Multicellularity, male privilege and also I need $10 million.

I watched the vid of my colleagues here at FtB, Matt Herron of Fierce Roller and PZ Myers of Tentacly Overlord infamy, discussing some very cool science-y stuff about the evolution of multicellularity. One of the most interesting takeaways for me is that it had long been thought that evolving multicellularity would be an exceedingly rare and difficult jump to make. But it has been discovered, only in the last five to ten years, that this is actually relatively easy and common:

Matt (@3:51): I think there’s been sort of a natural assumption that it has to be difficult. And maybe it is difficult to evolve a complex multicellular organism, with lots and lots of cell types and tissues and maybe even organs, because that hasn’t happened very many times. But Rick Grossberg has a paper where he argues basically what we’ve found, which is that at least the initial steps towards a multicellular lifestyle really aren’t that difficult. It’s happened lots of times that we know of, at least a couple of dozen times, and probably more because in a lot of cases these things don’t leave any fossil record. It is surprising, compared to what people thought five or ten years ago, that multicellularity evolves so easily, but now we’ve seen it in several of these experiments. And in a lot of cases it happens within just a few hundred generations.

OMG cool, right?

Then they touch on the intersection of philosophy and biology, and specifically the question of what exactly constitutes an individual organism, as opposed to, say, a colony of creatures that appear to function as one. I don’t know about you, but this kind of stuff really gets my beanie spinning. I am reminded of my unfortunate encounter with a species known as Physalia physalis, a.k.a. the “floating terror,” a.k.a. the Atlantic Portuguese man o’ war, which I would henceforth (and forevermore) refer to as a “sea squirrel.” Despite its similarity in appearance to the common jellyfish—an individual multicellular organism that will also sting the everloving shit out of you if given a chance—it turns out that the Sea Squirrel™ is actually something very different:

[T]he Portuguese man o’ war is not a jellyfish but a siphonophore, which, unlike jellyfish, is not actually a single multicellular organism, but a colonial organism made up of specialized individual animals called zooids or polyps. These polyps are attached to one another and physiologically integrated to the extent that they are unable to survive independently, and therefore have to work together and function like a so-called individual animal.

Mind: blown.

These weird little fuckers are carnivorous, wielding their wickedly venomous tentacles to paralyze prey (e.g. small fish), and to inflict upon barefoot beachwalkers excruciating pain even after they are long dead (the sea squirrels, not the beachwalkers).

Detached tentacles and dead specimens (including those that wash up on shore) can sting just as painfully as the live organism in the water and may remain potent for hours or even days after the death of the organism or the detachment of the tentacle.

And I would be remiss if I did not mention an interesting cephalopod angle here. Blanket octopuses are immune to sea squirrel venom, which is an amazing enough trick to evolve. But these cephalopods go waaaaaay beyond that: they rip the venomous tentacles right off of those critters (hopefully while mocking them mercilessly), and then they carry the tentacles around with them to wield as weapons for defensive (and possibly offensive) purposes. Now that is some serious next level shit, blanket octopuses! I mean, can you just picture that? Because I sure can!

Octopus Wielding Sea Squirrel™ Tentacles Against Douchefish.
©Iris Vander Pluym
8′ x 11′
(oil on canvas)
$10,000,000.00

But! I digress. As beanie-spinning as all of this clearly is (as evidenced by the foregoing blather), it has absolutely nothing to do with the subject of this post.

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Your liberal media: scolding the lefties and normalizing Trump.

A few years ago I somehow got myself involuntarily added to the distribution list for a Washington Post email brief called PowerPost: The Daily 202 (byline: “Morning intelligence for leaders.” LOL.)

daily202

I used to scan the thing along with my other daily updates, but I rarely found content interesting enough to think about (much less write about). See, these 202 peeps are the embodiment of modern corporate “journalism” in the 21st century US of A. They seem to fancy themselves “objective”—you know, all fair-n-balanced like—which is to say they are so far up the ass of the status quo they can see Chuck Schumer’s tonsils.

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Jeezus is just not selling me on this one.

I take tremendous pride in my half-assed, poorly executed, semi-regular attempts to extract $82 billion worth of benefits per year from the Religion-Industrial-Complex on behalf of atheist U.S. taxpayers. I find this to be a worthwhile endeavor not only as a stinging retort to the appalling injustice of $82 billion in yearly taxpayer subsidies to the R-I-C, but also because I thoroughly enjoy mocking one particular church sign in the small town in Northern Maryland where my mother lives. Granted, it may not provide the full $82 billion in amusement value. But we have to start somewhere, people.

