Hand washing getting repetitive?

Now you have instant options! The website “Wash Your Lyrics” will generate a poster copied from the NHS but with the lyrics to the song of your choice – automatically, no typing of lyrics whatsoever. Input the song name and artist & away you go! My first creation was based on Bikini Kill’s Tony Randall, off the album Reject All American. This is how it came out:

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Trump Administration Ordered Immigration Courts to Spread Coronavirus

Is almost literally what happened earlier today, March 9th, 2020. The National Association of Immigration Judges recommended that immigration courts display disease prevention posters in english and several other languages to protect court employees, lawyers, and attendees.

But as odd as it seems for a court to be part of the executive branch, in the case of immigration courts, they are organized under Article II powers (executive powers, thus  accountable to the president) rather than article III (judicial powers, thus accountable to the Supreme Court generally on some matters, or the Chief Justice specifically on remaining matters) because the constitution gives authority over immigration and naturalization to the executive, subject to duly passed laws.

As a result, the President has the authority to interfere with immigration courts to the extent not prohibited by law passed by Congress and signed by the President (or passed with veto-override). Apparently the President or his delegates were none too pleased that immigration judges wanted to prevent death and disease and ordered immigration courts to take the posters down:

It’s hard to explain just how heinous and shortsighted this is, but mostly because it is so obviously heinous and shortsighted. To the Trumpists who actually need this explained, I doubt comprehension will ever come.

Minnesota Gets It Right

Here’s a good use of state tax dollars for ya:

Minnesota just allocated nearly a million dollars in incentives for people to transform their lawns into bee-friendly wildflowers, clover and native grasses.

The state is asking citizens to stop spraying herbicide, stop mowing so often, and let their lawns re-wild into a more natural state.

The goal is to provide “food sources for pollinators of all kinds, but will specifically aim at saving the rusty patched bumblebee, a fat and fuzzy species on the brink of extinction

I reduced the size of the lawn when I owned my own single-detached home. I specifically replanted a good portion with wildflowers and scattered moss through a very large portion of the rest of the lawn. The moss is incredibly good in the PNW: it holds quite a lot of moisture, so the grass can’t grow very fast (and rarely goes to seed), but it also can’t dry out too much because there’s a point where the balance tips and the grass is dry enough it can steal water from the moss instead of the other way round.

Moss doesn’t work everywhere, and neither do prairie plants, but looking for the plants native to your area before human development and planting them can make your land (should you have any) more beautiful and lower-maintenance. Sure, it might mean that less area is available for soccer or picnics, but is that what you were using the yard for before? And are there no nearby parks in which to do those things? At my old house, I was one block away from a manicured city park with lots and lots of grass. There was no need to keep any at my house. (I really did so only because of local laws that at the time prohibited natural yardscapes b/c neighbors were worried about their lawns getting weeds from untended properties.

Cthulhu Found In The Depths – UPDATED!

In the Proceedings of the Royal Academy B tomorrow (later today for those a few hours ahead of me) there will be an article announcing the description and naming of a new critter, Sollasina cthulhu. Related to the sea cucumber, Sollasina is definitely ancient at ~430my old, squarely in the middle of the Silurian. As a benthic scavenger and/or grazer, it was also definitely lurking in the deeps, though perhaps no more than a couple hundred meters at most. NewAtlas has a popular article up right now, including this artist’s reconstruction created by Elissa Martin at the Peabody Museum, Yale:

Elissa Martin’s artistic reconstruction of Sollasina cthulhu. Credit: Peabody Museum, Yale

 

Expect public access to the Proceedings B paper to go live within the next few hours. For now, you’ll just have to make do with that link to Proceedings B’s recent articles and hope it shows up. There is currently no word on the sanity of the paleontologists who originally uncovered the specimen or the preparators who spent countless hours staring into its tentacle-dominated face.

 


 

UPDATE: The paper is out!

