Garbage in, garbage out: Foerster misinterprets the Paracas skulls, again

The paranormalists are all a-buzz right now because Brien Foerster has announced the results of a DNA analysis of the Paracas skulls — the extraordinarily deformed skulls of high caste Peruvians from several thousand years ago. The skulls look weird, warped into conical shapes, so they’ve long been the focus of people like Lloyd Pye, who wants to argue that they’re the remains of extraterrestrials. Or Nephilim, fallen angels. Or ancient hominids from a completely different lineage than Homo sapiens. They aren’t very consistent in their explanations.

Anyway, here’s Foerster announcing the ‘intriguing’ results of having sent off samples from Peruvian skulls to various commercial labs.

I can tell you what part has the fringe groups most excited: Foerster explains that all native american peoples…are of haplogroup A, B, C, and D, but in this set of skulls, the most common haplogroups that showed up were U2, E, and also H, H1a and 2. If you look at where the most prevalent percentage of U2 and the H1s are, it is in between the Black and Caspian seas, as in, the Caucasus Mountains. These people weren’t aliens, or supernatural beings, they were…WHITE PEOPLE. Ta-daa! As we all should know, brown people in South America, or Egypt, or the Mississippi river valley, or anywhere for that matter, could not possibly have developed sophisticated cultures, and white people, or Jews, must have traveled there in ancient times and taught them everything they know.

Man, it’s not surprising at all to discover racism rotting deep in the heart of the ancient astronaut community. He also seems oblivious to the fact that identifying human haplogroups in these skulls tells us that they were fully…human. Not angels, not aliens.

Foerster has a long history of obsession with these skulls.

Brien Foerster managed to persuade Juan Navarro Hierro, director (and owner) of the Paracas History Museum (sic: on the sign outside the museum, the name is given first in English, then, smaller, in Spanish) to part with some tissue samples. He claims that he did this because “[t]he only way to establish the actual age, and possible genetic origins of the Paracas people is through DNA analysis of the skulls themselves”. Dating human tissue by means of DNA analysis is such a new technique that I can find no other use of this remarkable development in any other archaeological investigation. Of course, there is no such dating technique: this is Brien Foerster displaying his ignorance of archaeological dating techniques!

Where did he choose to send the samples? To some prestigious university department, well known for its work on ancient DNA? No. Instead, he chose to send them to Lloyd Pye (1946-2013), a crank who believed in ancient astronauts, the extraterrestrial origins of humanity and, worst of all, touted the “Starchild Skull” as an alien/human hybrid. Why? This suggests that, far from being a dispassionate researcher, Brien Foerster has a preconceived agenda and it’s one that involves aliens. Although his original page lists his affiliation as “University of Victoria, Biological Sciences, Department Member”, his association with the university is as a graduate, not a member of faculty. [Update 11 April 2015: he has a new page that more honestly describes him as an undergraduate.]

That’s from a few years ago. I guess the accusation that his DNA analysis was done by a crank stung a bit, because these latest results were obtained by sending samples to professional, commercial labs. He mentions that one lab refused to send him results, which he attributes to malign motivations, but more than likely it’s because his samples were crap.

In 2016, Jennifer Raff gave a talk on the sloppy methodology of these pseudogenetics researchers, and specifically discussed the poor technique used by these cranks.

As you can see from the image, the individuals attempting to sample DNA from this mummy made some attempt to cover themselves, but it’s entirely inadequate for ancient DNA work. There is exposed skin on every individual in the room, the gentleman’s beard and hair are uncovered, and at one point they start squirting water all over the mummy, claiming that because it’s distilled, it won’t introduce contamination. Wrong. All water used in ancient DNA work has to be purchased from vendors who guarantee that it’s certified DNA free. Distilled water has lots of DNA present in it. Any one of these things could have (and probably did) introduced contamination to the sample they tested.

Yeah, so Foerster’s results are meaningless garbage, tainted with contamination from, no doubt, “Caucasian” investigators who slobbered all over the skulls. None of that will stop Foerster, or his ignorant followers. He promises to publish the results in a book with none other than LA Marzulli, another notorious crackpot. I’m sure we’ll be hearing more about this on the History Channel in the near future.

