Bloomberg just lost the rural vote

And mine, but that goes without saying. He declared that any idiot can be a farmer.

I might think that agriculture has a little too much influence on our elections, but that is unadulterated nonsense. Farming is difficult, and it requires a great deal of gray matter, and always has. Evaluating soils and weather and making decisions about what to plant and when is hard enough, but it also requires sound economic judgment, which you’d think Bloomberg would appreciate. Farming is a sophisticated enterprise, far more than some yokel digging a hole and putting a seed in.

Trump has screwed over farmers throughout his reign, and we could count on at least some of them defecting to the Democrats, at least as long as we don’t nominate Bloomberg. Is there any portion of the electorate that wants that guy, other than the billionaires and Wall Street bankers?

Guess who has another day of interviewing candidates?

I do, that’s who. With the first one you feel some sympathy for the candidates, who get a long grueling day of non-stop meetings and conversations and questions, but ’round about the third one, you begin to wonder who is suffering more in this process. It’s going to be another late night for me.

Also, I’ve got to escape to get a haircut. Today will be impossible, tomorrow is a heavy teaching day, maybe Wednesday? It’s rather annoying when work takes over and makes it nearly impossible to take care of basic grooming tasks. Well, the candidate is just going to have to get the impression that “shaggy” is the standard style at UM Morris. Except that I sure hope he learns our style standards from the other committee members, not me.

Jeffrey Epstein’s little black book

You really don’t want to find your name in it. It’s his aspirational list of who a creepy rich pedophile thinks are the important people in his world.

While we await subpoenas and depositions—if they ever come remains to be seen—there is a road map of sorts in the form of Epstein’s so-called “little black book,” 92 pages of names, emails, and phone numbers of people Epstein knew, or wanted to know, but in any event had detailed information about. Wall Street people comprise a significant amount of the entries. “He was a kind of wholesale collector of people, including people he didn’t know,” one of the Wall Street guys in the black book tells me. “I guarantee you that 90% of the people whose names are in his book, he’s not in their book. Many of these people don’t even know him.”

What the book tells us is that Epstein knew, or aspired to know, some of the biggest names on Wall Street and in Washington. Sure there are the Trumps—Donald, Ivana, and Ivanka—and Bill Clinton’s surrogate Doug Band in the book. But once you get past their names, there is the horde of Wall Street executives. The contact book is dated for sure, replete as it is with misspellings and incorrect or superseded phone numbers, emails, and addresses. It remains something of an enigma: What was the book’s purpose? “I don’t think it means anything,” the Wall Street executive continues. “…I didn’t really know Jeffrey. He was like Boo Radley in the corner of the room. After I met him, he became Jeffrey Epstein, he had no interest in me. He knew right out of the box who the players were, the people who would stay out all night, people who had interests in extracurricular objectives, and who the hitters were. That wasn’t me.”

That unnamed Wall Street executive has the words we’re going to hear a lot of in the future: I didn’t know him. He didn’t know me. I don’t think it means anything. Right. Except that it does mean something. It means you were a wealthy plutocrat who came into the orbit of a man who was looking for an angle on rich people everywhere. You are a member of the looter class.

So, also on the list of greedy people we find David Koch, Mike Bloomberg, Steve Forbes, Conrad Black, etc., etc., etc. You don’t need to be a super-brilliant detective to see a pattern in the names.

I am confident that I am not in the book.

I would not last a day in prison

If you want to see what the capitalist ideal for America is, just look at our for-profit prisons. They exploit prisoners ruthlessly.

Last year, West Virginia contracted with a company, Global Tel Link (GTL), to provide free tablets to prisoners. These kinds of initiatives are rapidly becoming more popular, as states grapple with the legacy of four decades of tough-on-crime policies and renewed public calls for more rehabilitative prisons.

And it sounds great. Until inmates realize the company charges users every time they use the tablets, including 25 cents a page for emails and 3 cents a minute to read e-books. By that calculation, most inmates would end up paying about $15 for each novel or autobiography they attempt to read. To people who have little to no money, that’s not a benefit. That’s exploitation. The only beneficiary, aside from Global Tel Link, is West Virginia, which receives 5% of the profits.

