It’s a palace! A SPIDER PALACE!

I found a happy couple, a pair of Parasteatoda, nestled in a very awkward nook, low to the ground and difficult to photograph. That may be to their benefit though, since it’s nicely sheltered.

They’ve built a nest of flower petals and debris brought up from the ground. It’s fairly elaborate, which means it’s not a shack, it’s a palace by spider standards. The female is down below, the male is hiding up above.

(If you want to see it, it’s on my Patreon and Instagram pages)

I strongly suspect this is Parasteatoda tabulata, because they’re the ones with a reputation for building refuges in their web. The only way to be sure is to…dissect them and look at details of their anatomy, which seems like a cruel way to break up the happy pair and destroy their hideaway.

I’m going to take a different tack and leave them alone until I see an egg sac. Then I’ll scoop them up, home and all, and put them in a nice roomy cage in my lab with plenty of food and no predators and raise their offspring. Then maybe I’ll dissect a few of their children instead.

Yikes, that took a dark turn.

Comma comma comma conspiracy, You come and go, you come and go

I wish he would go. About 5 or 6 years ago, this wackaloon named Terry Dean, Nemmers decided I was part of a conspiracy and started dunning me, the university, random county officials, etc. with demands that I submit to him the proof that I was a perfidious scofflaw, which I’m not, making it rather difficult to hand him the evidence he wanted, since it doesn’t exist. I nick-named him Comma because of his weird punctuation, which is apparently some sovereign citizen gimmick to make him immune to legal action. I could have named him Question Mark because of his affectation of arranging all of his sentences to turn them into questions.

Anyway, he hasn’t gone away. He still cc’s me all of these demands. Conspiracy nuts just can’t let it go.

The latest incoherent screed is below the fold, just in case you wanted to marvel at his persistence. I’ve removed addresses and phone numbers — he loves to dump all that kind of information into his complaints.

[Read more…]

The word from on high: WEAR A MASK

Our chancellor has confirmed what I thought was obvious. We’re going to be masked up on campus from now on.

As we make plans for our fall return to campus, there have been many questions concerning the use of masks and other face coverings. In my June 5 message I shared initial guidance on this topic. Over the last several weeks, however, the research, guidance, and advice we have received from medical experts and public health officials has evolved.

We now know a simple face covering provides valuable protection against the spread of COVID-19. We know that it’s possible to carry COVID-19 with no apparent symptoms and unknowingly infect others; face coverings reduce the chance that individuals might unknowingly infect others. We also know masks and face coverings send strong visual cues reminding us all to take precautions to protect our health and the health of our neighbors, colleagues, and friends. Together, the physical protection and visual reminders provided by masks and face coverings can help us all support our community as we come back together on campus.

We know, too, that extra precautions may be appropriate in communities that have higher levels of COVID-19 spread, or risk of spread, due to larger populations, shared living environments, and other factors. We have such communities on campus and must exercise caution accordingly.

Given these developments, I am updating our earlier recommendation on the use of masks.

Effective July 1 and continuing until rescinded, all University of Minnesota students, faculty, staff, and visitors (including contractors, service providers, vendors, and suppliers) are required to use a face covering at all times when in any enclosed or indoor space on University campuses and properties with the following exceptions:

  • When eating or drinking; however, physical distancing must be practiced.
  • In your assigned on-campus apartment or residence hall room.
  • When you are alone in a room or where a posted and official University notice indicates masks are not needed.
  • When you are alone in a motor vehicle.
  • If you are unable to wear a face covering while exercising at the Cougar Sports Center or Regional Fitness Center.
  • In labs or other places that instead require use of a respirator.
  • If you require accommodations for health or disability reasons. On the Morris campus, the Disability Resource Center and Human Resources can help identify needed accommodations.

The full face covering protocol can be found at the Return to Campus website. An extensive FAQ is also available online.

I take exception to some of the exceptions, though. There’s no reason not to wear a mask while exercising; if you have a serious respiratory problem that prevent you from wearing one, exercise outdoors. Otherwise, the fitness center is going to be a major source of problems, especially given that it is a community resource and I’ve often seen older people using, for instance, the indoor track. The “health or disability” reason is just a gaping loophole, given that so many healthy people are trying to argue that they get to be exempt from the rules. Be specific: you need an official accommodation from our health center.

Randy Rainbow was much more entertaining with the same message.

Freezepeach warriors discover the terrible truth

Recently, as social media have begun a belated crackdown on the odious rantings of the far right, the trolls have begun emigrating to more open media, places where the promise is made to never, ever censor Free Speech, no matter how vile. The first thing they ought to realize, though, is if you knock out the bottom of the barrel, discourse is going to plunge to new lows. The second thing is that removing any limitations is mainly going to appeal to people with no respect for others, and you’re going to be wallowing in bad actors. The third thing is…you can’t run an active forum without moderation. It’s a law of nature.

So Parler, the latest free speech fad, is throwing away any pretense and cracking down on views it doesn’t like.

