight, it was clear what happened: The man blew through the stop sign at a T in the road, barreled through a yard and launched his car off a 35-foot to 40-foot embankment, clearing a span of open water on Lake Le Homme Dieu. before landing on the season’s remaining ice, Armstrong said.

The man, James Sundby, 38, of Wadena, had no drugs or alcohol in his system and he doesn’t remember what happened, said Alexandria Police Chief Rick Wyffels.

The guy then staggered into a nearby stranger’s house, turned on all the lights and the TV, and proceeded to relax until he was chased away.

I’m just impressed with how far his car had to fly to clear that open water.


(Alexandria, by the way, is the next big (pop 9000!) city to the north of Morris — we go there fairly often. Now I’m feeling challenged to try the Sundby Leap, though.)

More math!

Chris Dixon has written an excellent history of mathematics. When most of us think of math, we go “ugh” and call it boring and turn away, but really, it’s so fundamental that we should be far more excited about it. Most of the major turning points in my education involved math: it was geometry when I was in the 8th grade that sparked my first interest, and learning algebra and logarithms in high school chemistry got me focused on science. When I started teaching myself how to program computers (I was an inadequate teacher, and quickly signed up for courses in the CS department), I had to also teach myself basic Boolean logic, because in those ancient days when your only recourse was to learn assembly language, and ANDs, NANDs, NORs, and ORs were the name of the game. Transistors are just logic implemented in silicon.

I agree when Dixon writes,

Mathematical logic was initially considered a hopelessly abstract subject with no conceivable applications. As one computer scientist commented: “If, in 1901, a talented and sympathetic outsider had been called upon to survey the sciences and name the branch which would be least fruitful in [the] century ahead, his choice might well have settled upon mathematical logic.” And yet, it would provide the foundation for a field that would have more impact on the modern world than any other.

I would add that in the 1970s public education system, we wouldn’t have imagined that, either. I had teachers who thought math was stuff you only needed to know for business school — you know, accounting. You can still see that attitude when people wonder why they need to learn this algebra stuff, anyway — they’ll never use it. They’re wrong. You’ll just use it in unexpected ways, because what you’re being given is a creative toolbox for thinking about the world.

The historical context in this article is useful, though, for making a case that math isn’t just practical, it’s also a foundation for thought that belongs in the liberal arts canon. And also that it’s a significant part of philosophy, which too many scientific pragmatists also tend to dismiss.

Sperm with a Ph.D.

I once knew someone who was a contributor to the Nobel Prize sperm bank. He wasn’t a Nobelist, but he was a smart and accomplished scientist — he just had a dewar of liquid nitrogen next to his bed, where he’d make an occasional deposit (with the assistance of his wife, he assured me), and then the samples would be shipped off for processing and…insemination, I presume. It’s not something I’d ever do, and apparently very few Nobelists actually contributed to it.

The Repository for Germinal Choice was a real thing (it’s been discontinued since the death of its founder, Robert Graham), kind of the last gasp of the scientific eugenics movement. It’s premise is typical crankery. I’ve met a fair number of Nobelists and big name scientists, and I’m sorry, they’re just people, with the usual range from nice people to total assholes — and actually, I suspect that they’re enriched for the nasty end of the scale. Scientist sperm plucked out of a vat of self-selected donors is probably actually less valuable than sperm hand-picked from a donor you know and like. Since this vat also contains sperm from notorious racist William Shockley, you’re probably best off avoiding it altogether. Also note: all of the donors were white, because of course they were, and oh no, insisted Graham, he was not a racist.

Anyway, one of the offspring of the Repository tracked down his biological “father”. The result was disappointing and troubling. I’m more troubled by the idea that people still think there’d be some great advantage to having an absentee father who had an advanced degree.

While the Repository is defunct, there are still individuals, like this one, who advertise their willingness to inseminate people. I’d also be worried…what if extreme narcissism is a heritable trait?

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.


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


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.