Rats, I missed the Straight Pride parade in Boston

It looks like it was a hoot.

Best reply to that:

Walking with spiders

I went for a walk in lovely downtown Morris today, and was rather disappointed. Tegenaria has taken over! Where earlier this summer I would have found the delicate, airy cobwebs of my favorite false black widows, there was nothing but these thick, dense sheets of webbing leading to tunnels of silk with these massive spiders lurking within.

OK, fine, they’re still spiders…but they’re far more shy than Parasteatoda. I’d gently and slowly ease my camera lens towards them, but long before the spiders were in focus they’d dart deeper into the tunnel. It was frustrating. I started seeing the utility of this probe lens.

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Suck it up, cupcake

Rex Huppke has your number, fragile little men. What’s with all the bold brave conservative guys rushing to demand satisfaction for being called mean names?

…following news there was an outbreak of bedbugs in the New York Times newsroom, David Karpf, an associate professor of media and public affairs at George Washington University, jokingly tweeted: “The bedbugs are a metaphor. The bedbugs are Bret Stephens.”

Hardly anyone saw the tweet, as the professor at that point had few Twitter followers. But Stephens saw it — and it hurt his feelings. So much so that he sent an email to Karpf and the university’s provost, writing: “I would welcome the opportunity for you to come to my home, meet my wife and kids, talk to us for a few minutes, and then call me a ‘bedbug’ to my face.”

Stephens was clearly trying to leverage his status as a Times columnist to get Karpf in trouble, all because he was mad the professor called him a bedbug. So much for Stephens’ worries about “the job security of professors.”

Jesus. Stephens writes opinions on one of the most prominent media platforms out there, and further, he’s one of the most despised conservative extremists at the NYT, and he lashes out at a mild insult? Try being a woman expressing a preference for a movie to her few followers on Twitter. She’ll get a thousand times the rage that Stephens gets, and she’ll deserve it far less. She’ll probably deal with it with far more equanimity than Bretbug. (He really is verminous pest who ought to be steamed out of the press, anyway.)

I’m humblingly low on any kind of media ranking, but I get constant, substantial harassment. The biggest noise was when Stuart Pivar tried to sue me for $15 million, or Michael Shermer blustering and threatening and sending me cease & desist letters, but I also get constant attempts to get me fired — remember Comma, the Sovereign Citizen who was dunning the board of regents with conspiracy theories? There are lots more examples of that kind of thing that I haven’t even bothered to mention. Another thing I don’t mention: over the years, there have been multiple instances of people setting up Pharyngula parody blogs, or even more petty, blogs that no one reads that attempt to rebut every post I put up. These are usually created by disgruntled ex-commenters who got banned, and have to express their resentment. Yeah, I get called worse than “bedbug”. I don’t care. I know these things will fade away in time.

And, of course, I’m getting sued by Richard Carrier for daring to investigate accusations of sexual harassment against him. You’d think, if he were confident that the accusations were false, that the appropriate reaction would be to welcome an investigation, but no — he lashed out with a set of absurd lawsuits against multiple people.

I know from experience. It turns out that poking your head up and criticizing the status quo will draw out swarms of delicate little flowers (strangely, all men so far) who will try to destroy you, often while piously declaiming the importance of Free Speech out of the other side of their mouth. Bret Stephens is just the latest, most prominent example of white male fragility. Would you believe he’s even comparing himself to persecuted Jews in Nazi Germany because a college professor called him a bedbug?

Maybe I’ve been underestimating my power. They wouldn’t be trying to suppress me if I were harmless, after all.

P.S. I may be an immensely dangerous college professor, but I still need help. There is a group of us being currently sued, and we need donations to cover the legal costs. If you can help out, we’d appreciate it!

P.P.S. The next big event in that case is September 24th, in a Minneapolis court. I’m not sure where or what time yet, but I’ll let you know when it gets closer, in case anyone wants to show up and listen to our lawyer orate eloquently.

P.P.P.S. Will no one think of the bedbugs?

The big picture

You want a pithy summary of why so much noise is being made about Jeffrey Epstein? Here’s a good one.

The sprawling connections between Epstein and the nation’s intellectual and scientific elite — the full extent of which may still be ripe for exposure, Buzzfeed suggested — raised questions not just about individual judgment (Harvard biochemist George Church chalked it up to “nerd tunnel vision” in early August), but the enduring exclusivity and chauvinism of power networks writ large. “After the revelations of abuse and rape,” Adam Rogers wrote in Wired magazine this week, “the most frightening thing the Epstein connections show is the impregnable, hermetic way class and power work in America.”

