You need some Halloween spiders

Here, have a few. These are from my collection of juvenile P. tepidariorum.

I can tell this one is going to be a big boy.

Webs! This one is an artist.

While this one is looking at me and making mystical gestures.

Hey, I’ve had dozens and dozens of trick-or-treaters come to my house tonight, and I’m nearly out of candy. Would it be OK if I started handing out spiders?

We are #1!

Guess who came out on top in a list of Every State, Ranked by How Miserable Its Winters Are? You guessed it. Although the psychoanalyzing of Minnesotans is way off the mark.

1. Minnesota
To think of the generally cheerful brood of Nordic-bred people being the winners in any sort of a contest of misery seems downright crazy. But for all those adorable don’tcha knows, we think something else is going on. We think beneath that eternal Nordic happiness is some inner pain, trapped below the surface like a Grain Belt dropped into an ice fishing hole, a cauldron of hot anger ready to spill out like a cut-open Jucy Lucy.

How can you remain so upbeat when you get all the winter weather patterns? Alberta clippers? Sure. Panhandle hooks? You betcha! Parts of northern Minnesota see up to 170in of snow in a winter. One hundred seventy inches! That’s like two and a half times the height of Kent Hrbek!! It can get down to -60 degrees, a temperature at which frostbite can occur in fewer than five minutes. There are no chinook winds or moderating oceans to temper things outside of a small area by Lake Superior. Your sports teams never win championships. All of your good high school hockey players end up starring for NHL teams in other cities. Ice fishing can’t be that cool, really.

And so we think that — despite all appearances — Minnesota does in fact have the most miserable winter in the United States. So to all the Eriks, and Astrids, and Christens, and Bjorns, and Brynjars, it’s OK to show a little displeasure at the clusterfuck of a meteorological hand you’ve been dealt. After all, don’tcha know emoting is good for the system?

No, no, no. This is precisely wrong. Minnesotans wallow in their gloriously bad weather. You would not believe how many times I’ve heard residents brag about the Halloween blizzard of 1991 — and I kind of feel bad that I didn’t move here until 2000, so I can’t contribute to the myth. Every winter I, and every other Minnesotan, check the weather reports religiously, because otherwise we wouldn’t have anything to talk about, and besides we’re hoping for another day of record breaking cold. Bring on the polar vortex! We’d be heartbroken if we had weather as boring as, say, Iowa’s.

We’re all frost giants up here, and proud of it.

I usually lie and say it’s for the grandchildren

This might be a little weird for most of you, but it’s Jenny Nicholson reading reviews of fake spiders from Amazon, and it resonated with me, because I too have browsed Amazon for spiders, and I have a few fake spiders — and fake cephalopods — decorating my home right now.

It’s a thing. If you were a member of the cult, you’d understand. You know, “Four legs good, two legs bad, eight legs unholy harbinger of the apocalypse,” all that jazz.

Are you looking for spooky stories to tell tonight?

Karen Stollznow has written some and is selling them on Amazon. These are variations on the kinds of modern myths you may have heard as a skeptic many times, but they all have slight twists, which means we’ll probably be hearing these as True Facts™ sometime. Don’t Leave Me, Unforeseen Circumstances, Welcome Home, I Am Me, and The Dark Road are all available on Kindle right now. Download and read them at the Halloween party tonight! They’re all short stories and perfect for a creepy session around the fireplace.

“Due process” is not magic

I already said this about “due process”!

This irrelevant bit of legalese has become a mantra among horrible people. You do not need “due process” to detest an exploiter and harasser. The state needs due process if it is going to deprive an individual of liberty or property, but neither of those were at issue here — these were women using their free speech (one of those rights that the Right loves so much, except when it is inconvenient to them) to express their assessment of the available evidence that Harvey Weinstein is a crude rapist thug, and that this issue has not been formally tried in a court of law doesn’t make it any less true. That the wealth and influence Weinstein used to do harm also shelters him from legal action does not protect him from the informed judgement of society, it just means he isn’t in jail where he belongs, stripped of his power. That would require “due process”. No one needs “due process” to shun a rapist.

Now an attorney writes an opinion piece in the Washington Post that says the same thing.

Let’s be clear: There is no due process right to not have people make jokes about you. There is no due process right to have strangers think you aren’t a rapist until you’ve been convicted. (Based on the reporting I’ve read, I believe Weinstein is a rapist. Sue me, Harvey.) Rather, due process is a constitutional guarantee that requires the government to provide certain procedures when it deprives a person of liberty or property. And the terms of that guarantee depend on what the government seeks to take away. As a general matter, when stakes are high — as in a criminal trial in which a prison sentence is one possible outcome — procedural protections are at their most robust. When the stakes are lower — involving a fine, say, or the demotion of a public employee — the process might be less rigorous. But generally speaking, the accused should get notice of the accusation and the opportunity to tell his or her side of the story, sometimes before the deprivation occurs, sometimes after.

