We have a new house! Kinda sorta.

We live in a somewhat unfashionably old house — not old enough to be exotic, but old enough to be a bit, well, shabby. That’s exactly the right word for it. It was built in the late 1940s by the Wohler family, who were sort of a big deal in these parts, since they owned the most important bar in town, the Old #1. It was sold shortly afterwards to Ed LaFave, a banker, who was also one of the civic leaders who led the effort to get the University of Minnesota Morris built here, in the late 1950s and 60s. So anyway, we’re sort of connected to small town royalty through this house.

LaFave had bought it for his mother — his home was across the street — and she lived her for several decades, which means, of course, that our home is known as Granny LaFave’s House to all the locals. That’s fine, none of the subsequent tenants, including us, have had her endurance, so she earned it. Unfortunately, while the interior was quite nice, the exterior had gotten a bit run down over the years. Here’s what it looked like a few years ago.

There’d been a few poor attempts at tidying it up. One of the worst was that it was covered with nice cedar shakes, but they were painted over white, and that paint was flaking off, and some of the windows were in less than pristine shape, and there were those odd wooden strakes protruding over the windows (I think they used to have some kind of screening over them) that were simply falling off.

So this summer we hired a contractor to give it a complete make-over.

We had the old shakes stripped off and replaced with siding. New windows everywhere, with better insulation. The deck was resurfaced. Some of the stonework was patched up. Now it looks completely different!

Strangely, at the same time all this was going on, the county sent us a notice that they’d decided, for some obscure reason, to change our house number from 300 College Avenue to 209 College Avenue, so now we can pretend we’ve moved to a completely different house with none of the hassle of actually having to move the contents.

Oops. I just doxxed myself.

I made a brief video of walking around the house. Most of you won’t care, but I’m sending this to family — this is the house where my youngest two kids grew up, so they might be curious.

Right now, the interior is cluttered because we had to pull everything away from the walls (because they were doing some major work with new windows), and most of our posessions are piled up in our living room. One of the things we’ll be doing this long Thanksgiving weekend is de-cluttering and moving everything back to where it belongs.

Also, most importantly…that room with the bay windows used to be our daughter’s bedroom, and I’m taking over. We had the interior redone (most importantly: grounded 3 prong outlets everywhere), and I’ll be setting that up as my home office. Yay! Electronics will be neatly organized, I’ll have a quiet writing space, and it’ll have wonderful light!

No, the house is not up for sale, and this is not an advertisement. We’re planning to stay here a good long while yet.

Rules for Gentlemen

Actually, the Rules for Gentlemen are the same as they’ve always been, but unfortunately, there has been one major change: all the get-out-of-jail-free cards have been cancelled. Rendered null and void. Deleted. They aren’t making any more. If you try waving one, it’ll just make you look more corrupt — what made you ever think you deserved an exemption?

So I’m going to be specific. We don’t get to make these excuses ever again.

  • The autistic/mentally ill exemption. Ugh. Gross. Do not ever pull a James Damore and blame your bad behavior and ignorance on autism. Autism doesn’t turn you into an asshole. Neither does mental illness. You don’t get to drag down a lot of innocent people with you and increase their stigma to save your butt.

  • We men are such lovable klutzes. Wrong. Pretending to be ignorant of the rules of normal human behavior isn’t lovable at all. Especially since 5 minutes after you beg unawareness of how to do laundry and complain about the impossibility of navigating the complex social mores of interacting with feeemales, you’re going to hop on the internet and brag about how your sex includes Alexander the Great, Gutenberg, and the guy who invented http among its members.

  • It’s our Man Genes. Nope. There are no such things as Man Genes that dictate your behavior. From the raw material of our genetics, society constructed Socrates, Marcus Aurelius, Leonardo da Vinci, Charles Darwin, and Nelson Mandela. People are complicated and your naive reductionism is noted and dismissed as stupid.

  • The she-was-a-slut excuse. The grossest. It doesn’t matter if she posed for Playboy, had sex with the Philadelphia Eagles, and was standing naked in front of you coated in lube — if she says no, if she doesn’t give consent, you don’t have an invitation to demand so much as a kiss. Her sexual history does not give you liberty to take liberties. I don’t understand why, but this seems to be extraordinarily hard for some people to grasp.

