The second week begins

One week of the semester done, now to march on into the second. Unfortunately, every week has to have a worst day, and this semester it’s Wednesday. I’ve got back-to-back lecture and lab this afternoon, which means I’m going to have to talk non-stop for about 3 hours, and that means I plan to go home and sit in sweet silence this evening. Expect occasional imprecations hurled at Wotan in the future.

You know what else is annoying about Wednesday? We get three and even four day weekends now and then, and the workdays that get wiped out are usually a Friday or Monday, or even a Thursday (Thanksgiving!) or a Tuesday (Fall break!), but Wednesdays are always inviolate, standing alone and untouched. It’s going to be a whole semester of Wednesdays, undefeated, until 8 December.


I’m sorry, but to me the most disturbing part of this story is the buckets.

APennsylvania man has been found with multiple buckets of stolen human body parts that he allegedly purchased off of Facebook, according to police.

East Pennsboro Township Police said that they arrested Jeremy Pauley, 40, of Enola on Thursday after making the discovery while searching his basement. Police said that Pauley is a self-described collector of “oddities” and was in possession of three full human skeletons and up to 20 human skulls, according to ABC affiliate WHTM. He was released soon after posting $50,000 bail.

The investigation began when police received a complaint on June 14 about human remains potentially being sold on Facebook. Suspicion of Pauley’s alleged involvement began after a person called police on July 8 to report finding multiple 5-gallon buckets containing “human organs” and “human skin” in his basement.

Why buckets? Is this a practical way to store your organs? Why? Can you do anything with them, or do you just go down to the basement to gloat over the random viscera floating in your buckets? I mean, I would at least want some classy glass jars, maybe a big vat with multiple organs so you can play with them and assemble them, but this guy’s process is just sloppy and pointless.

I am not at all surprised that Facebook is where you go to buy body parts.

Chaya Raichik is willing to blow up children’s hospitals “in the name of the children”

I find conservatives’ obsession with gender affirmation therapy to be disturbing and bizarre. This Libs of TikTok fanatic, Chaya Raichik, has been haranguing hospital help lines in an effort to get incriminating sound bites for her sensationalist channel. And she succeeded!

Last Friday, Libs of TikTok’s founder Chaya Raichik posted an audio recording of her discussion with hospital telephone operators who said that “a 16-year-old trans boy would be eligible for a hysterectomy at the hospital’s gender development clinic,” The Washington Post reported.

One operator told Raichik that a 16-year-old child would be “in the clear” to receive the operation. A second operator told her that “all different type[s] of age groups” come in for the operation and that “kids” younger than 16 have come in for the procedure.

Yeah, no. Transgender groups are on tenterhooks right now, aware that the mob is ready to rampage and kill, and are scrupulous about avoiding doing anything irreversible to a minor, no matter how much the child may desire it. I don’t believe that they got a revelation from an informed expert at the hospital — they badgered a person who probably primarily handles appointment scheduling to say something wrong. You might want to instead base your opinions on what pediatricians and ethicists say:

One of the most complicated ethical issues that arises in children’s hospitals today is the issue of whether it is ever permissible to perform a procedure for a minor that will result in permanent sterilization. In most cases, the answer is no. The availability of good, safe, long-acting contraception allows surgical options to be postponed when the primary goal of such surgical options is to prevent pregnancy. But what if a minor has congenital urogenital anomalies or other medical conditions for which the best treatment is a hysterectomy? In those cases, the primary goal of therapy is not to prevent pregnancy. Instead, sterility is an unfortunate side effect of a medically indicated treatment. Should that side effect preclude the provision of a therapy that is otherwise medically appropriate? We present a case that raises these issues, and asked experts in law, bioethics, community advocacy, and gynecology to respond. They discuss whether the best option is to proceed with the surgery or to cautiously delay making a decision to give the teenager more time to carefully consider all of the options.

It’s just not done. You can find people who claim it is done — Raichik and her collection of freaks included — but the hospital has denied it and they have nothing but an uninformed claim by someone who is not a medical expert.

The recording, made by Libs of TikTok founder Chaya Raichik, features two telephone operators at the renowned D.C. medical facility stating — in response to Raichik’s questions — that a 16-year-old trans boy would be eligible for a hysterectomy at the hospital’s gender development clinic. Children’s has not disputed the authenticity of the recording but said the employees provided inaccurate information.

“None of the people who were secretly recorded by this activist group deliver care to our patients,” hospital spokeswoman Ariana Ahmadi Perez said. “We do not and have never performed gender-affirming hysterectomies for anyone under the age of 18.”

Now the hospital is flooded with threats. Some human beings seem to favor an opportunity, even a false opportunity, to exercise some self-righteous violence. I think it’s less about protecting children and more about venting some aggression and believing they are heroic…by screaming at a children’s hospital.

