Irresponsible slacker

And he doesn’t even live in Washington state, so he can’t use dope as an excuse! Or maybe it’s a hint that after the passage of the liberal marijuana laws, he’s moving to Seattle. Sean Carroll has announced that he’s leaving his site on Discover and moving back to Preposterous Universe, so update your blogrolls. His excuse is that he’s happiest with the least personal responsibility, which I think is code for ordering a pizza and putting a Lord of the Rings marathon on the DVD player.

Which I’m down with, man. High five!

Another reason to love Washington state

They now have a law encouraging tolerance of marijuana.

Police spokesman Jonah Spangenthal-Lee wrote on the SPD Blotter that officers will be advising people to take their weed inside.

Or as Spangenthal-Lee put it: "The police department believes that, under state law, you may responsibly get baked, order some pizzas and enjoy a ‘Lord of the Rings’ marathon in the privacy of your own home, if you want to."

OMG. That sounds soooo good right now. I should fly back home for Christmas.

I am proud to be a native of Washington state

The King County Administration Building opened just after midnight last night to start issuing marriage licenses under the new marriage equality law.

“Tonight you are making history,” said Executive Constantine to the first group of couples at a special midnight ceremony. “Not only our legislators but the people of this state have said every person is entitled to equal treatment. This advances our law in the state of Washington, and brings us one step closer to that first ‘self-evident’ truth announced by our nation’s founders: That all are created equal.”

In the ceremony at the King County Recorder’s Office, the Executive administered the oath and signed the marriage licenses for 11 same-sex couples recommended by community leaders. The first license he signed was for Jane Abbott Lighty and Pete-e Petersen of West Seattle, a couple who co-founded the Seattle Women’s Chorus and who will be getting married during a Seattle Men’s Chorus concert on Dec. 9.

That was the initial announcement. It’s now up to hundreds of same-sex couples. Follow @kcnews on Twitter if you want a bit of a lift — they’re updating regularly with announcements and stats from King County.

I grew up there! And it feels good to say so!

Feminism isn’t about being a more prolific baby maker — it’s about fulfilling your potential as a human being

Oh no! Ross Douthat is dismayed because we aren’t having enough babies!

The retreat from child rearing is, at some level, a symptom of late-modern exhaustion — a decadence that first arose in the West but now haunts rich societies around the globe. It’s a spirit that privileges the present over the future, chooses stagnation over innovation, prefers what already exists over what might be. It embraces the comforts and pleasures of modernity, while shrugging off the basic sacrifices that built our civilization in the first place.

Have you ever noticed how conservatives always just look at population numbers and naively assume that bigger is better? Yet at the same time that they’re whining about needing more babies to keep ahead of the competition, they’re complaining about all those welfare queens pumping out babies (out of wedlock, no less!) while sucking at the public teat. You’d think that sometime they’d be able to bring those two misbegotten concepts together in their head and realize that maybe the problem isn’t how many babies your country has, but what you do with them. That maybe the Duggars aren’t the model for a progressive, rational, technological society that we’re looking for.

Maybe the best solution is to have fewer children but invest more in making their lives productive and happy — quality, rather than quantity.

I don’t call that decadence. People have fewer babies when they do all the things Douthat praises: they are thinking and planning for the future better, they are investing in a better life, and they are preferring a new world where women have other purposes than living as incubators and diaper-changing machines.

There’s also the economic argument, which I would have thought a Republican would love. Not having babies isn’t decadence, it’s sound and conservative fiscal planning.

I agree that this is a problem with decadence. But the decadent thing is having children, not remaining kid-free.

Last year, the Department of Agriculture estimated a middle-income couple spent $12,290 to $14,320 a year per child. More recently, the Times’ Nadia Taha published her calculations of how much it would cost her and her husband to have a child: A safer apartment. A better health-insurance plan. Lost wages. College. Total lifetime tab? $1.8 million.

How is it, again, that not having babies is the decadent choice?

But no. Instead, Douthat is playing the pious faux-feminist game.

Can it really be that having achieved so much independence and autonomy and professional success, today’s Western women have no moral interest in seeing that as many women are born into the possibility of similar opportunities tomorrow? Is the feminist revolution such a fragile thing that it requires outright population decline to fulfill its goals, and is female advancement really incompatible with the goal of a modestly above-replacement birthrate? Indeed, isn’t it just possible that a modern culture that celebrated the moral component of childrearing more fully would end up serving certain feminist ends, rather than undermining them — by making public policy more friendly to work-life balance, by putting more cultural pressure on men to be involved fathers rather than slackers and deadbeat dads, and so on?

