Dawkins is one step away from consulting a dictionary to define biology

Did you know that Richard Dawkins began his career as an ethologist? He got his Ph.D. studying animal behavior under Niko Tinbergen. If you’re an ethologist, you might study things like courtship behavior and parental investment and feeding strategies etc., etc., etc. Dawkins studied how animals make choices.

That was in 1966. Apparently he’s forgotten all that ever since.

Sex is not defined by chromosomes, nor by anatomy, nor by psychology or sociology, nor by personal inclination, nor by “assignment at birth”, but by gamete size. It happens to be embryologically DETERMINED by chromosomes in mammals and (in the opposite direction) birds, by temperature in some reptiles, by social factors in some fish. But it is universally DEFINED by the binary distinction between sperms and eggs.
You may argue about “gender” if you wish (biologists have better things to do) but sex is a true binary, one of rather few in biology.

Somehow, an awful lot of biologists study sexual behavior — like lekking, or sexual displays, or fidelity, and on and on — that don’t necessarily involve sperm collection or measuring ovulation or that kind of thing. It is absurd to insist that only gametes define sex. I recognize spider sexes by the morphology of their palps, and by their differences in behavior, not gametes. I see the birds flying outside my window, and I discriminate sexes by color, primarily. To say that biologists have better things to do than study gender is ridiculous. Every biologist who looks at the plumage of birds or watches the courtship of spiders is studying a phenomenon far removed from basic gamete formation yet is an indispensable, unavoidable, intrinsic consequence of sex in that species…and the animal isn’t getting a semen count before engaging in it.

This is true of human biology, too. People don’t have to check their gonads before engaging in all kinds of sexual behaviors; they would rather not have to worry about the sex police telling them what they can and can’t do, and generally they disregard the prudes in private anyway. You can be a feminine man or a masculine woman, or any shade in between or beyond, and gametes don’t come into play at all, except in reproduction. Reproduction is not the sole function of sex.

Dawkins is just being an extreme reductionist to the point he’s making himself and his position look silly. Go ahead, all you reactionary biologists, rant about how there can be only two true sexes because people have some cells that are almost never seen in public, in defiance of all the other valid signals they openly display. Better biologists will go on recognizing all the factors that define sex without your self-imposed, narrow-minded blinders.

P.S. Dawkins is not an embryologist. No, sex isn’t solely determined by chromosomes embryologically, but by a battery of influences that shape the embryo, including a few genes on some chromosomes. He is an evolutionary biologist, and he doesn’t recognize that the fluidity of sex determination mechanisms suggests that maybe biology isn’t as rigid as he thinks?

Elon has gone and done it

Musk has stuck a Neuralink device into a person’s head. His announcement isn’t particularly informative.

The first human received an implant from @Neuralink
yesterday and is recovering well.
Initial results show promising neuron spike detection.

…promising neuron spike detection? Do you realize how meaningless that is? I’ve jammed steel pins into a cockroach’s butt and gotten “promising neuron spike detection”. I’ve stuck sharpened tungsten wires into a zebrafish’s hindbrain and gotten “promising neuron spike detection”. This is a trivial accomplishment. Living brains are big sparking balls of continuous electrical activity, it’d be stunning if you put a wire in one and couldn’t get some measure of current.

This being Elon Musk, he continues with promises for the future rather than giving any details on what his company has actually accomplished.

In follow-up tweets sent in between arguing about video games and bantering with far-right influencers, the businessman said the first Neuralink product was called Telepathy.

”It enables control of your phone or computer, and through them almost any device, just by thinking,” he wrote. “Initial users will be those who have lost the use of their limbs. Imagine if Stephen Hawking could communicate faster than a speed typist or auctioneer. That is the goal.”

Musk has a long history of bold promises but a spottier record of fulfilling them. In 2016, he wrongly predicted that within two years it would be possible for a Tesla to drive autonomously from New York to Los Angeles. That year he said his SpaceX rocket company would fly to Mars in 2018 – it still has not.

Don’t forget the Hyperloop!

So can we expect this patient to be making calls to the press with his mind? Musk is not going to say, but I will boldly predict that…no, they will not. I will further guarantee that it will do none of the things Tesla PR promises.

Anyone want to go to a concert?

Over the last several years, I’ve gone from “Who the heck is this Taylor Swift person everyone is talking about?” (yeah, I’m old) to “Those songs are catchy, I get it now.” They’re not in regular rotation on my headphones, but that’s OK, I don’t begrudge anyone their enjoyment.

