You can’t say that

Those fervent conservative Free Speech Warriors have hit on a new strategy to protect our sacred right to say anything we want to anyone we want to: banning the bad words. Wisconsin Republicans have proposed sweeping censorship of words and concepts from the public schools there.

Curiously, they forgot to ban “irony”. Maybe they didn’t know the word exists.

Fortunately, the bill is just posturing by sanctimonious Republicans, and has virtually no chance of passing. If it did, I suppose I’d have to gallop across the border to rescue my granddaughter once she hit school age.

It’s such a strangely blatant defiance of the principles these people usually hide behind, but there’s a reason for it. We can’t make our white children conscious of racism.

The Wisconsin Assembly passed legislation on a party-line vote Tuesday that would bar public schools from teaching critical race theory, the latest Republican-controlled legislative chamber to take action on a culture war issue that erupted in school board meetings around the country this summer.

The measure mirrors efforts in other states to block teachers from instructing students on concepts of racial injustice or inherent bias.

But in testimony before a Wisconsin Assembly committee considering the bill in August, one of the measure’s lead authors went farther than in other states, spelling out specific words that would be barred from the classroom.

“It has come to our attention, and to some of the people who traveled here to Madison today, that a growing number of school districts are teaching material that attempts to redress the injustice of racism and sexism by employing racism and sexism, as well as promoting psychological distress in students based on these immutable characteristics,” state Rep. Chuck Wichgers (R) said of his bill. “No one should have to undergo the humiliation of being told that they are inferior to someone else. We are all members of the human race.”

Nothing in Critical Race Theory is about telling anyone they are inferior — quite the opposite. You can tell what really concerns him, though: the idea that white people might be told they’re inferior. When it was just discrimination against brown people, then it was OK to talk about their imaginary inferiority.

Wichgers, who represents Muskego in the legislature, attached an addendum to his legislation that included a list of “terms and concepts” that would violate the bill if it became law.

Among those words: “Woke,” “whiteness,” “White supremacy,” “structural bias,” “structural racism,” “systemic bias” and “systemic racism.” The bill would also bar “abolitionist teaching,” in a state that sent more than 91,000 soldiers to fight with the Union Army in the Civil War.

The list of barred words or concepts includes “equity,” “inclusivity education,” “multiculturalism” and “patriarchy,” as well as “social justice” and “cultural awareness.”

Whoops, there goes social studies and history.

My synapsid family

Nice image to illustrate a basic cladistic principle. I still get whines from creationists complaining that I said we humans are fish — but that’s just a bigger circle enclosing everyone in this image.

I have no illusions that this will ever sink into the brains of the people who deny it.

Kent Hovind’s unsavory career

There’s nothing here I didn’t already know, but if you want an up-to-date summary of Hovind’s criminality, here’s a video. In addition to committing spousal abuse, he’s been hanging out with and making excuses for convicted pedophiles. Would you believe that he thinks one of his associates being found guilty of the crime is that, sure, he was playing strip poker with an 11 year old, but they only got down to his underwear before he stopped.

Only watch on an empty stomach.

I could have predicted he’d be taking this route 30 years ago. He’s a skeevy, creepy liar who found a profitable grift in religion.

Dune: epic, majestic, stately, beautiful

We had a good time at DUNE (or, as the poster calls it, DUNC) last night. It was excellent! It’s true to the original story for the most part, and the special effects were impressive. It’s a movie where you can just sit back and enjoy the slow build with occasional bursts of action, and the plot overall is not stupid.

One matter of taste: this is not a superhero movie. No slam-bam non-stop overpowered people smashing buildings and chins. It really is all slow imagery: space ships don’t swoop with blasters blazing, immense geometric shapes float down to the planet and drift onto plains of sand. It’s a thing. If you don’t appreciate the idea of taking your time in a movie, you may not have a good time. I was in the mood for it, so I found it pleasant and thoughtful.

On the other hand, it didn’t get very far into the plot before just…ending. It only got as far as Jessica and Paul fleeing the invasion of the Harkonnens to end up in Stilgar’s sietch. It’s been decades since I read the book, and what is that? About a third of the way in? I was just getting on a roll here when I had to go home. And it ends on such a downer moment! There has to be at least one more movie, maybe two, to bring it to its complex conclusion. It looks like an expensive movie, too, with a star-power cast and lots of fancy computer work (ooh, the ornithopters were amazing), so I’m going to have to tell you all that you’re required to go so it makes lots of money and bankrolls and brings me some resolution.

