Spider Update

It’s been a while since I had anything new to report — the colony is just sitting there, waiting for me to provide the ladies with some males, since they ate all of them. But we’re gearing up for a field season, so there were a few things I was able to try.

I’ve written up a protocol for our summer spider survey. It’s mainly a series of steps we’re going to carry out as we scan a garage, because consistency is important. We’re not going to be able to see every spider in every place — they’re sneaky, quiet little buggers — so we need to survey each environment in the same way, so that we can compare the residences, even if we know we’re going to miss animals. So Mary and I put on headlamps, plunged into our frigid garage and went through the motions to see how practical my plan was.

We didn’t expect much. It’s been a hard winter, and while today felt much warmer and the snow is melting, it really is still only 2°C, hardly happy weather for spiders, and not any better for their prey. We went spider hunting anyway.

As expected, there wasn’t much alive out there, maybe. The only spiders we saw were cellar spiders, Pholcidae, and they didn’t seem to be up to much. In fact, they might have all been dead. They were all inert and unresponsive to touch, but were still strangely plump and life-like, if still. They could be little frozen corpsicles, or possibly estivating. We couldn’t tell. We counted them anyway, if they looked intact and like, maybe, they’re going to rise from the dead at some point. It was all practicing the protocol, anyway.

The end result is that our cold and unpleasant and rather cluttered garage, 5.3m wide and 6.1m deep, has walls that are all covered with cobwebs, especially any part of the wall that is more than just a bare surface. If there was so much as a nail sticking out of a sheet of fiberboard, there was a cobweb on it. We counted a total of 63 zombie pholcids in that little space, and also found 11 egg cases of at least 3 different types. We’re starting to think our biggest challenge will be counting all the spiders in a reasonable amount of time once summer arrives with the mosquito season and the happy little beasts start fornicating fiercely.

One neat little surprise: along a back wall, there’s an area with a rack of shallow shelves, and Mary excitedly tells me that she has discovered spiderlings! I was skeptical and thought that was metabolically improbable given the ambient temperatures, but when I looked, sure enough, there were sheets of webbing in all of those shelves, and in all of them there was an explosion of tiny white dots with itty-bitty hairlike protrusions. They were of the right size, and that was the kind of scattering I’ve seen in newly hatched spiders in the lab, but I couldn’t imagine they might have survived a Minnesota winter, and they didn’t.

I twirled a patch of cobweb with the putative spiderlings onto a brush, and brought it into the lab, and sure enough…spiderlings. Well, the molted cuticles of many adorable baby spiders. Here’s a photo.

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Interesting data…for what it doesn’t say

The Nones have just passed the Catholics in numbers, at least according to one survey. And the Evangelical Protestants may have passed their peak. That’s all good news.

It looks like a lot of the gains among the nominally godless have come from the Mainline Protestants, though — so, basically, the people with a pragmatic, already fairly unsuperstitious perspective have shifted labels, abandoning a specific church affiliation. In that sense it’s not a major transition.

Note also the absence of the label “atheist”. It’s kind of padding the ranks to just lump together all the diverse beliefs ranging from outright denial of all gods and supernatural powers to blissful confidence in a divine creator who is not accurately represented by established religion into one catch-all category, “no religion”. The message isn’t so much that more and more people are adopting rationality as it is that more and more people are finding the spectacle of religious fanatics unsavory. That orange line is an impressive granfalloon.

But I’ll take it. It’s a good step forward. Now if only we could put an end to organized atheism’s embrace of the unsavory, too.

Movies with Mikey + Baby Driver?

Perfection. I like both Movies with Mikey and Baby Driver — I thought it was one of the best movies of the last few years. And then to discover something new that I hadn’t noticed, even though it was pervasive in the movie, was a real eye-opener.

It’s about coping with being disabled? Yeah, now that you mention it, it’s goddamned obvious.

