The raccoon dogs, and the virus, didn’t intend to kill us

Some people have been pushing the idea that COVID-19 was artificially created in a Chinese lab. There’s no real evidence for that — the virus itself doesn’t contain any labels of its origin, that a research lab in China was studying the virus isn’t evidence of manipulation (a research lab researching is what research labs do), and the people promoting the ‘lab leak’ theory all seem to have a political agenda to blame someone. I sure haven’t been convinced. Now there’s a new revelation: they’ve found genetic evidence from samples collected at the Huanan wet market that infected wild animals were there.

Way back in 2019, researchers were swabbing locations in the market and filing away samples for later analysis. Guess what? It’s later. Swabs sampled from a stall that was selling raccoon dogs have been sequenced, and they’ve found … raccoon dog DNA, which is no surprise. But they also found lots of SARS-CoV-2 mingled with it, which tells us that these wild animals were already infected with COVID.

A new analysis of genetic sequences collected from the market shows that raccoon dogs being illegally sold at the venue could have been carrying and possibly shedding the virus at the end of 2019. It’s some of the strongest support yet, experts told me, that the pandemic began when SARS-CoV-2 hopped from animals into humans, rather than in an accident among scientists experimenting with viruses.

“This really strengthens the case for a natural origin,” says Seema Lakdawala, a virologist at Emory who wasn’t involved in the research. Angela Rasmussen, a virologist involved in the research, told me, “This is a really strong indication that animals at the market were infected. There’s really no other explanation that makes any sense.”

I’ve never been that interested in the question of its origin. I already know that we live on a planet of viruses, with an unimaginably huge population of diverse viruses squirting their DNA and RNA into every available creature, genetic material that is constantly mutating at a rapid rate, and what we ought to be amazed at is that we have molecular mechanisms of resistance, an immune system, that can cope with it at all. It was inevitable that something would evolve to get past our defenses, and that we’d have to adapt or die. That’s what we’ve been doing for the entirety of the existence of life on Earth.

That life changes and that there are naturally inimical forces that exist is an uncomfortable truth for many people. They’d rather think that a threat is by intent, that it had to be designed, and that the solution is to march out and do battle with a hostile, and purposeful, enemy (in this case, all of China. Good luck with that, I’d rather deal with it by improving public hygiene and developing new medicines.)

Now, can we stop wasting time looking for someone to blame, and refocus on dealing rationally with the pandemic? Unfortunately, there are many people who think the way to deal with a threat is to ignore it and pretend it has gone away. It hasn’t. The viruses keep on changing, thriving on the neglect that gives them an opportunity to proliferate in all these hosts who have given up, and it’s only going to get worse.

Fun with a “natural theist”

How about some low-lying fruit for a light afternoon snack? Here’s a cocky believer to nibble on.

Atheism is the greatest moral error because it breaks the greatest command demanded from humanity: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength”.
Mark 12:30

Oh. OK. Atheism is bad because a god-priest says it is. This is not the gotcha he thinks it is.

These guys will never settle for nebulous, vague assertions about an invisible being. They’ve also got to go after science with a vicious punch of ignorance.

Natural selection is a euphemism for no real force. Environment, social pressure, survival, etc. These do not guide consciously the process of genetic traits or modifications. I mean, the ‘environment’ is non-conscious, non-rational and Ignores what is happening.

Except…by accident, he’s sort of right. The environment is non-conscious, non-rational and ignores what is happening. I suspect he thinks that is an argument against evolution though, because he assumes evolution has to be conscious and rational.

Also, a lightning bolt is non-conscious, non-rational and ignores what is happening, but try to deny that it’s a force if it hits you.

Lying liars are still lying

I’ve been hearing a lot about how the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank, a bank in the heart of tech bro country, where Peter Thiel kept his money, was due to it being too woke. Go woke, go broke, as they say. As it turns out, the claim is contrived nonsense.

According to stories bursting across the right-wing mediasphere today, a key reason for the collapse of Silicon Valley Bank (SVB) was its focus on spreading “woke culture” rather than efficiently managing risk and profits. Ground zero for this is the allegation that SVB had donated over $73 million to the “BLM Movement & Related Causes.” That struck me as quite a lot of money for a single company, even a large and profitable one, to give to any cause or even all causes. So I tried to find out where this factoid came from and rapidly found my way to a Trumpist think tank. Perhaps not surprisingly, it’s a complete lie. I want to show you the receipts, but first some key details.

