People keep overloading the concepts of sex and gender with irrelevancies

Trump made a major policy announcement via Twitter (of course!).

Well, gosh. I guess Laci Green has some really high-level support. Does it feel good to have President Trump at your back?

It’s been irritating me for while now when people flatly declare that there are only two genders, or talk about “biological” males, as if there is some scientific justification for dividing the depth of complex behavior in the world into only two categories. There is a legitimate context for modifying “male” and “female” with the prefix “biological”: it’s when we care about what kind of gametes they produce. That’s the only time it makes sense, and it’s certainly important in a genetic and evolutionary context.

But then, what do you do with sterile males and females? Do they no longer have a “biological” sex? In insect groups with caste specializations, nominally female members of the species are effectively neutered, and they acquire specific roles as workers or soldiers. Do we just ignore the complexities of their genetics and morphologies?

Some organisms have more than two sexes: Tetrahymena has seven mating types. The properties of meiosis entail a fusion of only two at a time, so at that level, there is a real kind of binary, but clearly as a population there are other properties that distinguish more than two types. Do we just ignore those?

Trump and Green do something even more devious. Humans have two interfertile mating types, but that only refers to the kind of gametes they produce, not the equipment they use to make babies. After all, if a human female cannot bear children, but can produce eggs, we can now use a surrogate to host the embryo for her, but it doesn’t mean she’s no true female. As it turns out, throughout their maturation, humans develop gender signifiers, both cultural and biological, that have nothing at all to do with reproduction.

It’s weird. Little kids who will not be able to reproduce for a decade or two are assigned a reproductive role — that’s what “biological sex” implies — and given a whole bunch of standards that have nothing to do with making babies to which they must adhere or face serious social ostracism. A fondness for pink is not at all relevant to making babies, yet it’s foisted off on children from a ridiculously early age.

You don’t even have to acquire any lust for a different sex other than your own. Sexual behavior is primarily used for social and personal desires that are completely independent of reproduction. In the best of all possible circumstances (which I agree, don’t always occur), human reproduction is a conscious decision, made with due deliberation. Gay people have babies all the time. Transgender people have babies, too. And straight-up heterosexual couples who could make babies together often decide not to have any children (my god, what is that man doing with his useless penis?).

So why decide that ability to fight in the modern military is defined by whether you wear a dress, make sperm, or take estrogen pills? It’s all bullshit, all the way through.

Yes, I know, Trump framed it as a financial concern, that this is just too costly for a military that will drop $3 million on a single cruise missile. But we know how much transgender health care will cost the military.

To determine the budgetary implications of gender transition-related treatment for Military Health System (MHS) health care costs, we again used data from the private health insurance system on the cost of extending coverage for this care to the transgender personnel population. We estimate that AC MHS health care costs will increase by between $2.4 million and $8.4 million annually.

In other words, the savings Trump wants to obtain by cutting this service is in the ballpark of what one of his weekend golf trips costs us.

Meanwhile…

According to the Military Times, data from the Defense Health Agency indicate the U.S. Department of Defense spent $41.6 million on Viagra and $84.24 million total on drugs for erectile dysfunction in 2014.

If sporting an erection is a prerequisite for combat, it seems to me that we ought to be encouraging those virile transgender individuals who can accomplish that, while discharging (dishonorably, obviously), all those weak men who need pills to get it up. We’d save a lot of money!

What’s the vibrator for? Sexing turtles.

Herpetologists are a pervy bunch (pdf link).

Once a male turtle was captured, we attempted to induce an erection by applying an 18 cm, variable-speed, silver bullet vibrator to its shell and tail. We vibrated turtles for 10 min or until an erection was achieved, and we recorded the amount of time that it took to induce an erection. Trials were scored as “unsuccessful” if an erection had not been induced by the end of the 10-minute trial period. Our preliminary trials indicated that turtles needed to be fairly relaxed and willing to extend their limbs and tails before the method would be effective.

