The weather doesn’t improve up above the trees, either

It’s snowing. It’s snowing a lot. It’s also actually rather pretty outside, since I don’t have to drive in it. So I thought, once I got home this evening, that I’d throw the ol’ drone up in there and see how it coped with dim light and blowing snow.

No, it doesn’t. It flies just fine, doesn’t even notice the steady breeze, but the snow piles up on the lens and reflects the red running lights on the machine so you see next to nothing other than bloody red glare. You do get a blurry glimpse of Mary shoveling snow from the sidewalk, though — and now you know who does all the real work around here.

The weather is supposed to worsen over night, and the snow doesn’t end until Tuesday evening. It’s Minnesota, all right.

Special deal! Fancy t-shirts!

Rebecca Watson is trying to clear out all my old stuff, so she’s having a sale in the Pharyngula store! Buy this magnificent Chibi PZ T, use the code FREEMUG when you buy it, and she’ll toss in a Pharyngula mug at no extra cost.


Hot tip: if you’re one of those persistent Twitter eggs, or maybe some guy writing a frenzied anonymous email to me, I will be compelled to take you far more seriously if you’re wearing one of these while composing your assault on my dignity, or photoshopping my face onto something obscene. You’re so obsessed with me already, I don’t understand how you can not wear one of these.

Or alternatively, if you’re one of my students and really want to get to me, show up to class wearing one of these and you’ll make me blush and stammer and maybe even flee the room (flight not guaranteed).

Order now! For the War on Christmas!

Old family

I’m not from Minnesota, but my mother’s side of the family is, and my sister just posted this antique photograph of my ancestors living in Fertile, Minnesota in the early 1900s.


I knew that tall young man in the center at the back — that’s my great-grandfather, Peter Westad, and I recall him as a tall, lean, very old man with a thick Scandinavian accent and a magnificent mustache, apparently inherited from his father, Jens, the wonderfully bearded fellow sitting in front with his wife, Marit. I can see a bit of a family resemblance, but mostly I want to get a suit just like old Jens’.

This reminiscence brought to you by a brief break in my current grading/teaching hell. We’re in the last two weeks of class. I have to stuff so much stuff in their heads, and there is all this administrative stuff rising to destroy me, too. The life of a Minnesota farmer is looking awfully appealing right now…

Creationism fading in Minnesota?

The Twin Cities Creation Science Fair has been suspended due to low participation.

Considering that belief in creationism is waning, particularly among young people, I guess I’m not too surprised. The last time I attended, too, most of the exhibits were just plain student science, with a pro forma Bible verse attached as required by the organizers, and it may also be that the home schooling parents would rather not be associated with an event hosted by the Twin Cities Creation Science Association. There is an MHA Science Fair, held in February as well, and their guidelines (pdf) are entirely secular.

Maybe for a change science is outcompeting religion.

It’s probably a conspiracy by the Republican party to condition voters

I learned something heartbreaking this weekend. Despite thinking that I had raised her right, my daughter came right out and told me the horrible truth: she likes to watch football. She appreciates the strategy, she says. I tried to explain that it’s so boring, that it’s brief flurries of burly men bashing each other in between long sessions of inane “color commentary”, but she would have none of it. She’s too far gone.

And now I discover that Rebecca Watson is also a fan! What is this? A whole generation of young women corrupted?But at least she has a good argument against football.

The paper she cites is damning.

Public schools should end their football programs because of the high prevalence of concussions. Five to twenty percent of students experience at least one concussion in a season of play. Nine to twelve year old players experience an average of 240 head impacts per season; high school players average 650 head impacts per season. An initial football concussion increases the risk of a subsequent concussion three or four fold not simply for the balance of that season but for the following season as well. Catastrophic brain injuries, though rare, are far more common in high school and college players who have experienced a previous non-catastrophic concussion. The brains of children are more susceptible to long-term damage from concussion than adults. Although the frequency of concussion in football is about the same as in hockey, fifty times as many students play football than hockey; football causes far more brain injuries. The brain is an irreplaceable organ, the health of which is foundational for the ability to learn, socialize and for fully realizing life’s physical and vocational opportunities.

Time for the slippery slope game. If we’re going to end football programs for kids under 18, why are we going to support college football? That should go, too. And if we kill college football, there goes the farm that raises brain-damaged blocks of meat to batter each other in professional football. And if pro football dies, Texas will secede from the union!

And hey, this is true heresy around Minnesota, that fewer players play hockey is not an excuse to tolerate an equally brain-damaging sport. We’ll tear the country apart.

So, clearly, thousands of children with cognitive dysfunction, neuron injury, and lifelong cognitive impairment are a small price to pay.