The Doomsday Preppers of New Zealand

I’ve known a few doomsday preppers — there’s even a TV show about them, and it’s part of the Mormon ethos — and they’ve always seemed tawdry and lacking in forethought, for all their obsession with an apocalyptic future. Let’s stockpile a 5 year supply of dried beans! Make sure you get the really good camping gear from REI! It’s as if they can sort of vaguely imagine a transition into chaos, but rather than adapting to it or building new cooperative institutional structures, they plan to ride it out by burrowing into their basements and chowing down on stockpiled canned goods until the crisis is over and they can re-emerge into their nice suburban tract home and resume watching TV. Armageddon will be a blip that will briefly derail their workday, but won’t perturb them much as long as they’ve mastered the art of canning pickles.

And then there are the macho American rednecks who fantasize about the fall of civilization, because then there will be no one to tell them that they can’t haul out their armory and run around shooting people — in fact, the path to glory and power will consist entirely of racking up the most kills, gunning down the weak and becoming the chief warlord. The more realistic end-of-the-world novels (The Postman comes to mind) recognize that the real danger that follows catastrophe is that kind of asshole, who will compound the problems and demolish the emerging social structures needed for humanity to recover. Although, I don’t know — maybe the endlessly repetitious, boring kill-and-be-killed chaos of The Walking Dead is more realistic…humans might just end up wandering from settlement to settlement, blowing them up and scattering violence further, hacking and slashing until blessed extinction comes.

They’re all thinking small, though. If you’re an obscenely wealthy Silicon Valley vampire, you have to dream big and wallow in the grand deadly visions of this book, The Sovereign Individual: How to Survive and Thrive During the Collapse of the Welfare State. Mark O’Connell summarizes the book.

It presents a bleak vista of a post-democratic future. Amid a thicket of analogies to the medieval collapse of feudal power structures, the book also managed, a decade before the invention of bitcoin, to make some impressively accurate predictions about the advent of online economies and cryptocurrencies.

The book’s 400-odd pages of near-hysterical orotundity can roughly be broken down into the following sequence of propositions:

1) The democratic nation-state basically operates like a criminal cartel, forcing honest citizens to surrender large portions of their wealth to pay for stuff like roads and hospitals and schools.

2) The rise of the internet, and the advent of cryptocurrencies, will make it impossible for governments to intervene in private transactions and to tax incomes, thereby liberating individuals from the political protection racket of democracy.

3) The state will consequently become obsolete as a political entity.

4) Out of this wreckage will emerge a new global dispensation, in which a “cognitive elite” will rise to power and influence, as a class of sovereign individuals “commanding vastly greater resources” who will no longer be subject to the power of nation-states and will redesign governments to suit their ends.

It’s a wealthy libertarian fantasy, and it’s just as much a fantasy as any bad apocalyptic novel. It’s the same structure. There will be a mighty disaster, all the people you don’t like will suffer and be slaughtered (but they don’t matter), while you hold the secret to survival, be it canned beans, bigger guns, or a ranch in New Zealand, and will emerge unscathed, and even stronger than before. They all rely on a disgust with the current order — the Mormons wanted godlessness and sin swept away to clear the path to an LDS theocracy, but it takes a libertarian to see roads and hospitals and schools as the worldly evil that must be destroyed. They all imagine an emergent New Order with themselves at the center, in this case a “cognitive elite”. How do you know they’re a cognitive elite? Because they have lots and lots of money. As we all know, wealth is always a sign of merit.

O’Connell’s story is all about the Arch Vampire, the selfish villain, Peter Thiel. He’s getting ready for the end of the world by modeling his world view on two fictions, as the “Cognitive Elite” do, The Sovereign Individual and The Lord of the Rings (there must also be a third, the works of Ayn Rand, but they aren’t mentioned in this article), and so he must of course buy up land for a bolt-hole in New Zealand. It’s remote, it’s beautiful, Peter Jackson filmed his Tolkien movies there, so it’s perfect. All the cool entrepreneurs who have profited off the information economy are eager to strip the current system bare so they can move on to the next fertile field, which they will strip bare to fuel their next assault. Sorry, New Zealand, it’s your fault for looking so lovely and attracting all the parasites.

The story discusses a sort of art installation, a set-piece game called the Founder’s Paradox that illustrates how the Thiels of the world operate.

