The greatest trick the devil ever pulled was convincing the world to pay him lots of money & ignore the lives he ruined

Another celebrity gets outed as a rapist and abuser. The Atlantic has posted a long expose, revealing all the rottenness that is Bryan Singer.

Almost from the moment his star began to rise, Singer, who is now 53, has been trailed by allegations of sexual misconduct. These allegations were so well known that 4,000 students, faculty members, and alumni at the University of Southern California had signed a petition asking the school to take Singer’s name off one of its programs, the Bryan Singer Division of Cinema and Media Studies—which the school did immediately after Sanchez-Guzman filed his suit. As one prominent actor told us, “After the Harvey Weinstein news came out, everyone thought Bryan Singer would be next.”

Everyone with power in Hollywood has known this for 20 years. Yet still he kept getting work.

The portrait of Singer that emerges is of a troubled man who surrounded himself with vulnerable teenage boys, many of them estranged from their families. Their accounts suggest that Singer didn’t act alone; he was aided by friends and associates who brought him young men. And he was abetted, in a less direct way, by an industry in which a record of producing hits confers immense power: Many of the sources we interviewed insisted, out of fear of damaging their own career, that we withhold their name, even as they expressed dismay at the behavior they’d witnessed.

Oh, I am so dismayed. May I bring you another teenage boy, Mr Singer, sir? How about a multi-million dollar movie contract?

It seems we have a system in which the worst people in the world can thrive, and nothing holds them in check. Maybe, in addition to the actual culprits themselves, some of these anonymous cowards and chickenshit enablers need to be dragged into the light, too.

The hypocrisy of Boghossian’s academic defenders

I was listening to the latest Serious Inquiries Only podcast, on the Boghossian affair, while I was pumpin’ iron down at the gym, and Eli Bosnick made a really, really good point. After reading these various serious statements of support for Boghossian from people like Richard Dawkins and Steven Pinker — they’re piously declaring that demanding he follow IRB requirements is a threat to academic freedom — he mentioned a curious omission. While they rush to the defense of their alt-right, Intellectual Dork Web colleague who has violated university policy and faces a rebuke from the university administration, they’ve never said a word about…Turning Point USA.

You know TPUSA is a Koch-funded far-right organization that trains students to incidents at universities so they can get left-leaning professors fired. They’re kind of incompetent at it — wearing diapers to show that left-wingers are babies isn’t very impressive — but you still don’t get to accuse universities of Orwellian behavior when right there, right in front of their faces, with no apologies and forthright insistence, TPUSA is maintaining an Orwellian Professor Watchlist (fair notice: I’m on it).

On the one hand, you’ve got a university calling in bigoted anti-feminist employee to a meeting (oh god, that’s torture!) because he violated university policy; on the other, a well-funded right-wing organization making an enemies list of professors and encouraging action against them. Which one do you side with? It says a lot about you.

What do biologists really think of sex and gender?

I was recently berated by someone telling me that they were surprised that a biologist, who does things like determining the sex of a fly, a fish, or a spider, actually agrees with people who see gender as fluid and variable, and not necessarily in alignment with sex. All I can say is…there are an awful lot of people out there with a seriously mangled version of scientific concepts. Worse, they use their misunderstanding of basic terms to argue that they have a scientific foundation for their bad ideas.

Just to help you out, here’s a succinct definition of some fundamental concepts, as written by an ecologist in the PLOS Ecology Community blogs. Your expectation that biologists share the narrow, bigoted views about sex and gender that you have are probably totally wrong — so you might want to hesitate next time you think it’s a good idea to lecture professional biologists on biology.

The words “sex” and “gender” are often used interchangeably in colloquial contexts, but they have different meanings that are relevant to our work in ecology.
Sex” refers to categories based on a combination of biological and physical characteristics, such as body organs, chromosomes, and hormones (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Sex is commonly assigned on the basis of external genitalia at birth and is often assumed to be only male or female, but scientists have identified at least five different groupings of human sex chromosomes, anatomy, and hormone physiology (Fausto-Sterling 1993). Other terms that relate to sex include intersex, freemartin, and hermaphrodite. (Note that hermaphrodite is a term currently used for animals but considered outdated and rude when used to describe humans; the preferred contemporary term for humans is intersex.) (“Sex” can also refer to activity among one or more individuals that may or may not result in sexual arousal and/or genetic recombination. I’m not addressing this meaning of the word in this piece.)
Gender” refers to identities and categories based on social or cultural characteristics (WHO 2011, APA 2015). Gender is both internal (gender identity, which is each person’s innate sense of their own gender), and external (gender expression, which is how each person expresses their gender identity). Woman, man, masculine, and feminine are all terms that can refer to gender. Transgender is a term used to describe a person whose gender identity is different from the sex they were assigned at birth. Gender is primarily a human and social term, and it is not usually relevant for non-human animals or plants.
When we observe biological and physical aspects of our study organisms, those observations tell us about the sex of those individuals, not the gender.
When we interact with other humans, we usually know more about their gender rather than their sex: for example, we often know about their clothing and hairstyles but not very much about their body organs, chromosomes, or hormones. (Furthermore, and this fact may be obvious, but clothing and hairstyles are not necessarily signifiers of any particular gender identity.) Among humans, sex and gender may be related, but they are not equivalent. In other words, female and woman are often thought to be synonymous, but in reality, female refers to different characteristics than woman does.

Also good was this bit:

If you (a) are talking about scientists and (b) interested in categories such as “women” and “men,” it’s more polite to use gender rather than sex categories. Why? In professional contexts, we may think we know what gender our colleagues present themselves as (e.g., women, men), but probably don’t know very much about the biological sex of our colleagues (e.g., chromosomes, body organs, hormones). It’s odd and inappropriate to make assumptions about other people’s bodies, especially in a professional context.