Wait. So you’re a feminist. And according to Douthat, you’re living in something approaching the feminist utopia. So now, instead of living your ideals and maximizing the opportunities for your small set of beloved children, you should instead begin feeling your uterus quiver with desire to squirt out more babies? For some reason, I’m picturing the queen monster from Aliens with its gigantic egg-factory abdomen writhing in peristalsis as Douthat’s version of a feminist ideal. Yes, they shall spew out hordes of feminist minions who will take over the world!!!

By the way, as one of those liberals who does celebrate the moral component of childrearing, I would argue that an important component of that involves valuing individual children more, taking more time and care for each one, respecting their desires for autonomy more, and not rushing to just make more. There’s a responsibility involved in parenting, and it is not served by greater volume.

It also kind of makes me sick to see a religious conservative like Douthat trying to make an argument for something he desires, more babies, by claiming it will promote something his ilk generally oppose — liberal and progressive improvements in public policy. It’s just too dishonest.

A century of California herps

Western fence lizard, crappy phone camera shot from Stebbins’ Western Reptiles and Amphibians, Second Edition, painting by Robert C. Stebbins

One of the really cool things about being involved in the California Natural History Biz is that the science is pretty young. (In the sense of Western Science As She Is Peer-Reviewed, that is: people were studying nature in California thousands of years before it was called California.) The earliest years of plant exploration in California took place only in the late 18th century, the era of von Chamisso, of Douglas and Menzies. The California Academy of Sciences, the oldest natural history association in the Western US, was only founded in 1853 — at which point the Royal Society was older than the California Academy is now. Many of the big names in the field were working within living memory. Clinton Hart Merriam was still around in the 1940s, for instance. Edmund Jaeger, that most influential of California desert naturalists, only died in 1983, recently enough that I can feasibly resent never having met him.

I really resent not having met Bob Stebbins: we’ve talked on the phone a number of times, spent a couple of decades living within a few miles of each other, and he was kind enough to give me carte blanche to use any of his paintings in a local publication I used to edit. Missed opportunity: Bob is still around, but he’s moved from his long-time home in the Berkeley Hills to a convalescent setup in Oregon, and seeing as he has been exploring the world since March 1915, it’s understandable he doesn’t get out to socialize as much as he used to back when he was a younger man in his 80s.

Robert Cyril Stebbins has a list of publications longer than that of anyone else I can think of, but what he’s best known for is his Field Guide to Western Reptiles and Amphibians, an indispensible Peterson Field Guide for which Stebbins painted the color plates. He’s one of those frustrating people with consummate skills in multiple worlds when most of us struggle to do well in one at a time. Bob could easily have been a successful commercial artist if he hadn’t chosen to go for the big bucks as a herpetologist. He’s been officially retired from his professor job at UC Berkeley’s Museum of Vertebrate Zoology since 1978, which means that as of last year he’s been a professor emeritus longer than he was a professor nonemeritus: he started at the MVZ in 1945.

From his undergrad work to the present day he’s done as much to expand our knowledge of the California desert as anyone else, living or not, and he’s worked as much to protect that land as to study its herpetological inhabitants. He was among the people who worked to establish the East Mojave National Scenic Area, the BLM-managed precursor to the Mojave National Preserve, as a way of protecting its tortoises and other wildlife from the disruptions of industrial human society. He was especially active in working to limit off-road vehicle racing in desert wildlands, which up until the current explosion of utility-scale public lands renewable energy development was the single worst threat to desert landscapes. A bon mot from his testimony in 1987 before the Senate Subcommittee on Public Lands, National Parks, and Forests of the Committee on Energy and Natural Resources:

“Permitting widespread ORV recreation in the desert is worse than allowing recreational chain-sawing in the nation’s forests. Forests potentially can recover.The desert probably cannot.”

I’m prompted to write about Bob Stebbins because he’s been doing some writing about himself, putting together his fieldwork memoirs starting at age 95. Herpetologist Matthew Bettelheim has been, with the permission and assistance of the Stebbins family, publishing sections of those memoirs in a running column on his blog. The short pieces are fascinating, a glimpse into the last century of California herpetological field work by a man who has been at the center of that work for most of that last century. Thanks, Matthew, for making them accessible to us.

And thanks, Bob, for putting them together.

Marco Rubio backs off

Rubio has changed his mind: he now concedes that the earth is 4½ billion years old.

“There is no scientific debate on the age of the earth. I mean, it’s established pretty definitively, it’s at least 4.5 billion years old,” Rubio told Mike Allen of Politico. ”I was referring to a theological debate, which is a pretty healthy debate.”