The aim of Founders, clarified by the accompanying text and by the piece’s lurid illustrations, was not simply to evade the apocalypse, but to prosper from it. First you acquired land in New Zealand, with its rich resources and clean air, away from the chaos and ecological devastation gripping the rest of the world. Next you moved on to seasteading, the libertarian ideal of constructing manmade islands in international waters; on these floating utopian micro-states, wealthy tech innovators would be free to go about their business without interference from democratic governments. (Thiel was an early investor in, and advocate of, the seasteading movement, though his interest has waned in recent years.) Then you mined the moon for its ore and other resources, before moving on to colonise Mars. This last level of the game reflected the current preferred futurist fantasy, most famously advanced by Thiel’s former PayPal colleague Elon Musk, with his dream of fleeing a dying planet Earth for privately owned colonies on Mars.

The libertarian ideal is unregulated rapaciousness followed by moving on and abandoning what they’ve destroyed. It’s a locust’s dream. It’s what short-sighted opportunists fantasize about. Even some scientists are susceptible to it. If Earth becomes a dying planet, it’s because the greed of humans killed it…and in particular, the billionaires who think sucking the world dry is just fine because they’re planning to escape it. We have to recognize that the end game of capitalism is self-destruction.

All I can say is, if you meet the Sovereign Individual on the road, kill him. It’s a moral imperative.

An A+ rating from the NRA ought to disqualify you from political office

In the Minnesota caucuses, Democrat Tim Walz came out in first place in the race for governor. He was my last choice. He’s a Democrat who is good at getting the rural — that is, conservative Democrat — vote, and I scratched him off my list for consideration on the basis of one crucial fact: he’s got an A+ rating from the NRA. Nope. That’s like getting praise from the KKK; it might appeal to a certain demographic, but that’s one demographic I’d like to see ignored.

Among the Minnesota Democrats, they’re now distinguishing themselves with their gun control plans. That’s a good development.

State Rep. Erin Murphy, a former House majority leader from St. Paul, went the furthest. She outlined a six-point plan that includes limits on sales of certain ammunition, expanded background checks and a ban on sales of AR-15 rifles in Minnesota.

“The AR-15 was used in the Sandy Hook shooting, in the Pulse night club in Orlando, in the church in Texas, in Las Vegas and now in a classroom in Florida,” Murphy said. “It seems to me this is becoming a weapon of choice for mass shootings like this and they are creating mass casualties.”

She spoke proudly of the failing grade she received from the National Rifle Association for her past votes and positions on gun legislation, a not-so-subtle criticism of the race frontrunner, Tim Walz. The Democratic congressman has touted his support from the NRA in prior campaigns, donning a camouflaged NRA hat while running in a southern Minnesota district filled with rural towns.

“I do have an ‘F’ rating. He has an ‘A+’ rating,” Murphy said of Walz during a telephone interview Thursday. “That means he’s done their work plus the extra credit to get the plus. Minnesotans will have to judge for themselves what that means for Minnesota and their future. I think it’s important to draw the contrast.”

Walz is now trying to distance himself from the problem, after embracing it for so many years.

Walz, an avid hunter, defended his record and said he hasn’t been shy about breaking with the lobby for gun manufacturers and owners.

“I have voted for universal background checks more than anybody in this race,” Walz said. He said he has never personally been an NRA member and voted more than 30 times to bring up a background check measure “and not just since I’ve been running for governor but for the past several years.”

Walz said he has donated the equivalent of past contributions from the NRA to charity. Records show he and a political fund he controls received $18,000 over the years; recent campaign reports show him directing the money to the Intrepid Fallen Heroes Fund.

But, he added, “I’m also not going to shy away that I have been a staunch supporter of the constitutional right of law abiding and lawful gun owners to own firearms.”

That’s nice. A representative should abide by and support the Constitution. They should also possess some sense of ethics and recognize when bad laws exist, and work to change them. Our constitution supported slavery; it was a long time coming, but eventually that was changed. There is a legal, constitutional mechanism for stripping bad ideas out, as was done with the 13th amendment.

Banning specific weapons is an OK idea, as is requiring more gun checks and waiting periods. I’m looking for a politician who will endorse an amendment to repeal the 2nd. How about it, Tim Walz? I might change my mind and support you if you were to stop relying on your dogmatic support for one amendment over the lives of your constituents.

