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.

Never trust a boy scout

It’s a corrupt organization. They don’t allow atheists to participate (my boys were briefly in the scouts, but they couldn’t say anything about their beliefs, and had to do all the religious oaths; Margaret Downey has been fighting this for years), and they only allowed gay and transgender boys in recently, while still prohibiting gay scout leaders. It’s a conservative organization that typically works to instill regressive values — with a few exceptions — and so we shouldn’t be surprised that the boys clapped and cheered, while their leaders capered and grinned, at Trump’s speech to a boy scout jamboree.

That speech is something else. It’s pure madness. It’s the kind of speech a Caligula would give: self-serving, obsessive, focused on slights to his majesty, derisive of the previous administration. He wants to encourage loyalty, but he still can’t resist the temptation to encourage them to boo the previous president and his opposition in the last election. He is still going over and over the size of the crowd over and over, the legitimacy of his election, and “fake news”. And he ends by telling them they’ll be allowed to say “Merry Christmas” again, as if this has ever been prohibited. There was no good message in it, unless you count that bizarre anecdote about a rich man losing his ‘momentum’ a moral message. It’s a speech that tells us much about Donald Trump, none of it good.

But he still has the devout support of the Christian Evangelical community!


Jebus. Read George W. Bush’s speech to the boy scouts in 2005, and compare. W was a disgrace as a president, and yet look how far we’ve fallen with Trump.

Roger Waters…Wednesday!

The day after tomorrow I’ll be sitting in the nosebleed seats for Roger Waters Us + Them tour. I love the guy’s music, and he’s got the right sensibility for the era, as reported for his Chicago event.

It’s also very political, and that’s something that should surprise absolutely nobody. Waters has never been a stranger to controversy, and his recent political views (especially those involving the Israel-Palestine conflict), have certainly been turning all the right and wrong heads across the world. But he sounds revitalized again, and if you couldn’t tell from all the rage and angst that radiates from his latest record, Is This the Life We Really Want?, then he makes that pretty clear with the Us + Them Tour. Unlike his recent reprisal of The Wall, which toured the world for the better part of the early 2010s, Waters sounds less like he’s dusting off older material and more like he’s rewriting them for a new era. And in a world that’s as savage and dour as ours right now, we’re also singing louder than ever.

Anyone else going?