Saturday, January 31, 2009

Super Bowl Sunday (With God On Our Side)

It's Super Bowl Sunday again (well, tomorrow, as I write)! I must admit, I love the Super Bowl. Not because it is the SB, but because it is the last meaningful game before next season. My dad, when I was really young, was a football coach, so I watch football looking for all the fun interior line details that are never part of the televised commentary; football, like so many things, gets better the more you know about it.

What is irritating, though, is that God is always on the side of the winners (as PZ noted); it is such a great time to wear one's religion on one's sleeve. Of course, it also bothers me that even those among us who find that notion silly, the same after-the-fact reasoning is used to show that the team that had greater will to win, that wanted it more, that just refused to say die, is the one who took the trophy home. Nobody ever gives up the will to win, but then cruises to victory anyway.

Anyway, here's the song of the day... with sincere apologies to Bob Dylan, and to pretty much everybody else, too.

Oh, the workouts are nothin’
And the wind sprints are less
We don’t even practice
We think that it’s best
Cos practice means nothing
I’m forced to confide—
But we’ll win big on Sunday
With God on our side

Oh the networks will show it
They’ll show it so well
How the righteous team won
And the evil team fell
Oh the righteous team won
But it’s not cos we tried
It's Super Bowl Sunday
With God on our side

Oh, when I cross the goal line
I’ll raise my arm high
With one upraised finger
I’ll point to the sky
I’m sending a message
That can’t be denied
I just scored a touchdown
With God on my side

When it’s fourth down and inches
We’ll go for it all
It’s a quarterback keeper
But where is the ball
They’ll bring out the chain gang
And the refs will decide
First and ten to the team
With God on their side

And the fans in the stadium
Will cheer on their teams
And eat without stopping
Or that’s how it seems
And most of it’s salty
And all of it’s fried
They’ll eat it on Sunday
With God on their side

Oh, it won’t even matter
What’s the final score
The points aren’t important
That’s not what it’s for
This game’s about Jesus
We can all say with pride
We won big on Sunday
With God on our side

We gather each Sunday
We won’t miss a week
It’s more than just victory
It’s salvation we seek
It’s more than religion
It’s the reason Christ died
So we could play football
With God on our side

Friday, January 30, 2009

Nice Alpenhorn!

News Item--An influx of naked German hikers has led to the proposal of a Swiss ordinance which would mandate fines for nude hiking.

The Swiss have said “Enough! Enough!”
We’ll have no hiking in the buff!
See, German hikers gave them fits
By showing off their naughty bits—
A practice which the Swiss construed
As lewd, indecent, crude and rude.

So now, if Germans wish to slough
Their clothing there, the going’s rough.
No innies, outies, bums, or tits;
The Germans now must use their wits
If suddenly, they’re in the mood
To go out rambling in the nude.

If someone tried to call the bluff,
And hike in full display of stuff
The Swiss police alertly sits
To meet them with an all-out blitz--
A picture which, I must conclude,
Leaves naked hikers rightly screwed.

pic source: BBC

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Walking The Walk

In the waning weeks of my poor old pooch’s life, the combination of age, infirmity, and cold weather meant that our walks were shorter, slower, and more frequent. She no longer bounded through the snow (hadn’t for a couple of winters now), and no longer strained at the leash, urging me to keep up. She walked slowly, and to tell the truth she walked oddly. I thought it a sign that her nervous system might be going—she had two separate gaits for her front legs and back legs, or at least part of the time she did. Her front legs took more steps over a given distance; her back legs took fewer, longer (and stiffer) steps. It was very odd to watch. And at first it was quite difficult to tell what was odd about it—it just looked… different.

Of course, I am no expert when it comes to the walking of dogs; it does interest me, though, that there certainly are people who are—that the gait of dogs has been studied at length for over a century. A walking dog, a walking horse, has a distinct set of motions and positions, and this sequence is easily available, well known, and, it appears, utterly ignored by the people who depict animals in art. What is more, it appears that this knowledge is even ignored by some groups you might expect (I certainly did) to take the time to get it right!

A team of researchers, led by Gábor Horváth of Eötvös University, examined hundreds of examples of museum mounts, veterinary anatomy books, and manufactured toy animals, and found that these examples corresponded to the correct mechanics of walking about 50% of the time. This explains why Cuttlekid’s toy horses fell over so easily.

Ok, cheap toy horses are one thing. Museum mounts? From the New York Times article:
The researchers found, for example, that a skeleton of a dog at a Finnish museum depicts the right hindleg in a rearward position while the right foreleg is lifted and moving forward. In a proper depiction the hindleg would be forward too, having moved before the foreleg.
Maybe the taxidermists had a dog like mine.

Maybe those are accurate mounts of the dinosaurs, and they died out because they walked funny.

I thought I’d take an afternoon and visit the museum
I’d heard they had some new things, and I thought I’d like to see ‘em
One skeleton, a walking dog, was what I liked the best—
But its front was moving eastward, while its back was moving west!
The skeletons of dinosaurs were also really neat
Though something seemed a little wrong in where they put their feet
The tails looked right, the ribs were right, the spine, the head, the mouth—
But their front feet pointed northward, while their back feet pointed south!
I figured a museum ought to know which way is right,
So I walked a little differently when I went home that night
Now I’m flummoxed and I’m puzzled, and I feel like such a dork—
See, I’ve one foot in Seattle, and the other in New York.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

What Do Women Want? (A Valentine's Day Poem)

In this past Sunday's New York Times Magazine, Daniel Bergner reports on a number of modern sexologists who have set out to explore what Freud once termed the "dark continent" of female sexuality. This is no brief article, but a detailed picture of the research, motivations, and findings of a handful of leading researchers, centered on Meredith Chivers at Queen's University in Kingston, Ontario. The article includes forays into other researchers' work, so that we get a nice picture of the variety of approaches.

Some is familiar--the reports of the systematic differences between measures of arousal (when arousal is measured via genital plethysmographs, woman are seen to be much more strongly and easily aroused to a variety of stimuli than men are; when arousal is measured via self-report, women reported less arousal to some stimuli and more to others, than the plethysmograph readings would predict) I remember from some of the early research in reactions to pornography. Other research is less familiar to me (fMRI readings during orgasm, for instance). The history of this line of research is explored a bit--from Freudian psychoanalytic approaches to physiological studies, to the impact of AIDS on sex research, to the potential of a female Viagra.

