AAAAAAH! Monsters! Monsters in the basement!

Mary and I went on a spider safari. In our house. It started out fine; we didn’t find much in the living spaces of our home, but then we decided to dive down into…the basement.

We found MONSTERS!

Oh, wait. That’s just one thing from my son’s old Dungeons & Dragons collection. What we actually found was Pholcus. Pholcus everywhere. We took a few photos before fleeing.

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The conversation begins at 2pm

I said I was going to do it, and I’m going to. I’ll start shortly.

One thing I should mention is that I’m going to stop after one hour. I’ve seen some of these videos go on for hour after hour, and you can only do that if you’re talking about substanceless drama. Or creationism…those twits are obstinate and persistent. I will draw the line at 3:00 Central, which means I most probably not talk about all of these things. That’s OK, I can continue on a different day.

Can new species evolve from cancers?

How Many Genes Do Cells Need? Maybe Almost All of Them

Light-regulated collective contractility in a multicellular choanoflagellate

The Early Ediacaran Caveasphaera Foreshadows the Evolutionary Origin of Animal-like Embryology

Developing an integrated understanding of the evolution of arthropod segmentation using fossils and evo-devo

That last one is a long, difficult paper anyway.

Also, if people ask me questions about other things, we can go off on a tangent. That’s OK, too, but I’m still going to insist on cutting off at an hour.

Drop out, Mayor Pete

I enjoy a good morning scathe of a contemptible politician, don’t you?

Now do Biden. And Yang. And those horrid billionaires. All you have to do is look at the field of potential presidential candidates and see that there is something deeply wrong with the Democratic party — there seems to be an absence of guidelines on what it means to be this thing called a “Democrat”.

Heritage. I’ve learned to hate that word.

Here’s Nikki Haley babbling about heritage to excuse confederate-flag-waving murderers.

“Here is this guy that comes out with this manifesto, holding the Confederate flag,” she said. “And had just hijacked everything that people thought of—we don’t have hateful people in South Carolina. It’s a small minority; it’s always going to be there.”

“People saw it as service, and sacrifice, and heritage,” the ex-governor continued. “But once he did that, there was no way to overcome it. And the national media came in droves—they wanted to define what happened. They wanted it to make this about racism. They wanted to make it about gun control. They wanted to make it about the death penalty.”

Apparently, according to Haley, the media at the time wanted to make the mass slaying of nine black people—an admittedly targeted racist attack, as laid out in Roof’s manifesto—about race.

Right. The Confederate flag wasn’t a symbol of hatred until Dylan Roof picked one up. It didn’t take a mass murderer of the national media to make that flag all about racism — that’s what it has always been about.

Here’s another one. The town of Wake Forest, NC decided to cancel their annual Christmas parade. For years, various Southern heritage groups have freely marched in these parades, but this year, they got word that protesters were going to show up, so they finally noticed that some people might criticize the celebration of treachery in their family-friendly event.

“Make no mistake about it — the Town of Wake Forest is extremely sensitive to the emotion the confederate flag stirs among those on both sides of this issue,” officials wrote in the statement. “We recognize that for some the flag represents racism, hatred and bigotry, while others see it as a representation of Southern heritage protected as a matter of freedom of speech/freedom of expression.”

Saying something is your “heritage” doesn’t mean it’s worthy and good. Everyone inherits bits of their culture that are both good and bad — it is the responsibility of every generation to winnow out the bad and strive to improve the heritage they leave to their children. Just because grandpappy did it does not automatically make it a blessed action. Your grandpappy might have been an asshole.

The southern heritage is always focused on the colossal catastrophe that afflicted the region a hundred years ago: the heritage of brutal slavery, a misbegotten war to defend white people’s right to own black people, and a humiliating, crushing defeat. You’re celebrating the wrong things! Waving the Confederate flag is a declaration that you’ve learned nothing, are pining for the “good ol’ days” when you could own slave labor and treat a significant part of your population as subhuman.

For the love of god, can Southerners please find something else to be proud of? Every time you put that hateful flag on your pickup truck, you’re telling me that the only thing you can think of to demonstrate pride in your heritage is a demonstration of barbarity and hatred and ignorance.

My grandpappy was an abusive drunk who was also an army engineer who served in WWII, who aspired to be an architect and was frustrated in his dream by poverty. This behavior is like putting a crumpled beer can on a stick and wacking women with it while saying “Woo hoo, Grandpa!”. That would be neither fair to the man or a part of his life that I want to emulate. But heritage makes it all OK, I guess?


Michael Harriot has a few words about the Confederate flag.

Disappointing sexual performance

I planned to start mating spiders today, and got my first disappointment: I waited too long, I think, because several of the males had died. I think maybe they pined away with blue pedipalps. The males are definitely more fragile.

So then I fed a couple of mighty females so they wouldn’t be tempted to snack on the boys, and then introduced them to males. The males immediately scampered to the far side of the cage. No mating today, at least not that I’ve seen. I’ve left them together and hope the guys make it through the night.

