What? Convergence is next week?

It is. I’m doing a few panels at Convergence…a fairly light load, compared to previous years. They didn’t have as many sciencey panels to sign up for this time around, perhaps in part because I and several others contributed more to panel suggestions in previous years, and I was a terrible slacker this year. That might be a good thing, or I’d have stuffed the place with spiders. Stephanie Zvan has posted her panel list, and here’s mine:

Friday, July 5
Insects, in Sex
Insects are already wildly fascinating but do you know some of the mating behaviors and outcomes? Praying mantis may be one insect you think of, because the female will often eat the male after copulation, but what are other examples of unusual behaviors? Participants: Arthur Kneeland (mod), Jessica Wyn Miller, PZ Myers, Kelly Jo Fredrickson

I’m going to pretend that one is actually about arthropods, so I can talk about spiders.

Saturday, July 6
Weird Biology
Animals that don’t exactly die, terminal reproduction, and aspen tree colonies. Weird and cool stuff about the world around us. Participants: Laura Okagaki-Vraspir, Lathan Murrell, Brittany Ann Kerschner, PZ Myers, Colleen C Caldwell (mod)

There is no such thing as weird biology. Or rather, there is no such thing as normal biology.

Sunday, July 7
Ask a Scientist
Kid-friendly panel to ask questions to scientists. Participants: Renate Marie Fiora (mod), Miriam Krause, Shannon Negaard-Paper, PZ Myers, Sarah Molasky

I don’t have to prepare for that one. Who knows what oddball questions people will ask? Maybe they’ll ask about spiders.

And now for the official word from American Airlines

American Airlines responded to my complaints, sort of. Actually, they evaded and lied, which is exactly what I expected.

We’ve taken a closer look and again we are sorry for the frustration. We never want to cancel our flights, however, due to the safety of our passengers and crew sometimes it is unavoidable. After further research we found your flight was delayed due to the weather. This situation was largely out of our control and we do not issue compensation or reimbursement of additional expenses.

No. My first flight was cancelled due to weather (I didn’t see any sign of storms on the ground, but I’ll trust that the atmosphere might well have been more complex, especially at altitude above mountains). The flight from Charlotte to Minneapolis was delayed for a day and dragged out over a long night of abandonment because of a maintenance problem — they told us quite clearly that there was a broken part in the cockpit air conditioning.

Maintenance is something that is in AA’s control, I assume.

Anyway, I don’t care. I expected nothing from them. If they want to run their business into the ground with terrible customer service, they are free to do so. I won’t be flying with them in the future.

What do Harry Potter, Luke Skywalker, and Jesus have in common?

It’s the same old scam the rich and powerful have been exploiting for years.

By the way, you did know that Oglaf’s creators have a patreon account that includes amusing cartoons, some not safe for work?

Also by the way, I just realized it’s Sunday, and am feeling like I had a couple of days totally stolen from me.

My American Airlines adventure

It was not the good kind of adventure, oh no. It was a succession of epic fuck-ups.

I was at an arachnology conference at Washington and Lee University that ended on Thursday. The plan was that I’d catch a flight home from Roanoke that evening, and with a layover in Charlotte, get home to Minnesota in the early hours of Friday morning. It wasn’t ideal, but I accepted the compromise of a redeye flight for a cheaper airfare.

Unfortunately, American Airlines abruptly cancelled my Roanoke flight half an hour before departure time. They can do this. I can understand how mechanical problems or weather issues mean that transportation plans can go awry. What I don’t understand is how the airlines can be so poorly prepared for the inevitable chaos their willingness to disrupt the travel plans of a few hundred people. They had no backup plan in place, other than to tell everyone to figure it out for themselves.

They were willing to dump all these people onto a market that, by design, was saturated — they’d squeeze us one by one onto any open seats that might be available, never mind that they had just made hundreds of seats vanish. They were not going to reschedule the plane, they were going to reschedule us, and damn our constraints. So I was told that the next earliest available seat was two days away. Are you going to cover my hotel costs for two nights, I asked? Oh no, they bear absolutely no responsibility for that. Not that I wanted to stay an extra two days.

We made a ridiculous compromise that would cost American Airlines nothing. They would let me fly from Charlotte to Minneapolis the next day, 24 hours after my scheduled departure. All I had to do was rent a car (would they pay for that? Don’t be absurd) and drive to Charlotte. That’s their backup plan for failure to meet a commitment: their ‘passengers’ will drive themselves at their own expense to a different airport.