They seem to have been fairly creative in trying to figure out how to give turtles an erection.

…the methods that have been proposed so far appear to be species-specific and have only been applied to common snapping turtles (Chelydra serpentina), whose penis can be everted by gently bouncing a turtle up and down (De Solla et al., 2001; Dustman, 2013), and Cotinga River toadhead turtles (Phrynops tuberosus), whose penis can be everted by immobilizing the neck and limbs (Rodrigues et al., 2014).

There’s also a detailed discussion of technique.

In general, turtles appeared to respond best when only the tip of the vibrator was touching them and when the vibrator had fresh batteries and was set on the fastest setting. Also, they seemed to respond best when the tip was held firmly against them (rather than allowing it to bounce), but not be pressed hard against them. Both allowing it to bounce and pressing it too hard generally resulted in turtles holding their limbs and tail tightly against the body, rather than relaxing. Additionally, it was often useful to move the vibrator around in small, slow, steady circles. As a general rule, we tried to hold the vibrator against the tail whenever possible (including following the tail if the turtle is waving it from side to side), but if this caused the turtle to retract its tail, then we moved the vibrator to a different position until the tail was extended again. Finally, sometimes males only protracted their penises briefly and quickly retracted them, rather than maintaining an erection. Therefore, it was necessary to watch the cloaca closely.

Post-modernism vs. Universalism vs. Collectivism

Since I just mentioned the boogey-word, post-modernism, here’s a terrifically good overview of the subject by Peter Coffin.

He sets it up in an interesting way, that there is a view that there is an absolute, knowable truth called Universalism that is a hallmark of fundamentalist religion (and also, unfortunately, is becoming increasingly common among proponents of atheism and skepticism), and it is opposed by a methodology of questioning, of being skeptical of universal truths, and doing your damnedest to tease apart the factors behind that belief. That methodology is post-modernism. It is hated by people who want to claim possession of an absolute, objective truth, whether it’s the Pope or the Grand Poobah of the Moment of organized atheism/skepticism.

Interestingly, he also points out that modern scientists generally dislike universalism — it’s why we are averse to claiming that we have a “proof” of something — and accept a collectivist version of truth, where we provisionally accept a claim if it has consilience among a substantial number of observers and observations. Science is fundamentally post-modern.

<cue video of heads exploding all over the youtube atheist community.>

Whoever wrote this should become deceased

From the warrant the Minnesota Bureau of Criminal Apprehension filed to investigate the murder of Justine Damond:

Upon police arrival, a female ‘slaps’ the back of the patrol squad. After that, it is unknown to BCA agents what exactly happened, but the female became deceased in the alley.

female became deceased is the kind of bureaucratese that warrants further investigation, and at the very least, criminal charges ought to be filed against the police culture that permits such offenses against humanity.

Girls should never use sarcasm, it’s unladylike

I’ve heard these same accusations made out of context, and I’m ashamed to say that I did not bother to track them down. I will in the future, because I’m familiar with how creationists distort quotations, and this is just classic dishonest manipulation.

Recently, Michael Shermer (of whom I’m generally a fan) [pzm is not] claimed that Sandra Harding, a philosopher of science and influential feminist, had called Isaac Newton’s “Principia Mathematica” a “rape manual.”

Today, I read a similar statement from an anonymous source shared on Facebook which claimed that feminist and philosopher Luce Irigaray called the equation e=mc2 a “sexed equation” because she argues that “it privileges the speed of light over other speeds that are vitally necessary to us”. The original source of this claim is apparently a criticism of her work by Alan Sokal and Jean Bricmont published in 1997.

Both cases were repeated by Richard Dawkins (of whom I’m also generally a fan) in a 1998 essay entitled “Postmodernism disrobed.”

In both of these cases, the feminists were using what educated adults should know as a “rhetorical device.” In the former case, Harding was using sarcasm in her criticism of Sir Francis Bacon; in the second case, Irigaray was taking a critic’s argument to its (absurd) logical conclusion.