I was saddened a bit, but not terribly surprised, by the reductionist views so many researchers were taking. It is understandable that one might focus on just one part of a phenomenon in order to bring scientific rigor and control, but sexual arousal is something that happens to whole organisms, to people, not merely to genitals, and not merely to "minds". Bergner does tell us of the researchers' attempts to extrapolate their findings back to whole people, and whole relationships, but to my thinking the Times Magazine article itself was the better "big picture", with each researcher contributing a part of a mosaic. It is well worth the read (when you find the time); then, to thoroughly dash your best hopes for humanity to the dust, take a look at the comments. *sigh*

Anyway, there is sufficient grist in this article for any number of new Valentine's Day verses. For today, the inspiration comes from Marta Meana, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In her research, one answer to the question "what do women want?" is "to be wanted":
For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving [...] She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.

I’ve got so much to say on this Valentine’s day
With you, Muse, my sole inspiration;
I’ll unburden my heart, pluck out Cupid’s dart
For my pen, and begin my notation:

I could train a white dove to deliver my love
In the form of a perfect red rose
Or else write in the sky, in great letters so high
That I guarantee everyone knows.
I could gather wild flowers, and listen for hours,
To whatever you have on your mind
I could gaze in your eyes with appreciative sighs,
Though they tell us, of course, love is blind.
For you, I could bake the world’s best chocolate cake
With a frosted “I love you” upon it,
Or for something with taste that won’t go to your waist
I could write a Shakespearean sonnet.
I could write you a tune, by the light of the moon,
Played on harpsichord, zither, and oboes,
Or choose some other fashion to show you my passion:
Let’s fuck like a pair of Bonobos.

Sunday, January 25, 2009

Pareidolia 2

Ah, good old Fox News. The same network that so boldly covered the face of Jesus in the potato, now brings you Jesus in a tree. (video at the link)

I think that I shall never see
A scam like Jesus in a tree
A Christ in hardwood, there reposed,
Where someone’s house will be foreclosed.

The owners of the house are clear
A miracle is happening here—
A sign of something good to come
To folks who need a hefty sum.

These folks say they would never flip
For Christ in a potato chip;
A sandwich, too, would just be odd—
This tree, though, is an act of God.

And churches, now, will pass the plate
And funds will come before too late;
Cos only God could make a tree
A self-fulfilling prophecy.

(When I saw this story on the TV tonight, I looked for it immediately. It amuses me greatly to report that I had to narrow the search to the last 24 hours, because I found so many previous links to people finding Jesus in their trees. Here, for instance. Or here. Or here.

Friday, January 23, 2009

Good-Bye, Old Friend

I hope we did what’s best for you
I know, at least, we tried.
I took you to the doctor
And I stayed there at your side;
I talked with you for one last time
Then held you as you died.
I kissed your head, and said good-bye
And cried
And cried
And cried.

I'm still crying.  Dogs are fur-covered unconditional love; it should hurt when you say good-bye.

I was going to post a picture, but I can't bring myself to do it.

Good-bye, old friend.

edit--regular readers may recall that I last wrote of her this past Thanksgiving.

Thursday, January 22, 2009

Bananaman! (the song)

Ok, so, over on Pharyngula, PZ reported on Ray Comfort's latest folly. Ray--who will go waaaay down in history for the creationist argument by banana--has a new site out. The comment thread called him "bananaman" (ok, no great stretch, as PZ's title called him "the banana man"), which immediately activated whatever part of my brain it is that does this sort of stuff.

Anyway, my comment over there did not relieve the pressure sufficiently; I had to write the following. My apologies to Billy Joel, and to pretty much everybody else. Except Ray Comfort.

It's an afternoon post on Pharyngula,
The regular crowd shuffles in
There's a pretty good chance that some troll will come dance
And remind us we're living in sin

He’ll say “Darwin is worshipped by Atheists”
He’s not really sure what that means
But he knows that you’ll find that the world was designed,
That designers made all of our genes

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you're Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we're all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you've got us laughing at you!

PZ is the host and proprietor,
So you know that there's pretty good odds
You'll see shocking opinions, both his and his minions'
And probably cephalopods

He says look at that beautiful octopus
And this shot of a sensuous squid
Though he won’t claim a fetish for things that are wettish
You wouldn’t be shocked if he did

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you're Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we're all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you've got us laughing at you!

Now Ray is a young-earth creationist
Who never had time for a life
And he wonders if maybe, he might have a baby,
If he could evolve him a wife.

And the Minions are arguing politics
As the Mollies are howling for beer
It’s a strange sort of virtual community
But it doesn’t get better than here

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you're Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we're all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you've got us laughing at you!

It’s a pretty good post for Pharyngula
It’s got science, and politics too
Cos there isn’t much quite like an internet fight
If you’ve got nothing better to do.

And the internet reeks of stupidity
And the blogosphere's chock-full of dumb,
And I stare at my screen, and ask "what do they mean?",
And then drink till my feelings are numb.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you're Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we're all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you've got us laughing at you!

Wednesday, January 21, 2009

The Perfect Cuttlefish Meal... or perhaps not

(Updated--additional verse and pics as of 9AM East Coast US time)

Blake Stacey sends me the latest news from PLoS, an article on "Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins". Very cool... except... the prey they are handling are cuttlefish! That's right, the full title is "Preparing the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal: Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins". A bit of a shock to the hearts, I must say. Imagine if I had sent this page to him!

It is a fascinating article, though; I recommend it to any students of zoology, marine biology, behavioral learning, or just anyone who likes really cool stories about cuttlefish being killed, beaten, maimed, and eaten. (It's ok, these cuttlefish had just finished mating, and were just scooting off to die quietly somewhere.)

For those who don't like reading journal articles, I have translated it into Cuttlefish:

A dolphin may wish
For a cuttlefish dish
In the waters with old Davy Jones;
See, they find cuttlefishes
Are truly delicious
Except for the cuttlefish bones.
They also may think
That the cuttlefish ink
Is unpleasant, or nasty, or mean;
We infer this because
In a Gulf in South Oz
They’ve developed a dolphin cuisine!

Many dolphin techniques
Are employed, as it seeks
To find breakfast, or supper, or lunch
They are clearly no fools—
They can even use tools—
Hunting solo, or else in a bunch.
Some behaviors are thought
To be modeled or taught,
While some may be coded genetically;
The picture is muddy,
So researchers study,
And gather their data frenetically.

These bottlenose feed
Where the cuttlefish breed—
Tens of thousands all gathered to mate;
After spawning, they’re weak,
So the bottlenose seek
Them (of course, out of hunger, not hate).
The process, as planned,
Takes place in the sand,
So from cover the cuttles are flushed—
A vertical pose
Puts the bottlenose nose
So one thrust, and the cuttle is crushed.

