Only one problem?

I want to know what is whistling about in a certain orange tyrant’s head. He doesn’t seem to have a good grasp of history at all.

Napoleon finished a little bit bad, the president began. His one problem is he didn’t go to Russia that night because he had extracurricular activities, and they froze to death.

“that night”…what night? Napoleon’s Russian campaign was a 6 month slog with multiple battles, concluding with the loss of about half a million men.

What “night”? What “extracurricular activities”? Inquiring minds want to know.

Who does Trump want in charge of the USDA?

Some guy named Sam Clovis. His qualifications:

Sam Clovis, a former Trump campaign adviser and one-time conservative talk radio host, has no background in the hard sciences, nor any policy experience with food or agriculture. Still, that did not stop President Donald Trump from officially nominating Clovis to the position of the United States Department of Agriculture’s undersecretary of research, education, and economics, the agency’s top science position.

You know, the conventional wisdom is that Trump won over all those hardworking farmers in the Midwest (and he did get solid support from them). I wonder if they realize yet that he’s found yet another way to screw them over? Because I can tell you, as someone living in the farm belt, farm policy matters to the people living here. They will probably forgive him, though, even as they’re getting thoroughly screwed, because he’s fucking over those dang pointy-headed liberal elite scientists even more, and that’s all they care about.

Clovis, like so many of the Trump administration’s top policy officials, does not accept the scientific consensus on climate change. In 2014, he told Iowa Public Radio that climate science is “junk science” and “not proven.” He also said in an interview with E&E News in October that the Trump administration would not prioritize climate change or climate science at the USDA — a sharp break from the Obama administration, which made a point of trying to better prepare farmers and the food system for imminent climate-fueled changes like droughts or heavier storms.

If you’d told me that a stint in conservative talk radio, all that ranty angry bullshitting, would be the new entry point into the American civil service cursus honorum ten years ago, I would have laughed. It can’t possibly get that bad, can it?

Two weasels wrestling in a tub of jello made with toxic waste

I actually listened to Sam Harris’s interview with Scott Adams — with only half an ear, admittedly, while I was doing other things. I will say something I find uncomfortable: I mostly agreed with Harris in the discussion. He was reluctantly (there’s a part near the beginning where he declares he’s a “centrist” and wants nothing to do with the left or right) dragged into conceding that he was strongly anti-Trump, and he was compelled to spend most of his time arguing vigorously against Adams. So that’s good at least (although they did seem to have a few moments of consonance on the topic of immigration).

You also get to listen to the Harris Evasion Tactic played over and over again against Harris — “that’s not what I was saying”, “it’s out of context”, and of course, “I’m seeing things much more deeply than you are”. Harris is clearly frustrated at points.

Unfortunately, you also have to listen to Adams, who is hopelessly obtuse and arrogant. Trump meant to do everything he’s done, he’s cleverer than you think, he’s really doing good for the country. He’s also constantly interrupting Harris, to an annoying degree. It’s also one of those events where you wonder why the hell anyone is having a conversation with this lunatic, kind of like how I feel every time yet another Trump proxy is brought on to a television news show. Aren’t we done with this crap yet?

Adams, of course, thinks he won the argument and is preemptively announcing that everyone is getting him wrong.

The Haters of Imaginary Events are out in force already. They imagine I said objectionable things during my conversation with Sam and they tweet about their hallucinations in anger. So far, no one has accurately stated my opinion before criticizing it. That’s a tell for cognitive dissonance. I’ll be making those monkeys dance today on my Twitter feed

Not recommended. They just kind of weasel around for over two hours, with Adams winning the weasely contest, but losing the reason contest. So…a tie?

It’s Zebrafish Goldschläger!

Here’s a clever trick to thaw out frozen embryos: before you freeze them, you inject them with nanogold particles, and then you thaw them out by heating the scattered particles with a laser to prevent local formation of ice crystals.

(Before the cryogenics weirdos get all excited, this only works with transparent embryos, and requires the ability to microinject particles into all of the cells you want to protect.)

