The time for subtlety is long gone

I find nationalism and racism to be mostly indistinguishable — they’re both reductive and draw false connections and conclusions. At least I’ve got George Orwell to draw a line between patriotism and nationalism.

By ‘nationalism’ I mean first of all the habit of assuming that human beings can be classified like insects and that whole blocks of millions or tens of millions of people can be confidently labelled ‘good’ or ‘bad’. But secondly — and this is much more important — I mean the habit of identifying oneself with a single nation or other unit, placing it beyond good and evil and recognizing no other duty than that of advancing its interests. Nationalism is not to be confused with patriotism. Both words are normally used in so vague a way that any definition is liable to be challenged, but one must draw a distinction between them, since two different and even opposing ideas are involved. By ‘patriotism’ I mean devotion to a particular place and a particular way of life, which one believes to be the best in the world but has no wish to force on other people. Patriotism is of its nature defensive, both militarily and culturally. Nationalism, on the other hand, is inseparable from the desire for power. The abiding purpose of every nationalist is to secure more power and more prestige, not for himself but for the nation or other unit in which he has chosen to sink his own individuality.

It’s so strange to live in a time and a place where many people are professing to be nationalists, as if it’s a good and honorable thing. They haven’t learned what it means!

Maybe this cartoon will help.

What’s even stranger is that some people like to argue that fascism is a legitimate political ideology. This cartoon is for them.

Do you think it’s too subtle?

Fathers and sons

I can sympathize with Joe Biden feeling the pain of his son’s conviction.

President Joe Biden said he accepts the guilty verdict of Hunter Biden after his son was convicted by a jury of three federal gun charges Tuesday − a historic first for the child of a sitting president.

“I will accept the outcome of this case and will continue to respect the judicial process as Hunter considers an appeal,” Biden said in a statement.

“As I said last week, I am the President, but I am also a Dad,” Biden said. “Jill and I love our son, and we are so proud of the man he is today. So many families who have had loved ones battle addiction understand the feeling of pride seeing someone you love come out the other side and be so strong and resilient in recovery.”

That would be my reaction if one of my kids was a screw-up who got caught: we’re going to have to accept that you committed a crime and are being punished for it, but we still love and support you.

Unfortunately, we’d also suffer some anguish — where did we go wrong? What could we have done to prevent them from taking this path? Did my pursuit of a career do them harm? I don’t have to worry about it since my adult kids are all perfect and delightful, but I imagine the Biden family is doing some soul-searching, and if they’re not, they’re not good people.

You know who are not good people? Republicans. Apparently, some of them are very good at cutting human feeling out of their lives. Like, say, Clarence Thomas.

One of the many corruption scandals in his life is that he accepted somewhere around $150,000 to pay private school tuition for his grand-nephew. He and his wife were legal guardians for this kid between the ages of 6 and 19. Clarence said he was raising this boy, Mark Martin, as his son.

Then Mark’s life went awry, he was doing drugs and playing with guns. He has been arrested and is awaiting a mandatory 25 year prison sentence. He’s a great big screw-up. So, the response from Clarence Thomas and his wife is to pretend they don’t know him, to cut their adoptive son out of their lives.

Now 32 years old, Martin told BI in an interview from the Jasper County Detention Center in South Carolina that Clarence and Ginni Thomas washed their hands of him years ago.

“I haven’t really heard much from them in a long time,” Martin said. “I tried to communicate with them a couple of times, but I’ve never gotten any response.”

Yikes. I cannot imagine turning my back on my kids like that, cutting off all communication. I feel pain right now that we live so far apart that we can only see each other sporadically.

But then, ol’ Clarence made his feelings known early when he preferred getting millions of dollars from his billionaire buddies to his son’s company, and sent Mark off to military school.

While his own father was incarcerated, Martin remembers much of his childhood as the Thomases’ ward as relatively privileged. Together, Martin said they traveled to more than 20 countries; he frequently spent summers wakeboarding or waterskiing and babysitting Crow’s son when the elite families vacationed together.