He is not just yet eaten—
No, first, he is beaten,
Till the ink-sac inside him is burst
Then he’s beaten some more,
And it’s clear what it’s for,
Until most of the ink is dispersed.
Then the succulent morsel
Is flipped on his dorsal
And scraped on the sand till he splits,
And the cuttlefish bone
Is released on its own,
And up to the surface it flits.

Without ink, bone, or soul,
They are gobbled up whole,
With no cuttlebone left to be chewed
And this far off the coast
There’s no Emily Post
So there’s no reason not to be rude!
And that’s how it looks
When these bottlenose cooks
Make “the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal”;
But they didn’t ask me—
From my vantage, you see,
Such a dinner lacks any appeal.

I’d invite me a mermaid
To a place just for her, made
Of corals and seashells and pearls
Just me and my cutie,
My undersea beauty,
And around us the ocean unfurls
All the sights of the ocean
Are no matching potion
For the magic that’s there in her eyes…
Yes, if it were my wish,
The best Cuttlefish dish?
A delectable Mermaid Surprise!

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

A comment and a parable

A commenter, named MrPete
Left a message he thought was quite neat
In a very old post;
I’ll reply, as your host:
Pete’s neat feat is, at best, incomplete.

Verse aside... MrPete replied to a post from early last year, so I thought I'd be fair and address his comment where people can see it, rather than in the murky depths of the past. You may, if you wish, click the link for context, but most of it is fairly self-explanatory.

Here's something not from the choir :)

Welcome, MrPete; I hope you find the pews comfortable.

"Going to church" is meaningless. "Church" is a community, a set of people in relationship. How do you "go to" a relationship?

I’ll avoid the snarky 2-inch putt response to your first sentence, and simply note that if you replace “going to church” with “being part of a self-identified religious communal relationship”, the verse no longer rhymes. But oddly enough, the meaning remains the same. “Going to church” is, for children, the physical act of being dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning and taken to the place where the adults act like pod people (your experience may vary, but that was my first memory of church, from behind the soundproof window where we children were able to watch the services). For older children and adolescents, “going to church” may be the process of becoming part of or choosing to reject a community, or even a personal emotional experience. “Going to church” is also a quick and handy heuristic for determining “us” vs. “them”; just last night on the news, a Republican analyst was speaking about morality on the BBC, and used the phrase “good, churchgoing Americans” in this last, divisive manner.

Picking apart a verse because a very rich phrase, which has multiple and layered meanings, may have been inaccurate if you choose only the literal interpretation, is easy to do, and utterly meaningless.

"License" to be moral, or approved as moral, is also meaningless. "Moral" is simply a code of conduct.

The challenge isn't in sometimes following the code.

The challenge is in always following the code -- in word, deed, and thought. And not watering down the code just 'cuz it's hard to follow.

Which code? Seriously, of the thousands of interpretations of religious morality, which code do you always follow? Are they all moral? In which case, following a particular code vs. another is irrelevant. Are some immoral? In which case, how do you know which? Do you eat shellfish? Covet your neighbor’s ass? Seethe a kid in its mother’s milk? Cut your beard? Are any of these important?

If something is moral because your god says it is, and you believed that your god told you to drown your children, would that then be moral? If so, I would argue that religious morality is a license to be evil. If not, I would argue that you have a sense of morality that is independent from your religious moral code… just as atheists do.

God is far more about an achingly awesome love relationship than about harps and brimstone.

Mom loved me more than a friend, and in a whole different way.

My spouse loves me more than mom did, in a whole different way.

God loves me more than any of them, in a whole different way.

How do you know your spouse, and your mom, love you? I would hope that they would occasionally show you, and not just tell you. If, for instance, your mom beat you, but always told you it was for your own good, does that count as a “whole different way”? If your spouse demands obedience, gifts, and praise, in return for letting you keep part of your own paycheck, does that count as a “whole different way”?

You know they love you because of their actions, actions that you can plainly see, which you do not have to simply take on their word. They do not have to steal the credit from other people’s actions (my sister shared her dessert with me—thanks be to Mom! I found a twenty dollar bill in a snowbank today, praise my spouse!).

One-sided loves are often aching and awesome. Abusive relationships are accompanied by a panoply of hormonal and neurological cascades, not to mention the highly effective variable ratio schedule of reinforcement. This does not make them better; it just makes them “a whole different way”.

I think your rant is more against an organization than against becoming one who accepts God's love and as a result tries to be more like him.

Again, which god are you trying to be more like? Have you been practicing your smiting?

I have been called immoral simply for being an atheist. Presumably, the people who made this accusation accept their god’s love and as a result try to be more like him. Will you accept them as your peers? As your community? Will you reject them as not true Scotsmen—er, believers? I have no need of their standards; frankly, neither do they. Nothing of how they act has been made better by their beliefs. Nothing.

[Yes, we can argue over pain and suffering etc etc etc. But it's really just a bigger picture version of why mom made you do your homework and eat your peas... and why the whole bus suffered when Billy poured glue on Sally's seat...and why your big brother whupped the bully who broke your glasses :) ] :)

Oh, please. Is this a special pleading, a “god works in mysterious ways” answer to the problem of punishment? I refer you to above—if something is moral only because your god says it is, then infanticide could be moral. If you require something other than your god’s decree, your god is superfluous.

Your examples all focus on punishment or the threat of punishment. Is that your bottom-line reason for morality? Be good, or god will punish you to teach you that you are supposed to be good? I would hope that your mom explained why you had to do your homework, or eat your peas; if she simply said “because I said so” she is doing her child an injustice. If the whole bus suffered, I hope the school system has a good lawyer, and that the argument can be made as to why this was in the best interest of all the children, or somebody is going to pay. And I was the big brother, and never had to whup a bully.

[Edit--I just removed several smiley emoticons that I had inadvertently pasted into MrPete's comment. I do not wish to misrepresent him. 10:47 eastern US time.]

A Parable:

Your mom loves you… as such, she wants you safe. But she’s not terribly good at explaining her motives, and indeed her actions focus on trivial matters at times and ignore larger dangers. She wants you to stay inside, because it is a dangerous world out there (it’s a place where who knows what things you might learn!), so she tells you about the neighbor’s dog, which is always hanging around your yard looking for someone to bite. It’s a mean, vicious dog—Tommy across the street got bit, and had to get stitches and everything, and now he can’t come out of his house, which is why you don’t know him.

Funny thing… you’ve never actually seen this dog, and you do occasionally see kids playing on the sidewalk... But your mom loves you—she tells you so—so of course the dog has to exist. So you stay safe inside your house. Fresh air is over-rated. Meeting kids, learning stuff, over-rated. You might fall and skin your knee. Mom knows best.