  • But it was only once! It’s never only once. But even if it was that miraculously solitary, incredibly rare, unusual exception of an event, it doesn’t matter. The harm was done. We don’t get permission to run a stop light just once, or to commit murder just once — you don’t get a crime punchcard that lets you off the hook once for each error of judgment.

  • The punishment is too severe. All right, I sort of sympathize with this one — we seem to find ourselves in a world where the only choices are “look the other way” or “nuke it from orbit”, with no gradations in between. But the problem is…we built that world. We looked the other way for everything shy of cannibal baby rape, and our failure to respond to constant escalation of harassment means we haven’t created an appropriate social response to all those intermediate offenses. We put off paying the prices for millennia, and it’s all finally coming due.

  • OK, but I’ll get to pick my penance. Sneaky. You’ll request an ethics review of your actions. By your peers. Who are almost all men. Who include a majority of Republicans. It is very brave to be willing to abide by their judgment, when you know the outcome will be a pat on the back, apologies for dragging you through this process, and uninterrupted resumption of your privilege. Christ, we saw Jeff Sessions glide through his pro forma hearing, suffering only a little finger wagging and ending up…still the attorney general of the whole goddamned United States.

Got it, gentlemen? Pull out your wallet and dump out all those cards granting you exemptions, splash them with a wee bit of your whisky, and set them on fire. You can sit back and sip the remainder of the bottle while weeping — that’s fine. You probably feel naked and vulnerable now, just like everyone else. It’s extremely uncomfortable.

Maybe we can start from scratch and build more equitable principles for dealing with others that gives all of us some protection.

A mirror held up to who we are

Wow. Tom Björklund has been making these amazing paintings to humanize Neandertals. Here are a few examples:

It doesn’t take much — a father teaching his child, a flower in the hair — to wrench one away from the usual distanced view we have of dead bones and stone tools. These were people.

I’d like to see a similar approach to australopithecines. We can see emotions in a chimpanzee — you know that Lucy had just as rich a repertoire of feelings as they do. We can only imagine how they expressed them.

A different version of the Onion Test

The denizens of 4chan/pol have got it into their tiny little heads that the way to Save Western Civilization is for them increase their testosterone levels. There are a few little problems with that idea: they haven’t made the connection between “more testosterone” and “civilization”, and given that testosterone is an extremely common steroidal hormone in all vertebrates, and that bears get rather high testosterone levels without building cities and discovering writing, any connection would be tenuous. But apparently they’re fixated on this idea about manliness, and are looking for ways to naturally elevate their testosterone, and so have started consuming onions.

Wait, why onions? There’s another tenuous connection. Onions are high in antioxidants that help break down free radicals, free radicals are produced in greater volumes in metabolically active cells, some very active cells are sperm cell precursors that are dividing rapidly, so we should eat onions to preserve our precious Western male bodily fluids! There have been serious studies on this subject, and I found one in Experimental Biology and Medicine that reports a substantial increase in sexual activity in rats fed onion juice.

Onion (Allium cepa) is one of the most commonly cultivated species of the family Liliaceae, and has long been used in dietary and therapeutic applications. Treatment with fresh onion juice has been reported to promote testosterone production in male rats. Testosterone is the male sex hormone responsible for enhancing sexual libido and potency. This study aimed to investigate the effects of onion juice on copulatory behavior of sexually potent male rats and in male rats with paroxetine-induced sexual dysfunction. Sexually experienced male rats were divided into seven groups: a control group, three onion juice-treated groups, a paroxetine-treated group, and two groups treated with paroxetine plus different doses of onion juice. At the end of the treatments, sexual behavior parameters and testosterone levels were measured and compared among the groups. Administration of onion juice significantly reduced mount frequency and latency and increased the copulatory efficacy of potent male rats. In addition, administration of onion juice attenuated the prolonged ejaculatory latency period induced by paroxetine and increased the percentage of ejaculating rats. Serum testosterone levels increased significantly by onion juice administration. However, a significant reduction in testosterone because of paroxetine therapy was observed. This reduction was restored to normal levels by administration of onion juice. This study conclusively demonstrates that fresh onion juice improves copulatory behavior in sexually potent male rats and in those with paroxetine-induced sexual dysfunction by increasing serum testosterone levels.

So, in this one study, they found that rats who were juiced on onions had sex more often (and more quickly, but let’s gloss over that). I guess if you think ejaculating rats is a good proxy for civilization, that might be suggestive.