The kids are all right. They know what needs to be done.

How the Republicans will win the next election

They’re going to be flooded with donations.

They’re also going to solve the school shooting problem by installing cabinets with emergency supplies in all schoolrooms.

Finkelstein explained that the cabinets would be installed in both elementary and high schools across all 50 states within the next two years, with plans to extend the scheme to college campuses at some point in the future. Each cabinet will contain a selection of thoughts and prayers from both politicians and pro-gun lobbyists, and each student will be provided with their own American flag to hide under whilst they wait to be murdered in what should be a place of safety. It is believed that some cabinets will also be fitted with speakers that will play the national anthem at a volume loud enough to drown out distant screams, but not so loud that it draws the attention of the shooter.

The Democrats might as well give up. No way they’re going to raise enough thoughts & prayers before the next election. We have a T&P gap.

Oh, yeah, Black Panther

It wasn’t bad — not quite a great movie, the premises were too silly for that, but very entertaining and lovely to watch. OK, spectacular to watch. The whole esthetic was gorgeous and stimulating.

It was also good because it was one of Marvel’s more constrained, focused efforts, with nothing about a build-up to their upcoming blockbuster, Infinity War. I very much liked the fact that it’s about the people of this one African country struggling with decisions about their place in the world. It was a big but still manageable set of conflicts.

That it wasn’t just a set-piece to lead to a bigger movie also allowed the ensemble cast to shine. This isn’t just a movie about one super guy in a fancy costume. I left the theater wanting to see a heck of a lot more about Okoye and M’Baku (let’s see a movie wrapped around the Dora Milaje!), and all of the characters were interesting. Even the villain had realistic conflicts.

One thing that annoyed me: why is an enlightened, progressive country like Wakanda ruled by a hereditary monarchy? Why is kingship settled by a trial by combat? One minute I’m thinking this looks like an awesome, wonderful place, and the next I’m wondering what other ugly flaws are lurking to wreck this utopia.

Other than that you don’t want to cross the Dora Milaje. Or is that a good thing?

Why do I never recognize the universities hated by conservatives?

I’m a creature of academia. I attended college starting in 1975, and essentially never left — I went on to do graduate school, post-docs, and taught at a couple. I’ve been at both the small liberal arts college (DePauw, UMM) and the great big state school (Universities of Washington, Oregon, and Utah, and Temple University). I talk to students and faculty and staff every day for decades now, and at worst you could say maybe I’m a little too close to this environment, but you certainly can’t argue that I know nothing about what goes on on college campuses.

But then I read these stories from outsiders about what it’s like to be on an American campus, mostly by people who haven’t been here in ages and probably had just a transient experience before leaving, and they’re all about as accurate as if I were trying to describe life on Mars. They are distinguished by their total lack of awareness of reality and the vehemence with which they condemn students.

Case in point: Andrew Sullivan. It’s pure madness.

Over the last year, the most common rebuttal to my intermittent coverage of campus culture has been: Why does it matter? These are students, after all. They’ll grow up once they leave their cloistered, neo-Marxist safe spaces. The real world isn’t like that. You’re exaggerating anyway. And so on. I certainly see the point. In the world beyond campus, few people use the term microaggressions without irony or an eye roll; claims of “white supremacy,” “rape culture,” or “white privilege” can seem like mere rhetorical flourishes; racial and gender segregation hasn’t been perpetuated in the workplace yet; the campus Title IX sex tribunals where, under the Obama administration, the “preponderance of evidence” rather than the absence of a “reasonable doubt” could ruin a young man’s life and future are just a product of a hothouse environment. And I can sometimes get carried away.

I’ll give him a different rebuttal: you’re clueless, Mr Sullivan. Your “intermittent coverage of campus culture” is so detached from reality, so thickly slathered with conservative bullshit, that it is an unrecognizable caricature.

What “neo-Marxist safe spaces”? “Neo-Marxism”, by the way, is an empty buzzword generally used by terrified “neo-conservatives” who are upset that students explore new ideas outside the conventional, capitalism-worshipping straitjackets conservatives would rather we brainwashed students into worshipping. We actually encourage students to think, rather than accept the received wisdom of hidebound old farts. We ask them to look at systems of thought with new eyes and a wider perspective, and we tell them it’s OK to question that system. That’s it. That does not imply that we’re sitting around inculcating them with the sacred words of Lenin and Mao.