Also relevant, this past year I’ve developed a growing problem with tinnitus — getting old sucks — and I’ve been dealing with it by living with headphones on all the time I’m working in my office. And then we learn that my wife has been living with a degenerative hearing disorder all of her life that has only recently gotten bad enough that she’s needed hearing aids. It’s an odd one, too, where she’s slowly losing the low end of her auditory range, so in a few years we may have to learn ASL…or I’m going to have to start speaking in a falsetto all the time. (Don’t worry, neither of us are suffering horribly with this stuff, it’s all mild and we’re handling it as well as every other hurdle aging throws at us.)

Now I’m going to have to watch Baby Driver again, which is no hardship, at least.

Oh, god, Peterson is such a fool

I’ll say something more substantial about this later, but Jordan Peterson opened his mouth and said something stupid, and I got slapped in the face with it this morning, and I’m still trying to recover.

Morgane Oger is a transgender woman, and a court ruled that she’d been discriminated against and libeled by Christian flyer that was sent around that misgendered her and made various religious claims condemning homosexuality. This has obviously stirred up the conservative Christians and Jordan Peterson (but I repeat myself). What Peterson wrote is such flaming nonsense I’m going to have compose something to explain cell non-autonomous sex determination — and maybe some disambiguation about chromosomes vs. DNA vs. cells that I would have thought an “evolutionary biologist” like Peterson should already understand.

But then I made a mistake. A terrible awful mistake. I thought I honestly should look a little deeper into what Peterson actually says at length, because I know the first thing that will happen if I criticize that demented drongo is a swarm of his cultists would fall on me howling about how I have to listen to hours and hours of his lectures to understand him. So I tried.

I opened up one of his podcasts.


That thing is 2.5 hours long. Hours of garbage about…this.

Lecture II in my Psychological Significance of the Biblical Stories from May 23 at Isabel Bader Theatre, Toronto. In this lecture, I present Genesis 1, which presents the idea that a pre-existent cognitive structure (God the Father) uses the Logos, the Christian Word, the second Person of the Trinity, to generate habitable order out of pre-cosmogonic chaos at the beginning of time. It is in that Image that Man and Woman are created — indicating, perhaps, that it is (1) through speech that we participate in the creation of the cosmos of experience and (2) that what true speech creates is good.

It is a predicate of Western culture that each individual partakes in some manner in the divine. This is the true significance of consciousness, which has a world-creating aspect.

I listened to a half hour of it. It’s word salad delivered in a stream-of-consciousness fashion by a babbling loon who talks really fast. I gave up at around the 37 minute mark when he mentions that he’ll get around to talking about Genesis 1 shortly.

Now I have to get out of the house and go for a walk and spend some time in the gym to clear my head. I pity those people who willingly listen to this gomer at length.

Later. After I’ve recovered.

Holy shit. After reading that drivel by Peterson, read this letter defending him by…Richard Dawkins.

Once upon a time, I would have thought Richard Dawkins would have regarded giving a pretentious, empty-headed twit like Peterson a visiting professorship at Cambridge to be an “ignominious disgrace.” And jeez, whining about selfies is just so old-man-shakes-fist-at-clouds.

OK, now I’ve got to go out the door and away. Maybe I’ll also need to spend some time cooing over spiders to cool off.

Goodbye, Strumia, don’t come back

Alessandro Strumia, the bozo physicist who was run out of CERN for his ridiculously chauvinistic decrees about the unsuitability of women to do physics, got a friendly profile in the Sunday Times. I haven’t read it, since it’s behind a paywall and what I can see of it certainly doesn’t encourage me to subscribe, but here’s a nice breakdown of Strumia’s claims. From the first one you can tell why the article was demotivating.

The headline of the Sunday Times piece includes the words: “the data doesn’t lie—women don’t like physics.”

If you are wondering if this is a case of an engagement editor gone rogue in search of hate-clicks, the headline that ran in print was even worse: “My Big Bang Theory Is: Women Don’t Like Physics.”