Children’s National Hospital has been inundated with threatening emails and phone calls after an influential right-wing Twitter account published a recording that falsely suggested the hospital is performing hysterectomies on transgender children, a hospital spokeswoman said. The torrent of harassment was accompanied by social media posts suggesting that Children’s be bombed and its doctors placed in a woodchipper.

Chaya Raichik has been suspended from Twitter temporarily for spreading misinformation. Not banned, mind you, despite her long history of vicious rumor-mongering. We’re going to have to wait for one of her followers to throw a doctor in a woodchipper before that happens.

Oh, Twitter. Forever pretending to be ethical, forever failing before the siren call of profitable traffic.

Take your time, no rush, I’m not going to see chestnut forests in my lifetime anyway

I should look up from the spiders now and then. I did not know what was happening to forests.

Global trade and climate change are poised to make the spread and severity of arboreal plagues and pestilence worse. The hills around Syracuse are silhouetted with pale ash trees slain by emerald-colored borers. Ancient bristlecone pines out West are succumbing to bark beetle outbreaks triggered by rising temperatures. As many as 1 in 6 trees native to the Lower 48 states are at risk of extinction.

I should know. We bought a house 20 years ago that had a yard full of impressive trees, which we’ve watched steadily decline. Every few years it seems the city splashes another one with neon paint and we’re told it has to come down. But there’s hope! Science rides to the rescue, maybe! The article is about the American Chestnut, and how it’s been wiped out by a fungus.

All it takes is one gene.

The fungus infecting chestnut trees thrives by secreting a chemical called oxalic acid, which kills cells and allows the pathogen to feast on the dead tissue. But many other plants, including bananas, strawberries and wheat, avoid that fate by producing an enzyme called oxalate oxidase that breaks down the toxin.

By 2014, Powell and Maynard successfully added the wheat gene to chestnuts and were growing infection-resistant trees. The pair dubbed one line Darling 58, in honor of Herb.

Many plants use oxalate oxidase as a defense mechanism. It catalyzes the oxidation of oxalic acid into CO2 and peroxides — reactive oxygen species. Is that going to have a side effect? I don’t know. Barley makes multiple forms of oxalate oxidase, and it doesn’t seem to harm beer production.

“Making a transgenic tree — I hate to say it like this, but it isn’t that hard,” Newhouse said. The most difficult hurdle for Darling 58, he said, is winning regulatory approval.

Well. This is sort of true. Making transgenic organisms is relatively easy nowadays, EXCEPT…the difficult part is figuring out what gene to use, and since most traits have complex origins, and since the expression of the gene is going to have multiple effects on the organism, it’s difficult to predict all of the consequences. There are good reasons regulatory approval is tough to get.

But in this case, they seem to have found a relatively simple way to confer fungus resistance on a tree, and it’s been tried experimentally, and they have successfully produced healthy, blight resistant chestnut trees. However, I think uncertainty about possible outcomes is a good reason to go slow, and regulatory agencies are doing the right thing by putting the brakes on the process.

There are also bad reasons for resisting the transgenic trees, and there seem to be a lot of people blocking it. Their primary argument is this weird idea that “natural” mechanisms like breeding hybrid trees are somehow “better” than transgenic methods — this is the same reasoning that has led to GMO labeling in our grocery stores, as if somehow the fact that an agricultural scientist has intentionally tweaked a plant is bad, while wholesale, random interbreeding of varieties is more pure. I don’t get it. Don’t people realize that all of the crop plants producing your food have been extensively modified by centuries or millennia of intentional manipulation of their genomes? Everything in the supermarket is a mutant, GMO or non-GMO. I’d argue that the genetically modified plants have undergone less drastic changes than those produced the old-fashioned way.

…Powell countered that crossbreeding transfers far more genes between species. “Genetic engineering is actually a less-risky procedure than a lot of things that we’ve done in the past,” he said. “We are very precise. We’re only moving one, two — just a small number of genes into the tree.”

That the changes are small are not a reason to dismiss regulatory oversight, of course. The reason they can use only one or two genes is that they have specifically selected target genes of very large effect.

Of course, re-creating vast chestnut forests would also be a huge effect.

A good analysis, even with the Wittgenstein

LonerBox addresses the “What is a woman?” question, and I pretty much agree with him — it’s a bad question, asked in bad faith, and the answer is more complex than a conservative would be willing to accept. Of particular interest is the section starting at about 19:45, where he talks about what “an increasing number of biologists” advocate, that sex is biological, but expressed at different levels, and that brain sex is just as, or more, important than gonad sex or hormonal sex or chromosomal sex or all those other important biological aspects.

I can at least say that this biologist agrees with him, although I can think of a few others that are a bit batty on the subject.

Women who don’t want babies are DENYING BIOLOGY!