…school football concussions are often followed by weeks of impaired school academic performance, memory disturbances, headaches and absenteeism. High school cheerleaders have impaired cognition for at least days after a single concussion even when claiming to be asymptomatic. Cognitive dysfunction or neuron injury occurs after repetitive mild to moderate athletic concussions; catastrophic injuries or instances of prolonged loss of consciousness are not required to cause such harm. Even when measured cognition returns to baseline, symptoms of concussion often persist. A season of collegiate play leads to persistent cognitive dysfunction that is roughly proportional to the magnitude of head impact. One study shows that greater later-life cognitive impairment in NFL players is correlated with exposure to competitive football before twelve years of age. Evidence about the effect of youth football is evolving but is sufficient to show that school football is likely to adversely affecting school performance in the short term and may, if the trauma is not stopped, may proceed to permanent cognitive dysfunction over the long term.

Valerie Tarico isn’t afraid to use the word “terrorism”

She knows what’s up.

On November 27, a mass shooting left three dead and nine wounded at a Planned Parenthood clinic just miles from the headquarters of the Religious Right flagship, Focus on the Family. Was the shooting exactly what conservative Christian presidential candidates and members of congress wanted? Maybe, maybe not. But it is what they asked for. Republican members of the Religious Right incited violence as predictably as if they had issued a call for Christian abortion foes to take up arms. Inciting violence this way is called stochastic terrorism:

“Stochastic terrorism is the use of mass communications to incite random actors to carry out violent or terrorist acts that are statistically predictable but individually unpredictable. In short, remote-control murder by lone wolf.”

In an incident of stochastic terrorism, the person who pulls the trigger gets the blame. He—I use the male pronoun deliberately because the triggerman is almost always male—may go to jail or even be killed during his act of violence. Meanwhile, the person or persons who have triggered the triggerman, in other words, the actual stochastic terrorists, often go free, protected by plausible deniability.

She’s also not afraid to name names.

We can be confident that communications teams for Carly Fiorina, Marco Rubio, Jeb Bush, Ben Carson, Mike Huckabee, Ted Cruz, Rick Santorum and others are scrambling at this very moment to figure out the nuances of plausible deniability—weighing how best to distance themselves from the violence that killed a police officer and two others without making their protestations of surprised dismay sound as hollow as they actually are—without actually denouncing the disgust and dehumanization of women who have abortions and those who provide them.

But of course they’re going to get away with it. They’ve got obedient masses who were trained in the churches to obey authorities.

Well, that’s all right then

The man who murdered people in a Planned Parenthood clinic was a “gentle itinerant loner”, accorded to the New York Times. He went to church, read the Bible cover to cover, and had an assortment of guns, so I guess he couldn’t have been that bad. He just wanted to be left alone.


At least they don’t say he’s crazy, the usual go-to excuse when a white man goes on a misogynistic murder spree. Progress! But they still don’t take that necessary next step of noting that someone who tries to intimidate people with violence is, of course, a terrorist. Terrorism is only a word to be deployed against Muslims, it seems.

But still, you can read between the lines. You know how after a psychopath is caught, there’s usually a litany of interviews with former neighbors saying how he was such a perfectly normal, ordinary guy? Not with Robert L. Dear.

Mr. Davis said he was unsurprised to see Mr. Dear, whom he described as “a pretty poorly adjusted guy,” emerge as the suspect in the Colorado shooting.

“I think I would have thought he was a guy who would go on a rampage,” he said. “We were very wary.”

The most chilling line to me was just a few words from Dear:

On, the writer said in December 2005: “AIDS, hurricanes, we are in the end times. Accept the LORD JESUS while you can.”

Have you ever noticed that while Americans will freak out over Muslims praying on an airplane, we think nothing of the huge army of death-cultists in our midst, people who are certain the world is going to end soon (and welcome its destruction!) and who want to steer our representatives and policy towards Armageddon? No big deal. A bunch of smiling used car salesmen live among us, own whole television networks, serve in congress, and they grin and assure us that our death is imminent and well-deserved, and we shrug and ignore them until one snaps and opens fire with his constitutionally protected semi-automatic rifle.

It’s so reassuring to know that the New York Times will report our demise in its blandly neutral tone, as long as the shooter is good white Christian.

Louise Mensch gets smacked down again

According to Louise Mensch, the Korea Federation of Women’s Science and Technology (KOFWST), the organization that hosted Tim Hunt’s now notorious speech at a luncheon, the Korean scientists at the event were not at all offended by his jokes about same-sex labs and women crying and falling in love all the time. Unfortunately for her, the Menschian deluge of excuses hand now been strongly repudiated by the federation. They have posted a statement publicly and also directly addressed to Mensch a request that she read it.

In light of this, KOFWST issues a warning about the ongoing serious distortion of facts by foreign commentators, suggesting that KOFWST has lied, or that KOFWST’s request to Sir Hunt was influenced by foreign journalists. Such allegations ignore undeniable facts and evidence and demonstrate a lack of regard for KOFWST’s autonomy and integrity.

They clearly don’t know Mensch at all. This is going to prompt a whole new series of conspiracy theories: obviously, the Anti-Tim-Hunt-Syndicate has bought out all of Korean science just to get Louise Mensch. And Tim Hunt, that goes without saying.