Yeesh, but anti-choicers are terrible people

The word from our regional Planned Parenthood is that quacks are using the COVID-19 epidemic as a pretext to shut down abortion services.

This is absurd. A pandemic is not a reason to shut down essential medical services. If I had a heart attack, would they give me a little voucher promising to send an ambulance in 3 weeks, if the stay-at-home orders have ended? (That’s about when Minnesota’s orders are scheduled to expire, although they may be extended further, if circumstances warrant.) Are grieving mothers with a dead fetus just supposed to “hold it” for a while? Are pregnant women with acute pyelonephritis or preeclampsia just supposed to take an aspirin and wait? Are the women who are not ready or capable of dealing with a child expected to hope that their desires change and their circumstances improve at some indefinite time in the future? During a pandemic and economic collapse?

Perhaps the fuckwits behind this lawsuit are hoping that women at the boundary of legal elective abortion are delayed long enough that they can compel them not to abort.

Of course, the clinic that is suing is providing bogus rationalizations.

In the lawsuit, AALFA Family Clinic cites concerns over the shortage of protective equipment during the COVID-19 outbreak as the primary concern. The pro-life group argues that forcing the clinics to use medication rather than surgery would conserve protective gear needed in the pandemic. They argue abortion clinics should be included under Governor Walz’s ban on elective procedures.

But these aren’t elective procedures! There’s a ticking clock at work here.

This is the relevant comment on AALFA Family Clinic.

This lawsuit is based on fantasy, not fact and has been filed by individuals who promote information and services that are medically inaccurate, deceptive and harmful.

That about sums it up. This lawsuit ought to be quickly thrown out…although my experience with lawsuits suggests it will instead drag on.

Bring me…a shrubbery!

I made my usual rounds of the house, seeking spiders, today. In particular, I have my eyes on this:

It’s some kind of twiggy bush growing near my house — I have no idea what it is, my resident plant-identifier is off in Colorado, neglecting my needs — but what you can’t see in this, as in all the shrubberies around my house, is that there are delicate lines of silk connecting all the branches. It’s true, I look in my yard with all the newly budded plants around it, and all I see are frames for holding spider silk. I stared at that for about a half hour, possibly making the neighbors wonder if I was already going mental, tracing each branch and every strand of silk, hoping to find the perpetrator.

I did not.

I will be checking regularly throughout this spring, and I’m certain that at some point I will catch them in the act. It’s just a matter of time, and they will be mine.

I did find other spiders on the wall, though. The usual zebra jumpers and asiatic wall jumping spiders…

…but also this mysterious young lady. Curious. She looks a bit like Attulus, but so dark. I see a lot of variation in color, though, so I don’t know.

Then, I struck gold. I found the first Parasteatoda specimen I’ve seen outdoors since last year. She even killed a mosquito for me!

I want you to know, though, that in order take her picture, I had to get down on my knees in the dirt. Then I had to get even lower and lie on my side to get the right angle. I think it’s going to be laundry day.

As usual, the spider photos are tucked away on Instagram, iNaturalist, and Patreon if you want to see them.

The game of “could be worse!”

Here’s an entertaining pastime for when you are getting cabin fever: find people on the internet who are worse off than you. It’s easy! So easy, it’s easy to tell yourself things aren’t so bad.

An example: Julia Whitcomb has been trapped at sea for a month in this little windowless cabin.

Cruise companies are allowed to disembark and repatriate people still trapped on ships around the U.S. by private transportation as long as their executives sign an agreement with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention that holds the companies accountable for the process. They are refusing to do so.

In conversations with the CDC, cruise company officials have complained that arranging private transportation for disembarking crew is “too expensive,” according to a spokesperson for the agency.

The standoff is preventing about 100,000 crew members and some passengers from leaving cruise ships lingering in and around U.S. waters, including dozens of U.S. citizens. Crew members still stuck on board say they feel like an afterthought after watching their companies move mountains to repatriate passengers on charter flights and other private transportation after the industry was shut down on March 13. Only a handful of ships still have passengers on them, including Carnival Corporation’s Coral Princess, floating off of South Florida.

Remember this, next time you see an ad for a cruise in some exotic, beautiful place. There is a range of possibilities here. You could have a wonderful time, putting on pounds at the buffet, drinking lots of sickly sweet alcoholic drinks on the deck with strange people. Or you could spend the whole time vomiting in your cramped cabin as norovirus sweeps through your ship. Or you could get quarantined and end up wandering the seas like the Flying Dutchman, no end in sight, as the cruise line stonewalls on signing paperwork that would set you free.

It’s like gambling! If you’re one of the people who likes to gamble, you should sign up for a cruise!

In the game of “could be better”, the government refuses to bail out all these foreign-registered vessels, the cruise lines all collapse in bankruptcy, and the ships are all sunk to provide artificial reefs for wildlife. But first they let all their hostages off. Maybe the owners could be locked up in first-class cabins before the scuttling?

This is not a photo of a spider

I wouldn’t do that to you. This is a single line of webbing on a metal signpost.

I wandered around on a walk this afternoon, and while I didn’t find any spiders, I’ve started noticing that everything everywhere is held together with delicate tracings of silk, fueling my new hypothesis that what’s really holding the planet together is the work of spiders.

I haven’t yet found any spider associated with this particular strand of silk, although there were many similar lines — therefore, since it’s invisible and holds all of earth together, it must be Jesus. I’ll keep looking and see if I can get a photo of Him. (Note: more likely to be a Her, and not a vertebrate at all, which leads to some provocative corollaries to my hypothesis.)

Best river monster ever!

Back in 2014, a reconstruction of the full skeleton of Spinosaurus was proudly published. It had been assembled from multiple partial fossils, and was the best approximation of the organism possible.

