Picard

I watched the first episode of Star Trek: Picard, and I have mixed feelings.

On the positive side, the humanism is just drooling out of the side of the box. He argues for saving all lives after the enemy’s star went nova, pushes for rescuing even the enemies of the federation, the Romulans, and there’s even some bit about synthetic humans (like Data) and their rights. I like the idea of a show that digs deep into ethical concerns.

On the negative side, there was the usual pointless Trekkie pseudoscience contrived on the spot. Data had a daughter? Who was synthetic, but biological? And the process always creates twins? And Data’s knowledge can be reconstructed from a single neuron? There are teleporting Romulans who want to kill one daughter, but there’s another on a Borg ship? It was too much. Now Picard is somehow getting back on a ship and soaring off to right some wrongs or something, or contrive excuses to bring back old Star Trek actors for guest spots. It’s the first episode, and it’s already too artificial and complicated.

I’ll probably check out a future episode to see how it shakes out, but it looks to me like the stuff I like about Star Trek is going to be overwhelmed by the stuff I detest about Star Trek.

A dignified white Christian

Check out these tweets from a resident of Kent, Washington, where I grew up.

One of Kayryakoff’s tweets called Mexicans one of the “ridiculous immature vile cruel and extremely evil cultures that need to be genocided!”

Another called Mormonism “an illegally recognized religion that is covertly operating for the Muslim nation.”

“Jews dont belong in Christian countries what do they not understand?” read one tweet. “I only associate with dignified Christian people & more so focus on white Christian people We are the success in the world!” she tweeted on another occasion.

Would you believe she was a first grade teacher? Would you believe she got her job despite having two misdemeanor battery convictions on her record? That she terrorized her students? OK, I know all my fellow Washingtonians will be unsurprised by one fact: she’s a California transplant.

But get this: she wasn’t fired. She was shuffled out of her school, she was demoted to being a PE teacher (those were always the worst), and reassigned to a different elementary school. She also shut down her Twitter account; maybe she’s on Gab now?

Puerto Rico leads the way!

The people of Puerto Rico have set up a guillotine in front of the governor’s mansion.

Excellent. Unfortunately, it’s only symbolic.

That would be a good message to send to the Republican in Washington DC, too.

Spidercloth!

I need this:

It’s spidercloth, a single piece of silky fabric made from silk drawn from a million spiders. It might be a little bit labor intensive.

To produce this unique golden cloth, 70 people spent four years collecting golden orb spiders from telephone poles in Madagascar, while another dozen workers carefully extracted about 80 feet of silk filament from each of the arachnids. The resulting 11-foot by 4-foot textile is the only large piece of cloth made from natural spider silk existing in the world today.

So I can’t pick up a spidercloth cloak at Target?

We’re going to have to figure out the chemistry, and we also have to figure out the machinery in spinnerets.

Of course, spending four years to produce a single textile of spider silk isn’t very practical for scientists trying to study the properties of spider silk or companies that want to manufacture the fabric for use as a biomedical scaffold or an alternative to Kevlar armor. Several groups have tried inserting spider genes into bacteria (or even cows and goats) to produce silk, but so far, the attempts have been only moderately successful.

Part of the reason it’s so hard to generate spider silk in the lab is that it starts out as a liquid protein that’s produced by a special gland in the spider’s abdomen. Using their spinnerets, spiders apply a physical force to rearrange the protein’s molecular structure and turn it into solid silk.

Well? Get right on that!

Cry more, Cantwell

The neo-Nazi Chris Cantwell has been arrested again for making threats over state lines, which is rather interesting from a free speech point of view. They’re just words, right? First amendment! Free speech! Mere words can’t hurt people.

Then we see the words.

Cantwell allegedly pressured someone to give up what’s described in the indictment as “personal identifying information” about a man known by the “on-line pseudonym ‘VM.’”

“So if you don’t want me to come and f*ck your wife in front of your kids, then you should make yourself scarce,” Cantwell allegedly wrote in a June 16 message. “Give me Vic, it’s your only out.”