The story came from an “analysis” from the Center for the American Way of Life, a project of the Claremont Institute. You can tell from the name it was going to be a skeevy, dishonest organization, where they conflate “American” with “Capitalist”. What they did was compile all charitable donations to a huge range of organizations under one umbrella they called Black Lives Matter…not that BLM isn’t an unworthy recipient, but that they threw in so much money that any grass roots organization would have no way to spend it all.

Basically, if a donation benefitted a black person in any way, it was “BLM”. For instance:

Claremont lists 3M pledging a whopping $50 million to “BLM.” But the cited document, published in September 2020, appears to be mainly focused on supporting STEM learning in Black communities. It’s a pledge of $50 million over 5 years and lists $6 million in initial investments. That $6 million consisted of $5 million to the United Negro College Fund for work in St. Paul, Minnesota; another $1 million is slated for “annual investment to social justice partnerships, led by our employee resource network community champions and building on the initial investment from 3M Foundation in 2020.”

For Claremont, these are all “BLM.”

Oh, look, Boeing supported BLM! Not really.

Then there’s Boeing’s $15.6 million to “BLM.”

You can see the cited list of recipients here. The largest recipients include the Seattle Children’s Hospital, United Negro College Fund, Chicago Urban League, D.C. College Access Program and the Forum to Advance Minorities in Engineering, Inc.

My favorite, though, is Bank of America.

Rather unbelievably Claremont lists Bank of America as giving more than $18 billion to “BLM.”

Yes, billion.

The cited documents appear to report only $1.25 billion and that appears to be almost entirely going to financing for housing and business development in minority communities. So this money may be targeting minority advancement, but its in the form of loans that BOA will get paid back for. An apparently tiny fraction of that total (no specific numbers are cited) goes in grants to organizations like Asian Americans Advancing Justice, National Coalition for Asian Pacific American Community Development and The Leadership Conference Education Fund.

Bank of America gets a big chunk of change from me every month, since they hold my mortgage. Which means, by the transitive property of the Claremont Institute, that I am giving a large fraction of my income to BLM every month.

The vast majority of the organizations are highly mainstream and even corporate in their focus (supporting minority-owned small businesses, recruiting minority employees in STEM fields). The ones that aren’t mainly focus on housing, closing gaps in medical care in minority communities and supporting STEM education and coding. In many cases, the cited documents include no information to support the purported dollar amounts at all. In some cases a claim about one corporation is backed up with a document about another corporation entirely. So there’s a high degree of slapdash and incompetence involved. But the general message is that anything in any way connected to Black people in pretty much any way is “BLM riots,” and explicitly supporting mayhem and violence.

Slapdash and incompetent is a good summary of most conservative organizations. Add in dishonest and it’s perfect.


Today is our 43rd anniversary, and this morning I was thinking about our wedding.

It was a nice wedding, not too fancy, not too stressful, exactly as my wife-to-be planned it. There were many people there: family from both sides, and lots of familiar friends from the University of Washington, where both of us had attended (I’d recently graduated and had moved to Eugene, Oregon, where Mary would shortly follow). We’d been living in the dorms on campus, and had a close-knit crew who’d been applying to the same rooms year after year — 5th Floor Lander Hall, represent! There was the gang I played D&D with. Of course my two best friends since Junior High, Steve Klopfstein and Steve Dixon, were in attendance. These were all people I liked very much, and was happy to have a little party with them.

As I was reminiscing, though, I realized that this was also the 43rd anniversary of leaving all those good friends behind. I was never very good at being sociable, and immediately after the wedding Mary and I were off on our peripatetic academy journey, and we lost contact. I didn’t tell them how much our friendship mattered, and I drifted away, no forwarding address provided (not that it would have mattered, we moved so often over the years), and didn’t even try to stay in touch. I was the flavorless marzipan groom, I could stand woodenly on the cake, and do nothing but fail to communicate, no matter that I wanted to.

I guess my shriveled little heart only had enough love for one person there. At least that’s held up for a good long while.

Too many spiders?

I admit, I might have a small problem. I came in to work this morning and found another egg sac had spewed out a bunch of adorable baby spiderlings. (This is a very low resolution shot, I hope the arachnophobes here can bear it.)

This is nothing new or surprising. I’ve had four egg sacs bear fruit since last week, so I’m getting used to it. I sit down and sort out all the spiderlings into separate vials, and tuck them away near the incubators. Not in the incubators — they’re all full of spiders already. They seem to do fine at room temperature.

Well, I think the future of the colony is more than assured at this point. If I raise 150 spiderlings to adulthood, I’d have to take over the neighboring lab spaces and maybe occupy the science building atrium, and I have about 15 more egg sacs waiting in various containers already. I’m going to have to draw a terrible, wicked line.

