Uh-oh, warning about future content

I was in the lab feeding the spiders, and on the may out I decided I ought to check my mailbox — it’s been a month and a half! I discovered that a reader sent me a copy of his grandson’s favorite book, The Bugliest Bug, and mentioned that he “waits expectantly to see the photos ‘below the fold’ on [my] blog.” Whooops. I’ve been trying so hard to avoid scaring away readers with my spider pictures, I didn’t stop to think I might be depriving children of the information they need.

That settles it. The spiders are coming back. In moderation, of course, and always below the fold. I will not disappoint anyone’s grandchildren!

All right, that’s quite enough nonsense from you, 2020

I’m about fed up with the crap going on this year.

A troop of monkeys in India attacked a medical official and snatched away blood samples of patients who had tested positive for the novel coronavirus, authorities said on Friday.

The terrible thing is that every year since 2016 has been an escalating nightmare, and there’s no reason to expect 2021 to be better.

Why Mars?

SpaceX had a planned manned space flight the other day, postponed now until tomorrow, so is it too soon to complain about the whole project? Here’s an article, The Case Against Mars, which asks a really simple question: WHY?

Why are billionaires like Musk and Bezos and Branson eager to take on the complex and expensive task of launching rockets into orbit and eventually to Mars? Why is Mars even a reasonable destination for human colonization? So the author of this article, Byron Williston, does the obvious thing: he looks at SpaceX’s own justifications, which turn out to be astonishingly vapid. Anyone should be able to see right through this crap.

To get a sense of the first attempted justification, by far the most ubiquitous of the three, return to that SpaceX promo-video. Narrated by Musk himself, the “case” for Mars it lays out has been invoked by space expansionists since humans began fantasizing about occupying other celestial bodies—asteroids, moons, and planets—and building rockets powerful enough to take us to them. The simple idea is that expansion is the next step in evolution and that we ought to push it forward. Life has evolved from single-celled organisms, has migrated from the oceans onto land, has exploded into myriad forms of multi-celled organisms, and has somehow produced consciousness. The next step, Musk says, is surely to make life “multiplanetary.”

With characteristic inarticulacy he summarizes the argument this way: “if something is important enough to fit on the scale of evolution, then it’s important.” It’s not obvious whether that’s a tautology or a non sequitur, but in either case it is breathtakingly facile. You get the impression that the appeal to evolution is semi-intellectual cover for Musk’s sense of wonder at his own chutzpah. This feeling that they are doing something so big that it defies all attempts at rational comprehension shows up frequently among technology’s high priests.

That’s not how evolution works! Elon Musk doesn’t get to dictate the necessary direction of future human evolution. This is just weird biased progressivism imposed on the pattern of diversity. There isn’t some kind of internal biological need to adapt to live in uninhabitable environments. Can we just openly admit that Mars is not a place where human beings can live, no matter how many potatoes you think you can grow in poop? Manned missions to Mars are suicide missions, something that isn’t going to be favored by evolution.

That’s one justification that is totally bogus. Surely they’ve got better ones?

That brings us, finally, to the other two attempted justifications for space expansion: that the program will safeguard the long-term future of our species and that it will enhance human freedom. The first idea arises from the observation that given the inevitable heat death of the sun a billion or so years from now, our career on this planet is ultimately doomed, so we’d better figure out a way of transporting ourselves out of the solar system as soon as possible. The idea seems to be that discovering the planet’s finitude has somehow massively accelerated the imperative to leave it. In a remark quoted by many space expansionists pushing this line of thought, Tsiolkovsky once said that “Earth is the cradle of humanity, but one cannot live in a cradle for ever.”

This is a stunningly silly argument. It’s a bit like learning you will have to leave the family nest several years down the road, then deciding you had better start packing right away. As Deudney notes, we have a few hundred million years to prepare for the Sun’s death, making that event completely irrelevant to our policy choices in the coming decades and centuries. Perhaps instead of worrying about being swallowed up by an expiring star in an impossibly distant future we might devote an equivalent amount of intellectual and political energy to avoiding climate catastrophe on this planet within the next decade or two. Just a suggestion.

If you are seriously concerned about the viability of the human species, why are you rushing to ship a handful of people off to their death on an inhospitable rock rather than developing technologies that maintain the health of planet Earth? If you care about “human freedom”, how does moving a subset of humanity into a confined, fragile habitat that requires tight restrictions on the inhabitants’ behavior help that? None of this makes any sense.

It makes sense to send probes to explore other planets — we learn things. It makes sense to put satellites into orbit — we learn things about our planet, and it enables all kinds of useful communications technologies. It does not make sense to launch people off to Mars. It’s rather shocking that SpaceX has no legitimate defense of Musk’s grand goal. But then, what else could we expect from goofball who also can’t defend his idea of boring lots of tunnels under cities?

Justice only looks like chaos to the unjust

The Washington Post headline this morning was “Chaotic Minneapolis protests spread amid emotional calls for justice, peace”, and it’s illustrated with this photo:

I ask, where’s the chaos? I see a small group of calm people standing victorious before the ruins of a criminal enterprise. The people speaking for the community clearly see where the chaos was coming from.

“There are folks reacting to a violent system,” McDowell said. “You can replace property, you can replace businesses, you can replace material things, but you can’t replace a life. That man is gone forever because some cop felt like he had the right to take his life. A lot of folks are tired of that. They’re not going to take it anymore.”

That’s why, he said, “Minneapolis is burning.”