I imagine some team of piggy middle-managers in a corporation that realizes they’ve got the capitalist ideal: captive customers who have to buy what you’re selling, in an environment where competition is not allowed, and they get to charge whatever they want for whatever service they offer. They go hog wild. Let’s charge them for reading! After a trivial investment to pay the ridiculous demands of authors and publishers for royalties, the greedy bastards, we can demand a reasonable recompense for allowing them to view a book.

What else can we charge them for? How about taking the Vimes theory of socioeconomic unfairness and cranking it up to 11?

Many prisons now ban in-person visits, then allow companies to charge $12.99 or more for video calls. Prison phone calls can cost up to $3.99 a minute. Prison shoes fall apart within weeks, and replacements are only available from a special catalog. Only sweatshirts are provided for the winter. Meals are nutritionally insufficient and, over time, must be supplemented to maintain good health.

All these necessities — shoes, jackets, phone calls, canned tuna from the commissary — rack up fees well above the market rate on the outside. But they often aren’t paid for by prisoners, who have little or no means to earn income. They are paid primarily by families who are often among our poorest. This hidden tax drives already vulnerable communities deeper into poverty and hopelessness.

Oh, yeah, let’s punish people by depriving them of their liberty and gouging every penny we can out of their families, and disincentivize that absurd idea of “rehabilitation”. Prison serves the leeches.

This company, Global Tel Link, calls itself the “Corrections Innovations Leader”. Their only innovations, though, involve coming up with new ways to suck profits out of the pockets of those on the lowest rung of the socioeconomic ladder. They see a poor person, they see someone they’ll have power over to steal their last dollar. This is their lying mission statement.

At GTL, our mission is to create impactful connections and provide industry-leading service. We give incarcerated individuals the ability to stay engaged with their support networks by making meaningful connections through our products and services.

If you work for GTL, I hope you are deeply ashamed. If you work for GTL, you’re probably not…because you have to lack a conscience to work for that soul-sucking evil company.

Mayflies on Patreon

This feels mildly peculiar, to put posts up behind a paywall, but that’s what I’ve done because I’m anxious to build up a revenue stream to cover certain ugly circumstances. There is now a 1500-word post on the science of mayfly population declines available for my patrons, at any level, to read.

I’m in the business of science communication, so it’s an awkward compromise on just flinging tasty science freely about, but if you can’t afford it, that’s fine — I’ll be posting an openly accessible copy of the article right here in about a week. Check back in!

Also, there’s more coming — I’ve also got a cool article on mayflies as experimental organisms, in addition to being significant as populations ecologically. That’ll appear there later this week.

My lab is a junkyard!

I’ve been doing a lot of maintenance on the spider colony, moving spiders into new, clean cages, and so far, throwing the old cages and the cardboard frames into a pile. This pile:

It’s colorful, at least. All the cardboard is going to be thrown out after being thoroughly inspected (today I found 3 egg sacs hidden in the irregularities of the old cardboard frames; one advantage of the new wooden frames is greater uniformity, so it’s easier to find new additions), and the plastic cages will be washed and stacked for later use. In the future, rather than just disrupting all the spiders all at once, I’m planning to do a regular cycle of cleaning up a few cages per week, so that they don’t all pile up at once.

Not shown is the pile of wood scraps and sawdust on the other side of the lab. That needs to be swept up and thrown out, too.

Also, I’ve made a difficult decision: I’m going to avoid posting spider photos here in the future. I know that it’s driven a few people away — I have no idea how many — and it’s sad, but some people have a visceral reaction to close up photos of arachnids. I’ve realized, though, that this Patreon thingie gives me an easy way to self-select people with its various tiers — I’ve got an “Arachnid tier” and an “Architeuthis tier” that differ in only one way: one of them will include posts with the special reward of spider stuff, and the other one has the special reward of no spider stuff. If you want to see more spiders, join the Arachnid tier, and if you’d rather not, you don’t have to do anything.

The downside is you’ll have to pay $5/month, and I’m not going to compel my fellow arachnophiles to cough up cash…an alternative is just to follow me on Instagram, where I also post spider photos. No charge!

OH NO RICHARD DAWKINS NO!

