I am clearly not making enough racist remarks around here

It’s the formula for success, I guess. Megyn Kelly has found the recipe. She was bombingher shows were dying for lack of an audience.

At the time, according to news reports, Lack had already informed Kelly her poorly-rated morning show would not last; her Sunday magazine show, launched last year, had never found an audience and was canceled after only eight installments. Weeks before her blackface gaffe, Kelly was looking for an exit strategy.

An exit strategy…hmmm. What to do. I know! Let’s defend white people wearing blackface on Halloween, on a broadcast show! It’s a totally unsurprising remark from someone who previously insisted that both Santa Claus and Jesus had to be white. And it worked!

Megyn Kelly is reportedly finalizing a $30 million exit deal with NBC and parent company Comcast, Page Six reports. She was ousted from the Today show last month after she defended blackface on national television, triggering outrage from her fellow hosts and the public alike for her comments, which included “I don’t see how [blackface] is racist on Halloween.” “Everyone wants this to be over—both Megyn and NBC—and Comcast has the money to pay off Megyn,” a source told the tabloid. The deal will reportedly close next week. “NBC decided rather than fight and face a lawsuit from her, they—and more importantly Comcast with all its money—decided to draw a line under the entire debacle and pay Megyn the full amount owed in her contract to go away,” another source said. Kelly was reportedly making $23 million a year to host her low-rated program.

Wait, $23 million/year for a failing show? Getting paid $30 million to go away? Those are totally unreal numbers, especially when you consider that she has no particular talent or insight that would make her stand out among all the other people reading teleprompters on cable news.

With $30 million dollars, I would be set up for life. I would rake that money in, set up some diversified investments, and lean back and relax and enjoy my sunset years. Maybe travel more. Read lots of books. Make lots of charitable donations to causes I care about. Set up college funds for my grandchildren.

And all I have to do is make vulgar, insensitive, stupid remarks about people with a different skin color, and white people would rush to support my lifestyle? United States of America goddamn.

It looks like I’m destined to die poor. Sorry, grandchildren.

You will be mocked if you fail to conform

Abcde Redford should not be ashamed of her name, but Southwest Airlines should be ashamed of their employee’s behavior. Every child should have a name that is unique, or has a strong history, or reflects something about their family. Unfortunately, there is an annoying strain of conformity that says everyone should have a name that is familiar and belongs to a limited repertoire of common names, just because.

I was interested to learn, though, that Abcde is not totally unique.

Although Abcde is an unusual name, it’s not unheard of. In 2014, Vocativ reported that over the past three decades, 328 baby girls have been given that name, 32 of whom were born in 2009. But when the name is entered into the Social Security Administration’s database of popular baby names, it states that “Abcde is not in the top 1000 names for any year of birth beginning with 2000.”

I think it’s a very nice name. It’ll also be incredibly popular when Abcde grows up and is so pissed off at the mockery that she shatters the status quo.

The one thing you need to know to succeed in life

I loathe going to the gym. I especially loathe it when I forget my earbuds at home, and am forced to consume generic mass media while I’m stretching and sweating and pumping up those feeble strands I call muscles — modern pop music seems to be striving for all the passion of muzak, and broadcast TV…forget it.

So I’m rage-peddling on the exercise bicycle when some insipid collection of TV celebrities are delivering their favorite lines of life-advice to the loved ones in their family, and I’m hating it, and I come up with a line of my own.

If all you needed was the right aphorism, it wouldn’t take a score of years to raise a child.

See? This is why I’m not invited to those kinds of shows. Well, one reason.

Now thinking about starting up a dairy spider farm on the prairies of Minnesota

There are these weird salticid spiders that have evolved a radically different morphology — they live in ant nests, and physically mimic the ants. Look at this ant-spider. Isn’t this amazing enough?

That’s a spider? Yeah, count the legs. It’s trying so hard to fit in with tunnel-dwelling insects with three body segments, you just have to applaud the effort.

What’s more, they’ve acquired another evolutionary novelty: they secrete ‘milk’ to feed their young, and have extended parental care. The necessity of milk production was tested with the cruel experiment of painting over the epigastric furrow (the site of secretion) with White-Out, and what happened? All the spiderlings starved to death. The utter bastards. There are things you can get away with when working with invertebrates that you couldn’t do with cute fuzzies with bones. Try doing that experiment with bunnies, just be prepared for torches and pitchforks.

There’s another revelation in this figure caption.

Spider milk and its secretion site in Toxeus magnus.

(A) Ventral view of mother. (B) Milk droplets secreted after slight finger pressure on abdomen.

Did you get that? They are milking spiders. I come from a long line of Norwegian dairy farmers in Minnesota, so you can guess where my mind went from here. Can I get state and federal subsidies for my spider farm? I’ll have to look into it.

The study is primarily about the life history of this spider species, with some experimental manipulation, and it does a thorough job of that.