Weinstein is not alone in thinking due process means no one can be mad at you unless a judge has donned robes. The White House has refused to comply with subpoenas for records and testimony necessary for the impeachment inquiry. Its reasoning, laid out in a memo by Pat A. Cipollone, counsel to the president, is that the impeachment investigation fails to provide the procedural protections of a criminal trial, including the opportunity for President Trump to question witnesses and review evidence. Last week, a group of Republicans stormed a closed congressional hearing to protest the House’s impeachment inquiry on the same grounds.

I am not a lawyer, and even I could figure this out. Now look around you at all the people suddenly whining about “due process” in order to short circuit any investigation at all: Weinstein, Trump, and I would also add…David Silverman. Silverman’s defenders all seem to think “due process” means we can’t draw any conclusions from reports of investigations, witness testimonials, and his own confession — you can’t know anything without a court, a team of lawyers, and a conviction, which sounds like a very strange attitude for skeptics and atheists to take, almost as if they believe that bad behavior vanishes in a puff of smoke unless there’s a court decision about it.

This explains a lot

I stumbled across the story of the Cat sìth.

The Cat Sìth or Cat Sidhe is a fairy creature from Celtic mythology, said to resemble a large black cat with a white spot on its chest. Legend has it that the spectral cat haunts the Scottish Highlands. The legends surrounding this creature are more common in Scottish folklore, but a few occur in Irish. Some common folklore suggested that the Cat Sìth was not a fairy, but a witch that could transform into a cat nine times.

The people of the Scottish Highlands did not trust the Cat Sìth. They believed that it could steal a person’s soul, before it was claimed by the gods, by passing over a corpse before burial; therefore watches called the Feill Fadalach (Late Wake) were performed night and day to keep the Cat Sìth away from a corpse before burial.[1] Methods of “distraction” such as games of leaping and wrestling, catnip, riddles, and music would be employed to keep the Cat Sìth away from the room in which the corpse lay.[1] In addition, there were no fires where the body lay, as it was said that the Cat Sìth was attracted to the warmth.

And then I looked down at our cat, which has been a major pain in the butt while my wife is away, and realized…solid black cat with a white spot on its chest.

Goddamnit, it’s been trying to steal my soul all this time.

Sayeed, and UW-Madison, take another hit

To recap: Akbar Sayeed is a University of Wisconsin engineering professor whose training methods were so abusive they led to the suicide of a graduate student, John Brady. This was a bit too blatant for the university to look the other way, so they punished him with a two year unpaid leave, after years of screaming fits and tyrannized students. He used his time off to apply for a research position at NSF, which he left abruptly 8 months before his appointment at UW-Madison would be restored.

More information is trickling out now, and it’s not good for the university. UW-Madison failed to inform NSF of Sayeed’s salary status and why he was going to be available to work there, which are facts required for his temporary position. And now we know why he left NSF.

…NSF provided an additional statement that said the program under which Sayeed was hired requires institutions to report employee status.

“Unfortunately, the institution did not accurately disclose that information,” said Amanda Hallberg Greenwell, head of NSF’s Office of Legislative and Public Affairs. “When NSF received complete information, we terminated Dr. Sayeed’s assignment.”

I can imagine what happened here. If it were disclosed that he had driven a student to kill himself and that the university placed him on unpaid leave, NSF wouldn’t have hired him (probably — I’m beginning to develop a jaundiced opinion of institutional concern about humane behavior). Sayeed certainly would have avoided reporting himself, and sympathetic admins at the UW would have been reluctant to sabotage his opportunity at employment, so they conveniently neglected to mention certain salient facts.

After all, he’d been getting paid $166,650 per year to yell at students, and it would have been so mean to slam him down to $0 abruptly, just because one student had died on his watch.

Funny how all that works. Also funny: that he was a bad teacher getting paid 2½ times what I do, probably with a much lower teaching load. There are some remarkable inequities within academia.

NSF sets some standards, at least.

NSF imposed a new requirement last fall requiring institutions to disclose if any faculty members with NSF grants committed harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault. Depending on a university’s policies and codes of conduct, bullying may be included in the policy.

The policy is not retroactive, applying only to researchers who received an award after Oct. 22, 2018.

Universities seem to be falling behind. There are rules underlying tenure; I would think that “harassment, including sexual harassment or sexual assault” ought to warrant revocation of tenure.