The Spider Times

Word on the street in these here parts is that you should ignore the warmth and the sunshine and wake up to the fact that the weather is going to change. Spiders are smarter than humans that way.

Seriously…so many egg sacs are appearing all over the place. I think the spiders are instinctively preparing for the catastrophe that is a Minnesota winter, and also responding to the bumper crop of mosquitos and other insects that are swarming everywhere right now.

The students and I have plans for this week.

  • Tomorrow, we’re going to take advantage of the plethora of egg cases to do a staging exercise, opening them up and assessing the developmental stage of the embryos, referring to this paper: Mittman,B and Wolff, C (2012) Embryonic development and staging of the cobweb spider Parasteatoda tepidariorum C. L. Koch, 1841 (syn.: Achaearanea tepidariorum; Araneomorphae; Theridiidae). Dev Genes Evol (2012) 222:189–216. It’ll be great fun.
  • Thursday is Feeding Day. At 10:00 we’ll feed the adults crickets and flies, and all the babies will get a fly of their own. This is becoming a bigger job every week.
  • Friday…COLLECTING TRIP. We’re going to cruise out to some of the local towns, outside of where we’re doing our spider survey, and we’re going to go wild filling vials with Parasteatoda and their egg cases, because I’m having my own anxiety about winter, when I’ll lose access to the wild population again. My goal is to have so many spiders that they’re dribbling out of my ears. We especially need more males.

It’s what they do, not what they say

I read this article about the results of a national survey, and found myself annoyed by unthinking acceptance of what people say about their views, rather than what they do. That’s an intrinsic problem of polls, though, and it’s bad when it’s not recognized.

It’s arguing that Democrats and Republicans don’t understand each other. First problem: the two parties are a pair of granfalloons, associations that are mostly meaningless. The author is arguing that we ignore the diversity within each group and don’t understand the values of the other, but part of the problem is that the premise asks that we regard these as real divisions, and then chastises the participants for generalizing opinions of Democrats and Republicans.

In a surprising new national survey, members of each major American political party were asked what they imagined to be the beliefs held by members of the other. The survey asked Democrats: “How many Republicans believe that racism is still a problem in America today?” Democrats guessed 50%. It’s actually 79%. The survey asked Republicans how many Democrats believe “most police are bad people”. Republicans estimated half; it’s really 15%.

The survey, published by the thinktank More in Common as part of its Hidden Tribes of America project, was based on a sample of more than 2,000 people. One of the study’s findings: the wilder a person’s guess as to what the other party is thinking, the more likely they are to also personally disparage members of the opposite party as mean, selfish or bad. Not only do the two parties diverge on a great many issues, they also disagree on what they disagree on.

Wait. You’re asking people to “guess as to what the other party is thinking,” and you don’t realize the fundamental flaws in what you’re doing? You’re asking people to read the minds of a diverse organization, and are surprised that they fail at that impossible task? It’s wrong in so many ways.

When a Democrat guesses that 50% of Republicans think racism is a problem, they’re being charitable, because while we can’t read minds, we can see what the Republican party stands for, how their policies affect the country, and what the leadership says, and the Republican party is a flamingly racist organization led by openly racist politicians.

Likewise, when the Republicans say 50% of Democrats don’t trust the police, they’re also being generous, because if you read the news (which is also biased in its reporting), all you see are stories of police murdering people and not being held accountable; you should think the police are bad people, given what evidence we see in the news.

Of course, this problem is compounded by the fact that the survey is asking respondents to treat Republican and Democrat as discrete and uniform organizations. We know that isn’t true.

That’s what drives me crazy about this report. You’re a bad person for not knowing what individuals believe about the country, but you’re asked to categorize a broad group in your answer. The author reports one of her own experiences.

But one man I talked with – someone raised on a sugar plantation, retired from a life-long career in oil, a proud member of the Louisiana Tea Party and a Trump supporter – grinned broadly at the mention of Bernie Sanders. “Free college? Free medical care? How yawl going to pay for that? He’s a pie in the sky guy,” he said. “But he’s a good man, Uncle Bernie.” Although an oil worker, he was a fan of clean energy, and liked the idea of a Manhattan Project to implement it.

Among Republicans, he isn’t alone. Despite the president’s denial of the climate crisis, national polls recently conducted by researchers at Yale, Stanford and Monmouth Universities show that a majority of voters in both parties now agree on many actions to mitigate it.

Aaargh. I’m supposed to know what a retired oil worker in Louisiana thinks, but you’re asking about the Republican party as a whole? What I’ll use to judge the party as a whole is their actions: they elected a climate change denying president, and they’re implementing policies, such as a 30% tariff on solar panels, and then they’re claiming to be a fan of clean energy in their mind. I must be bad at mind-reading.

That this one guy think Bernie Sanders is a “good guy” is somehow supposed to mitigate the actions of the elected officials of the Republican party, and especially Trump, is galling. OK, I’ll appreciate that random individuals in the Republican party are capable of paying lip service to one value while voting against it.