Except…

Don’t tell /pol/ this, they might panic…

The authors of the study are…Mohammed Z Allouh, Haytham M Daradka, Mohammed M Al Barbarawi, and Ayman G Mustafa. This might throw them over the edge. They’re already suspecting that they’re being tricked into gnawing on raw onions.

Should we tell them there are different varieties of onions, and not all of them are as sharp or astringent as the ones they’re suffering with? My father used to eat raw onions — but they were varieties like the Walla Walla Sweet onion, which as you might guess from the name, has a gentler flavor. He was also civilized and manly, which meant kind, supportive, and hard-working. I don’t think that’s the kind of civilized those guys are aiming for, though.

One is not supposed to speak ill of the dead

So I would like to point out that Charles Manson never:

  • poisoned Indian lands with a leaky oil pipeline;

  • invited and enabled the slaughter of elephants;

  • built cheesy gilded hotels and casinos;

  • ripped off the contractors who built his hotels;

  • voted for tax breaks for the obscenely rich;

  • conspired with the Russians to subvert elections;

  • got elected to congress;

  • appointed far right conservatives to the Supreme Court;

  • or was elected president.

I’m still glad the old monster is dead.

I expressed myself about Genesis: Paradise Lost


In case you don’t want to listen to a whole half hour of this, here’s my concluding statement:

Look. I’m an atheist. This stuff plays directly into my hands — if your religion demands that every statement in your holy book must be absolutely, inarguably true, and that your entire faith hinges on a complete lack of metaphor, poetry, allusion, and analogy in that book — that it is as dry and literal and factual as a table of measures in an engineering text — then I’ve got you. I am going to win over your children to my side, and you know it.

As an atheist, I’m often told that I don’t understand your religion. But I do. I understand it better than the fanatical literalists, anyway. Religion has a long history of struggling to reconcile reality and belief, to find humanity’s place in a largely unknown and complex and frequently hostile universe. If there is any saving grace in faith at all, it is that it is an attempt to find a rock of certainty in the unpredictable chaos of life — it is aspirational, a search for truth. As such, religion changes over time. It evolves.

Where it fails is when people like Ham and the Hovinds give up on the search and the struggle and decide that they have an absolute lock on an irrevocable and ultimate truth, one that will no longer bend to the evidence, that will no longer care about the nature of reality, but only the nature of one antique interpretation of the words of a book. They will not change any more. They will cling stubbornly to this one unmoving stone of dogma, and they will insist that everything else is wrong. They will close their eyes and grasp tighter and tighter to that one illusion of certainty as it crumbles around them. By refusing to bend, they commit themselves to someday breaking.

The movie goes on like this for another hour and a half: more tiresome and tired old creationist arguments interspersed with brief episodes of bad CGI accompanied by a slow, lugubrious voice of god. It ends with another 10 or 15 minutes of fast cuts between their cast members, all testifying and preachifying about the glory of god and how lovely Jesus makes them feel.

It just makes me terribly sad. These are lost minds committed to battling against the real world.

A delicate exercise

It must be tricky to critique flat Earth stories, which are risibly goofy and in defiance of the evidence, when you personally believe in young Earth stories, which are just as idiotic, but Danny Faulkner of Answers in Genesis tries. He attended a flat earth conference, and what’s remarkable about his essay is how gingerly he treads. Make no mistake, Faulkner does not believe in this flat earth crap, he gives a few specific criticisms of some of their rationalizations, and it is not currently the policy of Answers in Genesis to support flat earth claims (they say the Bible does not claim the Earth is flat), but give them time — if flat-earthers become numerous enough to be fleeced, expect even more niceness from AiG.

It’s just the irony of it all. Faulkner was getting a little taste of how loony these fringe Bible kooks look to the rest of us, with their weird claims that flout all the evidence, but are fervently held solely because they connect them to their religious beliefs. No, the Bible doesn’t flat out state that the Earth is flat, but it is a reasonably inferred part of the mythology, and there are all kinds of hints that the ancient authors modeled the world that way; it also doesn’t come right out and say that the Earth is only 6000 years old, but it is also clear that the ancient authors had no concept of deep time, and so AiG has inferred and imposed a set of interpretations on the Bible that bolster their preferred preconceptions. There is no difference between flat-earthers and young-earthers in their methodology or their biases or their abuse of science.