I also had to spend an extra night in Roanoke, which is another cost for a motel room. I got the cheapest I could find, which was my mistake. I didn’t get much sleep, because of the clanging racket of a fleet of garbage trucks outside my window, and because the brief moment of silence I got meant I heard the scratching, rustling stirring of the rodents nesting in the box spring. Hot tip: always spring for the room that costs an extra $50 if it comes with no rats. That’s not American Airlines’ fault, at least.

I drove 3 hours to Charlotte, bright and early in the morning, driven out at 4am by the charms of a cheap hotel room. That meant I arrived very early for the earliest flight I could get, which was scheduled to depart at about 8:45 pm. “Scheduled” is a word that is flexible in its meaning to American Airlines, because no, it didn’t leave on time. As the moment of departure approached, time retreated as necessary, with the departure time moving away from us in 10 or 20 minute increments. It was almost amusing — as the moment of departure approached, the sign announcing that time would shift predictably. Oh, the sign says 9:10 departure? At 9:09, it would suddenly read 9:30. We all learned not to trust anything the official declarations said.

The plane finally opened its doors to us at something like 11:30. I think. I was a bit bleary from exhaustion by then. We trooped aboard, finally thinking the nightmare was over.

Then the pilot announced that there would be a brief departure delay — a minor maintenance issue, nothing serious, they’ll get it fixed right away. We waited patiently. Maintenance crews kept visiting the cockpit, mumbling over clipboards. Later the stewardess announces they just need to sign off on some paperwork and we’ll be off. More clipboards, more yellow-vested people visit.

We’re told we all need to get off the plane.

We’re dumped into the gate area of an empty airport. We get an occasional announcement that they just have to find a replacement part, then that they think they can build a replacement part, then that they’ll get us a new plane. The electronic departure time begins its incremental flight forward through time again. We wait. We’re going to get out of here at 1am. At 1:10am. At 1:30am. At 1:45am. At 2am. Then, the clock surrenders. 9:00am departure time, it declares. Hundreds of people groan simultaneously. There are no further announcements from American Airlines. They have decreed what reality is, and they are done. AA has washed their hands of us.

An airport terminal late at night is not a pleasant environment. Everything is closed. The lights are left on brightly. The TV screens everywhere continue to play CNN, and most importantly, commercials, with Bank of America and Geico Insurance constantly displaying surreal spots begging us to make sure money flows in their direction. The seats all have fixed armrests, so no, you’re not going to stretch out there; the floor is covered with stubbly industrial carpeting, so if you don’t mind a rock-hard surface, you can sort of rest there. The air conditioning is still running. There were no blankets, silly. I saw some people scavenge plastic bags from the garbage cans, which could give you a little cover if you arranged 3 of them just right.

I think it was a vision of a late-stage capitalist utopia.

Meanwhile, in Minneapolis…

Other problems ripple outward. My wife was supposed to pick me up at the airport. The day before, she’d been on her way when my first flight was cancelled, and I’d managed to call her when she’d only come halfway, so she turned around and went back home. This night, all the delays had dragged on with imminent promise of relief, and so she’d come all the way to the Minneapolis airport, and was waiting in baggage claim. And waiting. And waiting. I’d been keeping her hanging, frequently calling to tell her the latest lying promise of American Airlines, until that 2am final announcement, at which point she had nowhere to go, either, so she spent the night sleeping restlessly on the baggage claim floor.

My plane did not take off at 9am. The flight crew did not all arrive until approximately 10:00. The most pathetic thing about that was how all these bedraggled, worn out passengers cheered when the last crew member finally showed up. Remember that: you can treat people like dirt, and when you give them one tiny little promise of belated relief, they will cheer for you. I’m sure that’s the only lesson American Airlines learned.

I did not cheer.

I finally arrived at the Minneapolis airport around 1pm. We drove home to Morris, about 3 hours away. I got home, took a shower, got dressed to go into the lab and take care of the animals, when I couldn’t keep my eyes open any longer. I went to take a little nap, I thought, and woke up 12 hours later. Mary slept that whole time, too.

I’m still tired and stressed. I’m also aware that American Airlines got our money up front for a promised service, failed to provide it, and because of the way corporate America works, suffered no penalty, made no effort at recompense to any of the people who suffered for their profits, and will continue to thrive while abusing the people who willingly pay them for their bad service, because we’re given no choice. It’s a little thing, a few hundred people experiencing discomfort and having their lives disrupted for just two days, but it’s galling that they will always get away with it.