You get to be school-aged, and Mom decides to home-school you, because it is so much safer in the house. Besides, there is the dog to think about. Horrible to consider, with those nasty sharp teeth. Poor Tommy. And Billy, too, and Sally down the street. She got bit so bad she is going to be in pain for the rest of her life! You’ve never met these kids, or seen or heard the dog, but you have to believe your mom—not just some of the time, when it’s easy. Don’t water it down cos it’s hard to follow.

Years go by; whenever you express doubt, your mother tells of another kid who had his ear bitten off, and reminds you how much she loves you and how much she has sacrificed to keep you safe. Hers is an unconditional love—just ask her. Don’t ask her to explain, mind you, just to once again assert that she is doing what she does because she loves you, and you don’t have to question that.

Of course, if I could, I’d like to get a message to you. You are shut up in that house, so it might be difficult to actually talk to you. Maybe I should put a message on the side of a bus that drives past your window:

“There probably is no dog. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

Monday, January 19, 2009

If a tree falls...

Ok, so... I just posted this as a comment on Pharyngula, but I like it enough to repost it here.

"When a tree falls in the forest,
There is sound", the people chorused,
But a pressure wave is simply not identical with sound.
I'm not making the suggestion
That it's not a stupid question
But this answer is as dumb as any other that's around.
It's less "answer" than "illusion";
It's assuming its conclusion,
So it's true by definition, but the definition's wrong!
Is the stimulus sensation?
An erroneous conflation
Of the pressure and perception--leave them both where they belong!
This ignores the useful labor
Both of Fechner and of Weber
Who invented psychophysics to explore the problem right
Now their sig-detection theory
Might make researchers grow weary
But it works to study taste and touch, and sound and smell and sight!

Besides, Danae rocks...

Sunday, January 18, 2009

Here's to you, Bishop Robinson.

You didn't see it. You didn't hear it. Neither did I. But Episcopal Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire gave a brief convocation today at the inaugural events in Washington, D.C.. I suppose CNN can't show everything that goes on... my only hope is that if the directive came down, "don't show the controversial preacher", that they apply the same rule on Tuesday.

With sincere and heartfelt apologies to Simon and Garfunkel...

We’d like to have you speak at our inaugural event…
We’d like to put your face up on the screen
Look around you; all you see are Democratic eyes.
Stroll around the Mall until it’s time to speak

And here’s to you, Bishop Robinson,
CNN—your speech they wouldn’t show
Wo wo wo
Bless us with tears, Bishop Robinson,
Heaven knows it can’t be cos you’re gay
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey….

Use another camera while the Bishop says his prayer.
Put it on a crowd scene for the broadcast
Keep him in the closet, Bishop Robinson’s not there
Most of all, we’ve got to hide him from the kids

Shoo, shoo, to you, Bishop Robinson,
CNN—your speech they wouldn’t show
Wo wo wo
Bless us with tears, Bishop Robinson,
Heaven knows it can’t be cos you’re gay
Hey hey hey, hey hey hey….

Standing on the marble steps, with Lincoln looking down
Going through the motions for TV
Laugh about it, Shout about it, Try to spread the word
Anyway, the Bishop wasn’t heard

Where have you gone, Marian Anderson?
The GMC is singing just like you
Ooo ooo ooo
What’s that you say, Bishop Robinson?
CNN sure kept you locked away
Hey hey hey… hey hey hey…

The text of Bishop Robinson's speech can be found at Pam's House Blend, and is well worth the read. Fortunately, the Bishop was not just talking to his god, but to thousands of people as well. Maybe his words will make a difference as a result.

Update--Pam's House Blend (and a few other places) has the video of the speech. My own reaction to the video... maybe it's me, but I think his prayer is a lot more moving when it is in the voice in my head, rather than Robinson's voice. Beautifully written, but...

And yes, I know "Marian" has one too many syllables. Sue me.

Free For All!

Good morning, class; Today, we’ll call
The “Academic Free-For-All”—
We’ll take a break from evidence,
From peer-review, from making sense,
From climbing up atop our giants
And other silly ways of science.
Today, I’d like to talk about
The theories often done without;
The ones held by tenacious few
(And yes, they laughed at Einstein, too!)

Today, I’d like to speak with you
On “Origin of Species 2
The sequel Darwin meant to write
But didn’t, due to oversight.
Of course, he did not know of genes,
But knew that, there, behind the scenes
Of each mutation, pulling strings
And mucking with all sorts of things,
The “unmoved mover”, if you wish,
There lurked a giant cuttlefish.

Today, dear students, (quiet please!)
Take out your old recycled trees
And open them—page ninety-three,
Now listen very carefully—
Who really wrote the Shakespeare plays
While Will was in his drunken haze?
Not Bacon—no, and not deVere,
Today I’m going to make it clear
Though “they” will claim my claim’s absurd
A cuttlefish wrote every word.

Today (sit down and shut your yaps!)
We side-step academic traps,
To tell the truth as we see fit
And put away that standard shit.
What holds a plane up in the air?
We’ve tested currents, lift, and prayer—
All crap! But in a dream last night
It came to me… and must be right.
We’re held up high and safe from harms
In a giant cuttlefish’s arms.

This Academic Free-For-All-ing
May seem fun, or just appalling!
If you’re dismayed, please have no fear,
There’s method to our madness here;
It’s meant to draw attention to
The structure to the work we do
The methods that we use, we must,
To get results that you may trust.
A Free-For-All Day sure is fun,
But aren’t you happy when it’s done?

cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

Oh, yeah, time for one of these again:

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Saturday, January 17, 2009

Oh, Nothing...

I wish to register a complaint. About nothing. And I'm serious.

It's this "strong vs. weak atheism" business. I'm sure you have heard the terms; they purport to categorize those who "believe there is no god" and those who "hold no belief in a god", respectively. A weak atheist allegedly does not believe, but a strong atheist allegedly believes that there is no god.

Stop using these terms. Stop it. Just stop it, right now. They are worse than useless.

Atheism is the "none of the above" category; it's the "nothing for me, thanks" equivalent. A co-worker of mine, when he found out I am an atheist, asked me "which god is it you don't believe in?" He was a christian minister, and must have thought himself very clever. Of course, he would have strongly believed in the god of the Bible--and it makes sense to speak of that as a strong belief. He had no doubts (despite plenty of reason to doubt, having lost family in a flood at a bible camp!), whereas others may have a few doubts, or grave doubts.

