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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News from the Texas Republic of Gilead.

Via AP:

AUSTIN, Texas (AP) — Lawmakers in Texas largely failed to take any significant action to address the state’s skyrocketing rate of pregnancy-related deaths just months after researchers found it to be the highest in not only the U.S., but the developed world.

Conservatives are pro-life, everyone. FYI.

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He seems nice.

[CONTENT NOTE: state violence, brutality and death]


David Clarke speaking at the 2016 Conservative Political Action Conference (CPAC) in National Harbor, Maryland.
[image: Gage Skidmore/CC 2.0]

Trump Nominates Actual Fascist David Clarke for Department of Homeland Security

Words like fascist and authoritarian get thrown around too promiscuously. But there is no other way to describe David Clarke, who today announced that he was named assistant secretary of the Department of Homeland Security…Clarke occupies the extremist, anti-democratic fringe of far-right officials, even by the standards of the Trump administration.

O.o  That certainly got my attention, particularly in an article written by Jonathan Chait, a pundit as conservative as Squirrel People conservative Democrats come.

Or so I thought.

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I’m becoming an Irish pagan!

OMFG you guys! I cannot help but think that I have found among the Irish pagans the place where I truly belong!

When I read the email exchanges posted by Pagan Federation Ireland on their Facebook page, I shouted hallelujah! (<-It’s a relic of my xtian upbringing. Obviously, I will have to learn what my new fellow Irish pagans are supposed to shout in similar situations.)

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Honoring Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

It has become my tradition on this day of remembrance to post the text of a speech delivered by Dr. King on April 4, 1967 at Manhattan’s Riverside Church entitled Beyond Vietnam: A Time to Break Silence (audio recording here), along with a short commentary about why I believe these words are so important. The speech is truly magnificent, yet it tends to be given short shrift relative to other works of the slain civil rights leader.

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Gangs of New York.

Over at The Nation, Simon Davis-Cohen has a piece up that will surprise no one who follows #blacklivesmatter. What’s new here, at least to me, is not the NYPD’s over-the-top militarization, or the disproportionate targeting of communities of color for aggressive over-policing. It’s not even that in the United States of La-La-Land, the criminal justice system does not work the way we whites think it does, the way were propagandized to believe it does. It’s that as the system’s tactics morph, new and different harms continue to befall these communities in unexpected—and unexpectedly devastating—ways. With apologies to our cephalopod friends for the unfair comparison, the tentacles of state violence are constantly shape-shifting without reason, compassion or constraint.

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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.]