The title is exactly what you’d expect from someone driven mad by the thing:

A new ophiocistioid with soft-tissue preservation from the Silurian Herefordshire Lagerstätte, and the evolution of the holothurian body plan

Dig in!

 

Hunter/Gatherer Serial Killers: Guess who hunts their victims & who gathers them…

Oy.

There’s a new paper out by Marissa Harrison (of Penn State) et. al. collected historical data on the crimes of 112 murderers who killed 3 or more people with at least one week between each murder (killing more quickly did not disqualify one so long as there were at least 3 periods of single/multiple murder that were separated from all other periods of single/multiple murder by a full week on each side). 55 of the killers were women. This is the all but 9 of the women serial killers in the US from 1821 to 2008 – at least that they could find. From the men serial killers during that period they selected “matches” of the women subjects. “Matches” here means that they were approximately equivalent to their women counterparts on certain variable which the researchers wanted to control.

Then they ran some criminological statistics on the gender-separated populations & looked for differences. The resulting research was published in the Journal of Forensic Psychiatry & Psychology. NewAtlas, reporting on the study, tells us that:

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Andy Lewis Is A Stable Genius Who Wishes You Morans Would Get A Brian

So, I deliberately stayed out of PZ’s When humanists go bad thread. But y’know, I didn’t realize it had gone on quite this long. When I saw a spate of comments all directed to that thread, however, I had to check in again just to know what is keeping that thread alive.

The answer? Andy Lewis.

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Science Magazine is Failing Us

Science journalism is failing us in important ways. This post will be far shorter than I might like it to be, but I want it to be readable, and in any case I plan on following up soon with more information and also, I hope, a detailed action plan.

Here I simply want to point out a single article. In another post, I’ll also be discussing an article on the dismissal of Francisco Ayala from UC Irvine and the pattern of sexual harassment that led to that dismissal. But right now, let’s tackle an interesting article with a headline that is … terrible, in ways we will investigate later. The headline reads thus:

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What Constitutes A Tool? Orca Are Freuding Amazing Edition

So, apparently some folks have known about this for a long time, but I just came across a reference to orca gathering together several members of a pod who then swim, dive, and surge synchronously to produce a wave displacing several tons of water.

Why would they do that? Well, it turns out it’s a good way for orca to wash prey animals who rest on ice floes – mainly seals – off the safety of their floating islands and into the open water where the orca can eat them.

Here’s one video which culminates in three orca using the strategy:

 

However, there are others. I came across a 45 minute TV program that would be inconvenient to use in demonstrating the tactic. Still if you’re willing to scan through and find it, you can see five orca swimming, diving, & surging synchronously to form a massive wave. While synchronized action isn’t unusual in the animal kingdom (think of birds migrating in V formations or schools of fish turning in near-unison among other things), this involves not only planning, but very possibly also either communicating a plan to one’s companions or, even more spectacularly, a theory of mind where the means to communicate a plan are absent, but other orca recognize what one orca is attempting to achieve in the future, then thinking about how to enhance the success of that other animal’s plan. Thinking from that other animal’s perspective, if that’s what’s happening, is a stupendous intellectual feat.

It would not be the only time one can see theory of mind operating in non-human animals, but the operation of theory of mind is rare.

And yet, the thing that completely disarms me intellectually is the thought that in this instance, the very water in which they swim has probably been rendered into a tool, which would challenge the very definition of the word. Wikipedia’s discussion of tool use by animals has a brief discussion of the difficulties inherent in defining “tool”. The first example they present, though, is sufficient to the point:

The external employment of an unattached or manipulable attached environmental object to alter more efficiently the form, position, or condition of another object, another organism, or the user itself, when the user holds and directly manipulates the tool during or prior to use and is responsible for the proper and effective orientation of the tool.

Is the seawater an “environmental object” or the orca’s environment itself? I’m not sure, but this is an incredible bit of cooperative hunting a raises a great many questions about orca, their intelligence, and even the nature of tool use itself.