T. magnus offspring body length growth and food resources during development.
(A) Egg hatching. (B) Absolute milk dependence: Spiderlings do not leave the nest, and the mother releases milk droplets to the nest internal surface. (C) Spiderlings forage during the day and suck milk at night. (D) Subadults nutritionally independent but still return to nest. (E) Spiderlings reach sexual maturity, but some stay with the mother. *The mother. N = 207 offspring, Nnest = 19 surveyed nests, error bars (SEM).

It’s missing one thing, though: any analysis of the chemical make-up of spider milk. I’m going to take a wild guess that unlike mammal milk, which is rich in fats and carbohydrates, spider milk is going to be more like a protein shake — that it’s going to be in many ways similar in composition to the dissolved bug guts that spider adults live on, to simplify the transition from an independent hunting spiderling to a spiderling with an obligate dependency on parental care. Which means a) humans can probably synthesize it by homogenizing masses of fruit flies in a blender with some digestive enzymes, and filtering out the chitin, and b) there’s not going to be much of a human market for it. Alternatively, they suggest that spider milk may have evolved from the breakdown of trophic eggs — that is, eggs produced that do not develop, but provide a food source for other members of the brood. In that case, it may be a soup of phospholipoglycoproteins, similar to the vitellogenins of other arthropods, and its closest vertebrate analog would be egg yolks.

Inquiring minds want to know. They’re going to have to milk a lot of spiders to get enough to analyze, though!

Chen Z, Corlett RT, et al. (2018) Prolonged milk provisioning in a jumping spider. Science 362(6418):1052-1055. DOI: 10.1126/science.aat3692

P.S. There is a Minnesota milk song. They might have to change some of the hand gestures.

No more stonewalling, NdGT

Two more women have stepped forward to recount instances of creepy behavior by Neil deGrasse Tyson. Up until now, he has just ignored the accusations by Tchiya Amet, which I think is the right thing to if the accusation is false. But now that there are further specific complaints — and these are accounts of inappropriate boundary pushing, not assault — I think he needs to step forward, explain himself, apologize to the women, and recognize that these were wrong actions that won’t be repeated.

Silence at this point is just denial, and it will look like these behaviors will be threatening to emerge again. I hope he does the right thing.

Always ask for permission first, before playing God

That story I posted yesterday about the rogue Chinese gene editor? The Chinese government has responded swiftly and repudiated He Jiankui’s work.

Chinese Vice Minister of Science and Technology Xu Nanping told state broadcaster CCTV that his ministry is strongly opposed to the efforts that reportedly produced twin girls born earlier this month. Xu called the team’s actions illegal and unacceptable and said an investigation had been ordered, but made no mention of specific actions taken.…He’s experiment “crossed the line of morality and ethics adhered to by the academic community and was shocking and unacceptable,” Xu said.

Uh-oh. He’s in trouble. I know there’s the idea that it’s easier to ask for forgiveness after the fact, but maybe that doesn’t apply when you’re tinkering with human lives.


Iliana is working hard at being adorable. So adorable that we just booked our tickets to fly down to Boulder in early December to spend a week in her precious presence.

Meanwhile, Knut is hulking out. They’re moving to San Antonio next month. Are there skyscrapers there? He needs things to climb on and smash.

A position I can agree with: debate is stupid

Yep, we don’t need to argue, it’s patently true.

After all, these days we are constantly being told that one of the top threats to society is not climate change or fascism but people stifling debate. Some claim that by “no-platforming” controversial speakers, or calling pundits mean names on Twitter after they say something racist on Bill Maher’s show, we are facilitating a dangerous slide into illiberalism. If those pearl-clutchers are to be believed, the key to becoming a society of informed and sophisticated intellectuals is to hook ourselves up to an IV of pure debate, and let the heated repartee course through our veins until it leads us to fact-based solutions.

The article also has some positive suggestions.

Do not be tempted by the promise of easy satisfaction. Watching a debate can make you actively worse at understanding the nuances of a topic. If you want to really know about a subject, here’s my advice: read widely and extensively (and not just the books your favorite YouTuber recommends). Talk to people, patiently and fairly, rejecting your instinctual desire to win. And perhaps most importantly — take this from a veteran — do not reward former debate team kids with your attention. They are the worst type of nerds and they never share their snacks.

I’ve been trying to get people to do this for years. I get a call requesting a debate, and I say, I’d be happy to host a discussion with an audience, why are you making everyone waste half the time allotted with that other blithering fool? And then they hang up, because usually the people asking for a debate aren’t looking for an informed discussion, they’re looking for a foil to make the other guy look magnanimous and open-minded, and they’re bringing in an audience with a bias, anyway.