We need a revolution in policing

An awesome editorial from Richard Carlson in the Strib:

Jamar Clark in Minneapolis. Philando Castile in Falcon Heights. And now Justine Damond — in Minneapolis, again.

For the record, I want it to be known that I object to being policed this way. As between the Minneapolis Police Department and the civilian authorities in my town, it is the civilians who must be in control, not the police. These days it appears to be the opposite. It is well past time for our mayor and our City Council to assert their authority. They can start by firing our ineffectual police chief. After that, the City Council should take charge of a complete overhaul of the department.

Since the department can’t seem to hire and train anything but Blue Warriors, the council, rather than the department, should set the rules for what qualifies a person to become and remain a Minneapolis police officer. If the council doesn’t feel it has the expertise to micromanage how cops are qualified and trained, it can hire experts from foreign jurisdictions who don’t think of the citizenry as the people of an occupied country. The council should break up the entire command structure of the department, and demote, fire or reassign everyone in management, because these are the people who have stubbornly failed or refused to reform the culture of our paramilitary Police Department despite scandal after scandal.

I make no exception for the innocent, if there are any, because despite their oath to uphold the law, they did not stop the others.

Finally, the council should make it known that it will no longer negotiate labor agreements with the police union (yes, my Carroll ancestors are no doubt rolling in their graves), because for years the union has done everything it could to defend unfit officers and to block reform. If these things lead to expensive litigation by retrograde elements in the department, feel free to increase my taxes to pay for it. It’s time to decide who runs this town — the citizens, or the schoolyard bullies in uniform.

I’d like to think that a thorough overhaul of the Minneapolis Police Department and its policies will not be happening just because this time the victim is a white woman who holds citizenship in a predominantly white first-world country and who was shot in an affluent white neighborhood, rather than a black or American Indian person shot in downtrodden north Minneapolis. I’d also like to think that the police and the city won’t try to solve their PR problem by simply throwing the Somali-American police officer who shot Damond under the nearest bus. But I’m not that naive.

There are more ways for this case to go wrong than I can count. Minneapolis, which prides itself on its liberalism, has in reality led the nation in hypocrisy on the issue of race. I am ashamed of my city, of its arrogant, hypocritical police force, and of its civic leaders who have shrunk from taking on the elephant in the room for fear that they will lose the political endorsements of the all-powerful police union. Included in those civic leaders are the judges and prosecutors of the Hennepin County District Court, who have tortured facts, law and logic to justify almost anything cops chose to do to the people that I spent 28 years bringing before them for justice.

I’ve had enough. Haven’t you?


It seems pretty bad already

So I’m not pleased to see a report on sexual harassment by faculty titled Worse Than It Seems. It summarizes the results of a survey of harassment in academia, and takes an objective, outsider’s look at the problem.

A Systematic Look at a Serial Problem: Sexual Harassment of Students by University Faculty” seeks to cut through the noise with data, analyzing nearly 300 faculty-student harassment cases for commonalities. The study, which focused on complaints by graduate students, led to two major findings: most faculty harassers are accused of physical, not verbal, harassment, and more than half of cases — 53 percent — involve alleged serial harassers.

Data “confirm that faculty harassment of students is more widespread than many may appreciate” says the study, forthcoming in Utah Law Review. Perhaps most importantly, it says, a “disturbingly high proportion of available cases indicate evidence of higher-severity sexual harassment that includes unwelcome physical contact and/or a pattern of serial sexual harassment of multiple victims by the same faculty member.”

In other words, data challenge what the study calls “stereotypes” about sexual harassment, including that the current reporting environment has compromised faculty members’ academic freedom.

That last bit is also surprising: treating students and colleagues with respect compromises academic freedom? Who claims that? It’s a new one to me, although given the stupidity of so many arguments from affronted men, I guess I should expect it.

It’s also eye-opening to get the perspective from the inside, close-up: read about Gina Baucom’s informal query about “what’s the crappiest thing you’ve heard said about a woman academic?” It’s horrifying.

