Just an ordinary TERF talking about biology

You wanna see reductive? She’s gonna give you reductive.

My first thought was, “Why are these aliens murdering us all, and why does she care what pile of corpses we end up in? And why are these aliens sorting us this way?” I mean, once we’re reduced to dead meat and tossed into rotting piles for some inscrutable purpose (Mulching into fertilizer? Animal fodder? Party decorations?) why are chromosomes even relevant?

There are also a few people wandering around with fragmented Y chromosomes and translocations that make this distinction difficult. I picture the aliens wandering around the heap of corpses sampling bits of tissue and being totally baffled by the occasional individual and flicking them off to — oh no — a third pile. Maybe that small third pile will be marketed as rare exotic meat.

Of course, if the aliens sorted by some other criterion, like penises, or size, or the presence of the A blood antigen, you could also throw them into two piles by setting your boundary values to whatever you want, and then find there are a few individuals who fall into boundary conditions. This is a pointless thought exercise.

Wouldn’t you know that this TERF also has strange ideas about evolution.

Using this same logic, we could say that humans evolved to be squishy, unarmored, and lacking in natural armament so leopards could eat them more easily. Everything has an evolutionary purpose, after all. As we all know, we men have testicles in a convenient external pouch to simplify extracting gametes with a biopsy needle. The predictive powers of evolutionary prophesying are truly astounding!

Tell me again how evolutionary psychology is not a con game

This is how evo psych works: state your hypothesis about past human societies with absolute confidence in the absence of any evidence, and then follow up with how The Lord of the Rings supports your model of a transition from a brutish form to a more gracile, effeminate form. Geoffrey Miller demonstrates:

So, the kill count competition between Legolas and Gimli is easily understood evidence of the evolution of warfare. Does that make Aragorn a transitional form?

Where is the informed discussion of alien life on the internet?

Oh, god, the assumptions. I like speculations about alien life, just as I appreciate the diversity of life on Earth, the different forms of life in the past, and the prospect of evolution in the future, but every time I read about this stuff in astronomy-related journals, I feel like they’re making an effort to reduce my intelligence. The problem is that they have no imagination and no biology, but they’re trying to imagine the nature of alien biology, and all they end up doing is running around in circles trying to figure out why little grey humanoids aren’t landing their flying saucers en masse to march out and shake hands with the president. It’s all Fermi Paradox this and Drake Equation that, two stupid ideas that have captured the eyeballs of everyone with these biased priors, and they always go trotting off to get the opinions of the same spectacularly ill-informed people. Take this bad article in Universe Today.

The first horror: they favorably cite Robin Hanson, the creepiest economist in America, and they quote a contradictory statement by him.

Humanity seems to have a bright future, i.e., a non-trivial chance of expanding to fill the universe with lasting life. But the fact that space near us seems dead now tells us that any given piece of dead matter faces an astronomically low chance of begating such a future. There thus exists a great filter between death and expanding lasting life, and humanity faces the ominous question: how far along this filter are we?

Why? Why do you think a “bright future” is equivalent to “expanding to fill the universe with lasting life”? Why do you think that’s the road we’re on, when there’s a total absence of viable colonies of humans on other worlds, and all the other planets in our solar system are uninhabitable, and planets around other stars are unreachable? What is the basis for thinking that we have that particular “bright” future in front of us, especially when you immediately admit that the chances are astronomically low?

This is my problem with the general tenor of these speculations. They all assume that we, that is human-like intelligences, are desirable, inevitable, and the only proper kind of life; they’ve read far too many science-fiction novels prophesying a colonialist destiny led by strong-jawed Anglo-Saxons with glinting eyes and a finger on the trigger of their blaster. They never seem to consider that the truly successful clades on Earth are things like algae, grass, protists, and insects. If we were to speculate on the species with bright futures, they’d all be weedy and prolific and adaptable to a wide range of environments. They wouldn’t be overgrown monkeys who can’t even imagine a non-monkey future.

The second person the article cites is weirdo philosopher Nick Bostrom. It’s funny how these kinds of stories always shy away from talking to evolutionary biologists. It’s probably because we tend to get all squinky-eyed and sarcastic about their faulty premises. Or is that just me?

The Great Filter can be thought of as a probability barrier. It consists of [one or] more highly improbable evolutionary transitions or steps whose occurrence is required in order for an Earth-like planet to produce an intelligent civilization of a type that would be visible to us with our current observation technology.