Chuck Asay

His reputation would be so much better if he never ever discovered Twitter. Which is to say, he’s done it again.

It’s one thing to deplore eugenics on ideological, political, moral grounds. It’s quite another to conclude that it wouldn’t work in practice. Of course it would. It works for cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses. Why on earth wouldn’t it work for humans? Facts ignore ideology.

That word “work” sure is doing a lot of work in there. If only we could ignore ideology, politics, and morality, as well as philosophy, sociology, the limitations of our own knowledge, and empathy, why, then of course eugenics would “work”! All we have to do is set aside our humanity and reduce existence to selective breeding, and we could produce radical biological change in human populations in just a few generations. Of course, we’ll have no idea of any unintended genetic consequences (there will be many, just as there have been with cows, horses, pigs, dogs & roses), and we’ll have to live with the kind of ideology that promotes eugenics, which has its own set of consequences, and we’ll be producing generations of people that can only live with a fascist ideology, but hey, it’s just selection, we know that will “work”.

Is he even aware that dismissing the trivial issues of politics and morality actually is an ideological decision? It always surprises me when smart people decry “ideology” in general, as if they’re oblivious to the fact that their perspective is totally shaped by their own ideology. You have an ideology, I have objective knowledge of the facts. How dare you annoy me with your ideology in the midst of my logical defense of the objective utility of eugenics?

I also have to ask…has anyone ever made the argument that eugenics can’t produce biological change? I don’t think so. I think everyone is aware that eugenic policies can make sweeping demographic changes. Just ask the Jews of Poland, 90% of whom were exterminated. Ask the Hutus of Burundi — over 100,000 people murdered was an effective culling. It “worked” if we judge such things solely in terms of accomplishing a shift in the population. No one questions that it “worked”, we just recognize that when eugenics is working as intended it is a horror.

His last line is backwards. Ideologies often ignore facts, like the simple fact that every nation that has tried to implement eugenics, such as the United States and Nazi Germany, has ended up causing immeasurable misery, suffering, and death with no desirable outcome as a reward, and just ends up digging themselves into a pit of contempt and hatred that can only be escaped with blood and destruction. I guess if you redefine “work” to mean that, Richard Dawkins made a true statement.

No one warned me of the side effects

I have discovered that one of the unfortunate side effects of opening my new Patreon account is the flood of new spam. I opened up my email this morning and had to scroll down a couple of screens worth to get to anything that matters from people I know.

What’s worse is that it isn’t even interesting, entertaining spam. It’s the dregs of internet advertising: insurance, online gambling, and Indian lottery tickets. I’m going to have to work on training my filters again.

A timely exam…from Ken Ham

This weekend, I’ve been working on an exam for my introductory biology class. We’ve been covering basic principles of evolution so far this term, discussing multiple lines of evidence and examples. Then, what appears over the transom but an exam from a Kentucky middle school covering exactly the same material! What luck! This will make exam prep even easier, and it even includes the answer key!

Only problem is that the entire exam is total bullshit. Darn. I guess I’ll have to go back to composing my own.

Although, an exam consisting of the question, “What is wrong with each of these 13 creationist claims?” might be sort of useful. Except that I’d rather my students learn the real science.

A few have escaped the custodians!

Usually, the science building I work in isn’t great for finding spiders — the custodians are good at their jobs. But sometimes, if you get down on your knees and poke around in the little crannies, you can find a few (I tell you, they’re everywhere, they’re just good at hiding). We explored my lab a bit today, and discovered a few things.

  1. The Pholcidae have moved in, those great long-legged thugs. They’ve displaced at least one Theridiidae individual I knew of, and was leaving in place. Tsk.
  2. The false widows I follow are generally small, which may mean they’re not finding much to eat.
  3. We found wild Steatoda triangulosa! Or maybe feral. I can’t rule out the possibility of baby escapees.

    The reddish-yellow color is interesting. I don’t know if that’s a pigment variant, or if she’s been eating something weird.
  4. One lonely tiny Parasteatoda was hiding beneath the desk.

    It shall be given flies.

This may not be what some of you want to hear, but try getting down and looking under your furniture or in the dark gaps between your furniture and the wall. You may find you have friends.