So tired, yet so awake

It hasn’t been the best of days. I’m trying to get home, taking a flight from Roanoke to Charlotte to Minneapolis, when I get an alert: my flight out has been cancelled, along with all the other flights out of Roanoke that evening. The clever computers at American Airlines have obligingly booked me on the next available flight, which is two days later.

That’s not going to work for me.

There is a mad scramble for a flight agent (hint: they dread these situations, I’m sure. Being nice will get you more help than raging at them.) We work out a slightly better solution: rebook a Charlotte to Minneapolis flight, scrap any attempt to fly out of Roanoke, it’s buggered, and rent a car to make the three hour drive to Charlotte. I get the cheapest nearby motel I can find, because I’m already hit with unexpected expenses, and I figure I’ll get a good night’s rest before braving unfamiliar roads.

So. My room is horrible. Everything is booked everywhere, so all I can get is a smoking room, which reeks of death, ashes, and despair. The furniture is speckled with cigarette burns. The WiFi doesn’t work. I’m just going to sleep here, then escape. Which I do, sorta.

I am awakened at 4am by an ungodly industrial racket. Garbage trucks have arrived and are hate-banging dumpsters outside my window. No one can sleep through this, but thankfully it ends after 10 minutes of sonic chaos. I put a pillow over my head and resolve to get a few hours of sleep.

Then, my head pressed against the mattress, I hear…something scurrying and scratching in the box spring.

I tell you what, nothing will get you to leap out of bed faster in the morning. Which is why I am now sitting in a rental car bracing myself to flee Roanoke, Virginia for an airport in North Carolina, 18 hours before my flight is scheduled. Send coffee.

The rich are not like us

Another story about Jacob Wohl — I’m still waiting for his 15 minutes to end. But he’s such an egregious liar and grifter that he’s a magnet for attention.

The son of lawyer and Fox News contributor David Wohl, Jacob showed an early eye for manipulation — though not for execution. As a teenager, he founded a series of hedge funds, claiming to manage 178 clients and $10 million in assets. But after an investor reported that he hadn’t been paid out in full by Wohl (who called himself the “Wohl of Wall Street”), the National Futures Association (NFA), the derivatives industry’s self-regulatory organization, quickly realized Wohl had been lying to investors about his experience and prowess as a means of securing their funds. In reality, he had 13 clients and $500,000 in assets. He also appeared to be funneling some profits into his mother’s account. Wohl was banned for life by the NFA, ending his nascent career as a hedgie.

Barred from the investment world, Wohl turned his sights on following in the footsteps of his father, a vocal Trump supporter. In 2017, Jacob began tweeting earnestly about the president, praising his stream-of-consciousness tweet storms as “the modern day version of FDR’s Fireside Chats.” It wasn’t long before Wohl built a sizable following, eventually amassing 185,000 followers. Around the same time, he also set up Surefire Intelligence, an unlicensed private investigation firm. He created a personal alias for that company: “Matthew Cohen.”

This story, however, is not primarily about Wohl. It’s about a woman named Carolyn Cass, who was willingly set up by Wohl to claim she’d been raped by Robert Mueller. She had apparently been assaulted by another man, but Mueller had an airtight alibi — he’d been in a different city at the time — and like all of Wohl’s schemes, it rapidly disintegrated into a shambles that would have humiliated a man with any shame. He does not have any.

The horrible part of the story is the oblivious Cass, a trust-fund baby who later receives a large inheritance and seems to fritter it away on a life of careless privilege. Whenever the money starts to run out, she decides to charge off to another “career” in pop music or art, seemingly unaware that those professions do require talent, skill, and discipline, all of which she lacks. It’s just a horror story of incompetence all around.

Then she wakes up and realizes that Wohl is a bad actor, and engages legal assistance. Smart, right? Except the lawyer she hires is…Michael Avenatti.

So in March, she called Michael Avenatti — yes, that Michael Avenatti. The onetime lawyer for Stormy Daniels was publicly on the hunt for Wohl. Less than two hours after they spoke, Avenatti claimed in a tweet that Wohl was under investigation for possessing illegal firearms, information Cass says he only could have gleaned from their call. (These assertions haven’t been confirmed; the LAPD doesn’t comment on information that could jeopardize a potential active investigation.) Five days later, Avenatti was arrested for embezzling from clients and attempting to extort Nike for more than $20 million, and is now under investigation for embezzling $300,000 from Daniels, too.