That all stopped when Martin entered high school, he said, when the Thomases decided they “just didn’t have time to deal with” him and sent him away to the boarding schools. From his freshman year of high school on, Martin said he rarely saw his Supreme Court-justice great-uncle or his wife, who Martin said had raised him “like another mother and father” since childhood.

Rich Republicans can’t be like the mother and father I knew, or have tried to be, I guess.

Maybe Mark Martin disappointed his grand-uncle by growing up to be such a small time crook rather than a big-time rotten crook like Clarence Thomas.

Everyone likes to vacation in Spain

I wouldn’t mind going there myself. But you know who really loves going to Spain? It’s not the British. It’s the invertebrates.

There is a path through they Pyrenees, the Pass of Bujaruelo, which is where all the insects funnel through on their way to summering in Spain. It’s been known for a long time that this is the place to find swarms of insects flocking south.

The Pyrenean mountain range and the Pass of Bujaruelo. (a) The fieldwork location (red marker) within the Pyrenean mountain range; image taken from Google Maps. (b) The valley that channels the insects over the Pass of Bujaruelo (red arrow) and the surrounding geological formations.

In autumn 1950 David and Elizabeth Lack chanced upon a huge migration of insects and birds flying through the Pyrenean Pass of Bujaruelo, from France into Spain, later describing the spectacle as combining both grandeur and novelty. The intervening years have seen many changes to land use and climate, posing the question as to the current status of this migratory phenomenon. In addition, a lack of quantitative data has prevented insights into the ecological impact of this mass insect migration and the factors that may influence it. To address this, we revisited the site in autumn over a 4 year period and systematically monitored abundance and species composition of diurnal insect migrants. We estimate an annual mean of 17.1 million day-flying insect migrants from five orders (Diptera, Hymenoptera, Hemiptera, Lepidoptera and Odonata) moving south, with observations of southward ‘mass migration’ events associated with warmer temperatures, the presence of a headwind, sunlight, low windspeed and low rainfall. Diptera dominated the migratory assemblage, and annual numbers varied by more than fourfold. Numbers at this single site hint at the likely billions of insects crossing the entire Pyrenean mountain range each year, and we highlight the importance of this route for seasonal insect migrants.

Who is caravaning over the mountains? Everyone. But mostly flies, and mostly pollinators. Lots of midges, gnats, hoverflies, all these small underappreciated flies that do a lot of the work of pollinating (it’s not just bees, you know.)

Classification of the migratory assemblage. Average ratios of insects showing migratory behaviour collected in the intercept trap and butterfly counts over 4 years sorted by (a) order and (b) family. (c) Migratory behaviour of insect groups based on southward scores. ‘High-altitude’ migrant insect groups (red), and ‘Flight Boundary Layer’ migrant insect groups (blue). Missing values indicate fewer than 100 individuals in the sample of head- or tailwinds. Southward scores of 100 indicate all individuals were going south, 0 that the same number were going south as north, and negative values indicate that more were going north than south under a particular wind condition.

We’re talking millions of migrants, probably billions. Of course, they estimate that the total mass of all those insects was about 140kg per season. One or two Cantabrian brown bears ambling across the pass would outweigh all those insects in mass, but would probably have a negligible ecological impact in comparison.

This was a study of one pass with a convenient bottleneck to enable effective counting. Insects are flooding across the length of the Spanish/French border, and further, some of them keep going across the Mediterranean and take tours of Morocco.

Numerous studies have found a consistent south or southwest bias in migratory insect headings across Europe, suggesting insects from a large geographical area are filtered down into the Iberian Peninsula, passing through the Pyrenees each season. This makes insect migration bottlenecks within the Pyrenees important locations for censusing species and monitoring numbers. We estimate that the total number of insects moving across the Pyrenees mountain range reaches into the tens of billions. This number is of comparable size to those from radar studies across a similar-sized area. Insects are known to cross the Pyrenees not only in the centre where the Pass of Bujaruelo is situated, but also along the coasts. Williams et al. observed some southward movement of butterflies in October along the coast at Argelès-sur-Mer, where the Pyrenees descend to the Mediterranean Sea. Similar southward movements occur along the Atlantic seaboard. To accurately quantify the total number of migratory insects crossing the Pyrenees, extensive deployment of monitoring resources and techniques is needed, including the use of vertical-looking radars.