One minor complaint that isn’t so much about Dune as it is about this kind of drama in general. I attended with my wife, who has some hearing impairments, and in those quiet moments where they were talking, everyone tends to whisper at each other. It was annoying. Jessica and Paul are hiding in a tent deep in the desert, alone, talking about their situation and advancing a little exposition, and they are whispering for dramatic effect. You’re in the desert! Alone! Talk normally, as people do. I will say this for super-hero movies: they are very shouty. People emote loudly. It’s just that whenever a plot has some subtlety and thoughtful tension to it, the way they express it in Dune is by having the actors drop their voices into a low raspy register.

Don’t let that stop you, though! You must go see it so there’s a chance they’ll make the next episode in the story just for me!

‘Twas the night before Hallowe’en, and the spiders were scuttling about…

At 9pm Central on Saturday, 30 October, I’m going to start up a livestream on YouTube to just talk about spiders, and spider movies, and whatever scary things I can think of about spiders. It’s Hallowe’en! I get to indulge.

If anyone else wants to jump in the stream, just send me a note and maybe I’ll let you on. Or even commenters on that evening — if I trust you to tell us all cool creepy stuff, I’ll send you a link then.

Maybe I’ll try to convince Mrs Spiders to make a brief appearance, since she has to live with the abominable Dr Spiders and probably has the scariest stories of them all.

Genetics According to Jesus

I slummed it a bit this morning, watching a video by Dr. (he really is, with a Ph.D. from a credible institution) Robert Carter, who provocatively promised to tell me about Genetics According to Jesus. That got me curious. Jesus didn’t say anything about genetics — he couldn’t. The science wasn’t invented until, really, the 20th century, and the ancient world had only the vaguest notions of how heredity might work. There was only some general, obvious ideas about how there are familial similarities and unpredictable variations — difficult to dissect soup of commonalities and diversity. It took a novel approach to figure it out, exemplified by Mendel, who reduced everything to a simple organism and simple variants, and applied principles of probability and statistics to discern any pattern. Nobody did that before in any systematic way, and a lot of great minds had very crude ideas about how inheritance worked. Aristotle assumed it was all about a dominant male principle that organized the chaotic curdled menstrual blood of the female into an embryo, for instance. So Jesus, a non-scientist, said something about it, huh? OK, give it to me, Bob. I’m curious.

Would you be surprised if I told you that nowhere in this hour-long talk does Carter say anything about genetics from the Gospels? No? Yeah, predictable. Here’s a quick summary of what he does say, so you can skip the whole video.

The first 10 minutes is classic creationist time-wasting. He tells us about his grandparents, where they were from, what they did, all irrelevant to any point he might make. It’s a common trope in creationist talks, though — you start by giving your come-to-jesus biography, because how can anyone trust you if you don’t present your bona fides?

There’s a quickly abandoned moment where he talks about his education in genetics, and he mentions that the tools of genetics have such power that they raise significant ethical questions…which he immediately resolves with a quote from Genesis, the dominion mandate, in which God hands over control of all of creation to Adam. That’s a little bit scary. If fundamentalist Christians were in charge of the institution of science, I guess it would be carte blanche, that you get to do anything you want to non-human organisms, because God said so.

He also takes a moment to condemn Francis Collins, who isn’t Christian enough for him. Collins believes humans evolved 100,000 or more years ago, from a population of tens of thousands of individuals, not just two, therefore he’s not really a True Evangelical Christian™, I guess. True Christians interpret the Bible literally and know that the Earth is less than ten thousand years old (even though the Bible doesn’t say that) and that Adam and Eve were the progenitors of the human race, no one else (even though the Bible has the curious problem of their sons somehow finding wives). Cue the usual “but if Adam didn’t exist, then Jesus couldn’t have saved the world” etc. etc. etc.

Then we finally get the gist of his story. In the first half of the 20th century and before, anthropologists were all horrible stomach-turning racists, but the Bible-believers were egalitarian believers in the unity of mankind. He will not discuss the racist apologetics of American slave-holders, or that many of those anthropologists were themselves Christian, and he only praises the flood of European missionaries who invaded Africa because, after all, they were Christianizing the continent.

After chewing out those evil bigoted scientists, though, he spends most of the rest of his time talking about…race. Not Jesus, or genetics, just race, and he does so in the most trivializing way. Adam and Eve had to be brown, because you can get all the colors of modern humans with nothing but different degrees of melanization. He shows a few human cladograms (science!) and points out that all the branches radiate from a common point, therefore, as predicted by the Bible, that point was Noah and his sons. (After all, I guess evolution wouldn’t predict common ancestry, only the Bible does that.) It’s a half-hour of cherry-picking and bogus interpretations of the evidence — he doesn’t mention that that central point for the radiation of all the races of mankind was not 4000 years ago, but far, far older. He can get away with that because he announces that molecular clocks don’t work, most conveniently. He gets to ignore lots of evidence to fit a few diagrams to his Biblical model.