What I’m especially enjoying, though, is seeing Fox News melt down over Taylor Swift’s political views. They’re getting all testerical and insisting that she needs to shut up, she shouldn’t be allowed to have opinions on anything other than music. Of course, you’re only allowed to talk about political candidates if you’re endorsing the Fox News perspective, as Jack Posobiec does here.

Desperately reaching for some Republican “influencers” in entertainment, he coughs up Kid Rock, Ted Nugent, and…Jon Voight? Does he sing?

They don’t get it. Taylor Swift is a symptom, not a cause. Young artists are not going to be attracted to conservative causes, because Republicans are the death of art. Young educated people are not drawn to conservative causes, because Republicans are the death of learning. Young activists for a multitude of causes, like environmentalism or anti-racism or sexual freedom, are not interested in conservative causes because Republicans are death of all.

But I still believe in free speech. You go ahead, Jack Posobiec, and organize your “battleground state concert tour” featuring Kid Rock, Nugent, and Voight. I always approve of the Republicans throwing their campaign money down ratholes. And I’m sure there’s someone who likes Nugent’s and Rock’s music somewhere.

If you think I’m too mean to Sam Harris…

You should listen to this podcast by NiceMangos in which she tears into multiple episodes of his blog, in particular a joint appearance by Harris and Eric Weinstein. Yikes. The amount of cringe those two generate is not helping with Minnesota’s squish problem.

There’s also this article on NYMag.

I’m very late to the ass-kicking party. My excuse is that I have a serious aversion to Harris.

Sam Harris and the disgraceful “philosophy” of bigotry

I made a terrible mistake. I read an essay by that amazing moral “philosopher,” Sam Harris. He hasn’t changed since those days of rationalizing nuking Mecca — he still hates Islam in his slow, ponderous, superficially philosophical way, and now he has written a justification for killing Palestine. Don’t worry, it’s OK, because we’ve always been in a Crusade, and Israel is a shining city on a hill.

So, whether we want to admit it or not, we are perpetually at war with them [Jihadists]. And we must win a war of ideas with everyone, both within the Muslim world and outside it, who is confused about that—and there are legions of the confused. And there is no place on Earth where the truth about jihadism is more obvious or excruciating, and moral confusion about it more reprehensible, than Israel today.

He later claims that there are bright lines that divide good and evil, with Israel definitely on the good side, while Palestinians are evil. To support that rose-colored binary, hhe has to greatly simplify the status of Palestinians in Gaza.

Incidentally, there has been no occupation of Gaza since 2005, when Israel withdrew from the territory unilaterally, forcibly removing 9000 of its own citizens, and literally digging up Jewish graves. The Israelis have been out of Gaza for nearly 20 years. And yet they have been attacked from Gaza ever since.

That is very much a half-truth. Gaza was under a military occupation until 2005, when Israel partially pulled out. Israel still controls the strip, in charge of all land crossings, it still controls access to food, water, electricity, and communications, it controls all access by air and sea, and they reserve the right to send troops in whenever they feel like it. It is maintained as a prison for Palestinians, where the residents are either neglected or at the mercy of Israeli soldiers.

Is anyone surprised that Palestinians might resist? That they might learn to hate the entire nation of Israel? Apparently, Sam Harris is.

But, you see, the West is restrained and would never do any intentional harm, while Muslims have no respect for human life, so it’s OK that they be imprisoned.

At this moment in history, there are people and cultures that harbor very different attitudes about violence and the value of human life. There are people and cultures that rejoice, positively rejoice—dancing in the streets rejoicing—over the massacre of innocent civilians; conversely there are people and cultures that seek to avoid killing innocent civilians, and deeply regret it when they do—and they occasionally prosecute and imprison their own soldiers when they violate this modern norm of combat.

Whoa. Who carries out mass bombing campaigns? Who puts the light shows on TV for the patriotic masses to cheer over? We killed hundreds of thousands of Iraqis, a majority of whom were civilians, and Harris is going to tell us that we avoid and regret killing innocent civilians? Bullshit. It’s the West that invented that useful term, “collateral damage,” to excuse wholesale murder of innocents.

Yes, Palestinians have been seen to celebrate the killing of IDF soldiers and Israeli citizens. That’s not to excuse it, but to pretend that Israelis don’t similarly celebrate the death of Palestinians is a lie. Of course they do! Both sides are locked in mutual hatred.

The boisterous crowds danced and chanted Jewish religious songs outside Damascus Gate as scores of Israeli police stood guard. In several cases, groups chanted slogans such as “Death to Arabs,” “Mohammed is Dead” and “Burn Your Village” as they stared at Palestinian onlookers. Some of the youths wore clothing identifying themselves as members of Lehava — a far-right Jewish supremacist group that opposes assimilation or romantic relationships between Jews and Palestinians.