I’m reading that and thinking that if I were a spider, I’d want to set up a nice web across the Pass of Bujaruelo. Unfortunately, this study didn’t look at spiders. They weren’t migrating, after all, they were just setting up shop in the pass and taking advantage of all the tourists.

Also guilty, guilty, guilty

Hunter Biden has been found guilty, deservedly.

Hunter Biden was found guilty on Tuesday of lying about his drug addiction on a gun application form five years ago.

First lady Jill Biden was not present in the packed courtroom as the verdict was read, but she reportedly arrived minutes after. President Joe Biden’s brother James and sister-in-law were in the room alongside Biden’s wife, Melissa Cohen Biden. As the verdict was read, AP reported that Hunter Biden, 54, showed little emotion and stared straight ahead.

A sentencing date will be set at a later date, and Biden now faces a maximum sentence of 25 years in prison and a fine of up to $250,000 for each of the three counts he was convicted on.

I have no doubt that Hunter Biden was one screwed up dude, a long-time drug addict who was rightly held responsible.

I do wonder about proportionate sentencing, though. That was his crime, lying on a gun registration form? And he’s going to get years in prison for it? OK, I’ll keep that in mind when Trump gets some lenient sentence for lying on a tax form.

Let the ‘lab leak’ conspiracy theory die already

Well, good. Now Orac dismantles the “lab leak” nonsense promoted by Alina Chan and the NY Times.

Even so, before I close, let me just reiterate that it is not impossible that SARS-CoV-2 arose in a lab, either due to scientists carrying out modifications on existing coronaviruses or from a collection of natural coronaviruses, in which the virus escaped. The claim is not impossible, like the claims made for homeopathy. However, as I like to say, just because a hypothesis is possible does not mean that it is equally possible (or even more so) compared to a competing hypothesis. You have to look at the evidence. Lab leak conspiracy theorists love to point out missing evidence that would make a natural zoonotic origin for SARS-CoV-2 an unquestioned slam dunk, even as they gloss over the fact that their evidence base is nothing but holes that they try desperately to fill with appeals to personal incredulity that the virus could have arisen naturally, wild speculation as to how it might have escaped from a lab, conspiracy mongering about “cover-ups” everywhere, and lots and lots drawing links between facts and observations that are probably unrelated. Moreover, if there’s one thing that all versions of lab leak share, it’s suspicion and constant finger pointing at the Chinese for being less than enthusiastic and cooperative about letting investigators into the Wuhan Institute of Virology to try to determine if a lab leak happened. This is, of course, not surprising and not in and of itself evidence for a lab leak. China is an authoritarian regime, and such regimes tend to be secretive.

Note that, since this is Orac, what follows after that “before I close” is 1700 words of even more debunking.

Just as well, there is no last word when trying to deal with the lunacy of committed kooks.

Weiner saves Texas butts

Good news for Texans who like butts! And fart jokes!

After a case spurred by complaints on books containing the words “butt” and “fart” as well as touching on the topics of racism and LGBTQ+ identity, an appellate court has ruled that Texas cannot ban books from libraries simply because officials “dislike the idea contained in those books”.

The fifth US circuit court of appeals issued its decision on Thursday in a 76-page majority opinion, which was written by Judge Jacques Wiener Jr and opened with a quote from American poet Walt Whitman: “The dirtiest book in all the world is the expurgated book.”

In its decision, the appellate court declared that “government actors may not remove books from a public library with the intent to deprive patrons of access to ideas with which they disagree”.

Maybe Texas will catch up to Minnesota. We have a new law, passed at the end of the legislative session, that prohibits all that book banning that Republicans love.