Chaos is when the people delegated to preserve the peace are murdering people in the street for non-violent offenses. Chaos is heavily armed cops oppressing the communities they’re supposed to safeguard. Chaos is the district attorney waffling over whether to charge a cop for murder when they have video of the man slowly throttling another to death in public. Chaos is the absence of justice.

This is Minneapolis, a pleasant city full of good people trying to get by. It’s not Gotham City, and it never needed a crew of Batman-wannabes to keep the peace.

My name is not Ernst Haeckel

It’s also not “Meyers”. As promised, Kent Hovind has uploaded his “Whack An Atheist – PZ Meyers” video to YouTube, and I’m so disappointed, since he didn’t whack me at all. He spends the whole time ranting and raving about Ernst Haeckel’s Biogenetic Law, insisting that any mention of pharyngeal structures in embryos is a lie, and that embryology does not support evolution. There are more than a few problems with his argument.

  • I am not Ernst Haeckel. He died before I was born.
  • I do not accept the Biogenetic Law, and no biologists do anymore.
  • The only way I teach the Biogenetic Law is as an example of theory that was shown to be wrong. I try to get them to understand that labeling something “theory” does not mean it’s infallible.
  • Conflating “gill slits”, a colloquial term for the non-respiratory pharyngeal structures of the embryo, with “gills”, is Hovind’s error, not that of any biologist. I’ll agree that “gill slit” is confusing term, but I haven’t seen it used in the scientific literature lately, so who cares.
  • That Haeckel’s explanatory theory is wrong does not invalidate the embryological observations of homologous structure in the pharynx of embryos. They’re there. Accept it.
  • The similarities in embryos are real, and constantly having to deal with creationists who think that they aren’t because one 19th century embryologist exaggerated and misinterpreted them is tiresome.
  • The similarities do constitute evidence in support of evolution. Again, interpreting them to imply a sequential, linear pattern of progressive change is erroneous. That would be a creationist flavor of historical change, rather than an evolutionary one.

Throughout, Hovind repeatedly challenges me and others to a debate. There’s a reason I’m not going to do that: Hovind relies entirely on strawmanning me, and I’d have to spend most of the “debate” trying to explain how he doesn’t understand evolution, embryology, or me.

Also, charmer that he is, references the fact that evolutionary biology is taught at Kent State, says “we all know what happened there”, and explains it away as thanks to the students being taught that “they were animals”. That would be the moment in any debate where I’d have to dither, trying to decide between walking off the stage or kicking Hovind in the balls first, then walking off the stage. It’s the eternal dilemma when engaging someone as vile as Hovind.

If he wants to debate anyone, apparently he really wants to engage Ernst Haeckel. Go to Jena, Germany, where he died in 1919. Bring a shovel.

Maybe the city deserves to burn

There’s been more rioting in Minneapolis, although I’m strongly suspecting that agents provocateur have been at work. Take, for instance, this fellow who was recorded leaving after some AutoZone windows were smashed.

White guy, all in black, with a fancy gas mask, smashing windows with a hammer and then immediately leaving? Sure, that’s normal. I do wonder if he’s a cop trying to stir up trouble to make the murderers on the force look less guilty.

I deplore the destruction of property in South Minneapolis, but even more I deplore the deeply-seated racism and violence in the Minneapolis police. If it takes riots to break the back of the criminal enterprise that we call “law enforcement”, let it be so. Let it burn until the moneyed interests that hold all the power realize that letting a goon squad control the city is not profitable, since that seems to be all they care about. Rise up, good merchants, and let City Hall know that these assholes have to be removed, the police have to be demilitarized, and there has to be a major change in how crime is controlled.

Stripping the police of power and privilege is a good start. My university is making a few changes in how they interact with the police. President Joan Gabel:

Today I am announcing two immediate changes regarding our relationship with MPD.

First, I have directed Senior Vice President Brian Burnett to no longer contract with the Minneapolis Police Department for additional law enforcement support needed for large events, such as football games, concerts, and ceremonies.

Second, I have directed University Police Chief Matt Clark to no longer use the Minneapolis Police Department when specialized services are needed for University events, such as K-9 Explosive detection units.

We have a responsibility to uphold our values and a duty to honor them. We will limit our collaboration with the MPD to joint patrols and investigations that directly enhance the safety of our community or that allow us to investigate and apprehend those who put our students, faculty, and staff at risk.

It’s about time that someone realized that the MPD as structured is a detriment to the peace and safety of our communities.

Also relevant:

I was in that store once before! It was strangely laid out, and it was awkward navigating in there, unlike the suburban Targets I’m more familiar with. That explains a lot.

Also important: the Minnesota Freedom Fund accepts donations to help bail out citizens held by the Minnesota Persecution Department.

A politician finally asks the obvious question

We should be asking this kind of question after every instance of police brutality. They need to be put on a tighter leash. Arresting the responsible policemen and charging them with a crime is a start…although even there, I expect our corrupt justice system would let them off eventually.

“Why is the man who killed George Floyd not in jail?” Frey asked. “If you had done it or I had done it, we would be behind bars right now.”

“We cannot turn a blind eye,” Frey said, calling on Hennepin County Attorney Mike Freeman to file charges against the officer two days after the incident.

There is also a security cam video at the link of the moments before he was murdered, in which he is dragged out of the car and put in handcuffs. He’s clearly unhappy and distressed and is passively resisting, but there’s nothing in his behavior that warrants police violence or murder.