Israel has a long history of promoting hateful propaganda to its children. And now Sam Harris is in the business of pushing similar propaganda on American adults.

There is myriad evidence of Israel’s brainwashing of its citizens to erase the humanity of Palestinians spanning many decades.

Israeli scholar Adir Cohen, for example, analysed for his book titled “An Ugly Face in the Mirror – National Stereotypes in Hebrew Children’s Literature” some 1700 Hebrew-language children’s books published in Israel between 1967 and 1985, and found that a whopping 520 of them contained humiliating, negative descriptions of the Palestinians.

He revealed that 66 percent of these 520 books refer to Arabs as violent; 52 percent as evil; 37 percent as liars; 31 percent as greedy; 28 percent as two-faced and 27 percent as traitors.

But Harris believes in a fantasy Israel.

Simply counting the number of dead bodies is not a way of judging the moral balance here. Intentions matter. It matters what kind of world people are attempting to build. If Israel wanted to perpetrate a genocide of the Palestinians, it could do that easily, tomorrow. But that isn’t what it wants. And the truth is the Jews of Israel would live in peace with their neighbors if their neighbors weren’t in thrall to genocidal fanatics.

Wait a minute–why isn’t counting the bodies a way of judging the moral balance? If Hamas killing 1100 people is bad and justifies stopping them, why isn’t killing 27,000 people (including 10,000 children) also bad? I agree that stopping terrorism is good, just like stopping Nazis is good, but the casualties aren’t negligible, they matter. If we’re concerned about justice, we have to balance that with the number killed to accomplish it.

But then…to claim that the mass of Israeli citizens don’t want to commit genocide and could just flip a switch and become a nation of benevolent do-gooders? What nonsense. Those citizens elected Netanyahu. Those citizens have been implementing a policy of brutal containment for 20 years. Those citizens have been characterizing Palestinians as liars and greedy traitors for 60 years. If only they hadn’t been in thrall to genocidal fanatics, says a nation that elected genocidal fanatics.

In the West, we have advanced to a point where the killing of noncombatants, however unavoidable it becomes once wars start, is inadvertent and unwanted and regrettable and even scandalous. Yes, there are still war crimes. And I won’t be surprised if some Israelis commit war crimes in Gaza now. But, if they do, these will be exceptions that prove the rule—which is that Israel remains a lonely outpost of civilized ethics in the absolute moral wasteland that is the Middle East.

Civilized ethics:

Declaring that your opponent lives in a moral wasteland while turning their home into a literal wasteland is either hypocrisy or irony or both. Maybe some Israelis will commit war crimes, he says, as the entire weight of Israeli military might is used to level the entire territory, bombing schools and hospitals and homes. It’s a bright line, he says, because he can excuse all the atrocities on one side as justified, while on the other, everyone is an amoral monster.

To deny that the government of Israel (with all of its flaws) is better than Hamas, to deny that Israeli culture (with all of its flaws) is better than Palestinian culture­ in its attitude toward violence, is to deny that moral progress itself is possible. If most Americans are better than their slaveholding ancestors, if most Germans today are better than the people who herded Jews into gas chambers, if the students protesting this war on your college campus—who are so conscientious that they lose sleep over crimes like “cultural appropriation” or using the wrong pronouns—if they are better than the racists and religious lunatics that inevitably lurk somewhere in their family trees—then we have to recognize that there is no moral equivalence now, between Israel and her enemies.

I’m impressed that he can squeeze in a complaint about those darned woke college students while also complaining about and dismissing Palestinian victims of the most brutal violence as lesser moral actors. He wants to complain about moral equivalence and moral confusion while blithely and dishonestly papering over Israeli violence and oppression with assertions about moral superiority that are not in evidence.

He wants to claim that intent makes all the difference. But what is Israel’s intent? What intent is accomplished by wholesale bombing campaigns that kill massive numbers of civilians? What is the intent of decades of walling off millions of people and isolating them from the rest of the world? There must be an endgame, right? A benevolent, kind, generous endgame that will welcome their Palestinian captives into a world of mutual coexistence, at least, that must be the case if we’re to believe that Israel’s motives are entirely enlightened. Harris doesn’t provide any summary of that intent, except to try to paint Israel as blameless in everything, so there must be one.