Today’s church sign does not disappoint.

churchsignprescool

THE BEST THINGS IN
LIFE AREN’T THINGS
PRESCOOL
ENROLLING NOW

TRINITY WORSHIP 9&11

Now let me underscore here that literacy privilege is A Thing, and generally speaking we should not mock those who do not have it. Earth is home to an astonishing number of amazing and interesting people whose ideas are well worth engaging, even if spelling and grammar are not their personal forte. This could be true for any number of reasons that come to mind readily enough: learning disabilities; neurocognitive effects of injury, illness or environmental toxins; poor nutrition; mental illness, including trauma from homelessness or abuse; and of course late exposure to non-native English. But here in these exceptional United States we have another problem. My friend CaitieCat explains:

Particularly in a US context, where educational options are very strongly influenced by class (and race, in an intertwined manner), riding the xenophobes for misspelling ‘illegals’ as ‘illeagles’, or “Muslim” as “muslin”, what we’re saying is, “You should have been smart enough to get yourself born to the right kind of parents, who’d give you access to the best education, who were educated themselves enough to teach you ‘proper’ English, and who were rich enough to make sure you never had to work after school instead of studying!”

So yeah, let’s not do that. Tempting as it may be to go after the low-hanging fruit, we can and we damn well should mock xenophobes for being racist and conservative and terrible entitled assholes. This way, the splash damage splatters all over racists and conservatives and terrible entitled assholes, not shitty spellers. Really, that’s the very least of our problems with these humans.

With all that said, if you accept (tax-free!) tuition money to indoctrinate educate 3- and 4-year old kids, and your curriculum explicitly states “Our students are exposed to structured centers enhancing emergent literacy skills (reading & writing),” WE GET TO FUCKING MOCK YOU FOR SPELLING PRESCHOOL WRONG.

Have a nice day.

Face-punching for social justice: real vs. rhetorical.

[CONTENT NOTE: discussion of violence, violent and bigoted slurs and “jokes”.]

Via my amazing friend Niki at The Orbit comes this news: George Zimmerman punched in face for bragging about killing Trayvon Martin, witnesses allege.

SANFORD, Fla. — The man who said he shot unarmed teenager Trayvon Martin in self-defense said he was punched in the face while he was talking to people at a restaurant in Sanford over the weekend.

George Zimmerman and a friend called 911 after a man accusing him of bragging about the fatal shooting punched him in the face, authorities said.

Zimmerman is considered the victim in this case, but witnesses inside Gators Riverside restaurant told authorities that the problem started because Zimmerman was bragging about killing the unarmed teen in 2012.

Witnesses said they overheard Zimmerman say to someone, “I love your tattoos. My name is George Zimmerman, you know, that guy who killed Trayvon Martin?” Witness said Zimmerman also showed his identification card.

I commented at Niki’s (awaiting moderation at the time of this posting), but I wanted to expand on that and clarify a little bit here.

I admit to feeling a certain amount of righteous satisfaction from this incident. If there is anyone who deserves a punch in the face, it’s George fucking Zimmerman. Taking a step back though, I wish it was the rhetorical equivalent of violence, and not actual violence. Neither Trayvon’s murder nor Zimmerman’s acquittal happened in a vacuum; they happened in a culture where violence is normalized, expected, and in the case of “stand your ground” laws, practically encouraged.

For example, I’d love to see bros getting right in Zimmerman’s face and telling him to STFU or GTFO of every. single. place. he ever enters, making it perfectly clear that he is an unwelcome pariah there, and that there are unpleasant consequences for him, in the real world, as a result of his (right-wing) views and violent actions.

The problem is that this almost never happens. And not just with Zimmerman, but with all conservative douches. They feel perfectly entitled to occupy and dominate any and all public spaces, freely spouting barbaric and counterfactual nonsense, with nary a peep to counter them. Ever. And why wouldn’t they? Sure, there may be a few eyerolls and whispers, but never any real, unpleasant consequences. Quite the opposite, actually: HIGH FIVE, BRO. And like every bully and oppressor, they will always interpret the silence of bystanders as agreement, thereby reinforcing the legitimacy of their unconscionable views in a perpetual bubble of support and encouragement. It’s what I call “conservative privilege.”

I want a world where every time some douchebro (or douchesis?) spews something racist, sexist, homophobic, transantagonistic, ableist, rapey, deadly, dehumanizing, etc. etc., some other coolbro (ideally coolbros and coolsisses) shuts that shit down immediately with CBF (Cat Butt Face) and “STFU or GTFO.” And since I’m fantasizing, with a heavy dose of scathing mockery.

__________

DOUCHEBRO: Look at that fucking n*gger.

COOLBRO(S): WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. You sound like a racist piece of shit. Don’t ever say that word around here.

__________

DOUCHEBRO: Look at that fucking d*ke/f*ggot.

COOLBRO(S): WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. You sound like a homophobic piece of shit. Don’t ever say that word around here.

__________

DOUCHEBRO: Look at that fucking r*tard.

COOLBRO(S): WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. You sound like an ableist piece of shit. Don’t ever say that word around here.

__________

DOUCHEBRO: That hot chick looks totally wasted. I’ma drive that home and hit that. Heh.

COOLBRO(S): WHAT THE FUCK IS WRONG WITH YOU. That’s rape, you disgusting piece of shit. If I see you go anywhere near her I will have you thrown out of here. [BONUS: alerts bartender and checks on woman to ensure she has safe way home.]

__________

That is how culture shifts.

We will probably always have violent bigots of every stripe among us. We cannot afford to legitimize them. That is precisely what makes the Trump candidacy so dangerous. [<- TW for every goddamn thing at that link.]