He also, as a devout believer, would have been a strong disbeliever in, say, Zeus. Which is why the terms are silly. Belief is object-specific. My sister is a believer--does that tell you much about her? Is she Christian? Muslim? Jewish? If she is Christian, what does that tell you? Is she Catholic? Lutheran? Baptist? Not all believers are the same (duh), and each of these different belief systems is positively defined, with regard to a specific object of belief. My co-worker, as an article of faith in his god, strongly believed that there were no other gods. His disbelief in Zeus was part of a positive description of his world-view, not merely an absence of belief in Zeus. (By the way, you may also have heard the argument "ask yourself why you do not believe in all the gods you don't believe in--I just apply the same reasons to one more god than you do." While this may be correct for some, it obviously would not work for my co-worker. His reason for not believing in god X was that god Y had told him not to--this does not generalize to god Y, and is also very probably not the reason an atheist does not believe.)

An absence of belief is just that--an absence. Zero on the scale. You don't get more zero by adding exclamation points, or more zeroes after a decimal. You may have positive beliefs that are relevant--I, for instance, believe that an understanding of the psychology and neurology of belief more than adequately accounts for the reasons people believe in a god, without an actual god being required at all--but this is a separate positive belief, not a "stronger absence of belief".

Stronger and weaker are terms that are appropriate when speaking positively of a belief, but irrelevant when speaking of an absence; to use the terms is to strengthen the anti-atheist position that speaks of "atheist agenda". Catholics may have an agenda, but non-catholics? Muslims may have an agenda, but non-muslims? (note--I am not using "agenda" to mean anything other than their defining beliefs.) "None of the above" does not have an agenda.

I looked in my wallet, to take out a note—
There was someone I needed to pay.
Now, I’m used to my wallet containing just nothing,
But there’s even more nothing today

I didn’t just not have a dollar today,
I didn’t have twenty or more!
I didn’t have hundreds, I didn’t have thousands,
More nothing than ever before!

It’s not that I’m working with negative numbers,
Just zeroes, and zeroes galore!
I thought that, with zeroes, just one was enough
But I’ve zeroes today by the score!

There’s nothing—just nothing—a whole lot of nothing,
There’s nothing all over the place
Just zeroes, and zeroes, and zeroes and zeroes…
I’m lucky they take up no space.

You’d think inundation with infinite nothing
Would be a particular hell
But the thing about nothing—no matter how much—
Is that nobody really can tell.

You can doubly my nothing, it's still only nothing,
At double-or-nothing the odds
And nothing is nothing, when speaking of money
Or even believing in gods.

Thursday, January 15, 2009

The Digital Pack-Rat, Vol. 11

I really don’t think my readership contains a whole lot of people who are offended by strong language, or who cannot recognize satire, but if either or both of those describe you, I am warning you that the last verse this time might be one you want to miss.

So, as it turns out, what PZ Myers did to a communion wafer is not something that can be taken care of by his local priest. No, this was so egregious that it must be handled by the Pope himself.

Oh, the Pope'll make you pay fer
What you did to that poor wafer
And you oughta be just mortified for doing what you did!
It's a sin to take a nail an'
Poke a cracker, cos impalin'
Is a Godly thing, that only He can do unto His Kid.
If you'd only done, say, homicide,
Or broke some sacred promise, I'd
Expect some lower lackey is authority enough
But to drive a nail through Jesus
On your blog, no less, to please us,
Why the Pope himself's required, when it comes to cracker snuff.

How is it that one could be blessed with a lovesick squid?

I looked up to the heavens and I wished upon a star
Though I knew it couldn’t hear, from unimaginably far,
I wished two arms to hold me, two arms to keep me tight,
Two arms that I could cling to every second of the night,
Two arms to keep me safe and warm, two arms to share my fun—
I meant “two arms in total”, but that star’s a silly one.

Musing on the merits of politeness…

Would you think me less than civil
If I gussied up my drivel?
Would your disappointment shrivel up and vanish in the mist?
Would you give me greater latitude
If I cleaned up my attitude?
I do not need your gratitude, goddammit, I am pissed!
Comments here may seem…well, rude,
But they’re rarely misconstrued
If you’d rather be a prude and miss the point, then go to hell.
Want polite? You’re out of luck, you
Smarmy bastard, cos you suck. You
Don’t deserve less than a “fuck you, and the horse you rode as well”

This one came before my “cuttlefish genome”, but was a quick response to the same story—Steve Pinker’s genome being made public.

The volumes that are written in a strand of DNA
Are a poetry we thought beyond our reach
But thanks to all the thinkers reading genomes such as Pinker's
We will see how much a molecule can teach.

More arguing over trying to force creationism into schools…

If ignorance was good for me, It's good for children, too;
If I get by not knowing bupkus, so by god can you.
Them science types, they use big words--don't understand a bit.
I'm happy with Creation, cos it keeps me dumb as shit.
If Darwin's evolution says we're all just beasts and brutes
There's no room for religion, or for spiritual pursuits.
Creation puts us humans at the top where we belong
Besides, don't want my kids to learn the fact that... I am wrong.

First, go read scicurious’s ode to the prairie voles in love. Otherwise, you won’t get the context for this next one. Besides, it's wonderful. So... go. read. I'll wait.

My worry is
With verses such as this,
With rhyme that flows in
May have found her bliss!
The premise, see,
Is: chemistry,
And not the moon above,
Will vary roles
Of prairie voles–
And people, too–in love!
Will some vole croon
Beneath full moon,
And woo the lass he’s chosen?
As Cuttlefish,
My subtle wish
Is–pass the oxytocin!

Yeah, this next one is offensive. It’s satire. I think my credentials on this issue have been established on this blog. The targets of my ire here are the commenters to an editorial in the Concord (NH) Monitor (as reported at Dr. Joan Bushwell’s Chimpanzee Refuge) about Bishop Gene Robinson having been asked to speak at Obama's inauguration. Don’t bother reading them—I have summed them up here.

Sing praises! Hallelujah! Thank you Jesus! Happy Day!
Unless, of course, you pervert, you're a godless bastard Gay--
All you faggots, dykes, and homos, all you lesbos, all you queers,
You've been persecuting Christian folks for too, too many years!
With your godless Gay Agenda, and your Liberal Elite,
You expect us decent people, now, to bow and kiss your feet?
Now this Robinson, this homo, who pretends that he's a priest,
Real Americans will tell you he's not Christian in the least--
He's unchristian, unamerican, inhuman, and insane
He's pretending he's religious just for monetary gain;
He's a hypocrite, a liar, he's a Communist inside
Cos America was founded with the Bible as its guide!
When he dies (and he'll die early--he's unhealthy, you can tell)
I can only hope he's happy sucking Satan's cock in Hell
While good Christians spend eternity just spitting from above,
Where we're gathered up in Heaven... because God, you know, is Love.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

The Cuttlefish Genome Project

So, Steve Pinker's genome is going to be made public. He comes across as quite willing to recognize genetic determinism, but in my view he is all too dismissive of our ability to systematically analyze our environmental variability. "Nonshared environment" is "just a fudge factor" in twin studies; to my ear, it sounds like a bit of an argument from ignorance. It should not be a fudge factor, it should be a fertile area for study. But for now...