It was an impressive beast, 15 meters long with that spectacular sail on its back.

At the time that Spinosaurus lived, what is now eastern Morocco was covered with sprawling lakes, rivers and deltas. As a top predator, the dinosaur would have had been among the rulers of an ecosystem teeming with huge crocodile-like animals, massive sawfish and coelacanths the size of cars.

Compared with other dinosaurs in its group — the two-legged, meat-eating creatures known as theropods — Spinosaurus has strikingly short rear legs. Ibrahim’s team interprets this as meaning that the dinosaur walked mainly on four legs. Its centre of gravity would have been relatively far forward, helping it to move smoothly while swimming.

John Hutchinson, a palaeontologist at the Royal Veterinary College of the University of London, is less convinced. He worries about the reliability of cobbling together different specimens to create a single picture of an animal. “We have to be careful about creating a chimera,” he says. “It’s really exciting speculation, but I’d like to see more-conclusive evidence.”

The caveat at the end was prescient. Some pieces were missing from the fossil record. Now that has been changed, and wow, it’s even more spectacular! The old tail wasn’t quite right — it had a broad paddle.

a, b, Caudal series (preserved parts shown in colour) in dorsal view (a) and left lateral view (b). c–e, Reconstructed sequential cross-sections through the tail show proximal-to-distal changes in the arrangement of major muscles. f, Sequential cross-sections through the neural spine of caudal vertebra 23 (Ca23) to show apicobasal changes. g, Skeletal reconstruction. Scale bars, 50 cm (a–e), 10 cm (f), 1 m (g).

OK, this is now my favorite dinosaur.

The Manchurian tangerine has a cunning plan to undermine the American military

Bwahahaha! Bring the officer class together during a pandemic to have a bozo who doesn’t believe in the germ theory of disease to lecture at them! Trump has recalled the graduating class of West Point to stand before him in some kind of formation. Why? I don’t know. He just needs the ego boost, I guess.

It remains unclear how the graduation ceremony will actually look. The Naval Academy decided against holding an in-person ceremony at its campus in Annapolis, Md., and opted to hold a virtual event instead, according to The New York Times. The Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs, Colo. held a ceremony with cadets sitting eight feet apart from each other, with Vice President Mike Pence as its commencement speaker.

Three sources told The Times that West Point still hadn’t made its decision on how to conduct the ceremony, originally planned for late May, when Trump surprised officials there by saying he would speak in person.

I’m amused that they have no idea how best to do this. We’re struggling with it here at UMM, too, but we decided to do an entirely online ceremony, because we’d rather not risk the health of our students. That’s a trifle Trump does not worry about.

I would hope that all the graduates at that ceremony are seated a safe distance apart, and that they all wear masks, because you know no one in the Trump administration will wear them. It makes for great optics to see the disregard Trumpkins have for the safety of others.

Capitalism is not the core philosophy of evolution

Abe Drayton, who appeared in last Sunday’s hangout, has a fine article centered on Mexie’s discussion of the injustice of capitalism towards disabled people. You should watch it, but also read Abe’s commentary.

Capitalism relies on the lie that human nature is all about greed, competition, and aggression. That is not what drives civilization, it’s what constantly tries to dismantle it. Every advance we have made in human wellbeing has come from the mass of people working together against those obsessed with competition and power to create a world that’s better for everyone. Capitalism does not give a damn about you, but fortunately those obsessed with capitalism are wrong – it is not an inevitable result of human nature, it is a perversion of it. A better world is possible, and we can move in that direction the same way we always have – by expanding the “tribe”, by pooling our resources and efforts, by caring for each other, and by using our collective power to force change.

Lay people seized upon Darwin’s idea of natural selection to distort it in directions favorable to capitalism, and started a dreadful feedback loop that justified exploitation — “I’m rich, therefore I deserve to be rich by natural law, and you’re poor, so you don’t deserve what little you have” — and ballooned it into a rationalization for our current nightmare. It’s what allows creationists to caricature evolution as nothing but a history of death and suffering.

It’s more mainstream than that, too…the whole idea of “Darwin Awards” is terrible and unrepresentative, unless you also give the award to individuals who increase the success of others and themselves with generosity and cooperation. The human species did not succeed because they were the best at killing — they’ve always improved our common survival by working together and building communal social structures.

I’m sorry, I got sucked into a vortex last night

I was up late, working on various things, when a stray link wandered across my photoreceptor array, and like a fool I clicked on it. I ended up on seafood YouTube. This is like porn to a west-coastie living deep in the center of the continent, so my eyes glazed over and I started to drool and I was probably looking a bit Homer-esque, I had to watch it all. A sample:

I eventually staggered off to bed, hungry. There is a dearth of exotic seafood here in Minnesota.

Maybe it’s just me, but Pacific seafood looks so much better than Atlantic. It’s also the size — Dungeness vs. blue crab, or geoduck vs. those tiny little clams that are mostly shell. Why bother? I’ve eaten most of the crustaceans and molluscs he brought out, but I’m not so enthusiastic about urchin roe, and what was that weird thing he called a razor clam? I’ve never encountered that thin strange beast. It’s apparently the Atlantic jackknife clam, Ensis leei, but I grew up digging the Pacific razor clam, Siliqua patula, which again is bigger than those reedy little Atlantic specimens.

I was also getting into the casually brutal way he dismantles crustaceans.

Anyway, now I’m hungry and tired, and I have a lot of work to do. I’m tempted to dart off to MSP tonight — flights are cheap I hear — and ruin my health and mental state further by bingeing at a Seattle seafood bar.

Not really. I’m not leaving my house for a while.