Most of our students are solidly middle-class, not interested in rocking the boat too much. It’s kind of ironic that our universities are accused of promoting communism when the most common rationale students and administrators use to get students to attend is that it’s the path to a good, well-paying job. You’d think that if we were busy indoctrinating them into neo-Marxism that they’d wake up somewhere around their junior year, look around, and realize that they’re imbedded deeply into an institution with a vested interest in moving them into the bourgeoisie, and they’d riot. Or leave. We’re not seeing much of a revolution right now because the rising costs of a university education have already filtered out most of the citizens with an interest in overthrowing the system.

At best we can stir up a modicum of social consciousness. Yeah, you’re here at a university, we’re going to try and make sure you acquire at least middle-class status (here’s your alumni newsletter, please donate!), but hey, if we can make you aware of your privilege and advantages, and the fact that not everyone in our country shares them, we can dream that you’ll help promote some incremental change for the better.

That’s the extent of campus radicalism. Relax, hidebound old farts. David Brooks still has his sinecure at the NY Times, and Andrew Sullivan will still get TV appearances where he can pretend to be an enlightened conservative. I wish it were otherwise.

As for “white supremacy,” “rape culture,” or “white privilege” — those are real things. I know that when you get snugged down tightly in your socio-economic slot, it gets harder to see them, because you are no longer exposed to as many contrasts, and you’re now rewarded for conformity rather than enquiry. It’s not that campuses are narrow and constraining and forcing people into radicalism, it’s that your life as a cossetted, privileged, boring white man means it’s easy for you to move right into a secure bubble and never think again. You’re the one being warped by your milieu, not the students. They tend to be liberated to think in new ways, a freedom they may never have to the same degree again. There’s no hothouse here. That’s reserved for defenders of the status quo in the non-campus universe, who will forever strain to suppress novelties that might emerge from a free-thinking environment.

But Sullivan wants to claim that he’s not totally against new ideas. He just hates the boogeyman du jour of conservative thought, “identity politics”. It’s ironic that people like Sullivan who are so committed to preserving the privileges of a narrow group, white men, are also committed to demeaning efforts to extend those privileges to all citizens in the name of denial of opportunity to all others.

The reason I don’t agree with this is because I believe ideas matter. When elite universities shift their entire worldview away from liberal education as we have long known it toward the imperatives of an identity-based “social justice” movement, the broader culture is in danger of drifting away from liberal democracy as well. If elites believe that the core truth of our society is a system of interlocking and oppressive power structures based around immutable characteristics like race or sex or sexual orientation, then sooner rather than later, this will be reflected in our culture at large. What matters most of all in these colleges — your membership in a group that is embedded in a hierarchy of oppression — will soon enough be what matters in the society as a whole.

Oh, look at the projection! Identity politics is what people other than white males do to create oppressive power structures around race or sex; when white men erect power structures around their positions to block those others from achieving equality, well, that’s just fair and generous, not identity politics at all! The thoughtful people on college campuses aren’t at all interested in building silos of power for themselves and no others — they look at the identity politics of white men for white men and want to tear down those walls. That’s the ideal, anyway. I fear that most of them will graduate and find themselves forced to conform in order to keep themselves housed and fed within that hierarchy that Sullivan loves so much.

And, sure enough, the whole concept of an individual who exists apart from group identity is slipping from the discourse. The idea of individual merit — as opposed to various forms of unearned “privilege” — is increasingly suspect. The Enlightenment principles that formed the bedrock of the American experiment — untrammeled free speech, due process, individual (rather than group) rights — are now routinely understood as mere masks for “white male” power, code words for the oppression of women and nonwhites. Any differences in outcome for various groups must always be a function of “hate,” rather than a function of nature or choice or freedom or individual agency. And anyone who questions these assertions is obviously a white supremacist himself.

Oh, christ. So much nonsense.

Groups form in response to pressure from dominant, oppressive forces. They aren’t about suppressing individuality — to the contrary, they’re all about finding power in unity to resist the opposition of an overwhelming pressure to succumb to your myth that American culture is about “merit”. It ain’t.