He can’t even cite the New Testament, let alone the words of Jesus Christ, geneticist, to back up his arguments. THE TITLE IS A LIE. I was so disappointed. I want my money back and my time.

There was absolutely nothing of substance in the talk that I could sink my teeth into, just the usual creationist fallacies and dishonesty. That’s boring, and no fun at all. I tried to find anything that hasn’t been debunked a thousand times before, and perked up at only one claim I hadn’t seen before, at about the 25 minute mark.

In Great Britain, most of the birth defects and developmental abnormalities of children in their health system are from Muslims, because the Muslim tradition is to marry a first cousin.

Wait, wait — you’re telling me the majority of birth defects in Great Britain arise in a small subpopulation of 3 million out of about 65 million? No way. I know a bit about developmental defects, and that sounds ridiculous. I understand that there is a higher degree of consanguinity in marriages within that subpopulation, and that inbreeding does increase the incidence of birth defects, but not that much, and it seems like an unfounded dig. It was a novel claim to me, even if it was totally fucking irrelevant to any putative claim about Jesus genetics, so I thought I’d look it up.

I should have known, though. Google the claim and what you get is a lot of garbage from sources like the Daily Mail, who love to claim that the invading Muslim hordes are just dumping defective babies on the NHS. It’s a racist claim from racists, so why is this nominally anti-racist creationist blithely echoing them? Time to go to the actual scientific literature and figure out what the data actually says.

Here’s one: “A reconsideration of the factors affecting birth outcome in Pakistani Muslim families in Britain”, by SR Proctor and IJ Smith. I guess they were familiar with the misinformation peddled by British tabloids, so they had to go debunk them.

Over recent years, Bradford has had a consistently high perinatal mortality rate (PNMR), especially amongst its Asian population, 66% of whom originate from Pakistan. There is a high incidence of consanguineous marriages reported among Pakistani and Muslim couples. Often, this observation is used to explain their higher PNMR and congenital malformation rates. The factors affecting birth outcome in Pakistani women are complex and interrelated. Socioeconomic, genetic, biological and environmental factors all contribute to adverse birth outcome. In addition, these are complicated by discrimination, communication barriers and culture blaming. The aim of this paper is to challenge midwives and other health professionals to reconsider the overwhelming emphasis placed on consanguinity as a factor affecting birth outcome, and to recognise the impact and interplay of other confounding variables.

The point of the paper is to show that you can’t explain away infant mortality and malformations by blaming it on arranged marriages. If you want to try to do that, you have to ignore all the other factors that contribute to that rate, like diet and poverty and unequal access to health care. Anyone who has studied development at all knows all this — it’s multifactorial, and trying to pin problems to a single cause like inbreeding or race or religion is going to blow up in your face. This is a simple diagram of a few of the inputs to birth outcomes.

It is definitely true that consanguineous marriages do increase the rate of birth defects and perinatal mortality, but you’re committing a racism, Robert, when you gloss over the many and more significant factors that contribute to the problem.

Pregnant, Asian women who register with a GP who is not on the local obstetric list have a two-fold increased risk in having a perinatal death compared to a listed GP (Clark & Clayton, 1983). Midwives have also been criticised for being ignorant about the cultural beliefs of their clients and being reluctant to use locally available advisory groups (Kroll, 1990). Hospital service utilisation has also been reduced with low uptake of amniocentesis reported from Sheffield and Birmingham (Little & Nicoll, 1988). This was attributed to late antenatal booking and language difficulties. Antenatal clinical attendance has improved in some districts since the introduction of liaison workers who act more as advocates than literal translators (Raphael-Left, 1991).

As with indigenous white women the factors that affect birth outcome in Pakistani women are complex and interrelated. Major socio-economic and environmental problems have been reported which are not always disentangled from the obvious adverse factors, for example consanguinity and diet. Moreover, they are also complicated by communication barriers, discrimination, culture-blaming and, if consanguinity is present, victim-blaming. If little or no English is understood then there will be a tendency to label the women as deviants who may become stereotyped.

What this is an example of is the tendency of creationists to ignore the bulk of the evidence that defeats their claims to cherry pick the bits and pieces that they can warp to fit their misbegotten nonsense of a “theory”. Sure, we can ignore culture and language and poverty so we can argue that Muslims are inbred, just like we can ignore the breadth of genetic evidence to claim all humans are descended from one family four thousand years ago, or one couple six thousand years ago, and then turn around and claim that it’s true because Jesus said so.

I’m still waiting to see that verse from the Bible where Jesus talks about allele frequencies.

Don’t waste your time.