The worst thing I’ve personally and directly heard? She’s an Asian girl, they’re always so good with their hands followed by a snigger and a leer. And my decision that I wasn’t going to work with that guy. That was in my first year as a grad student, so I got disillusioned early.

Ken Ham’s Big Wooden Box has been sold!

The price? $10! The buyer? Well, it’s … Ken Ham. That’s right, Ken Ham sold his theme park to himself for a sawbuck. You will not be surprised when you learn that this pointless shuffle was done for the purpose of scamming the government out of taxes, so it wasn’t pointless at all. It’s all part of a long con.

On June 29, Williamstown city attorney Jeffrey Shipp sent a letter to the biblical amusement park Ark Encounter, rejecting its request to be exempted from a new safety tax because its is a religious organization.

Shipp said it was clear that Ark Encounter is a for-profit entity, which is how it has been listed with the Kentucky secretary of state’s office since 2011.

But the day before, Ark Encounter LLC sold its main parcel of land — the one with the large-scale Noah’s Ark — for $10 to its nonprofit affiliate, Crosswater Canyon.

Remember way back when Answers in Genesis was begging for all this support from Kentucky, claiming it wouldn’t be an endorsement of religion, because it was going to be an economic boon to secular businesses in the region? It should be treated as an amusement park, not a church. So they got their breaks and the state improvements in access roads, etc., but now that’s not enough — so they’ve flipped it back to the control of their religious non-profit side, because they’re irate about a tax that would pay for fire and emergency services to their park.

The tax would have been about fifty cents on each grossly over-priced $40 ticket. They simply refuse to pay that pittance.

And that makes we wonder how solid AiG’s finances are. They seem awfully desperate to avoid losing that 1.25% of the ticket price to essential services. It’s only the beginning, too.

That’s the latest salvo in an escalating dispute between local officials and Ark Encounter, but some people are worried that Ark Encounter’s maneuver is a precursor to declaring itself exempt from all taxes, including property taxes that help finance Grant County schools.

“I believe this is the first step,” Williamstown city councilman Kim Crupper said. “The impact would be far larger than just Williamstown.”

It’ll happen, and Williamstown and the state of Kentucky will get the screwing they deserve for propping up this shambles. Everyone who has been following Ham knows what to expect.

He got his start working with Carl Wieland of Creation Ministries International, was sent off to manage the American branch of that organization, and then absconded with their mailing list and split off to start his own circus. There was much acrimony and howling and furious lawsuits between the two. And don’t forget the time Ham was kicked out of a homeschooling conference over his nasty and intolerant behavior.

The one thing you can rely on is his greed. If you just look for the choice that will line his pocket the most, you can predict Ken Ham’s behavior perfectly.

Williamstown is so screwed.

Hey, how about if we end that religious tax exemption everywhere and for everyone?

Orac’s on it

I’m just a cell and developmental biologist (whines faintly that cancer is a cell and developmental disease…), but Orac is a real, genuine, bona fide cancer doctor, and he agrees with me that Paul Davies’ atavism theory of cancer is full of crap. He leads you through Robert Weinberg’s authoritative papers on known causes of cancer to show that the idea that cancers are regressions to an ancestral state is nonsense.

I’ll add that I’ve taught a couple of classes on cancer biology and have gone over Weinberg’s The Biology of Cancer, and there’s a lot of developmental biology in there — every time he writes about transcription factors or signaling molecules, it’s all old familiar stuff from fish and fly development. When I see someone like Davies making analogies to evolution, though, I get a sense of deja vu. Once upon a time, people like Haeckel and other natural philosophers looked at how markers (in their case, morphological markers rather than molecules) changed during development and got all excited and claimed that they were recapitulating their evolutionary history. It took someone like Karl Ernst von Baer to come along and say, “You daft wankers, they’re repeating embryological patterns; this is what you see as you develop from the general form to the specific.”

It’s the same story here. Cancer is recycling genes and pathways that are retained because they’re developmentally significant, not because they’re a relic from greatgreatgreatgreat grandma, carefully preserved inside a secret nook in the genome in case we needed to re-adopt a single-celled lifestyle.