It never gets less creepy

I never met Jeffrey Epstein, fortunately. My sole link was through Lawrence Krauss, who memorably took me aside way back in 2010 to urge me to ignore the “rumors” going around about Epstein, who was a donor to his Origins program at ASU. He particularly warned me against that scurrilous gossiper, Rebecca Watson, who has since been revealed as a wise prophetess. I just figured this was what high-level people with the job of getting donations do to curry favor with donors, I didn’t actually know much about what Epstein had done. Of course, now I know (and I quickly learned then) that Epstein had pled guilty to soliciting sex from minors back in 2008, and it wasn’t so much “rumor” as “incontestable fact”, and that Watson wasn’t so much a prophetess as she was someone who had her eyes open. As she wrote in 2011:

Jeffrey Epstein is the infamous media mogul who was jailed in 2008 for paying underage prostitutes who said they were recruited by his aides. Some girls were allegedly flown in from Eastern Europe, their visas arranged by his bookkeeper. Epstein only served 13 months in prison thanks to a sweetheart plea agreement which is now being contested by attorneys representing two of the girls, who were 13 and 14 when they were allegedly paid for sex. Both girls are part of a larger group of victims who have won monetary settlements from Epstein in civil cases.

Krauss responded to that with several comments, still ardently defending Epstein, and this quote is particularly damning.

“If anything, the unfortunate period he suffered has caused him to really think about what he wants to do with his money and his time, and support knowledge,” says Krauss. “Jeffrey has surrounded himself with beautiful women and young women but they’re not as young as the ones that were claimed. As a scientist I always judge things on empirical evidence and he always has women ages 19 to 23 around him, but I’ve never seen anything else, so as a scientist, my presumption is that whatever the problems were I would believe him over other people.” Though colleagues have criticized him over his relationship with Epstein, Krauss insists, “I don’t feel tarnished in any way by my relationship with Jeffrey; I feel raised by it.”

“Unfortunate period.” Jesus. Epstein was paying local schoolgirls to give him naked massages and jerk him off, and who knows what was going on at his orgies. What an uplifting fellow. It was not an “unfortunate period”, as Krauss had to know — the police had a line of children who wanted to testify, had been raking through his garbage for evidence, and had him dead to rights, and then, as Rebecca mentioned, got a slap on the wrist (an 18 month jail sentence, which compared to what he should have gotten, counts as a relatively trivial penalty) in an exceedingly generous plea deal, which is still being contested.

The Miami Herald has published a multi-part investigation into that deal. The corruption just reeks on the page.

Facing a 53-page federal indictment, Epstein could have ended up in federal prison for the rest of his life.

But on the morning of the breakfast meeting, a deal was struck — an extraordinary plea agreement that would conceal the full extent of Epstein’s crimes and the number of people involved.

Not only would Epstein serve just 13 months in the county jail, but the deal — called a non-prosecution agreement — essentially shut down an ongoing FBI probe into whether there were more victims and other powerful people who took part in Epstein’s sex crimes, according to a Miami Herald examination of thousands of emails, court documents and FBI records.

The pact required Epstein to plead guilty to two prostitution charges in state court. Epstein and four of his accomplices named in the agreement received immunity from all federal criminal charges. But even more unusual, the deal included wording that granted immunity to “any potential co-conspirators’’ who were also involved in Epstein’s crimes. These accomplices or participants were not identified in the agreement, leaving it open to interpretation whether it possibly referred to other influential people who were having sex with underage girls at Epstein’s various homes or on his plane.

This is a huge story, and Epstein was monstrous in his crimes — he was a voracious sexual predator, and his favored prey were girls in their early teens. This was all known when Krauss was asking me to avoid discussing his patron.

“This was not a ‘he said, she said’ situation. This was 50-something ‘shes’ and one ‘he’ — and the ‘shes’ all basically told the same story,’’ said retired Palm Beach Police Chief Michael Reiter, who supervised the police probe.

More than a decade later, at a time when Olympic gymnasts and Hollywood actresses have become a catalyst for a cultural reckoning about sexual abuse, Epstein’s victims have all but been forgotten.
The women — now in their late 20s and early 30s — are still fighting for an elusive justice that even the passage of time has not made right.

Like other victims of sexual abuse, they believe they’ve been silenced by a criminal justice system that stubbornly fails to hold Epstein and other wealthy and powerful men accountable.

“Jeffrey preyed on girls who were in a bad way, girls who were basically homeless. He went after girls who he thought no one would listen to and he was right,’’ said Courtney Wild, who was 14 when she met Epstein.

Justice dropped the ball on this one. The evidence is so damning that you have to wonder what the hell was wrong with people like Krauss, or his inner circle of enablers, or the rich and famous people like Donald Trump and Bill Clinton who called Epstein a friend. A lot of money was buying a lot of favors and silence.

And, you know, it’s not clear to me what he did to earn so much money that he had a private plane and his very own private island in the Caribbean. He’s a hedge fund manager. He manages other people’s money, and apparently it’s perfectly legal to skim off so much profit that you can basically get paid for diddling little girls, and you can escape prosecution by ratting out other overpaid financial company executives.

It just makes me sick. I don’t even want a second-hand connection to that world.