Good morning from the Blue Ridge mountains of Virginia!

I’m out here at Washington and Lee University to attend the American Arachnological Society 2019 meeting, and the sessions start in a few hours. It’s going to be intense: the sessions today are on functional morphology, morphological evolution (the session I most look forward to), molecular phylogenetics and systematics, and circadian rhythms. Damn, I’m interested in them all. My brain is going to be running hot all day long, so it’s a good thing the program culminates in a trip to a brewery to cool it back down.

There are no zebrafish talks to give me a retreat to the familiar, so it’s going to be a challenging day.

Oh, also, I met another first-timer here at AAS, and learned she has a blog called Spidermentor — it’s very good. It’s full of stories about collecting and raising and observing spiders in Western Pennsylvania, and is first-rate science communication. Check it out while I’m getting a high-speed cerebral infusion today.


  1. Sideshow Bill says

    Enjoy the area, It’s a beautiful campus and they are doing a massive amount of heavy lifting to change the vibe on campus and address the history of “Treason in Defense of Slavery” with respect to the cult of “Saint Bob” as he was known.

    I got a great education there which prepared me for my PhD in Chemistry. The liberal arts education has also served me very well. (and it was a full tuition scholarship, I wouldn’t have chosen the school or been able to go without, given the conservatism) Was it perfect, no, is it getting better, yes. Did I learn a ton about people and society in general by interacting with some people I never would have had a chance to otherwise? Yes. I understand the basis for conservatives, not that I agree, and understand the bubble that they live in having lived there.

    Of course, you can also go to the Red Hen in town and support them since they politely asked Sara “Verbal Diarrhea” Sanders to leave.

  2. starfleetdude says

    Washington rebelled against tyrannical rule, while Lee committed treason in defense of slavery, so the first is great while the second isn’t.

  3. jack16 says

    The Virginia Military Institute is a few blocks away. I was once a cadet there. It has a fine library. Sigma Mu was founded there. “Stone Wall” Jackson taught there. Also Mathew Fontaine Maury (pathfinder of the seas). You are up to your neck in American history. Find a knowledgable person and do a tour.


  4. says

    Washington rebelled against tyrannical rule, while Lee committed treason in defense of slavery, so the first is great while the second isn’t.

    You believe that, do you?

    What if I told you that the american colonies, like the southern states, rebelled to preserve their “freedom” to own people. And, of course there were taxes and other issues thrown up as part of the general smoke-screen, but in both cases it was the oligarchic land-owners and slave-owners seceding to maintain their lifestyle.

  5. chigau (違う) says

    Did you know that the Declaration of Independence contains a reference to
    “merciless Indian Savages”?

  6. starfleetdude says


    The American colonies were not universally for chattel slavery, which is why there was a Mason-Dixon line that delineated the boundary between north, where slavery wasn’t practiced, and south where it was. The U.S. Constitutional Convention in 1787 had much debate about how much representation slave states would have, with the compromise of the 3/5ths rule being agreed on. (I assume you know what that is, but you can look it up if you don’t.) The fact that the Constitutional Convention also spent much time and effort to come up with a republican form of government showed they were committed to representative government, not monarchy, and that was an important consideration. It wasn’t just a charade for the benefit of the wealthy.

  7. starfleetdude says


    Yes, I did. In context, it meant that King George III was arming and inciting native tribes to fight the rebels, which they did do. In fact, the British continued to supply weapons to natives after the Revolutionary War, with an eye to maintaining some influence in the Northwest territories west of Pennsylvania.

  8. a_ray_in_dilbert_space says

    Uh, no. The Mason-Dixon line had nothing to do with slavery–nor even with the boundary between North and South. It was merely the line determined to resolve a border dispute between the colonies of Pennsylvania, Maryland and Delaware. Slavery was practiced in all of the colonies. About half the colonies (in the North) abolished slavery within their borders during or slightly after the revolution. New York was the last Northern state to outlaw keeping slaves for its residents, although Southerners continued to travel to New York with their slaves long after, and the Fugitive Slave Act required Free States to return escaped slaves.

    The Revolution was very much a revolt of the propertied (not just slaveholding) classes.

  9. Snidely W says

    That pic. Is that the view from your hotel room?
    Or did someone strap a very small GoPro to a balooning spider?

  10. starfleetdude says


    Yes, the Mason-Dixon line was surveyed to settle a boundary dispute, and it also delineated the line separating states where chattel slavery would be maintained (i.e. the South) and the states where it would not be, the North. Indentured servitude would continue to be practiced in the northern states, but by 1804 all the North had ended slavery as a legal institution. The nation half-slave and half-free was baked into the U.S. Constitution, and as Lincoln said a house divided could not stand, and eventually didn’t.