Evolutionary Psychology gets another whack

Matt Lubchansky

Oh, boy, this will set some asses on fire. Dr Subrena Smith argues that Evolutionary Psychology is built on failed premises (I’ve been saying the same thing for years), but she goes deeply into the contradictions in the field. None of their prior claims are valid, and they don’t fit with what we do know about evolution and the brain!

In this article I argue that evolutionary psychological strategies for making inferences about present-day human psychology are methodologically unsound. Evolutionary psychology is committed to the view that the mind has an architecture that has been conserved since the Pleistocene, and that our psychology can be fruitfully understood in terms of the original, fitness-enhancing functions of these conserved psychological mechanisms. But for evolutionary psychological explanations to succeed, practitioners must be able to show that contemporary cognitive mechanisms correspond to those that were selected for in the environment of evolutionary adaptedness, that these present-day cognitive mechanisms are descended from the corresponding ancestral mechanisms, and that they have retained the functions of the ancestral mechanisms from which they are descended. I refer to the problem of demonstrating that these conditions obtain as “the matching problem,” argue that evolutionary psychology does not have the resources to address it, and conclude that evolutionary psychology, as it is currently understood, is therefore impossible.

I also appreciate this bit. One of the common insults that Evolutionary Psychologists deploy is that their critics believe that humans only evolved below the neck, which is nonsense. One can accept that the brain is an evolved organ without believing in the narrow, specific, and oddly improbable premises demanded by Evolutionary Psychologists.

These methodological problems prompt the question, “Is evolutionary psychology possible?” It is important to distinguish evolutionary psychological explanations of human behavior from evolutionary explanations of human behavior simpliciter. This is particularly important given that evolutionary psychologists often claim that those who reject evolutionary psychology but accept evolutionary theory are committed to a contradiction. However, evolutionary theory does not entail nativism or massive modularity. One might reject the theoretical apparatus proposed by evolutionary psychologists while still embracing an evolutionary account of the human mind.

Not that any of this will have any effect on EP at all — that’s a field that relies more on an emotional belief that they can study the past entirely by imposing their desired conclusions on weak data. Smith, on the other hand, has a strong understanding of logic and recognizes where these Evolutionary Psychologists have made a huge leap beyond what the data entails.

At least he had some limits

The latest confession comes from a lackey of Alex Jones, a guy named Josh Owens. Now that Jones’ empire of lies is crumbling, he finally steps forward to tell all.

I began listening to Jones’s radio show — the flagship program of what is now a conspiracist media empire with an audience that until recently surpassed a million people — in the last days of George W. Bush’s presidency. The American public had been sold a war through outright fabrications; the economy was in free fall thanks to Wall Street greed and the failure of Washington regulators. Most of the mainstream media was caught flat-footed by these developments, but Jones seemed to have an explanation for everything. He railed against government corruption and secrecy, the militarization of police. He confronted those in power, traipsed through the California redwoods to expose the secretive all-male meeting of elites at Bohemian Grove and even appeared in two Richard Linklater films as himself, screaming into a megaphone.

But it wasn’t the politics that initially drew me in. Jones had a way of imbuing the world with mystery, adding a layer of cinematic verisimilitude that caught my attention. Suddenly, I was no longer a bored kid attending an overpriced art school. I was Fox Mulder combing through the X-Files, Rod Serling opening a door to the Twilight Zone, even Rosemary Woodhouse convinced that the neighbors were members of a ritualistic cult. I believed that the world was strategically run by a shadowy, organized cabal, and that Jones was a hero for exposing it.

I had my limits. I can’t say I ever believed his avowed theory that Sandy Hook was a staged event to push for gun control; to Jones, everything was a “false flag.” I didn’t believe that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama smelled like sulfur because of their proximity to hell or that Planned Parenthood was run by “Nazi baby killers.” But it was easy to brush off these fever dreams as eccentricities and excesses — not the heart of the Alex Jones operation but mere diversions.

Owens was a conspiracy theorist who accepted a job from the most far-out conspiracy theorist around. He did not have qualms when he was paid large sums of money, or when Jones threw even more money at him, or when Jones abused animals or his employees, or when he was dragged off to record imaginary Islamic no-go zones. There were all these things he now says he didn’t believe, but he edited videos about them anyway, and willingly spread the nonsense to the populace.

Now he claims he was made uneasy, but it didn’t stop him from propping up the Alex Jones garbage heap for 5 years.

I’m afraid, Josh Owens, that you are not forgiven. Some of us knew all along that he was a ratbag lunatic, it’s deplorable that it took you so long to see the obvious.

A casual conversation about science

Hey, friends! How about if I try another shot at this YouTube thing? I’m going to try to go live tomorrow, Saturday 7 December, at 2pm Central for what I’m calling A Casual Conversation About Science. I figure I’ll just start talking about what I’ve been reading about lately, or at least what I’ve been reading that maybe you’d find interesting.

There is no homework — this is casual, informal, all that stuff — but here’s a reading list. I figure I’ll just start at the top and work my way down, without an expectation that I’ll get to everything within an hour or so. I’ll take questions, and if there’s a lot of clamor for something, I can change up the order or talk about something completely different. I’m going in with an intent for some structure, but I can ramble if necessary. The reading list is mostly about genes and evolution.

