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The first Pilgrims

November 22, 2017

The first protestants to establish a colony in what later became the US did not go to New England. They were Huguenots, French Calvanists, who settled just south of where St. Augustine now is, in 1564. That colony is little known, because the Spanish Admiral Pedro de Menéndez (portrait left) destroyed it in 1565. After taking the colony, surviving women and children were spared, to be shipped to Puerto Rico. The men were hung. Menéndez also slaughtered a nearby group recently arrvied from France. He reported to King Philip:

I had their hands tied behind them and had them stabbed to death, leaving only six­teen, twelve being great big men, mariners whom they had stolen, the other four master carpenters and caulkers — people for whom we have much need, and it seemed to me to punish them in this manner would be serving God, our Lord, and Your Majesty. Here­after they will leave us free to plant the Gospel, enlighten the na­tives, and bring them to obedience and submission to Your Maj­esty.

Of course, Protestants at the time were no more civil. Most students today don’t learn enough about the religious wars that ravaged Europe for centuries. The English pilgrims who arrived in New England a half century after those ill-fated Huguenots did not come seeking religious liberty. That is a political notion they would have found strange. They came to establish a colony for their particular religion. They hung witches and banished heretics. A bloody time all around.

Roger Williams, who was banished for heresy and sedition, made an early move to separate church and state in his new settlement. The pilgrims who banished him likely viewed early Providence the way most evangelicals today would a hippie commune. Fortunately, it was that view of separation that Jefferson and Madison would work so hard to institute a century later. So when you give thanks this Thursday, be glad that the framers of our Constitution were men of the Englightenment who wanted to keep those religious wars in the past, and who ushered in our entirely secular law.


Science, sex, and reproduction

November 21, 2017

Paul Goldstein, a photographer and professional guide, caught a pair of male lions having sex in the wilds of Kenya. To a naturalist, that is an interesting and not much surprising tidbit. The reactions of human moralists are sad and no more surprising. Ezekiel Mutua, an official censor in Kenya, worries “The demonic spirits inflicting in humans seems to have now caught up with animals. .. The very idea of sex even among animals is for procreation. Two male lions cannot procreate and therefore we will lose the lion species.”

The Daily Mail, infamous for its bad science reporting, gets the basics wrong: “According to Darwin, the sexual impulses of animals are designed to cause reproduction, and are therefore necessarily heterosexual.”

Blech. 1) According to Darwin, biological characteristics are not designed. And to the extent that characteristics are adapted, they all have been because they serve eventual reproduction. 2) Biological drives and abilities often get put to multiple uses. Dogs’ mouths did not evolve to catch frisbees, which are less than seventy years old, but do a fine job of it anyway. 3) Neither lions nor people are going to go extinct because they practice varieties of sex that aren’t reproductive. On the positive side, the article does explain that homosexuality is observed throughout the animal kingdom, and interviews, Petter Bockman, an actual zoologist. I wish they had given his words more space. I like what he says when he ponders homosexuality in birds: “Birds are really complicated. What goes on in birds’ brains is anyone’s guess.”

Dr. Jen Gunter explains why contraception is important to health, taking to task a rather absurd article in The Federalist.


November 20, 2017

Dogs are both more social and less intelligent than the wolves from which they were domesticated. So it is curious that a recent genetic study shows that dogs differ from wolves in some of the same genes whose human mutations cause Williams–Beuren syndrome. Which also leads to increased sociability and cognitive deficits. (Cite.) The study shows multiple domestication events and admixture with wolves:

Our haplotype sharing analysis evaluates the contribution of specific wolf populations to the genome of dogs, and reveals significant Middle Eastern and, for certain breeds, European ancestry. This result is consistent with the archaeological record that identified the earliest dog remains in the Middle East (12,000 years ago), Belgium (31,000 years ago), and the Bryansk region in western Russia (15,000 years ago), as well as the finding of high mtDNA diversity in ancient Italian dogs. However, some ancient east Asian breeds show affinity with Chinese wolves, which suggests that they were derived from Chinese wolves or admixed with them after domestication.

A recent Swedish study shows dog owners there suffer lower risk of cardiovascular disease and all-cause mortality. While the study is interesting, I’m not terribly convinced that dogs are quite the cure-all that many newsstories have made them, on the basis of this study. The problem is factoring out the confounders. There is a lot of speculation that the likely cause is that dog owners are more active, or benefit from a dog’s companionship. But here is the interesting thing. The study’s data shows lower risk only for owners of pure breeds. The effect disappears completely for owners of mixed breed dogs. And mutts require just as much walking and are just as companionable as their pedigreed cousins. An obvious difference there would be income. Except the study adjusted for that, and while it reduces the effect, that adjustment does not eliminate it. The effect is largest for pointers and scent hounds, and almost absent for toy breeds. So … I suspect some hidden confounders. Which isn’t to say you shouldn’t get a dog. If you’re doing it for longevity’s sake, just keep in mind that it needs to be a hunting breed. And you need to move to Sweden.

the-top-image-is-a-traced-version-of-a-engravings-depicting-dogs-humans-and-cattleEngravings in Arabia more than 8,000 years old (see photo) show hunters with bows and hunting dogs, some on leads. Though we knew dogs had long been domesticated by then, and it’s likely they were used for hunting from their earliest domestication, this is the earliest known depiction of that. (Cite.)

Nativism at work

November 17, 2017

The kind or resentment discussed in the post prior is the fertile soil for the modern fascist movements. Washington residents are discovering that Trump lied, when he said his crackdown on immigration would reduce crime, rather than ridding them of valued neighbors and workers.

Acting, and soon departing, Homeland Security Secretary Elaine Duke seems resigned to the fate of refugees currently given temporary protected status subsequent to the wars there. It’s too bad the US doesn’t have some sort of liberty or libertarian movement, to help defend them.

Kudos to Microsoft, which is going to court to defend DACA recipients it employs.

Nativists in Poland march during its independence day, 60,000 strong, eerily recalling the politics of eight decades past.

Update: A Miami article on some of the refugees there affected by Trump’s policies.

The 70s were weird

November 16, 2017

rollingcoalOur time now may be more so. Imagine, fifty years from now, reading an article about people so full of resentment that they hold up rolling coal (see photo) as an essential freedom, and laws against it as examples of government overreach and environmental activism. Or explaining to anyone from the future or past that so many whites or Christians in the current US, where they dominate politics at all levels, feel they are the ones suffering discrimination? Or anything about Alex Jones and his conspiracy theories, and how they nurtured neo-Nazis?

Uranium One

November 15, 2017

There is the sensible view. Much the same now as when the issue was first raised. Shep Smith risks his audience by not going the way of Breitbart.

Then, there is the batshit crazy view.

Neat, little devices

November 14, 2017

curta_1From the late 1940s until the early 1970s, when electronic calculators became affordable, the mechanical Curta, shown left, was the handheld calculator used by those who needed to do high-precision arithmetic in the field. (Hat tip, Mike Godwin.)

The modern IUD not only is much more effective as a contraceptive than the pill, it also lessens the risk of cervical cancer by about a third. (Cite.)

Roy Moore followup: After yesterday’s post, a fifth woman, Beverly Young Nelson, accused Roy Moore of sexual harassment when she was a teen in Gadsden. This was in the day when shopping malls were busy and popular with teens. The Gadsden Mall watched out for Moore, a middle-aged man who cruised young girls there. And Breitbart embarrasses itself.