Last July, Cantwell allegedly used Telegram to threaten a lawyer suing him over his actions in Charlottesville, calling the woman anti-Semitic slurs and claiming that he and his followers “would have a lot of fucking fun with her.”

Well. That’s certainly repulsive, and marks Cantwell as a terrible and unpleasant person. We don’t arrest people for their personality.

However, it’s also an attempt to compel someone to do something against their will, or Cantwell will commit vile criminal acts. If I got a threat like that, I’d be asking the police to provide protection; I’d also have to spend money and time upgrading my home security.

It seems that words have power after all, and that “free speech” isn’t carte blanche to say whatever you want after all. Now if only the absolutists could figure that out.

WWII was comprehensible as adaptations of the lineages in question. Christ.

I guess Richard Dawkins has limits on where he’ll allow the Intellectual Dork Web to take him. This is a conversation between Dawkins and Bret Weinstein, from a Pangburn debate a few years ago, where Weinstein rambles insanely about World War II as an exercise in population genetics, as if “German”, “Jew”, and “Russian” are distinct, non-overlapping sets of alleles marching off to replace each other.

…you had the Fatherland effectively raping Mother Russia … what this was was a lineage level phenomenon in which a population [Germans] went after two other populations [Jews and Russians] …understood from the perspective of German genes, vile as these behaviors were, they were completely comprehensible from the level of fitness.

That is nuts. “German genes”…what “German genes” acquired an advantage by murdering their neighbors? This is extreme reductionism assembled on a framework of simplistic and false assumptions. It is embarrassing that a biologist would flaunt his ass this nakedly.

One good thing about it is that at least Richard Dawkins demonstrates some good sense. He looks very uncomfortable during Weinstein’s monolog, and manages to utter a hesitant, mild rebuke of the former Evergreen College professor.

I think nationalism might be an even greater evil than religion. And I’m not sure that it’s actually very helpful to talk about it in Darwinian terms.

It was a net gain for Evergreen to get rid of that guy.

The creationist Paul Nelson reviewed the debate, and sad to say, chose to chide Dawkins for being insufficiently Darwinian…because Nelson seems to share with Weinstein a cartoonish version of evolution. Good work, Weinstein, you’ve got the Discovery Institute on your side.

More travel bans…WHY?

Our preznit has announced placing more travel bans on various countries. Why, I don’t know. What does this accomplish for us? I was just talking to an Ethiopian student who is concerned about our restrictive policies, and isn’t sure he can stay in the country. But we get the cream of the crop from other countries — people who enrich our culture, who contribute to our economy, who help build international ties…and Trump thinks this is bad?

In particular, he has announced new restrictions in travel from Nigeria, home of one of the largest, best educated, most prosperous populations on the continent. We have Nigerian students here, and they are an asset to our community. What possible reason could Trump have for punishing them?

Nigeria, the most high-profile country under consideration, has particularly come under focus from the White House. With Nigeria accounting for the third highest number of US visa overstays in 2018, the Trump administration has become tougher on Africa’s largest economy.

After indefinitely suspending its visa interview waiver for Nigerian applicants (the waiver allowed frequent travelers renew their visa without going through in-person interviews each time), the US also raised visa application fees for Nigerians by including additional “reciprocity fees” ranging from $80 to $303 depending on the class of visa. And even though the Nigerian government immediately slashed visa application fees for American applicants in a bid to get the US to reverse its price increase, the reciprocity fees remain in place. The clampdown measures have resulted in Nigeria recording the largest global drop-off in visitors to the US.

There is no reason. Our government is simply insane.

Thursdays will not be my fun days this semester

I am booked up all day long. This is the price I pay for arranging my schedule so my Fridays are free.

Friday will be my fun day, if you can call washing glassware fun. But I do have spiders to feed, and also an assortment of second generation juveniles that will be upgraded to the breeding cages, so there is that. I’ll probably spend most of tomorrow cackling over my empire of arachnids and expanding their domain.

Watch the planet breathe

This is a dramatic video of arctic ice growing and shrinking.

It was presented at Davos, as if those rich assholes matter. We should spend less effort trying to persuade the wealthy to do the right thing, and more effort stripping the wealthy of their power. Let’s make the rich irrelevant!