Future babies will not be coddled and given living quarters and free food. Instead, we have some experiments in microscopy and staining in mind, and they will be killed, quickly and humanely, thrown into fixative, and their bodies treated with various exotic chemical compounds before being mounted on a confocal microscope.

Oh jeez, I sound like a Republican.

You can clearly see the direction they want to go

The conservative vision of the future of America is quite clear. Let’s hide the ugly parts of our history. An eighth grade history teacher was canceled.

Finally, on Feb. 8, 2022, at 4:05 p.m., Wickenkamp scored a Zoom meeting with Superintendent Laurie Noll. He asked the question he felt lay at the heart of critiques of his curriculum. “Knowing that I should stick to the facts, and knowing that to say ‘Slavery was wrong,’ that’s not a fact, that’s a stance,” Wickenkamp said, “is it acceptable for me to teach students that slavery was wrong?”

Noll nodded her head, affirming that saying “slavery was wrong” counts as a “stance.”

“We had people that were slaves within our state,” Noll said, according to a video of the meeting obtained by The Post. “We’re not supposed to say to [students], ‘How does that make you feel?’ We can’t — or, ‘Does that make you feel bad?’ We’re not to do that part of it.”

She continued: “To say ‘Is slavery wrong?’ — I really need to delve into it to see is that part of what we can or cannot say. And I don’t know that, Greg, because I just don’t have that. So I need to know more on that side.”

He left the teaching profession after that load of waffly rubbish.

They hate women. Conservatives have a radical perspective on abortion and contraception.

The House Judiciary Committee in Arkansas was scheduled to discuss a bill that would classify “causing the death of an unborn child” as a homicide. I’m not using the word ‘abortion’ here for a reason—because while the legislation would certainly make abortion prosecutable as a homicide, it goes far beyond that. HB 1174 says that it’s a crime to end a pregnancy by “wrongful act, neglect or default,” language so broad that women who have had miscarriages could be prosecuted for murder if the state decides that they somehow ‘caused’ it. (The bill even specifies that “accidental miscarriage” is not prosecutable, which means that legislators believe there is such a thing as a miscarriage that is not accidental.)

So if a woman miscarries and the state decides that it happened because she lifted a heavy box, or didn’t take her prenatal vitamins—they could charge her with murder. I wrote about this bill back in January, but it’s worth repeating: There is no limit to what a zealous prosecutor could argue ‘caused’ a miscarriage or stillbirth. In fact, cases like this have already been brought forward before Roe was even overturned—for reasons ranging from alleged drug use, refusing medical interventions like a c-section, even a suicide attempt.

But there’s more. Because this bill defines human life from fertilization, women could also be charged with murder for using Plan B or IUDs—which conservatives believe prevent the implantation of a fertilized egg—or undergoing IVF. In fact, legislators removed language that would prevent the prosecution of women who use contraception or IVF:

On the bright side, the future is looking bright if you’re a wealthy white man with a strong bigotry streak.

Stump the right-winger

Who the heck is Bethany Mandel? I had to look her up on Wikipedia to find out: she’s a conservative pundit, one of those weird libertarian goons.

She transferred to Rutgers University in 2005 for its strong Jewish Studies department and Jewish student community, and worked full-time while a full-time student, graduating in 2008 with a degree in history and Jewish studies. During her college years, she adopted conservative views after finding that Medicaid and other government welfare programs she had expected to help her after her mother’s death were inefficient and ineffective, objecting to the idea that as someone who had grown up in poverty, she had any ‘white privilege,’ as well as due to the influence of college friends and the writings of Ayn Rand.

She has recently written a book titled Stolen Youth, about how the left is waging an all-out battle on the American family, particularly the youngest members. If they can make our children miserable, lead them to question every building block of society, and rebuild their entire concept of reality, then the left and their woke indoctrinators will consider that a victory. Right. That kind of popular right wing fanatic.

I don’t have any sympathy for the kind of fame she’s getting right now. She was being interviewed, and was asked to define “woke”. Watch her brain short circuit — it’s quick.

“Woke” is the understanding that we need to totally reimagine and redo society in order to create hierarchies of oppression

She did manage to scrape up a very bad definition: “woke” is not about being aware of systemic bias, it’s about creating hierarchies of oppression, which is kind of the absolute opposite of the idea. No wonder she hates it!

That’s a good way to handle these clowns: just ask them to define what they’re railing against, and either they’re going to give an accurate definition (as Desantis did, “the belief there are systemic injustices in American society and the need to address them”), which made him look like a hateful idiot for opposing it, or they have to invent a fake definition (like Mandel, the need to reimagine society in order to create hierarchies of oppression) and look like an ignorant idiot.