Read the rest. It’s…ugh.

We may anticipate being subjected to more of this drivel from Strumia in the future.

Strumia has apparently turned his lecture into a paper, which he hopes to have a peer-reviewed journal publish. “Whether he finds one ready to brave the inevitable backlash remains to be seen,” writes Conradi.

I would wonder what journal would stoop so low to publish that crap before I would be concerned about an imaginary “backlash”.

Maybe Quillette? It sounds perfect for them.

But what if that’s the future we want?

Laura Ingraham had this fellow, Paul Nathanson, on her show, and they had to discuss the onrushing crisis barreling in on humanity…which is, of course, trans people. Nathanson has some interesting ideas about how that will work out.

Nathanson agreed with Ingraham, adding: “I think that the trans people have taken it one step further because by abandoning gender altogether, not simply re-writing it, they’re basically trying to use social engineering to create a new species. Which is what, in fact, the transhumanists have been doing for the past half century. Using medical and other technologies to develop a new species.

“So the goal is really quite radical,” he added. “We’re not talking about people who want to simply do a bit of reform here and there, add a new category. They want, they must, in fact, destroy whatever is in order to replace it with what they think should be. We’re talking about revolution, not reform.”

Ingraham asks: “And the new species will be looking like what? Will be part human part animal? I mean, will be human mostly…”

Nathanson said, “I think human and part machine,” to which Ingraham replies “part machine, hmm.”

Well, cool. That sounds wonderful. Sign me up! I would like to be part human, part squid, part spider, and part iPhone. I had no idea the transgender agenda was so diverse!

I’m sure this Nathanson guy must be some kind of expert on biology and computer science, right? Not as if he’s just some random religious wacko…

Paul Nathanson is a Canadian religious studies academic and professional expert witness. He has a BA in art history (1968); an MLS (library service, 1971); a BTh (Christianity, 1978); an MA in religious studies (Judaism and Islam); and a PhD (1989). He began his academic career by writing Over the Rainbow: The Wizard of Oz as a Secular Myth of America, “about the convergence of sacred and profane patterns in popular culture.” Nathanson is currently working as a senior researcher in the McGill University department of Religious Studies, while testifying as a paid expert on behalf of social conservatives opposing legal recognition of same-sex marriages. In Varnum v. Brien Nathanson’s testimony concerning purported social effects of recognizing same-sex marriages was stricken by the trial court, which explained that the opinions Nathanson expressed were “not based on observation supported by scientific methodology or . . . on empirical research in any sense.” Since then, Nathanson has been proferred as an expert in Perry v. Schwarzenegger by litigants who intervened in the case to defend a California constitutional amendment stripping same-sex couples of the right to marry.

Oh. Well then.

Never mind.

The right-wingers are really desperate for authorities to back up their delusions if they’re picking up cranks like that.

How long does it take a man to collect his semen specimen in a busy infertility clinic?

That’s the question asked by this paper, How long does it take a man to collect his semen specimen in a busy infertility clinic? They have a clear motive, to figure out what factors might be reducing the throughput at these clinics. Guys, you’re taking up essential space and monopolizing the porn magazines! Ejaculate quickly and get out!

So they timed the men (the pressure!), and to answer the question: the median time was about 12 minutes, with a range of 3 minutes to almost 40 minutes. They only looked at two variables that might affect that time. One was whether the purpose of the visit was cryopreservation or not. The most common reason for giving a semen sample was to evaluate it for fertility issues; some people are there because they’re about to get a vasectomy or undergo chemotherapy, so they want to preserve a sample. Men ejaculating to preserve a sample take about two minutes longer, but I wouldn’t attach much significance to that, given the huge amount of variability and the small sample size.

The second variable was whether the men were attended by their female partner; if they were, it took about 4 minutes longer. Again, it’s impossible to read anything into that number. They aren’t examining the patients with so much as a questionnaire to figure out what’s going on. Go ahead, let your imagination run wild, but there’s no data here.