Well, that did not take long at all. On Friday we predicted that just like every other social media platform out there, the new favorite among people who falsely say that Twitter is censoring conservatives, would start taking down content and shutting down accounts just like everyone else. Because, if you run any sort of platform that allows 3rd party speech, sooner or later you discover you have to do that. In Friday’s post, we highlighted Parler’s terms of service, which certainly allows for it to take down any content for any reason (we also mocked their “quick read on Wikipedia” style understanding of the 1st Amendment).

Exactly. Everyone who has maintained even a little blog with a comments section knows this is true — if you don’t have a moderation policy, there will be swarms of abusers who who will take advantage of the laxity. Even if you do have a moderation policy, there will be people who try to work around it, just because they can. You will always have to block people; there is no such thing as a viable policy of absolutely unfettered free speech.

The only question is who will be blocked, and for what reasons, and that will always be a reflection of the values on your site. Not censoring Nazis is not a neutral stance, it is actively pro-Nazi.

I could get used to this style of conference

I’m enjoying this method of attending a conference. I can just sit back in a comfy office chair, the slides are projected crisply right in my face, and if a talk doesn’t interest me, it’s easy to tune out and do something else for a while. We just had a break, and I could go fix my own coffee and didn’t have to talk to anyone but my cat (which is kind of a diminished experience, but I have a serious flareup of imposter syndrome when I talk to real arachnologists anyway), so I’ve got nothing to complain about.

If/when this COVID-19 isolation ends, I’m going to have been spoiled and will want every conference to run this way, or at least have a set of concurrent online sessions.

P.S. I have decided definitively that solifuges are far more terrifying than spiders. If you don’t believe me, look below the fold.

[Read more…]

The archaeologists are getting alarmed

I think they’ve been alarmed for a long time, but now Science is reporting on it.

He and others are alarmed by the rising popularity of pseudoarchaeological ideas. According to the annual Survey of American Fears by Chapman University in Orange, California, which catalogs paranormal beliefs, in 2018, 41% of Americans believed that aliens visited Earth in the ancient past, and 57% believed that Atlantis or other advanced ancient civilizations existed. Those numbers are up from 2016, when the survey found that 27% of Americans believed in ancient aliens and 40% believed in Atlantis.

“I look at these numbers and say … something has gone massively wrong,” Anderson says. He can’t say exactly what is driving the rise in such ideas, but cable TV shows like Ancient Aliens (which has run for 13 seasons) propagate them, as does the internet.

Oh, hi, History Channel. What a betrayal of their initial promise they’ve been.

We can also blame the synergy with the popularity of modern racism.

These beliefs may seem harmless or even amusing, says Jason Colavito, an author in Albany who covers pseudoarchaeology in books and on his blog. But they have “a dark side,” he says. Almost all such claims assume that ancient non-European societies weren’t capable of inventing sophisticated architecture, calendars, math, and sciences like astronomy on their own. “It’s racist at its core,” says Kenneth Feder, an archaeologist at Central Connecticut State University in New Britain, who is slated to present at the SAA session and began to write about the dangers of these ideas long before most other scholars paid attention to them.

Another twist: dare to criticize this nonsense in public, and guess what happens?

This isn’t easy work, especially online. All the women interviewed for this article have been harassed online after tackling pseudoarchaeological interpretations. Mulder recently fielded replies that included a knife emoji after she tweeted about research showing that people of diverse ancestries, rather than only Western Europeans, lived in Roman Britain. Colavito reports receiving death threats after a host of Ancient Aliens urged his fans to send Colavito hate mail.

No one is surprised anymore that bad racist ideas are accompanied by threats of violence against people who challenge their cherished myths. That it’s driven in part by misogyny also isn’t novel.

Do academia next, Jim

Well, maybe not Jim Sterling, since he doesn’t have the connections, but he certainly does a bang-up job of exposing the structural decay in so many entertainment industries. Video games, comic books, pro wrestling, movies all reek of rot and corruption right now.

The problem, as always, is money and capitalism. There’s always a selfish grifter happily exploiting any successful industry, clawing more and more wealth and power to themselves at the expense of others, preferring to maximize wealth inequity at the expense of distributing the art and science to others.

Uh-oh. I’m going to be glued to my chair all day #arachnids20

The American Arachnology Society Virtual Summer Symposium has been delivered in digestible lumps all through the weekend — two hours here, two hours there — but the marathon begins today, with 15 minute talks beginning at 9am and continuing throughout the day until 7pm. Now there’s the traditional conference structure! Maybe only 10-20% of the talks are relevant to my interests, but I’m just going to put them all up on my second monitor and keep the information trickling my way, perking up when the right magic words are uttered.

It’s not as if I’m going to be going out and about today anyway. A thunderstorm rolled right over my house early this morning, and more are forecast continuing through the early afternoon. Also, hot. Too hot.

I regret to inform you that Jordan Peterson is writing again

I guess he’s recovering. Good for him. Unfortunately, he’s now inflicting more bad takes on us, in this case, the story of Tomas Hudlicky, who wrote such a bad paper in Angewandte Chemie that many of the board members of the journal quit in protest. To the minds of Peterson and other conservatives, this means Hudlicky was burnt at the stake.

I’m not kidding.

So I felt like pointing out that the charred corpse of Dr Hudlicky is still ambulatin’ around, and it’s the board members who have suffered the consequences. Also that Hudlicky sounds like a nightmare of a PI.