It’s not that we have a particular animus against this one guy, or his coterie of clients, but that it’s a reflection of a deeper problem — the artificial hierarchies that afflict the whole system. Men vs. women, white vs. black, rich vs. poor, the ranking of colleges, the phony misrepresentation of what the wealthy colleges are for (it’s not for a better education, it’s for networking with other rich bozos), it’s all one big ugly structure that impedes the advancement of merit, and gives the privileged the ability to prey on the less well off. Sometimes the system of oppression is laid bare and exposed, and this is such a case.

Spider Friday

One of the benefits of my job is that I get to work with young men and women all day, except when I’m not, when I’m puttering about with spiders (we will pretend committee meetings do not happen). So this morning I had my coffee and then toddled off to the lab to tend to my little friends.

Here’s my breeding colony.

They’re the ones with special privileges. They get the big roomy 5.7L sterilite containers, with one female per cage and connubial visitations. There are also racks in a pair of incubators with about 50 more spiders living in 3cm diameter tubes; they seem content, as long as food keeps getting delivered. So some of the spiders get to live in a suite at the Hilton, others are in the capsule hotel.

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Hey, I owned those books!

They look so familiar. I might still have them, buried in a box somewhere with my Ph.D. diploma and a pile of old similarly irrelevant papers.

The photo comes from an article on the history of Dungeons & Dragons that mostly takes Gary Gygax down a notch. It’s entertaining, I kind of suspect the tale of the deep dissent between the Wisconsin crowd and the Minnesota gamers is likely true, because even as a young man I heard rumors of the conflict, but mainly I took away these shocking points:

  • Everyone in the 1970s had bad hair, and it didn’t improve as they got older.
  • The main reason D&D used 20-sided dice is because Gygax wanted a reason to sell them.
  • The primary conflict was between story-tellers and rules lawyers.

I’m going to take sides with the Arneson/story-teller idea, because my exposure to D&D in the ancient of days made it clear that the rules were better as a very loose framework for the story between the players to play out.

“Facts, not emotion”

What would you, as a manager, do with Clifford Currie, a civilian contractor working in an Army hospital? There is a huge pile of documentation that shows he is unstable, unreliable, and hostile. There were months of reports piling up.

Army investigators reviewed more than 1,000 pages of documents, including witness statements, law enforcement case files, and email correspondence. Though some names and specific details were redacted, statements from 25 witnesses supported Blanchard’s claim that she’d warned her supervisors — and anyone else who would listen — that she felt Currie was a threat.

The hospital’s chain of command knew that Currie “exhibited erratic behavior and risk indicators,” and that he “had multiple angry outbursts, acted ominously, and actively intimidated” Blanchard, the report said.

Two weeks before the assault Blanchard said that she met with her supervisors, and pleaded: “Please, don’t leave me there as a sitting duck,” but was told to “come back with facts, not emotion,” she told Task & Purpose. “I went back to my office and I just cried, because I just felt so hopeless.”

The report noted that Currie was the subject of 53 complaints from patients between 2013 and 2016 — 31 of which occurred in 2016 while Blanchard was his supervisor. According to the report, three of the patient complaints described Currie as “being hostile.”

The military did nothing. Then Currie walked in on Katie Blanchard, poured gasoline on her, and set her on fire. It was a sudden, violent act, but there’d been obvious signs and multiple warnings that this guy was going to snap. She survived, with serious scarring and pain, and she sued the Army for needlessly putting her life in danger. Guess what happened next? They have a rule that says the military can’t be sued!

On April 18, 2019, the Army denied Blanchard’s claim for damages, citing the Feres Doctrine — a 1950 Supreme Court precedent which bars service members and their families from suing the military for injury or death brought on by their service. The claim, which Blanchard’s attorneys provided to Task & Purpose, included the names of 14 people within her chain of command who were allegedly warned by her that Currie posed a threat.

“Come back with facts, not emotion”. That sounds so familiar, the kind of thing skeptics and atheists would say all the time. Sometimes the emotions are the facts, and you have to have policies to deal with them…or you end up with women burning in their office chairs.

Paper ballots everywhere

This shouldn’t even be debatable. We can’t trust Republicans or Russians (increasingly the same thing) to manage an election honestly, so a paper trail is necessary. Take, for example, the case of Georgia (the one in North America, not the one in Eurasia):

To find a clue about what might have gone wrong with Georgia’s election last fall, look no further than voting machine No. 3 at the Winterville Train Depot outside Athens.
On machine No. 3, Republicans won every race. On each of the other six machines in that precinct, Democrats won every race.The odds of an anomaly that large are less than 1 in 1 million, according to a statistician’s analysis in court documents. The strange results would disappear if votes for Democratic and Republican candidates were flipped on machine No. 3.

There were other irregularities there, too. Let’s not forget the open dishonesty of gerrymandering, either.

It’s funny how the Republicans are fanatical about accusing Democratic voters of fraud and cheating, but they don’t want to fix these basic, obvious problems. It’s almost as if the accusations are a distraction to keep the electorate from noticing how blatantly they are cheating to stay in power.