There’s also the lack of perspective. I’ve attended creationist events, and this is exactly what they sound like: disappointingly vague, reliant entirely on religious testimonies and that damnable Christian persecution complex.

I was a bit disappointed by the content of the conference. I had expected that I would hear and see information about flat-earth that I hadn’t encountered already, but that wasn’t the case. Many of the presentations largely were personal testimonies of how people had come to believe in flat earth. Hence, I didn’t learn much about the flat-earth model that I didn’t already know. However, I did learn much about the flat-earth movement itself. In conversations and in the presentations, I learned how people came to lose jobs, friends, and even family members once they, in their own words, “came out of the closet about flat earth.” Therefore, many of the people in attendance clearly viewed the meeting as a safe refuge where they could meet ostracized people like themselves. This clearly brought joy to many attendees, and I suppose the last thing these people would do would be to castigate someone in their midst who isn’t a flat-earther, provided that person behaved as a guest.

I’ve never seen a creationist talk that wasn’t thickly larded with personal testimonies about their religious beliefs, that didn’t end with pious ranting about Jesus, and that wasn’t full of offended indignation that those wicked seculars wouldn’t let them preach the Gospel in public schools.

If you want some real fun, Faulkner mentions this nice flat-earther he met, named Noel Hadley. He’s a hoot. He thinks Francis Crick learned about the structure of DNA from LSD-fueled sex parties, Peruvian shamans, ancient Egyptians, and snake myths.

But let’s not forget, the Egyptians also had a part in Crick’s discovery. Did Pharaoh not wear a cobra on his crown as a symbol of the divine word and third eye—the pineal gland—by which true hidden knowledge might be discovered to the devoted initiate? In his book, The Secret in the Bible, author Tony Bushby suggests the capstone of the Great Pyramid was once a clear crystal or glass that produced a visible beacon of light from its apex. He writes: “Whenever a light is shone down into a glass pyramid in exact scale or proportion as the Great Pyramid, a ‘Rainbow Serpent’ is created. The light provides a type of force or energy that, in turn, creates the vertical spiral of light, a serpent upraised, invisible in rock, but visible in a clear substance. That is what the Ancient Egyptian Priesthood meant when they said, ‘A serpent lies coiled in the Great Pyramid.’” Bushby’s conclusion is as you might now suspect. The Rainbow Serpent, directly referenced by the priesthood, was a double helix like representing Francis Crick’s strand of DNA.

Every continent seems to have a role in ancient serpent worship. Claude Lévi-Strauss writes of the Aztecs: “In Aztec, the word coatl means both ‘serpent’ and ‘twin.’ The name Quetzalcoatl can thus be interpreted either as ‘Plumed serpent’ or ‘Magnificent twin.’” Throughout shamanic religions, from Australia to Tibet and eastern Asia, back into Egypt again, throughout Africa, and finally North and South America, visions of “spiral ladders” or “braided ropes” cannot be overlooked either. Authors Mircea Eliade, Willard R. Trask, and Wendy Doniger write in Shamanism: Archaic Techniques of Ecstasy, “the symbolism of the rope, like that of the ladder, necessarily implies communication between sky and earth. It is by means of a rope or a ladder (as, too, by a vine, a bridge, a chain of arnyaw, etc.) that the gods descend to earth and men go up to the sky.”

Right. The guy who illustrated his article with this abomination knows a lot about DNA.

Danny Faulkner, meet Noel Hadley. You two are indistinguishably crazy twins, and you don’t even know it.

It all depends on how you define “success”

Sergio Canavero has been blustering for years about how he’s going to do a complete human head transplant. His most recent shenanigans was the horrible two-headed rat, in which he decapitated a little rat, killed a big rat, and stitched the two circulatory systems together to allow the big rat’s heart to keep the little rat’s unconscious brain alive for a few hours. It was a stupid waste; the big problem is and always has been to reconnect a nervous system in a functional way, and he’s not even trying to do that.

But now he has announced that he has successfully transplanted the head from one human being onto the body of another. Successfully. What does he mean by that?

He has successfully transplanted the head from one human cadaver to the torso of another human cadaver. No word yet on whether the patient has recovered consciousness or how he is feeling.

Are you impressed yet?

What will impress me is when these gullible newsrags wake up and realize that Canavero is a fraud, and they stop giving him free press for every ghoulish act of necrophilia he commits.