I also have to ask…how y’all going to pay for the hundreds of billions of dollars spent on the military?

Brooding…with a vengeance

It was a long day in the lab — I had to catch up with washing glassware, a disgusting job since the main chore was all the fly bottles. There was a reward, however. I’ve been waiting for the colony to take off, and finally, they’re just pumping out spider eggs. We counted nine egg sacs at various stages of development today. Here’s one proud mama with her gigantic egg sac. Yes, all that came out of little ol’ her. She’s looking a bit deflated since this weekend.

Photo by Preston Fifarek

In case you’re wondering what you’re looking at, we cut up cardboard boxes that contained mini-cans of pop, which turn out to be just the right size for our sterilyte containers. We cut out the center of the boxes, leaving just the edges and corners, which makes for a nice frame for them to spin cobwebs on. The big advantage is that we can pick up the whole cardboard frame, carrying along the spider and her web undisturbed, and rotate it around to find where she was hiding. In this case, she’s snugged up in one corner of the light cardboard box with an egg sac that is, I swear, twice her size.

Why am I seeing variants of this same story everywhere?

You know the one…the one where a white American thinks you’re only allowed to speak English.

Xiara Mercado walked into a Starbucks in Hawaii dressed in her Air Force uniform, ordered her drink, and was casually talking on the phone to someone in Spanish. As she left, a woman tapped her on the shoulder — not to thank her for her service, but to scold her for speaking a language other than English.

“You shouldn’t be speaking Spanish, that’s not what that uniform represents,” the woman said, telling Mercado that her choice to speak Spanish in public was “distasteful.”

Where is this coming from? I’m an out of touch ivory tower guy from a culture where we think it’s fabulous when people are fluent in multiple languages. This resentment against people with different backgrounds feels wrong, like there’s a side of America that doesn’t want to believe that they are not the definition of reality.

It’s also weird to see this kind of demand in Hawai’i, which has an indigenous population as well as a substantial Asian population in addition to us colonizers. Isn’t it wrong to be speaking English, or Japanese, or Spanish there with this kind of attitude?

Cargo cult science in defense of right-wing bias

I found this article on Gateway Pundit. GP doesn’t get enough attention simply because it is run by the dumbest man on the internet and publishes the dumbest articles, so people tend to ignore it, except for its audience of very dumb people, but I thought I’d dredge up some of the sludge because this one pretends to be Science™. Why, just look at this illustration!

Image 1: Sample of the facial analysis results for one video frame out of about 120K frames analyzed.

That looks like a color glossy with circles and arrows, sure enough, and it’s probably got a paragraph on the back explaining what each one was to be used as evidence against Omar. It’s also got polygons! And multiple graphs! And lists! And colors! It’s just densely packed with barely legible information, and kind of reminds me of computer screens from science fiction movies in its generally uninterpretable and confusing layout, designed to bewilder with the awesome technology of it all.

You will not be surprised to learn that this heap of pseudoscientific, meaningless noise is being used to accuse Ilhan Omar of being a liar, since this is Gateway Pundit, after all.

An study of Ilhan Omar through facial, speech and virtual polygraph analysis shows Ilhan Omar is a pathological liar or just not being honest about her stories related to her immigration to the US!!!

Huh. Real polygraphs are useless and inaccurate, I wonder how reliable a virtual polygraph would be? All this “analysis” comes from a crank conspiracy theorist named Yaacov Apelbaum who has software that goes through video clips frame by frame and assigns emotional values to every facial expression, that counts blinks, “umms”, and pauses, and arrives at an interpretation defined by the user, that is, Yaacov Apelbaum. It’s garbage science, mangled by a biased kook, presented as fact.

Does this even count as real data?

Impressive multi-colored squiggles all over the chart, but the end result is a smear. She’s talking about an encounter her family had in Somalia with armed militia who shot up her home, and her stress about that event is being interpreted as proof that she is lying about everything. Worse, though, is that every change in her expression is twisted to mean she’s faking her story, rather than that she is recounting a traumatic incident in her past.

Remember this, everyone. If anything awful has happened to you, the only trustworthy to tell it to anyone is with a stony impassive face, no blinking, and with no pauses or stumbles or stutters, or it’s going to be judged by crackpots like Apelbaum or the goons at Gateway Pundit.

First instar, here we are!

If you compare this photo to yesterdays, you can see that yesterday the embryos were in the process of molting, with the prosoma free and the abdomen and legs still trapped in the old cuticle. Today the legs are free and the old cuticle is a shriveled white mass at the end of the abdomen.

We have lots of healthy looking babies from this clutch, which worries me…we’ve got three more egg cases that will probably hatch out this week, and we’re going to be swimming in baby spiders. I’m going to need a lot more flies, I think.

Here’s a closer look at its cute l’il baby face.