Tell me how Israel will win this war. Tell me what clear signal will tell Israel that the violence is over. Tell me what actions Israel will take at the end of this war, if such a thing happens, that will produce a happy, productive, cooperative Palestine filled with partners living side by side with Israeli citizens. Harris can’t do that, because deep down, all he believes is that Islamic people are barbarians at our gates who must be exterminated. For new he’ll be satisfied with fueling the forges of hate on both sides.

You could also tell me how Hamas proposed to win the war it triggered in October. It looks to me like a spasm of hatred and rage on both sides, and I don’t see either side backing down…or “winning” this conflict. I guess Sam Harris would call that “moral confusion.”

Spider season has come early

We are experiencing unseasonably warm winter weather here in Minnesota — it’s been above freezing for a week, the snow is all melting, I can go outside without a coat, all that stuff you might take for granted in tropical states, like Kansas. But you know what that means? The spiders are coming out! We’re finding little adorable jumping spiders all over the place, like this one:

Attulus fasciger

It’s not all delightful news, though. I don’t trust the weather. We could get another arctic blast in February, and then these early risers are going to get a rude shock.

They better all come into my house to stay warm.

We have to talk about this

Minnesota is shrinking? By about a millimeter a year?

I agree. Minnesota should not be squishy, and it’s going to be all we talk about around here.

In tangentially related headlines, the Washington Post announces that Tired of hostile Washington, China courts Indiana and Minnesota. I’m all for more international cooperation, but all they talk about is EV busses and exchange programs. There’s nothing about China helping us alleviate this terrible squishing.

Ken Ham is sad that other denominations have gotten smarter

Poor man. Ken Ham is being left behind by other creationists, which is of course not his failing, but of all those other faithless Christians. So he’s going to tell us where they are going wrong.

Many things have changed since we started the biblical apologetics ministry that became Answers in Genesis, in our home in Australia in 1977. The culture has changed. But God’s Word has not changed and never will. Man’s word of about origins has continued to change in various ways over this time..
This Bible record of creation rules out the evolutionary philosophy which states that all forms of life have come into being by gradual, progressive evolution carried on by resident (natural) forces. It also rules out any evolutionary origin for the human race, since no form of evolution, including theistic evolution, can explain the origin of the male before the female, nor can it explain how a man could evolve into a woman. But the bible has never changed in its statement that God made two genders: “So God created man in his own image, in the image of God he created him; male and female he created them.” (Genesis 1:27)
While we were still living in Australia, I read a report in 1977, that the Assemblies of God denomination had adopted a “Doctrine of Creation” which stated the following:
“This Bible record of creation thus rules out the evolutionary philosophy which states that all forms of life have come into being by gradual, progressive evolution carried on by resident forces. It also rules out any evolutionary origin for the human race, since no theory of evolution, including theistic evolution, can explain the origin of the male before the female, nor can it explain how a man could evolve into a woman.

If you’re like me, your jaw dropped at that claim that …no form of evolution, including theistic evolution, can explain the origin of the male before the female, nor can it explain how a man could evolve into a woman. This is Ray Comfort levels of ignorance; we don’t argue that men evolved before women, or that the sexes evolved independently, or that men evolved into women. Those are creationist arguments. We all evolved together, our ancestors had male and female forms, and the first humans were the product of a gradual shift in populations. Anyone who tries to claim that evolution argues that the sexes evolved sequentially is abysmally ignorant, and this question about how women evolved from men is an example of a truly stupid question.

But why does Ham say the same thing twice? The first bit is quoting Answers In Genesis’s statement; the second is quoting the Assemblies of God statement, which AiG plagiarized. What he’s whining about, as he goes on, is that the Assemblies of God no longer claims that evolution can’t explain the origin of the male before the female, nor can it explain how a man could evolve into a woman. Assemblies of God has abandoned a stupid claim, while AiG still holds to that idea, therefore, to Ken Ham, Assemblies of God has abandoned the truth of scripture! Worse, nowadays they’re arguing for more tolerance on scientific matters, and reject the dogmatism that is the foundation of Ken Ham’s beliefs.

“As a result, equally devout Christian believers have formed very different opinions about the age of the earth, the age of humankind, and the ways in which God went about the creative processes. Given the limited information available in Scripture, it does not seem wise to be overly dogmatic about any particular creation theory. We urge all sincere and conscientious believers to adhere to what the Bible plainly teaches and to avoid divisiveness over debatable theories of creation.”

Uh-oh. That is a direct attack on Answers in Genesis. Ham is going to forever insist on promoting deeply wrong and ignorant ideas, and he’s still clinging to Ray Comfort’s misconceptions.