They analyzed my genome, and they put it in a book,
Which they offered me, politely, so I thought I’d take a look.
I wondered what my genome could inform me of myself,
So I summoned up my courage… and I pulled it from the shelf.

It spoke in broad percentages and probabilities
And it warned we are unable to extrapolate from these;
The educated reader knows the folly of that task—
But the info’s on the pages, so it couldn’t hurt to ask.

My eyes, it said, were hazel, if I represent the mean;
But the distribution spreads a bit, and so my eyes are green.
I’m average height, and average weight; I’m healthy in my heart,
And I’ve got some good potential, or I did back at the start.

I ought to be a genius (that should make me a believer)
If I hadn’t scrambled half my brains with adolescent fever;
(The doctors say my fever was a nasty one-oh-eight;
Sure, my nature points to brilliance, but my nurture says “too late!”)

It says I’ve got a decent chance of having OCD
But I have to tell you, honestly, I think I disagree—
I’m not the sort to check my stove or light-switch all the time,
Not obsessive or compulsive… save for meter and for rhyme.

It tells me I prefer a blonde—I much prefer brunette,
Ah, but maybe there’s the perfect woman I have never met
It tells me I should love the taste of steak and kidney pie,
But I’ve never really eaten one—I guess I’d better try.

The listed probabilities all seem to interact
Like a winning hand in poker, less the one or two I lacked,
When I add them all together, It was plain for me to see
Just a chance in several billion that I’d come out just like me.

Monday, January 12, 2009

Reading This Just Increased Your Carbon Footprint

News Item: Being Alive Today Is Hazardous To The Environment.

erm... not quite... Actual News Item: The Environmental Impact of Googling

It’s getting to the point, these days, where looking at the news
Is utterly depressing—it’s the information blues;
Not merely the economy, although that’s bad enough;
But politics, environment, and scientific stuff—
For instance, just this morning as I had my morning cup
And read the recent news reports I just had Googled up,
I read a Harvard physicist (named Alex Wissner-Gross)
Accusing me of murder (well, not really, but it’s close)!
You see, my carbon footprint (which we know is really bad)
Was growing with each Google search and coffee that I had!
About the same for each of them, at roughly seven grams—
I looked around and saw… I’m part of several other scams!
My clothing uses pesticides, and fertilizers too,
Synthetics from petroleum and other sorts of goo;
My jacket and my shoes were made from something that had died
And someone earns a buck a day to make stuff from its hide
The other night I had a roast, a fine New Zealand lamb,
About as far as possible to ship to where I am—
I’d love to have some swordfish, but there’s hardly any left,
Though still so cheap to buy it that it might as well be theft.
My cellphone, so they tell me, is a cause of global war
For coltan and cassiterite, and other metal ore—
The cost of its convenience isn’t one I have to bear;
The tragedy, of course, all happens way, way over there.
My TV set, my microwave, my fridge, my stove, my car,
Each everyday convenience (all the work’s done from afar)
Is making me my own environmental wrecking crew —
Including, as it happens, this here verse I write for you.

I’ll try to shrink my footprint, and report on how it goes:
First, clothing—I’ll run naked through the January snows;
I’ll walk to work—no driving, and my bike is from Brazil,
Not local manufacture, so it hardly fits the bill;
I’ll turn off light, and shut off heat—or hold my class outside,
Reduce our carbon footprint, but increase our civic pride!

I can’t go to the store, because I’m giving up my car
But walking there’s a nightmare—I can’t carry stuff that far.
I’d have it all delivered, but I cannot make the call;
I’m giving up my cellphone, cos of genocide and all.
Besides, when they deliver, it’s this big enormous truck…

No wonder most Americans choose not to give a fuck.

Saturday, January 10, 2009

The Digital Pack-Rat, Vol. 10

While the ScienceBlogs are cooling their heels, I'll do a little housekeeping, and tidy up some of the comments from elsewhere. First, a reaction to a pro-Paliban website. The question at hand was--can this website possibly be for real?

Once upon a late December, If correctly I remember,
Waiting for the year's last ember soon to stop its cheery glow
Clicking through my browser's pages, while outside the winter rages,
Hoping that the words of sages from the screen would somehow flow
Though the internet's where words of wisdom rarely ever flow;
Odds are better it's a Poe.

But the horrors I envision, with each click and each decision,
As my brain endures collision with both web-page and bordeaux
Have my frontal lobe infected, which I thought had been protected
When Obama was elected, not Wasilla's queen of snow;
I had hoped we'd seen the last of her, and sent her back to snow,
It must surely be a Poe.


And my last comment of the old year, or maybe my first comment of the new year, I forget.

Around the world, the stroke of midnight seems to cause a riot.
In Cuttlehouse, this year at least, it passes all too quiet.
The Cuttlekids are off with friends, the Cuttlespouse online,
And me? I'm mostly lost in thought (a wee bit lost in wine).
Remembering the year gone by, my best in years (by far!),
And wishing you... the best of years... where e're it is you are.

Kent Hovind, with not much better to do while behind bars, continues to publish his "dialogs with God".

A dialog with god or dog
Is oftenest a monologue

The Great State of Oklahoma is attempting to officially dumb down science. Following a suggestion by George Orwell, their new anti-evolution bill is the "Scientific Education and Academic Freedom Act".

What Senator would ever choose
To stand opposed to Freedom?
Don't worry that the kids might lose
Their smarts--they'll never need'em!

Why, ignorance, in politics
Becomes a badge of honor!
The truth is, to these Senate pricks,
A designated goner.

Their ignorance, a point of pride--
A fundamental tenet--
Leaves students only qualified
For Oklahoma Senate.

A bit of a musing on why it is that so many people believe that humans have reached the point where evolution no longer applies to us.

There really is no mystery
In how these people think;
When all recorded history
Is evolution's *blink*;
If, from a movie, say we will
Remove a single frame--
The picture there is standing still
And must remain the same.
Our children look... about like us
They don't seem "more evolved"--
And so, case closed, no muss, no fuss;
The problem is resolved.
Of course, they're wrong, as I and you
Both know; the truth is this--
That Man has a myopic view,
And ignorance is bliss.