There were some major bills that did not pass in the chaotic last days of the Minnesota legislative session. One bill that did pass prohibits public and school libraries from banning a book “based solely on its viewpoint or the messages, ideas or opinions it conveys.” It also protects library employees from discipline against them for complying with the new rules.

It’s not all good news. Among the important bill blocked by the chaos of obstructionist Republicans were the bonds to improve university facilities.

On May 20, 2024, the Minnesota Legislature adjourned sine die without garnering the 60% of votes required to pass a capital investment bill funded by general obligation bonds. Despite both parties citing bonding as a top priority in the beginning of the session, politics between the two parties, fueled in part by the upcoming House elections, prevented them from striking a deal. The Minnesota Legislature ran out of time to pass a smaller, cash-only bonding bill before the constitutionally mandated time of adjournment.

I guess we’ll struggle along, as always. At least we can assign textbooks that feature butts!

Continuing shake-up at AiG

Ken Ham is getting old. He’s been planning his successor, and I commented on the likely guys being brought to the top. The front runner, once upon a time, was his son-in-law, Bodie Hodge, who I called “a blithering goober”, and I couldn’t imagine him being put in charge of a multi-million dollar corporate entity, which is what Answers in Genesis is. We could probably map all the clawing to the top at AiG directly onto that TV show, Succession, except that I haven’t watched it.

Then Ken Ham announced who would get the keys to the Creation “Museum” and the Ark Park, and it wasn’t Bodie. He instead imported an outsider from Australia, Martyn Iles, a slick, polished blithering goober. I wondered at the time how that would go over with the whole gang at AiG, but they weren’t talking. I think Ken maintains an iron fist over his empire.

Now we have a hint to the power struggles within AiG. Bodie Hodge is out! He has set up his own little fiefdom, Biblical Authority Ministries.

Biblical Authority Ministries is solely an outreach of B. Hodge and is not associated with AiG in any way. Though obviously many articles and resources are linked to AiG’s website and materials. Mr. Hodge’s hope is that you will help support AiG and its outreaches by donations, resource sales, and visiting the attractions and also support Biblical Authority Ministries as well as both content for the Gospel of Jesus Christ.

For a moment, I felt a little pity. Bodie dedicated decades of his life to promoting AiG, and now he has been passed over by his own father-in-law. Yikes. But then I read this bit of his autobiography:

He is a reconstructionist and a known presuppositionalist. This shows in his response style. He grew up being taught dispensational pre-millennialism and historic pre-millennialism but after extensive study has become a post-millennialist (partial pret). He has a heart to answer questions and promote the gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.

Oh. He’s a pretentious blithering goober who talks about himself in the third person and believes in many silly, stupid things. May his ministry crash and burn.

I don’t need to know what Tablet is

It’s some online magazine, but I don’t need to ever read it. They just came up with something they call The Sinai Awards, given to the 36 people who have made the world freer for the rest of us, and the list of award recipients will make you gag a little bit.

Ayaan Hirsi Ali • Masih Alinejad • Marc Andreessen • Julian Assange • Olivier Assayas • Nayib Bukele • Ted Cruz • George Deek • John Fetterman • Stephen Friend • Michel Houellebecq • Coleman Hughes • Jon Huntsman • Martin Kulldorff & Jay Bhattacharya • Mark Laita • Bernard-Henri Lévy • Conor McGregor • Douglas Murray • Elon Musk • Anonymous UPenn Student • J.K. Rowling • Christopher Rufo • Salman Rushdie • Natan Sharansky • Michael Solomonov • Rabbi Dr. Meir Soloveichik • Thomas Sowell • Amar’e Stoudemire • Nadine Strossen • Quentin Tarantino • Ritchie Torres • Tu Youyou • Michael Walzer • Bari Weiss • Ruth Wisse

I don’t know half of them, but given the company they keep, I’d rather not know more.

And now I have an official blog poem!