Here we go again: Jerry Coyne is flogging another dead dichotomous horse. All it takes is for anyone to say that sex isn’t binary, and he charges in over all those people who demonstrate that it really isn’t so simple to say it is too! Now it’s the NY Times, which published an op-ed titled, The Maternal Instinct is a Myth that Men Created. Dr Coyne is not alone — it set the racist and misogynist internet on fire (Go ahead! Google it! I sure see a lot of links I wouldn’t post anywhere.) How dare the NY Times question the purity of women?

Let’s take a look at that article first. I didn’t find it at all objectionable, but then, I am an SJW soy-boy. It points out that simplistic notions of a maternal instinct are invalid — some women are uninterested in, or even repelled, by the idea of pregnancy, childbirth, and raising a child (and some men, obviously, are thrilled with the joys of parenthood). It can’t be a simple matter of inheriting a chromosome that makes you want babies — there’s a complex continuum of maternal behavior, and it’s not only exhibited by people with two X chromosomes, or a vagina, or certain hormones, or whatever excuse conservatives have been making for an intrinsic female nature for the last century. There’s a peculiar impulse that makes some human beings want to cast everything in a black/white light, though.

The myth of maternal instinct places a primacy on biological mothers, suggesting the routes to parenthood fall into two categories: “natural” and “other.” It sustains outdated ideas about masculinity that teaches fathers that they are secondary — assistants, babysitters — and encourages mothers to see them that way, too. It undermines the rights and recognition of same-sex couples and transgender and nonbinary parents, whose ability to care for their children is often questioned.

That’s the message: human behavior isn’t binary. The idea of everything about people being the product of simple either/or switches has failed. And if you want to know how such a notion has taken over, we ask, “Cui bono?” It’s men who benefit from enforcing this arrangement.

Coyne doesn’t like that, and he has a rather silly argument against it. It first relies on typological thinking — the average defines the individual.

But to claim that women don’t have a greater desire than men to care for offspring, or have a greater emotional affinity towards offspring, is to deny biology, and evolution in particular. (I freely admit that many men love their kids deeply, and that some men care for them as much or more as do mothers, but I’m talking about averages here, not anecdotes.)

Women (aggregate noun) have greater desire (uniformly, it appears) to care for offspring. OK, what about people who don’t? Are they not women? We’ve seen this flavor of argument before from people who want to claim that some universal characteristic is an unambiguous and unmistakeable marker for sexual identity. Yeah, some AFAB women have wombs. So? Why should that one character define the totality of the person, and why should its absence likewise define other people?

I’m not impressed by his argument — it’s basically the idea that animal females can have babies, therefore we get to associate a whole lot of culturally determined other attributes on them — but I was amused by one thing. He sorta half-assedly cites Sarah Blaffer Hrdy to support his ideas.

UPDATE: In a comment below, Randolph Nesse, one of the founders of “Darwinian medicine,” cites a book I’d forgotten:

If only everyone interested in this topic could read “Mother Nature: Maternal Instincts and How They Shape the Human Species”, Sarah Hrdy’s 2020 book on the topic. And if only the NY Times would review such excellent science books so people would know about them! I am tempted to send Conaboy a copy.

Hrdy is a highly respected anthropologist, and you can order her book by clicking on this screenshot:

I highly doubt that Hrdy sees maternal instincts as pure social constructs designed to hold women down. I’m going to read it, and I hope Conaboy does, too. Then we can expect her to retract her article (LOL).

He hasn’t read it? I’ve read it. It’s a very good book. It doesn’t support his binary reductionism, though, and nobody sees human behavior as pure social constructs — that’s a Pinkerish straw man. She asks hard questions and comes up with complex answers that are entirely compatible with evolutionary theory, but don’t support the kind of binary reductionism Coyne is peddling. She writes, for instance:

Is a mother born instinctively nurturing? (“She is a motherly type,” I’ve sometimes heard it said.) Does something inside her change during pregnancy that makes her maternal? (“Before the baby was born, her nesting instinct really got going.”) Is the increased responsiveness due to stimulation from the infant? (“She just fell in love with her new baby.”) Is a female gradually primed to be a mother by experiences?

For mice at least, the answer to these questions is: all of the above. “Instinctive” is a reasonable way to describe her maternal behavior, as long as it is understood that mother mammals do not necessarily exhibit automatic, full-blown commitment to infants immediately after birth. Rather, her “maternal instinct” unfolds gradually, in “baby steps” in which infants, too, are implicated.

Nature cannot be compartmentalized from nurture, yet something about human imaginations predisposes us to dichotomize the world that way. Nature versus Nurture, innate or acquired. The persistence, decade after decade, of a nonexistent dichotomy puzzles me.

Me, too.

Here’s one of her conclusions.