For example, I often hear people mock the idea of different pronouns, or that the LGBT acronym keeps expanding to include more letters. How ridiculous, they say — I can’t be bothered to learn how to reference someone with all those weird new pronouns, and I will resist the neo-Marxist Left’s effort to pollute my language; or they laugh at the alphabet soup of LGBTTQQIAAP2S or QUILTBAG or whatever unique set of terms a particular group chooses to use. But there’s a reason for that: it’s not about conformity to a group, but the opposite of that, where people are trying to build structures under which everyone is free to express their personal, unique identity, where differences are encompassed with respect and no one is trying to dictate that individuals must fit into two and only two narrow types, the masculine and the feminine. How can Sullivan honestly defend the concept of individual agency while complaining about people who demand their own?

Speaking of conformity, though, I’ve noticed that status quo warriors like Sullivan are all speaking the same set of codes. Hierarchies are good. Everyone fits into the hierarchy on the basis of pure merit. Privilege doesn’t exist, except that dominance is good and natural, so somehow some people are privileged (but they must have earned it!). Cultural factors are negligible before the power of biology, and if it’s biological, it is necessarily good and true. History and environment don’t matter when Nature is the sole determinant of your status. Anyone who is not a conservative capitalist is a neo-Marxist.

It all makes me wish college campuses were seething hotbeds of chaos and rage, rising up to shatter these lies.

But I’m here. I know. They’re actually all fairly complacent places where students learn and maybe think a bit more than they do in Andrew Sullivan’s world, and just that is enough to make conservatives quake in their jackboots. That world is an upside-down place where demanding tolerance of diversity is bigotry, and where calling out men on harassment is a witch hunt. Let’s all hope his world continues its decay and dies off eventually.

Friday Cephalopod: So that’s what octopus porn is like

The photograph is, I think, tastefully provocative.

A male and female giant Pacific octopus mating in captivity at the Aquarium of the Bay (San Francisco, California, USA). The male is on top. The arrow points to the insertion of the male’s hectocotylized arm into the mantle cavity of the female. (Photo by Kevin O. Lewand.)

It’s the accompanying text, describing multiple observations of mating, that gets hot and heavy.

A female was placed in a 12,000 l display tank and the male was added 10 min later. The female weighed 18 kg and the male weighed 20 kg. The female was sitting motionless in a lower corner of the tank when the male was added. She was oriented horizontally, facing outward from the corner. As he swam to the bottom, the male inked. He jetted directly to the female and enveloped her with his web and arms. There was then an active intertwining of arms for 2 min. At the end of this period, the female was facing into the corner and the male was on top of her facing the same direction, with his dorsal arms wrapped around her head and mantle. The hectocotylized arm of the male was inserted into the right mantle opening of the female. He was a mottled gray/pink color with frontal and mantle white spots apparent. The mantle was papillose. The female was dull red and smooth. The male’s respiration rate was 5.9 sec/breath, and the volume was judged “deep breathing.”

At 78 min after first contact, there was an increase in the intensity of the mottling and the brightness of the white spots on the mantle of the male as he raised his body up off the female slightly and then settled onto her again, whereupon the intensity of the mottling and white spots dulled. This was likely an arch and pump. At 3 hr 43 min, the male removed the hectocotylized arm. He moved away from the female at 4 hr 1 min. At this point, he was smooth and bright red; she was smooth light pink.

After 17 min apart at the opposite corner of the tank, the male again approached the female. She was in the same corner facing outward. He mounted and grasped her as before and turned mottled and papillose with mantle and frontal white spots apparent. After 3 min, she turned toward the corner as before, so they were facing the same direction. He again held her with his dorsal arms. His hectocotylized arm was inserted into the mantle of the female. They maintained this position for another 4 hr 12 min. He then moved off to an opposite corner of the tank and turned smooth dark red. She maintained a smooth pale pink for several minutes and then turned mottled and papillose. No spermatophores were observed protruding from the female’s mantle cavity as reported by Mann, Martin and Thiebsch, (1970).

Whew. Get back, EL James, there’s a new bestseller in the making. I’m also impressed with the male’s endurance — 3-4 hours? We hoo-mans are not worthy.