Can new species evolve from cancers?

How Many Genes Do Cells Need? Maybe Almost All of Them

Light-regulated collective contractility in a multicellular choanoflagellate

The Early Ediacaran Caveasphaera Foreshadows the Evolutionary Origin of Animal-like Embryology

Developing an integrated understanding of the evolution of arthropod segmentation using fossils and evo-devo

I put the stuff I’m sure everyone can read first, but then the paywalls start going up in the last three. If you haven’t read it, don’t feel frustrated, we can still talk about it and I’ll try to explain it.

Note also: no spiders. OK, maybe a tiny bit about arachnid evolution in the last paper, but otherwise, this is mostly a spider-free session. Maybe we can have a spider conversation some other time.

A work of prophecy

They don’t realize it’s coming. The rich think that, because they’ve succeeded so well so far, they never need to worry that it can all come crashing down. They think we’re just talking a good game.

Rousseau’s most enduring contribution to the current revolutionary discourse, though, came via a 1789 speech. As writer Talia Lavin noted in a recent piece on the phrase’s origins, his pithy warning — “When the people shall have nothing more to eat, they will eat the rich” — has become a rallying cry on social media and at contemporary political protests, where the people’s great and terrible anger at the economic predation of the 1% has helped propel a resurgent anti-capitalist movement. The phrase is all over Twitter, TikTok, and various other social media platforms. It has long been immortalized in song thanks to British heavy metal legends Motörhead (who provided the soundtrack for a bloody 1987 movie also named Eat the Rich about a restaurant that serves the meat of its former wealthy patrons), Swiss hard rockers Krokus, and, bizarrely, Aerosmith, whose vocalist Steven Tyler is currently estimated to be worth about $130 million. (Full disclosure: I have eat the rich tattooed on my stomach, which doubles as a tribute to Motörhead and my own political inclinations.)

I don’t think tattooing a phrase on your belly is a precursor to revolution, and I think that right now we have a complacent middle class (how else could Joe Biden be doing so well in the polls?). One real crisis is what it will take, and crises are on the way. Climate change is going to cause all kinds of disruption, the country is being managed so badly that new conflicts are going to arise, domestic unrest is going to be fomented by a militarized police and splintered right wing terrorist groups. Even minor things could be the tipping point — remember the gas shortages of the 1970s? Something like that could be the spark that wakes up a pissed-off majority.

I’m just saying the 1% need to recognize that they aren’t as well sheltered as they think they are. Buying off an election or hiring lobbyists isn’t going to turn them into good guys in the eyes of the people.

How Quillete packages itself for so-called liberals

Make no bones about it, Quillette is an outrageously racist site. Here’s an article that compiles numerous examples of its biases.

Lehmann has said she started Quillette to counter what she calls “blank slate fundamentalism,” or the proposition that educational outcomes, career success, capacity for ethics, and economic class are determined more by environmental factors than genetic ones. That is to say, she believes that social status, morality or immorality, and, yes, income itself are all genetically based.

Lehmann told Politico that Quillette’s goal is “to broaden the Overton window”—that is to say, expand the limits of acceptable discourse. She didn’t stipulate that she wants these limits broadened only to the right, but she didn’t have to. Writing in Quillette, Lehmann said the Overton window should be shifted so that people can more openly denounce “immigration,” for example by trumpeting the Muslim heritage of sex-crime suspects.

The real question, though, is why so-called liberals support the site, or even read it. The answer to that is that it exploits the same cracks that were exploited by the right wing to fracture the atheist movement: anti-feminism, anti-Islam, anti-trans bigotry. The people who are otherwise horrified by racism will cheerfully overlook the glaringly illiberal perspective of the site to join in #metoo-, Islam-, or trans-bashing.

Perhaps the most important weapon Quillette uses is applying pressure on a few specific fault lines that divide liberal audiences, such as the MeToo movement. Quillette has recruited liberal men accused of sexual harassment or assault, like Elliott, and empowered them as experts on feminism. In his first Quillette piece, Elliott blasted the desire to “believe women,” and blamed one accuser for his poor book sales and his television agent’s not returning his calls. Elliott has since written three more pieces for the magazine and become one of its strongest partisans on Twitter, joking about a “Quillette Hot American Summer” and frequently retweeting the magazine’s diatribes against feminism. “Wow, Quillette has been killing it recently,” he said in one tweet.

Despite his public defense of the magazine, Elliott told me, “People say, ‘Oh they published this or that,’ and I don’t know what they’re talking about. I don’t read most of the articles in Quillette.” Asked about the magazine’s repeated promotion of racist pseudoscience, Elliott said, “I don’t agree with that, obviously. I’m a dyed-in-the-wool liberal.… The articles you’re talking about, I haven’t read. Maybe if I read one, it would be so offensive that I would say I can’t write for them anymore.”

You can’t be a “dyed-in-the-wool liberal” if you’re willing to smear women, Muslims, and trans persons. You’re just another bigot who only likes white Christian cis men.