Good work, Briahna Joy Gray. You made that skewering look effortless.

Why would Tim White and UC Berkeley hoard old bones?

I organize spiders better than this

Berkeley has a bit of an unsavory reputation as the premiere grave-robbing institution in the US. They’ve got an impressive collection of looted remains.

More than three decades ago, Congress ordered museums, universities and government agencies that receive federal funding to publicly report any human remains in their collections that they believed to be Native American and then return them to tribal nations.

UC Berkeley has been slow to do so. The university estimates that it still holds the remains of 9,000 Indigenous people in the campus’ Phoebe A. Hearst Museum of Anthropology — more than any other U.S. institution bound by the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act, or NAGPRA, according to a ProPublica analysis of federal data.

Tim White, the esteemed anthropologist, was in charge of repatriation decisions for many years, and basically stonewalled the process.

White said the collection did not need to be reported under NAGPRA because there is no way to determine the origin of the bones — and therefore the law does not apply.

The collection has exposed deep rifts at UC Berkeley, pitting a prominent professor who said he’s done nothing wrong against university administrators who have apologized to tribes for not sharing information about the remains sooner.

I’m looking at this as someone who is sympathetic to both educational and research needs, and I have to ask: why do you want these old bones anyway, Berkeley? They’re used to teach anthropology students, and I can understand why you want variations represented — one old mounted skeleton is not enough — but why do you need thousands of specimens for teaching the basics, and why do you need Native American skeletons shoveled out of their graves by the thousands? This makes no sense. It’s more like maintaining a dragon’s hoard then an actual, useful teaching collection. That’s especially clear when the collection is described.

By then, the teaching collection that anthropology professors used had grown to thousands of bones and teeth that White said in his report to university administrators had been commingled with others donated by amateur gravediggers, dentists, anatomists, physicians, law enforcement and biological supply companies.

The remains were unceremoniously sorted by body part so students could study them. A jumble of teeth. A drawer of clavicles. Separate bins for skulls. For decades, anthropologists added to the collection, used it in their classes and then passed it along to the professors who came after them, White said.

What use is an old bone if you know nothing of its provenance? What can you learn from a bucket of teeth?

For a moment I assumed that this would have been a massive, well-curated collection, where scientists can do research on comparative anatomy and variation. But no? This collection is just a pile of bones that professors have been letting students play with for decades. This is particularly appalling when various cultures have been begging to have the bones returned, and when the law is telling UC Berkeley to return them.

Recourse under the law was limited, leaving tribal nations to file formal challenges with the federal NAGPRA Review Committee, an advisory group whose members represent tribal, scientific and museum organizations. It can only offer recommendations in response to disputes.

In the first challenge following the passage of the law, in February 1993 the Hui Mālama I Nā Kūpuna O Hawai’i Nei, a Native Hawaiian organization, took a dispute over repatriation of two ancestral remains before the federal committee. The remains had been donated to UC Berkeley in 1935, at which time a museum curator classified them as Polynesian. White disagreed.

Addressing the committee, White introduced himself as “the individual who is responsible for the skeletal collections at Berkeley.” He argued the remains might not be Native Hawaiian and could belong to victims of shipwrecks, drownings or crimes. They should be preserved for study, he added, making an analogy to UC Berkeley’s library book collection, where historians access volumes for years as their understanding evolves.

White is admitting that they don’t know whose bones they have…then what use are they? His excuse for keeping them is that they might not be Polynesian, but could be from shipwreck victims. That is not a defense. That’s an admission that they have a hodge-podge, a confusing grab-bag of bones scooped up off of Pacific islands, and they don’t know what they’ve got…except that they’re going to keep them.

I’m trying hard to view this mess from the perspective of a college professor, but I’m not seeing it, and Tim White’s arguments for hanging on to these bones reads like a confession that Berkeley has been careless and sloppy. And White keeps stuffing his foot in his mouth!

In August 2020, White reported the contents of the collection he taught with to university administrators.

White told ProPublica and NBC News that given the lack of documentation, it would be impossible to determine if they were Native American, much less say which tribe they should be returned to.

“There’s nobody on this planet who can sit down and tell you what the cultural affiliation of this lower jaw is, or that lower jaw is. Nobody can do that,” he said.

It’s just the weirdest defense: our bookkeeping is so bad and ignorance is so great that we have no idea whose remains these are, therefore we ought to be allowed to keep them. To me, this is an argument that the whole collection ought to be shoveled out and given to people who would treat the bones with real respect. Berkeley seems to have a history of disgraceful disrespect and exploitation, and doesn’t deserve to be custodians of those dead people.