See? That’s what I’m talking about. They’re always going on and on about the likelihood of finding an intelligent civilization like ours. Why not speculate about finding a planet that has produced kangaroos? Or stomatopods? Or baobab trees? These are all unlikely outcomes of a contingent, complex process that produces immense diversity, and they’re all wondering what the “barrier” is that prevents our kind from winning the cosmic lottery every time. Get over it, we’re not a favored outcome, there’s no direction to evolution, and that’s why there aren’t smarty-pants bipeds tootling about the galaxy stopping by for tea. That and physics, probably. I also don’t understand why mobs of physicists aren’t rising up and pointing at the speed of light and the energy requirements for interstellar flivvers and saying “That’s why!”

Then this article has to take a predictable slant in a section titled…

Gotta Love the Drake!

No, you don’t. The Drake equation is a simplistic collection of variables with no suggestion of mutual dependency that are concatenated to provide a whole string of excuses for why human-like aliens aren’t sending us their version of “I Love Lucy”. It’s basically a Ouija board for apologists for science-fiction outcomes. It’s a tool for churning out meaningless crap. It’s kind of like how the article ends with this self-serving statement.

We have written many interesting articles about the Great Filter, the Fermi Paradox, the Search for Extraterrestrial Intelligence (SETI), and related concepts here at Universe Today.

Again, no you haven’t. If I were an editor at Universe Today, I’d scratch out the word “interesting”, and maybe, to throw them a bone, write in “infuriating”.

One more thing that annoys me. They cite Hanson again, saying that one of the benchmarks for his preferred flavor of alien intelligence features Wide-scale colonization. I’m just thinking, given his other criteria, that any planet suitable for colonization is already going to contain a fascinating extraterrestrial biota — they wouldn’t have an oxygen-rich atmosphere, or soil, or exploitable organic materials otherwise — and from a biologist’s point of view, the “colonization” he considers desirable is going to involve the destruction of native species on a large scale. We’re lucky, given that it’s Hanson, that he didn’t speculate on the universality of rape. That’s more his thing.

Minnesota has mandated face masks in public

Meanwhile, down at the Wal-Mart…

Stupid people will find a way to obey the letter of the law, while still parading their ignorance and hatefulness.

You know, I hate to tell you this, but if you merely want to be offensive you can buy “Make America Great Again” facemasks on the internet. I’ll still despise you, but I won’t think of you as an ahistorical idiot promoting genocide, mostly.

’tis the season

My spider family is going mad, spewing baby spiderlings everywhere. I came into the lab today just to maintain and feed the several hundred hatchlings I’d acquired over the past few days, and what do I find? Another egg sac has opened up, and another hundred or more babies are begging for attention.

Yeah, yeah, I was a responsible parent, and I separated out as many as I could and put them into nice clean vials. I’m reaching capacity, though. This means I have about 300+, maybe as many as 400, itty bitty Parasteatoda offspring in my lab, packed into two incubators. Looking ahead optimistically, I can maybe accommodate 60 adults in the lab, if I pair up males and females. It feels weird to say it, but I’m good if I have 80% mortality in the babes.

I suppose if they thrive I can just turn the majority loose in my basement.

The feds are trying to saturate Portland with tear gas

It doesn’t seem to be particularly effective.

According to CripDyke, it isn’t, and neither are the leafblowers, which I can believe. Keep on fighting back, Portland!

The NY Times version of spin isn’t at all subtle

When the New York Times got around to reporting Ted Yoho’s vicious outburst at Ocasio-Cortez, they put all the emphasis on the woman’s anger, as if Yoho was in a boys will be boys moment, and Ocasio-Cortez was over-sensitive. Rebecca Traister explains what the Times was up to.

The Times’ story on the speech bore the headline “A.O.C. Unleashes a Viral Condemnation of Sexism in Congress” and kicked off by noting that Ocasio-Cortez, the youngest woman in Congress, who arrived there in 2019, “has upended traditions.” It called her speech on Thursday “norm-shattering” and described supporting speeches made by her colleagues — including one in which Pramila Jayapal recalled being referred to as a “young lady” who did not “know a damn thing” by Alaska representative Don Young — as a moment of “cultural upheaval.”