PeeZee? PeeZed?

There once was a man named PZ
Whose minions were easily led--
By the thousands, for him,
They would bow to his whim
Until pollsters were all filled with dread!

In a frankly bizarre ad campaign, a major burger chain will send you a coupon for a free burger for every ten friends you delete from your Facebook friends list.

Think of all your friends, deleted,
Just for burgers, barely meated,

Friendship--just like that, so fickle,
Just so you can hold your pickle

Your former friends, they are the ones
Who put the meat between your buns

If you'd trade friends for meat and mustard
I, for one... am just disgustard.

(And now this silly writing ends--
I'm off to sell my facebook friends.)

Friday, January 09, 2009

Thought For The Day

Wow! Somebody posted one of my poems on the BBC blog! Way down at comment 183. Comment 184 calls it "hardly poetry". (Actually, it is not one of my favorites at all--I always found it clunky and stilted--but objectively speaking, the writer of comment 184 is a jerk.)

More to the point, though... the question under debate is whether the BBC's "Thought For The Day", which currently is filled exclusively with religious voices (of various denominations, of course), should expand to include atheist Thought as well. The Beeb is opposed, currently:
Thought for the Day is a unique slot in which speakers from a wide range of religious faiths reflect on an issue of the day from their faith perspective. In the midst of the three hour Today programme devoted to overwhelmingly secular concerns - national and international news and features, searching interviews etc - the slot offers a brief, uninterrupted interlude of spiritual reflection. We believe that broadening the brief would detract from the distinctiveness of the slot.

Within Thought for the Day a careful balance is maintained of voices from different Christian denominations and other religions with significant membership in the UK. We are broadcasting to the general Radio 4 audience which regularly engages with the comments and ideas expressed by our contributors from the world's major faiths - whether they are believers or not.

Outside Thought for the Day the BBC's religious output contains both religious and non-religious voices in programmes such as Sunday, Beyond Belief, Moral Maze. In these programmes atheists, humanists and secularists are regularly heard, the religious world is scrutinised, its leaders and proponents are questioned.

Non-religious voices are also heard extensively across the general output in news, current affairs, documentaries, talks, science, history. These programmes approach the world from perspectives which are not religious. As, of course, do the other 2 hours 57 minutes of Today."
So... let's see if I have this straight. For 2 hours 57 minutes, anyone can talk; there is no requirement of belief or lack thereof. For three minutes, though, atheists are not allowed.

Excluding the atheists—sure, that’s ok—
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
Or judging your worth based on how much you weigh
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
Get out, if you’re black! Or you’re white! Or you’re gray!
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
And keep your mouth shut if you chance to be gay
So long as it’s only three minutes a day

Let’s bother the man with the ill-made toupee
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
And joke at the homeless, with no place to stay
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
Any group that we wish, we can not let them play
So long as it’s only three minutes a day
And look down our noses in utter dismay
So long as it’s only three minutes a day

It’s only three minutes; no need for dismay
If you choose to get huffy, and join in the fray
We’ll label you “angry” to keep you at bay
Dismissing your view as a public display
And repackaging it as some worn-out cliché
From a group with essentially nothing to say

And it’s fine if our freedom of speech goes away…
So long as it’s only three minutes a day

(and for the benefit of the writer of comment 184--Don't worry; I already agree with you, it's not poetry. I don't write poetry, I write verse. And it will not nourish your soul, for perhaps the same reason that it will not nourish the pixies in your garden.)

Live Free Or Die, Octopus Style

They're letting my Uncle Sid out of the slammer! (photo of Sid at the link... copies prohibited.)
Sid's great escape from the Portobello Aquarium is about to become permanent.
"We are still trying to catch a new octopus to replace Sid, who will then be set free."
Bummer for the new guy, of course, but good news for Uncle Sid!

...of course, as PZ points out, Sid has a short life expectancy, so it was probably time to go looking for a replacement anyway, before some little visitor to the aquarium asks why Sid has turned gray and started floating upside-down... So it turns out that freedom's just another word for no much time to live.

Hey, that's catchy...

Busted flat in Portobello, hiding in a drain
He was feeling just as trapped as he could be
Sid escaped from his little tank and tried to make it plain
He’d rather spend his last days in the sea

Five days later, Sid was seen… heading for the door
He didn’t make it, but you know, at least he tried
He saw an open doorway and he knew what it was for
He knew it had to lead to the other side

Freedom's just another word for not much time to live
But better than the drainpipe where he hid
They couldn't make him happy, so they gave what they could give
And it's good enough to do what they just did
Good enough for me, and my octopus, Sid.

From the warm New Zealand ocean, to the Portobello tank
Hey, Sid, he was an underwater star
But even if they fed him, he couldn’t give them thanks
It ain’t free food, if jail is where you are.

And now that Sid is growing old, and soon is going to die
(They don’t live very long, like you or me)
His keepers soon will let him go, and he won’t ask them why—
If you’re gonna die, you might as well die free.

Freedom's just another word for not much time to live
But better than the drainpipe where he hid
They couldn't make him happy, so they gave what they could give
And it's good enough to do what they just did
Good enough for me, and my octopus, Sid.

(la la la la...)

Wednesday, January 07, 2009

Love and "Chemical Cocktails"

In today's BBC News, we have a story by someone who obviously is not a reader of The Digital Cuttlefish. Specifically, the story asks the question "Is love just a chemical cocktail?"
It is said that love is a drug. But is it just a drug?

That is the contention of Larry Young, a professor of neuroscience at Emory University in Atlanta, Georgia.

Writing in the respected scientific journal Nature, Professor Young argues that love can be explained by a series of neurochemical events that are happening in specific brain areas.
In truth, Dr. Young does give lip service to the role of evolution, although he really appears to be more satisfied with his proximate causation--specifically, oxytocin.

I've seen this before, at a conference. Very cool, of course, and very incomplete. And again, to give him his due, Dr. Young does not disagree.
He believes there are other chemicals involved in strengthening that bond - it is just a matter of doing the research and finding out which ones they are.

"I'm sure that we are just beginning to tap the surface," he said.

"There are hundreds of signalling molecules in the brain - they all act in different brain areas.

"I think one day we will have a much better understanding of how all these chemicals interact and act in specific brain areas that have specific function that give rise to these complex emotions."
Mind you, I am utterly convinced that he can find every single chemical involved and still have an incomplete explanation. A complete proximal explanation is no ultimate explanation at all.