Rather than some magical “essence of mother,” what makes a mother is that she is (invariably) at the scene, hormonally primed, sensitive to infant signals, and related to the baby. These factors lower her threshold for giving of herself to satisfy the infant’s needs. Once her milk comes in, the mother’s urge to nurture grows stronger still. Furthermore, compared to the father (who also shares at least half of his genes with this infant by common descent), there is a good chance that this infant represents a higher proportion of her reproductive prospects than of his (though not necessarily, if she has several, and this is the only child he ever sires). These factors make the mother the likeliest candidate to become the primary caretaker. But they do not constitute an unyielding prescription.

Well, that neatly answers what Coyne considers to be his definitive point: How do we explain the fact that, across the animal kingdom, when members of only one sex do most of the childrearing, it’s almost invariably the females? Consider it explained without resorting to a universal maternal instinct driving all women’s behavior. Your idea of what a woman is supposed to be and do is not an “unyielding prescription,” it’s neither a “should” nor a “must,” yet that’s how most of these authoritarian thinkers use the concept.

Maybe it would help to treat women as individuals and people first, rather than as avatars of a sex?

Trapped in a cheesy horror movie

I used to think that seeing characters make really bad, stupid decisions in horror movies (“let’s split up!” “let’s have sex in this abandoned cabin!” “let’s read this ancient curse aloud!”) broke the willing suspension of disbelief, but nowadays I think they add verisimilitude. That’s what real people do all the time. It’s what the people in charge, who are supposedly smarter than the rest of us, do. It’s how we’ve bumbled our way through a pandemic.

So this proposal is perfect.

I would watch that movie. I would tell you all that it is perfectly accurate in every detail.

(I still wear a mask at work. I feel so alone. I don’t think the Cassandra character gets to make it to Final Girl, so I’m also feeling a bit doomed. It’s official university policy.)

I hope you weren’t eager to get Dinesh D’Souza’s latest book

D’Souza made a stupid, and clearly debunked, “documentary”, 2000 Mules, in which he claimed Democrats smuggled in crates of faked ballots to steal the election. Now he’s trying to turn it into a book. Oops, a snag.

Dinesh D’Souza’s book version of “2000 Mules,” based on the film that makes widely debunked claims that people were paid to dump fraudulent ballots at collection boxes in key 2020 election states, was abruptly recalled by the publisher Monday, the eve of its release.

Recalled? Publication delayed? You might think that’s a small thing to have happen, except…the publisher is Regnery. Regnery don’t care. Regnery publishes the most godawful stupid right-wing garbage without a qualm.

Now I really want to know what kind of garbage is in the first publication of that book that would make even Regnery gag.


Jared Kushner lives in a pampered bubble where he thinks he’s going to be sheltered forever.

From the last year, the one thing I’ve tried to put a priority on since I left the White House was, you know, getting some exercise in. I think that there is a good probability that my generation is, hopefully with the advances in science, either the first generation to live forever, or the last generation that’s going to die. So, we need to keep ourselves in pretty good shape.

There is no evidence that we can increase human life spans much beyond slightly over a century, and the only people claiming otherwise are scam artists or pseudoscientists (or both, <cough> Aubrey deGrey). The reasonable goal is to make our lives productive and comfortable within the limits of our biology, and that’s a good reason for exercise. Not this ridiculous post-human bullshit.

We’re not even doing that, though. Just browsing through the news, there have been catastrophic floods in Pakistan.

Millions of Pakistanis affected by the worst flooding in a decade are in desperate need of aid as authorities say they have been “overwhelmed” by the scale of the disaster, with the country’s climate minister calling it a “serious climate catastrophe”.

The death toll from monsoon flooding since June has reached 1,136, according to figures released Monday by the country’s National Disaster Management Authority.

Have Republicans been helping much with preventing deaths from climate change? Or take a look at the recent heat waves in Europe.

An extreme heat wave that meteorologists call an “apocalypse” broiled much of Europe and the United Kingdom on Monday, and hundreds of people died because of record high temperatures and ferocious wildfires.

At least 748 heat-related deaths have been reported in the heat wave in Spain and neighboring Portugal, where temperatures reached 117 degrees this month.

Gosh, it looks like science, or rather, our technological capitalist dystopia, has been inventing all kinds of unpleasant ways to die.

Mustn’t forget: at least six and a half million dead from COVID-19.

I would also point out that thanks to advances in science, Jared Kushner has an enhanced probability of dying on a guillotine. That’s far more likely than that he’d live forever.

And there are so many ways he could face mortality! Maybe it’ll be in the chaos of a civil war incited by his father-in-law, or in food riots after the collapse of the economy, or in a backstabbing struggle for power in a post-apocalyptic wasteland, or his cozy relationship with the Saudis could end in betrayal and sawed off limbs, or he could just get cancer and die. So many possibilities! Science won’t save you from human nature or the physical limitations thereof.