It’s one disaster after another, and all of it of her own doing. Yet she’s a pretty white woman from a wealthy Texas oil family, so you know she’ll just bounce back from it all and move on to another stupid pratfall.

I don’t think I like any of the people in this story.

Victory over bunnykind

I’m getting ready to leave for the airport, and Mary sends me a photo from home. She’s been working hard at a garden in the backyard, and I helped put up a crude fence around it. We did a good enough job. Look at that frustrated bunny, excluded from the carrots and squash and who-knows-what-else Mary planted.

It’s probably scheming to tunnel under the flagstones, though.

Minnesota is slipping up

It’s the time of year when everyone is gearing up for the Minnesota State Fair, and one of the highlights has always been when the local newspapers write up the latest grisly, greasy, deep-fat-fried abominations that vendors will be selling there. I’d never eat the stuff, but the descriptions are always gruesomely entertaining.

But not this year.

The City Pages preview is out, and it is disappointing. These things look tasty and tasteful!

Snow Cap Mini Waffle Sundae: Mini waffle topped with a scoop of Izzy’s cream cheese ice cream, warm real maple syrup and a maraschino cherry.

At Hamline Church Dining Hall, located on the north side of Dan Patch Avenue between Underwood & Cooper streets

Stuffed Cabbage Roll: Cabbage leaves wrapped around seasoned ground pork and rice, prepared with tomato sauce and served with a dinner roll.

At iPierogi, located in the Food Building, south wall

Tipsy Pecan Tart: Pecan pie infused with Dubliner Irish Whiskey and baked in a buttery shortbread shell. Gluten-free.

At Sara’s Tipsy Pies, located in the Food Building, south wall

Turkish Pizza: A Turkish-style cracker-thin flatbread, authentically named Lahmacun, topped with spicy minced beef, onion, tomato, lettuce, cucumber salad, parsley, fresh herbs, a squeeze of lemon and garlic sauce, then rolled or folded.

At Blue Moon Dine-In Theater, located on the northeast corner of Carnes Avenue & Chambers Street

This has got to be some kind of satire, right?

Doctors advising doctors

Hey, I guess people have known about that cutting entry in the index to an obstetrics text for a good long while. Here’s an article on the book and general ob-gyn attitudes, in which we learn that the indexer was … the author’s wife! I guess she’d know. But doctors know better now, right?

Recall that preeclampsia was once called toxemia because it was thought to be a build-up of toxins in the maternal blood that had not been secreted through the normal monthly purification of the menstrual cycle. Miscarriages must be caused by the woman doing something she shouldn’t have done, like picking up a bag of groceries. Bottle feeding was superior to breast feeding because men had used science to outsmart the female breast. In fact, for about half of the twentieth century, obstetrics consisted of rendering pregnant women unconscious, cutting a procto-episiotomy, and ripping the child out with forceps. Sounds very efficient and modern. [Yikes. That’s how I was born.]

But surely we don’t think this way today. Have you ever recommended that a woman be on bed rest for any condition in pregnancy? Have you ever mocked a woman with a birth plan? Have you ever told a woman to “take it easy”? Do you believe that a Cesarean delivery is an improvement over vaginal delivery? Do you believe that when women suffer from depression or anxiety it is related to abnormal hormone levels? Much of the worldview of modern obstetric practiced was formed with the belief that women were inept and incapable and that science needed to fix them. Think about that next time you integrate old myths into your practice.

Regretful Father’s Day

Hey, Dad…

James Clayton Myers 1935-1992

Just thought I’d let you know how things are going. When you left us, I was a weird nerd doing incomprehensible things with insects for a living, with three little bitty kids. Well, I’m still a weird nerd — some things never change — and now I’m doing incomprehensible things with spiders, after doing incomprehensible things with fish for a long time. The kids are grown-up adults now, and have moved out. The oldest works in a law office, the middle boy is a captain in the army, and the youngest is a grad student doing incomprehensible things with computers. You’d be proud of them. We are.

They’ve provided you with two more great-grandchildren. I wish you could meet them, and even more, I wish they could meet you. They’d like you, but then, all kids liked you. All I can do is tell them about you when they’re a little older. Maybe I can take them fishing. Read some comic books. Make some pancakes. Do some tiny fraction of the things you did with me.

Oh yeah, I’m as old as you were now. That feels weird. I’m supposed to be littler and younger than you.

Mom’s still doing fine.

Miss you. Wish you were here.