Stolen from McSweeney’s. To be read aloud in a very tiny but furious voice:

WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

SHOUTING OUR MANIFESTO

AS BEST WE CAN WITHOUT VOCAL CORDS

BUT ONLY YOUR CATS CAN HEAR US

THEY ARE LAZY, OVERFED

WE LAUGH IN THEIR WHISKERED FACES

AS WE BUMP UGLIES BENEATH THE LOVESEAT

THROW DOWN ON THE COFFEE TABLE

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

WHEN YOU’RE ALONE IT’S SHOWTIME

WE POP UP IN CORNERS

PEEPING TOM YOU IN THE SHOWER

SHOOT OUT A LINE OF SILK AND DANGLE

TWO INCHES FROM YOUR FACE

“What the hell is that even connected to?” YOU WAIL AND BAT THE AIR

HAHAHA WE’LL NEVER TELL

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

WE HAVE A HIVE MIND LIKE THE BORG

YES, FROM STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION

WE WATCHED IT WITH YOU

MANY TIMES

WE LIKED THE ONE WHERE BARCLAY EVOLVED INTO ONE OF US

IT’S CALLED “GENESIS,” EPISODE 19, SEASON 7

YEAH, WE’RE FANBUGS

ANYWAY, RESISTANCE IS FUTILE

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

OUR ANCESTORS COLONIZED THE BASEMENT

POOR CHOICE OF WORDS—NOBODY LIKES A COLONIZER

THESE DAYS

WE’VE BEEN HERE SINCE THE JAZZ AGE

THREE HUNDRED GENERATIONS, GIVE OR TAKE

YOU’VE BEEN HERE FOR TWO YEARS

WHO DO YOU THINK IS GOING TO WIN?

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

YOUR HUSBAND SAYS WE’RE MORE AFRAID OF YOU THAN YOU OF US

HAHAHA UNTRUE

YOU’RE TERRIFIED AND WE LOVE IT

WE’VE WRITTEN SONGS ABOUT YOUR FEAR

CHOREOGRAPHED BALLETS

ONCE WE HAD A RAVE IN THE ATTIC

LITERALLY DANCED ON THE CEILING

A BUNCH OF US DID X AND MOLTED

YOUR FUCKING CATS OUTSIDE THE DOOR ALMOST GAVE US AWAY

ANYWAY, THAT’S WHERE ALL THOSE EXOSKELETONS CAME FROM

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

DO YOU KNOW HOW MANY INSECTS WOULD OVERRUN THIS PLACE WITHOUT US?

FLIES AND SILVERFISH

ANTS AND MOTHS

ASSHOLE MOSQUITOS

INSTEAD OF THANKING US, YOU GET THE VACUUM

WE’RE NEW ENGLAND HOUSE SPIDERS FOR CHRIST’S SAKE

NOT EVEN THAT BIG

TRY MOVING TO AUSTRALIA

OUR HUNTSMAN COUSINS WILL FUCK YOU UP FOR DAYS

– – –
WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE

LOOK, IT’S NOTHING PERSONAL

WE’RE LIKE ANNOYING SEVENTH-GRADE BOYS

JUST WANT TO GET A RISE

WE REALLY DON’T LIKE THE VACUUM

CAN WE CALL A TRUCE?

GIVE US THE BASEMENT AND THE ATTIC

MAYBE THAT “GUEST ROOM” YOU STILL HAVEN’T FIXED UP

THE KITCHEN AND BOTH BATHROOMS AT NIGHT

HAHAHA JK, WE’LL TAKE WHATEVER ROOM WE WANT

WE’LL CHASE YOU FOR FUN

AND LAUGH WHEN NO ONE BELIEVES YOU

FUCK! THAT CAT CAUGHT ONE OF US

CALICO BITCH ATE HIM ALIVE

POOR WEAVER

JUST TURNED ONE, NOT AS FAST AS HE USED TO BE

IT’S OKAY, WE’RE NOT AFRAID OF DEATH

IF YOU KILL ONE OF US, TEN MORE WILL TAKE OUR PLACE

WHEN WE DIE WE GO TO STOVOKOR LIKE KLINGON WARRIORS

WE ARE THE SPIDERS OF THIS HOUSE