This. When I meet people, I don’t know anything about their sperm count or their chromosome arrangement or even what their genitals look like (you don’t have to show me), so all the sex details are irrelevant to our interactions. Gender matters because we have a huge amount of social capital, some good, some bad, invested in how people present themselves, and also because those gender signifiers are diverse and do a better job of reflecting how people see themselves in society, and how society sees them.

You know, when a population is identified as a discrete binary of two kinds of individuals, male and female, my usual thought is that the next step is to pair up individuals in bottles and do a genetic cross. That’s not how we treat human beings in our communities.

I think we can safely say #gamergate is dead

It wasn’t that long ago that being a gamer meant you were a regressive asshole. Here’s the segment of hbomberguy’s long twitch stream in which Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez shows up to talk about the importance of trans rights while the gamer bounces a gorilla around the screen. I know, that part seems weird, but hey, AOC is taking this opportunity to make a clear statement, so you can’t complain.

I have no idea what’s going on on the screen, but the words make sense.

Kamala Harris is a cop

As the presidential electioneering starts up (way too soon, and mostly pointlessly), I can only hope that more articles focus on candidate’s policy history, rather than the usual glib stereotyping. Like this one, a discussion of Kamala Harris’ record. Basically, she’s smart, aggressive, and hard working — quite a contrast to the slow-witted sloth in office now — but she’s been consistently pro-police, pro-prisons, and anti-sex workers. Those are things that will definitely appeal to some voters, but not to me.

Next. We need someone to rein in the cops.

Oh, no. Not my University of Washington!

The inappropriate pressure to turn universities into vocational colleges is having an unfortunate effect on my alma mater…and colleges everywhere. The humanities are being cannibalized to feed the STEM monster.

You won’t find a single expert on the history of the American Revolution or the Civil War at the University of Washington anymore. Since last year, the state’s oldest and largest university no longer employs a professor who specializes in American history before the year 1900.

Its history department has no scholars on the history of ancient Greece and Rome, and it recently stopped teaching Sanskrit, the ancient language of India and the root of many other languages.

Yikes. I took a look at the faculty roster for the history department, and it still seems huge compared to what we’ve got at my little university, and there’s far more diversity now than what I recall from <gulp> almost 40 years ago, when every course seemed to be taught by a white man. So there are some pluses…but the big gaps are troubling. Also, I don’t recognize anyone there at all — except for one emeritus professor, Arther Ferrill. And I was a guy who spent a lot of time in the history department. I guess that’s to be expected after my long departure.

“What’s sad for the younger generation is that so many students here have been literally pushed away from the social sciences and humanities to STEM, and are not happy,” said UW history professor James Gregory.

“There’s so much messaging in general about STEM, STEM, STEM,” he said.

Gregory remembers a discussion he had with a bright student, a history buff who was majoring in finance, but kept signing up for history classes because, as she described it, “I love to think.”

Why not switch your major, he suggested.

“My parents wouldn’t hear of it,” she said.

It me. Almost.

I took full advantage of any and all electives I could squeeze into my schedule, and sank deeply into the history department offerings — I even considered switching to a history major or at least a minor, early in my undergrad tenure, but decided against it, not because of parental pressure, but because I liked biology way too much. I got my loving to think in bio as well as history.

One thing I’d say to Dr Gregory, though, is that a lot of STEM faculty would agree with him. One problem we have is students who regard our STEM courses as not so much a learning experience in themselves, but an obstacle to getting a degree so they can go on to the job they want or the professional program they want to enter. Every year I get a crop of advisees with well-thought-out plans to get through the degree requirements as fast as they, with electives chosen outside of their major for how well they fit into their schedule, or how easy they are, and that’s a tragedy. I tell them they ought to pick a subject that interests them and think about taking courses to build their breadth of knowledge. Sure, you’re a biology major, but that shouldn’t prevent you from getting some in-depth knowledge about history, or poetry, or philosophy just because you can.

Unfortunately, that attitude doesn’t help if your university kills the program you love most. That’s why we need to support every discipline, not just STEM.

Also, I thought the Quad, where most of the history classes were taught, was the prettiest part of campus back then. That walk from Red Square up through the tree-lined lawns of the Quad was much nicer than the the spooky shortcuts through the basement tunnels of the monolothic bulk of the Health Sciences Center that I learned so well.

I don’t understand 2019, and that’s OK

If you’d told me in my youth that someone named hbomberguy would raise over $340,000 for a trans charity called Mermaids by playing Donkey Kong online, I would have said that I’ve heard of Donkey Kong, but could you repeat the rest slowly and explain what each of the words mean, and could you possibly tell me how it all works? Donkey Kong is that big box in the arcade that you push quarters into.

If you then told me that major political figures (like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) were dropping in to talk to hbomberguy about the cause…well hang on a moment, this is getting silly.

Then to learn that what motivated this whole episode was that an Irish television writer had become obsessive about denying trans people rights, that’s just too much, I’m going to have to go lie down for a bit.

Sometimes it’s nice how the future turns out to be nothing like what you expected. Although sometimes it’s not so nice. This is one I’m happy to have seen.

By the way, I have met Graham Linehan. He was at a talk I gave in Dublin, and joined the bar crowd afterwards. He seemed nice, but didn’t say much — maybe he hated the talk. I would never have expected him to become such a flaming asshat over trans rights.

By the way, the stream is still ongoing and still accepting donations, although that lazy hbomberguy has taken a break to sleep. And I hope, shower.