Korryn Gaines #SayHerName #BlackLivesMatter

The following is a post by my friend and Freethought Blogs colleague Nathan Hevenstone. Nate requested that it be reposted far and wide. I am happy to oblige.

__________

Just when I thought I could start posting lighter stuff…

Cops shoot, kill woman barricaded with little boy wounded in Baltimore standoff (I don’t know if the video in the link shows the shooting… I can’t get it to play. I’m sorry. Be wary just in case.)

In a fit of road rage, Anthony Vigilotti pointed a handgun directly at a police officer, but was arrested later that day without incident. From his mugshot, it doesn’t even look like he received a scratch in the process.

Jed Frazier pointed his handgun directly at police, but “officers and medics took shelter and continued to make contact with Frazier. Shortly before 3 a.m. Police say they broke the windows in the truck and extricated Frazier. Frazier was treated for minor injuries before being taken to the Lawrence County Jail.”

In a quick search, I found a dozen similar stories from July alone. White men, be they mass shooters like Dylann Roof (Charleston), James Holmes (Aurora), or Jared Lee Loughner (Tucson) — or men like William Bruce Ray, Anthony Vigilotti, or Jed Frazier — all live to face a jury of their peers.

Korryn Gaines doesn’t have a violent history. She was a cosmetologist and, according to her friends and family, a doting mother. She should’ve received the treatment that all of those armed white men received. Somehow, in each of those cases, police found in their hearts to overcome their fears without unloading their guns on those men.

That’s white privilege.

It should be noted that at least 682 people have been murdered by the police this year.

korryngaines

Korryn Gaines posing with her son over her back. Both look very happy.

I really want to say more. I’d like to say how enraged I am, how every time I post something like this, I do it through tears. And that is 100% true. I’m in tears now.

But so fucking what? What do my rage and my tears accomplish?

For those who are already dead, nothing.

I can support Black Lives Matter, and they are still dead.

I can post about them, and they are still dead.

I can show pictures of them being people, and they are still dead.

I can vote, and they are still dead.

I can donate money, and they are still dead.

I can talk about my white privilege, and they are still dead.

I can get out in the streets, and they are still dead.

These people, whose lives did fucking matter, at least to me, are now dead, never to see their children grow up, never to see or meet their grandchildren, or great grandchildren, never to see how there lives would progress into the future…

Because they were murdered by the damn state. Everything I try to do to make some kind of small change, to support a future where this doesn’t happen, doesn’t help the ones who are already dead.

But it can help those who are still alive, and still in danger. I can at least do something for all of you still breathing because, so far, the cops have seen fit to let you live.

God I’m sorry. It means nothing, but I’m sorry. We white people have to make it stop. Things have to change. And I’ll keep using my privilege and my platform to speak up, for those of you who are still alive, because your lives DO FUCKING MATTER. And until this country accepts that, I won’t stop saying it.

 ________

Thank you, Nate.

blacklivesmatter

Conservatives ruining everything as usual, this time in Michigan.

[CONTENT NOTE: sexual harassment, assault and rape.]

Well this is an interesting story:

The battle over Michigan State University’s women-only lounge began with a rival school’s male professor.

Mark Perry, who teaches economics at the University of Michigan’s Flint campus, had stumbled upon a news story about the 91-year-old room in MSU’s sprawling student union. “They’d written about what a great space this is for women,” Perry said. “They can go in and take a nap and not be worried about being bothered.”

So a d00d professor at a different college read about this great space for women at MSU, a place where they can relax and study without worry of being harassed by—let’s be clear here—men. And he said to himself, “Wow, I’m so glad for the women of MSU. I wonder how I can help institute the same thing here at University of Michigan?”

Hahaha. I’m just kidding.

He figured it couldn’t be legal. Banning men from a taxpayer-funded study area, Perry thought, could violate Title IX, a federal law meant to protect gender equality on college campuses. So he contacted the school. Nothing changed. He sent a complaint to the Michigan Department of Civil Rights in June, but the department would not accept it because Perry had not personally endured discrimination.

Professor Perry’s Civil Rights™ were totally being violated at a different university where he neither attended nor worked. Won’t someone think of the discrimination this man did not endure?

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Erasure and Victorian women.

I first started giving more thought to the phenomenon of erasure in 2013, after hearing talks from Susan Jacoby and Jennifer Michael Hecht at CFI’s Women in Secularism 2 conference (yes, that one). Both presentations touched on the stories and accomplishments of women being written out of narratives in favor of men’s, a well-documented and observable manifestation of male privilege. A woman’s erasure turns out to be even more likely when she is a nonbeliever or otherwise unorthodox (Christian/conservative privilege); similarly, atheist men also tend to be erased from historical narratives in favor of believers (same).

Erasure of racial, sexual and other minorities should be too obvious to need mentioning, but I will mention a few off of the top of my head*:

As with all modes of privilege, for those with intersectional identities the likelihood of erasure is compounded. And as with all modes of privilege, erasure is self-perpetuating.

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