“The theological debate is, how do you reconcile with what science has definitively established with what you may think your faith teaches,” Rubio continued. “Now for me, actually, when it comes to the age of the earth, there is no conflict.”

I’d actually agree with that statement, although I’d go on to mention that reality and faith are irreconcilable, so that theological debate is pretty damned pointless.

But of course now the Teabaggers will be gasping in horror. He is also now officially a flip-flopper.

Man, it’s got to be fun to be jockeying for a position in the 2016 presidential run…trying to simultaneously seem rational and intelligent while looking just stupid enough to appeal to the far right base.

Ignorance isn’t my ally

It’s so nice of Hank Campbell to share his lack of concern about creationism with us “simpletons”.

One of the silliest tropes in the hyped-up ‘controversy’ over evolution is that all religious people should be conflated with ‘Young Earth Creationists’.

Uh, what? Who does that? You certainly won’t catch the NCSE claiming that; you won’t even find me, rabid militant shrill atheist that I am, saying that. I’m not a fan of theistic evolutionists, but you won’t find me denying their existence.

So what does he base his belief in? Well, the recent news that Pat Robertson is an old earth creationist, a point I mocked myself — but that’s just an old story, and as I point out, this radically literalist bible-believing Christian stuff is relatively recent. But Campbell goes way too far in denial, and builds a case on his personal ignorance.

Granted, anecdotes are not data but I have never actually met a Young Earth Creationist. I know they exist but I know lots of religious people inside and outside of science and I have just never come across one of the true crazies. However, living in California I have come across all kinds of anti-science atheists who are just as creepy and nuts as any religious zealot. Because I am not a science blogger who wants to be a political one, I am not worried about evolution – Young Earth Creationists can’t even convince other Christians they aren’t batty so they are not convincing the country to make a federal standard for education and include religion in the science curriculum. If we just ignored them, they would be patronized and disregarded as harmless cranks, like they are in every civilized country where people have more interesting things to talk about.

He’s never met a YEC? Wow. What kind of bubble does he live in?

The data is available: a little less than half the American population believes that humans were created less than 10,000 years ago. The biggest creationist organization is Answers in Genesis, and I think the second biggest is the Institute for Creation Research; both explicitly insist that the earth is very young. Stroll into your local conservative mega-church and ask the pastor about the age of the universe — you’re most likely going to get a young answer. Check your local school board, and unless you’re in a very liberal region, it’s probably packed with teabaggers and the religious right.

But oh, yes, that sounds like a winning strategy: ignore them and they’ll go away. Right.

The rest of his agenda reveals his true agenda, though: he wants to argue that Democratic anti-science attitudes are worse than Republicans’, and tries to make the case that nobody ever criticizes the Democrats’ follies. Yeah, because I love Tom Harkin and hate those icky vaccinations and think every Democrat is automatically a saint of science.

But oh, no, he’s not a political blogger.

αEP: Shut up and sing!

This is one of a series of posts I’m working on over the next few days to criticize evolutionary psychology. More will be coming under the label αEP!

Recently, Bob Costas, a sports announcer, spoke out about gun control. In reply, the right wing has been in a frenzy of denunciations — he should just shut up, he’s not qualified to speak, he can’t possibly have reasonable opinions about anything other than football (of course, these same angry commentators don’t express similar opinions about Ted Nugent). It’s called Shut Up and Sing Syndrome.

Named after a Laura Ingraham book and a 2006 documentary about the harsh reaction to the Dixie Chicks’ anti-Bush comments, this syndrome condemns many Americans to believe that actors, musicians and athletes — really, anyone not deemed political “experts” — have no right to use their platform to address issues considered “political” in nature. In this case, conservatives are insisting that Costas is not merely wrong on the substance of his gun-related comments, but also that, according to the New York Times, “it was inappropriate to use the platform of an NFL telecast to make arguments concerning a hot-button issue like gun control.”

The insinuation is that as a sportscaster, he has no standing to weigh in on a political issue. In other words, like critics of outspoken athletes who tell them to “shut up and play,” critics want Costas to simply “shut up and talk only about sports.”

Sound familiar? It should. It’s a problem in more than just entertainment and politics — it’s also a problem in skepticism. What it really is is an authoritarian defense of orthodoxy that dismisses criticism unless it comes from the right kind of person — preferably one comfortably embedded deeply in the orthodox position. It’s a version of the Courtier’s Reply, only in this case it’s used to defend science, or a political position, rather than theology. Shut Up and Sing Syndrome imposes unjustifiable barriers to criticism: you don’t get to criticize the subject at hand unless, for instance, you have a Ph.D. in the relevant subject, or some other lofty credential, even if the criticism is based on obvious and trivial flaws that a layperson can see.

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