    As for the U.S. Revolution, a.k.a. War of Independence, as I said it wasn’t just about property, it was also about how the new nation would be self-governed, rather than ruled by a King. A republic based on a popular vote for its representatives was a significant change from how nations were then ruled, and indeed it was not without reason when Benjamin Franklin quipped in response to a question about the results of the Constitutional Convention: “A republic, if you can keep it.”

  11. says

    You need to go read up on Somerset V Stuart and think a bit about the implications of English common law ceasing to recognize slavery in 1772. Of course there was disagreement about slavery; that’s why the rebellious oligarchs roped a bunch of tax dodging smugglers like John Hancock into their scheme. The 3/5 rule came later, and was a necessary political hack to get a single nation instead of a bunch of small states, as was Jefferson’s allowing Washington to be the capital instead of Philadelphia, as a sop to the southerners.

    The fact that the Constitutional Convention also spent much time and effort to come up with a republican form of government showed they were committed to representative government

    Good god, you’re awfully naive for someone on FTB. You cannot even use the words “representative government” to refer to the US, considering that the 3/5 rule you mentioned was a political trick that was designed specifically so that slave owners could throw the votes of the people they owned, and that the “representation” was arranged so that the more populous northern states could not out-vote the south. That’s not “representative” unless your idea of “representation” is “heavily gerrymandered and a significant chunk of the population’s vote is being thrown by their owners.” Perhaps you don’t realize how cynical US politics was in those days; it was worse then than it is now and it’s really really cynical now.

    If you take the southerners’ cries of “states rights!” and ask ‘what rights, exactly?’ you’ll find it’s the presumed “right” to own people. When you look at the revolutionary colonials’ complaint it was “rights” and taxes. OK, the taxes were a foolish attempt by the crown to get the colonies to pay for themselves – but what “rights” were being taken away? The declaration of independence explicitly named some of the complaint against the crown but was very vague about the “rights” part. Because it was Somerset V Stuart in which the crown bench had declared that slavery was illegal in the empire. Rather obviously, that was going to be a problem for the “rights” of southern slave-holders like Jefferson and Lee, etc.

    The “taxes” bit was also a lie, obviously, since the first thing (practically) that the new US did was raise taxes until the common citizen was paying more than they would have under the empire, triggering a tax revolt, which ended with the US raising an army against itself and stomping and hanging a load of citizens. Oh, yeah, the “taxes” issue was particularly important to Washington who was the largest land-holder in the colonies, and a real estate speculator par excellence.

    The oligarchs who led the successful rebellion did a better job propagandizing the people than the ones who led the failed rebellion, but history is written to serve the winner. That, ultimately is the main difference between Washington and Lee: Lee lost. They were both mostly incompetent commanders but the English incompetents Washington was up against were something he could handle.

  12. starfleetdude says


    You’re overstating the impact of that particular decision, as slavery was still legal in British colonial possessions no matter what the common law was doing in England.

    As for the 3/5ths compromise, it was seen as a necessary thing to keep the southern colonies united with those in the north, not an unimportant consideration right after a war. Cynical, sure. But practical.

    As for taxes, you’re forgetting one thing – it was with representation. I’m sure since you’re so knowledgeable about U.S. history you may recollect the phrase “No taxation without representation.” My apologies in advance for even bringing such a matter into doubt.

    As for why the issue of taxes was important to Washington, it was because there were war debts to be repaid. Washington and Hamilton believed that the new nation had to show it would be responsible with respect to its debts, something that’s certainly being called into question these days.

  13. chigau (違う) says

    The “merciless Indian Savages” were fighting for their sovereignty against invading barbarians. They took help where they could get it (it probably seemed like a good idea at the time).

  14. starfleetdude says


    Oh, sure I don’t blame the natives for siding with the British, just as they earlier sided with the French in the French and Indian War against the British. My wife’s Irish ancestor sold guns to the Indians back then, because British don’t you know.

  15. coragyps says

    My dad’s alma mater! Do they still have the preserved skeleton of Gen. Lee’s horse Traveler, when he was a foal?

  16. DanDare says

    Ooh horse skeleton! Then you need to find a headless horseman to ride it. And the attendant big black hairy spiders.

  17. chigau (違う) says

    I am sure that the natives are thrilled that you don’t blame them

  18. cicindela says

    Ohhh dag I thought that was you. How lovely to have you join us! Welcome to AAS and to Virginia. I’ll have to say hi and get a photo or something. You’re welcome to come on any spider hunting excursions! Can’t say I’ve kept up over the years, but Pharyngula was an important part of my dwindling youth and unavoidable early adulthood. Welcome!