I am, however, deeply offended by how they plotted the data. This is a terrible chart.

Unforgivable. You’re supposed to compare the collection times between unattended men (orange) and men with their partners (blue), but it’s plotted by raw numbers of men — so all you’re really seeing is the difference in sample size. You have to imagine the blue bars stretched on the vertical axis to do any comparison — it should have been plotted by percentiles — and then the differences are small, and you can see that both groups have a substantial range. It’s very misleading. Bad graphing, bad.

I’m not impressed with their conclusion, either.

The only variable with a negative impact on the collection time was the presence of a female partner in the collection room. Our findings can aid in optimizing the scheduling of patients requiring semen collection in a clinical setting.

You know, you’ve got patients who are concerned about infertility, or are going to be treated for cancer, and there’s also some embarrassment about the situation. I think that how much time it takes them to spurt out a sample ought to be a low priority here, and it’s rather insensitive to be thinking that kicking partners out is to be considered as a way to “optimize the scheduling”, and given the degree of variability here I don’t think you can arrange matters to favor Mr Jackrabbit over Mr Slowhand, nor should you.

As we all know, if you really want to speed things up, the only solution is a rectal probe to deliver electroshock to the prostate.

Cui bono, Brexit?

I understand Brexit even less now. Theresa May has offered to throw herself on her political sword to get her desired deal.

What a grotesque Faustian pact they have concocted. In the early evening, Theresa May walked into a committee room in parliament and indicated to her parliamentary party that she would quit if they backed her deal. Journalists and MPs reacted with bewildering innocence to all this. The widespread presumption – laughable when you see it written down in black and white – was that it was true. In fact, it seemed perfectly in line with her usual tactic of saying whatever gets her through the day, then dealing with the consequences of it further down the line. One thing you can always rely on with May is that if there is wriggle room, she will make good use of it. And there was plenty of wriggle room in the vague assurances she offered the parliamentary Conservative party this evening.

But put that to one side. Let’s say it is true. Consider for a moment how disreputable this is. Any deal which requires the resignation of its author in order to get is passed is by default not worth supporting. And any political culture which would require the author of a deal to step down in order for MPs to back it is plainly in a state of advanced decay.

The American political mess I can understand, even if I hate it. Some rich, corrupt parasites have figured out that they can tap into the deep vein of American racism to get the political power to loot the country to their benefit — they’ve been poisoning the black children of Flint, Michigan while lowering their own taxes. I get it. If I had no moral compass and lacked all empathy, I could imagine sucking the country dry for my own profit as a net gain.

But what are the Brexit crusaders going to gain? I’m sure someone can profit from pure economic chaos, as an opportunity to pick up the broken shards of people’s lives and put them in the bank, but it can’t be that simple, can it? If someone were approaching my car with a sledgehammer intending to smash it into scrap, I wouldn’t ask my wife to vote with me on allowing it.

Is it just weird English pride? Co-existing with other partner nations might rankle a population that still remembers being the ruler of a vast empire. Is that it? As American politicians tap into the reliable resource of our racism, are British politicians relying on the sentiment of “Rule, Britannia! rule the waves: Britons never will be slaves”?

I hope it’s not the charisma of the Brexit leadership. Nigel Farage always seems like a dippy used car salesman; Boris Johnson is a clown; Jacob Rees-Mogg…oh, god. The Etonian pomposity. I once listened to him on the internet and felt a rising need to stand on a table and sing the Marseillaise. Another question: how do the British manage to listen to that pretentious snob without rising up in revolution? I wouldn’t be able to do it.

I guess the plan here is to answer my questions by simply plunging ahead and doing the experiment: ripping the country out of the European union, and then sifting through the wreckage to see who, if anyone, profited. One has to admire their dedication to empiricism, at least.