All these words somehow cast Ocasio-Cortez and her female colleagues as the disruptive and chaotic forces unleashed in this scenario, suggesting that they shattered norms in a way that Representative Yoho’s original, profane outburst apparently did not. (Perhaps Yoho’s words weren’t understood as eruptive and norm-shattering because calling women nasty names, in your head or with your friends or on the steps of your workplace, is much more of a norm than most want to acknowledge).

As Mark Harris pointed out on Twitter, the Times only printed the full epithet in a piece about Ocasio-Cortez reading it into the House record, after declining to print the words in an earlier story, when they would have been attributed to Yoho. This offered the faint impression that the only person who actually said the actual words “fucking bitch” was AOC herself, and not the man who aimed them at her. What’s more, the paper described her as “punching each syllable in the vulgarity,” reinforcing a view of Ocasio-Cortez’s utterances as pugilistic, without acknowledgment that while she enunciated clearly, she delivered her speech in the calmest and most genial tones imaginable. (An earlier Times story on Yoho’s non-apology and Ocasio-Cortez’s initial response to it described her as having “upbraided” him, and opened with a description of how she “forcefully rejected” his apology.)

This is a perfect summary.

In describing her team’s decisions about how to respond, the Times put scare quotes around their plans “to discuss how she ‘was accosted and publicly ridiculed,’” rather than simply reporting that she had been … accosted and publicly ridiculed. The whole thing suggests that she had somehow connived to set this all in motion; that her actions were the active and self-serving ones, while Yoho was a passive actor, his only contribution to the situation providing the platform from which she might spring. As the Times put it: “Republicans have long labored to cast Ms. Ocasio-Cortez as an avatar of the evils of the Democratic Party, a move that Ms. Ocasio-Cortez has used to bolster her own cheeky, suffer-no-fools reputation.”

The Times has long been a master of framing, whether it’s the he-said-she-said style of reporting, or this, pandering to the conservative businessman in a suit reading the paper in his limousine, aghast at the fact that women are in the workplace, the boardroom, even in the halls of power.

As we read commentators tell the story of women’s ambition and savvy and drive, all of which are surely politically animating forces — as they have been for all the many men who have preceded them in American politics — I hope people can remember that the analysis is not wrong, exactly, but that it is woefully incomplete. Because until we can see how white men have taken advantage of sexism and racism for their own gain — how they’ve built their own “brand,” the American brand — on the backs of the fucking bitches forever, we’re not really reading a full story.

Remember this: The NY Times is and always has been an agent of the status quo, working to build and reinforce the “American brand”. We won’t be able to rebuild our country by letting “the newspaper of record” tell the story.

Hungry hungry spiders

All these baby spiders hatched out over the last few days, and I had to start feeding them. I’ve got a lot of flies, I opened each vial one by one, and tossed in a surprised wingless fly. All the babies, even though they’re only two days old, had strung silken lines all over the place — baby’s first death trap! — and were waiting patiently, hanging upside down like the grown ups, and wow, were they ever excited when the first fly was snared!

Here’s a pair of Parasteatoda juveniles, literally seconds after I put a single fly in. They descended on it immediately. Baby’s first kill!

I’m about halfway through the feeding. It’s starting to go faster as I get better at manipulating massive numbers of flies. The Runestone line is all completely fed now, with the corpses of their twitching prey piling up. I think I’ll take a break and feed the remainder tomorrow.

I don’t even know what’s going on in atheism anymore

I feel good about that, too. I still get email from various organizations, though, so I still get sent the Atheist Alliance International newsletter, AAI Insider. The latest issue contains this dodgy gem:

Earlier this year, two AAI staff members made false accusations regarding a Director, then resigned and immediately set up their own organisation with a deliberately similar name, claiming that we are corrupt and that they are white as snow. We have refuted their accusations and they have acknowledged that they were groundless, but they did so on condition that we didn’t tell! We have the evidence. Draw your own conclusions…

Ooookaaaay. I think they’re talking about the International Association of Atheists, which formed a few months ago, but they can’t tell us, and they can’t tell you that they refuted everything that triggered the schism, but they did. Sorta.

I’ve attended a couple of AAI meetings, 8-10 years ago, and they were pretty good. I don’t understand what happened to them since, and I really don’t want to know. Deep rifts, ongoing fragmentation, and crumbling reputations seems to be the order of the day in atheism.