When we actually read what these feminist authors have said, it’s actually far more nuanced than anti-feminists claim. Here’s Harding:

One phenomenon feminist historians have focused on is the rape and torture metaphors in the writings of Sir Francis Bacon and others (e.g. Machiavelli) enthusiastic about the new scientific method.
…But when it comes to regarding nature as a machine, they have quite a different analysis: here, we are told, the metaphor provides the interpretations of Newton’s mathematical laws: it directs inquirers to fruitful ways to apply his theory and suggests the appropriate methods of inquiry and the kind of metaphysics the new theory supports. But if we are to believe that mechanistic metaphors were a fundamental component of the explanations the new science provided, why should we believe that the gender metaphors were not? A consistent analysis would lead to the conclusion that understanding nature as a woman indifferent to or even welcoming rape was equally fundamental to the interpretations of these new conceptions of nature and inquiry. In that case, why is it not as illuminating and honest to refer to Newton’s laws as “Newton’s rape manual” as it is to call them “Newton’s mechanics”?

Wait, what, you say? Bacon used rape metaphors? Yes, he certainly did. Here’s ol’ Francis arguing that we should study even fringe subjects or superstitions to try to unearth the actual causes (a sentiment with which I must agree):

Neither am I of opinion in this history of marvels, that superstitious narrative of sorceries, witchcrafts, charms, dreams divinations, and the like, where there is an assurance and clear evidence of the fact, should be altogether excluded. For it is not yet known in what cases, and how far, effects attributed to superstition participate of natural causes; and therefore howsoever the use and practice of such arts is to be condemned, yet from speculation and consideration of them (if they be diligently unravelled) a useful light may be gained, not only for true judgment of the offences of persons charged with such practices, but likewise for the further disclosing of the secrets of nature. Neither ought a man to make scruple of entering and penetrating into these holes and corners, when the inquisition of truth is his sole object.

Harding is not literally accusing him of writing a rape manual; she’s pointing that his science is viewed through the lens of a man living in a profoundly sexist culture. Bacon is not arguing that we ought to rape people to discover the truth, but Harding is showing that he is unperturbed by metaphors about “a man…penetrating holes” because his society sees nothing wrong with poking into things against others’ will, an attitude that doesn’t just affect relations between men and women, but is going to be reflected in an era of colonialism.

If you’re going to seriously study the history and philosophy of science, you don’t get to just say one set of words have profound meaning, while another set is to be clearly dismissed as irrelevant. This is the whole point of that dirty word, post-modernism: scrutinize what people said and put it in a context of meaning. Bacon’s word choices are seen as interesting and revealing, and we should recognize that even great scientists aren’t free of biases.

John McCain’s last chance for honor

He’s screwed it up so many times before. He likes to pretend he’s a “maverick”, but somehow he’s always supported the conservative status quo, and has always betrayed any sense of principle. This is the man who took on Sarah Palin as his running mate in a failed attempt at the presidency. He is just generally a screw-up.

And now he’s mortally ill with cancer. Heroically, he’s flying back to Washington DC to cast a vote on a health care bill that no one has seen, that no one will be allowed to see, that given Mitch McConnell’s history of promoting selfish, evil tax-cuts-for-the-rich bills under the guise of “health care” is certainly pure poison.

We don’t know how McCain is going to vote.

He’s voting with zero information, so he ought to reject it out of hand, as all the senators should. There’s a principle at stake here, but given what I’ve seen of McCain, I think that means he’ll run away from responsibility, vote yes, and then allow the sycophants to tell him how brave he was to leave his cancer treatments to vote to deny millions of people cancer treatments.

He’s got one chance to go out on a high note. It won’t change his legacy, but he’ll exhibit one tiny scrap of conscience.

I expect he’ll fuck it up. He’s John McCain.