And then...
Having put poets firmly in their place, Professor Young will have to take on the arguments of scientific colleagues who might take issue with his view that love is all down to chemicals.
Them's fightin' words.

You've seen the Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem, I am sure. (IF not, go read it. Now. Before you continue.)

These verses are just for the BBC story...

The latest suspect, oxytocin,
Floods the brain when we draw close (in
Some perfumes they’ll add a dose, in
Hopes of that reaction)
The chemical increases trust,
So hopes are that it may, or must
Produce a love that’s more than lust
Or “animal attraction”

But oxytocin, too, controls
The bonding seen in prairie voles
Which act as if they pledge their souls
To one and only one;
Their cousins, though, the rats and mice
Behave as if they don’t think twice
And if some nearby rodent’s nice
They’ll surely have some fun

The differences twixt vole and mouse—
Why one’s a catch and one’s a louse—
If chemistry you would espouse
As why, I disagree—
The chemistry’s not why, but how
One rodent keeps its marriage vow
And one seeks out new fields to plow
Not why at all, you see.

(These would go between verses 2 and 3 of the original.)

Gotta run! Buy my book, link my site (to "cuttlefish"--see the comments to my previous post), be well, yadda yadda yadda...


Page One?

I had, long ago, noted that when one googles "cuttlefish", among the top returns is the creationist apologetics site "answers in genitals" (or something close to that, anyway). This loathsome bit of tripe is on the very first page, while at the time of my original writing, I think yours truly was on page 6, if that.

A couple of weeks ago, I noticed that "The Digital Cuttlefish" had managed to claw... er, jet... its way to the bottom of page one! Very nice indeed, even if still below AIG. Thought I, "probably not that easy to just... move up a google page so quickly."

Then came XKCD.

One cuttlefish comic, and XKCD is the third cuttlefish link (not counting image results), and your humble correspondent is back on page two.

Now, I have no problems with XKCD being way up there. What I have a problem with is Answers In Genitals being on page one still! And now, I know that there is a way (at least in theory) of getting a site bumped up in a relatively short time. Mind you, I don't know what that way is, other than to be XKCD, but perhaps one or more of you do know. Do I ask PZ to ask his hordes to pharyngulink The Digital Cuttlefish? Do I offer a fatted calf to the people at Google? Do I start drawing stick-figure comics on romance, sarcasm, math, and language?

I really, really, really don't like the idea of someone looking for information on cuttlefish, and coming up with the "fact" that they were intelligently designed to be a delicious "seafood delicacy". Despite, apparently, not being kosher. There are many sites (not just mine) that are much better answers for google to return (I am happy to see that the NOVA program and TONMO are both ahead of AIG).

Anyway, a reposting of my first reaction to AIG's silly creationism...

Similarity shows that a common designer
With similar blueprints and parts
Constructed the human and cuttlefish forms—
I swear by all three of your hearts.

The God who created the heavens and earth
And killed dinosaurs off in The Flood
Used the same old ideas again and again
You can tell by your copper-green blood.

But the clearest, most obvious clue to His Touch
Is the similar form to our eye
(They are really quite different, in various ways,
But if you won’t tell, neither will I).

Color-blind cuttlefish never see red
But they can see polarized light;
This common designer gets different effects
Out of human and cuttlefish sight.

Anatomically, too, these are two different eyes
They have retinas frontward-to-back,
And cuttlefish reshape the whole of their eye
Because shapeable lenses they lack.

The shape of the pupil allows them to see
To the front and the rear all at once
So similar, clearly, to what we can do—
If you dare disagree, you’re a dunce!

When Answers in Genesis says it’s design
And not just a matter of fitness
I know they’re not fibbing—right there, number nine—
Thou shalt not bear false witness.

I only have one little, lingering doubt
Though I really, I promise, am trying—
If it’s perfectly clear they see common design
It’s even more clear that they’re lying.

Tuesday, January 06, 2009

The Open Laboratory, 2008

I figure, out of all my readers there are maybe 3 who have not heard about this yet--the selections have been made for The Open Laboratory 2008, and I am quite honored to have one of my verses (and it's one of my favorites!) make the cut (for the second year!).

I'd tell you to go read all of the entries now (and it would be good advice--excellent writing, all of it!), but instead I will recommend that you wait until it comes out in book form. Much more convenient, and you have the added benefit of looking hip, cool, intelligent and 86% more physically attractive when you are seen with that book in your hand (increased benefits are derived from actually reading it).

Sadly, you will have to wait a couple of weeks for the book to actually be printed, so in the meantime, you can realize many of the same benefits by ordering your very own copy of "The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol. 1", which does include the verse that was chosen for inclusion in The Open Laboratory 2008. And, come to think of it, the verse that was chosen for The Open Laboratory, 2007. Oddly enough, both are science-oriented love poems. Perhaps a disclaimer is in order: If you are coming to this site only because you have seen the Open Lab posts, and think that all I write is scientific love poems... have a look around!

Now, how to order The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol. 1... there must be a button around here somewhere...

Support independent publishing: buy this book on Lulu.

Ah, there it is!

Lastly, for those who cherish the notion of going out and reading all those posts in their natural habitat, rather than having them delivered to your doorstep, I close with the list of selected posts (no, not the links, remember I want you to buy the book...but the links are available by clicking the Open Lab link in my first paragraph above)...

Adventures in Ethics and Science: Research with vulnerable populations: considering the Bucharest Early Intervention Project (part 1).

All My Faults are Stress-Related: Data, Interpretations and Field Work

Bad Astronomy: WR 104: A nearby gamma-ray burst?

Bayblab: A History of Beardism and the Science that Backs It

Cabinet of Wonders: A Rule of Thumb

Catalogue of Organisms: Are You Sucking on a Lemon or a Lime?

Charles Darwin's Blog: Someone should invent a device to look at the micro world

Cognitive Daily: How to make your eye feel like it's closed, when it's actually open

Cosmic Variance: The First Quantum Cosmologist

Dear Blue Lobster: Bloop: A Crustacean Phenomenon?

Denialism blog: Fountain pens

Dr. Jekyll & Mrs. Hyde: Why I blog....

Effect Measure: Important new flu paper in Cell: part I

Green Gabbro: The Igneous Petrology of Ice Cream

Hope for Pandora: Dear Reviewer

The Beagle Project Blog: Detecting natural selection: a pika's tale

Laelaps: Who scribbled all over Darwin's work?

Life, Birds, and Everything: Do we see what bees see?

Living the Scientific Life (Scientist, Interrupted): Audubon's Aviary: Portraits of Endangered Species

Mad Scientist, Jr.: Brain Extractions

Marmorkrebs: How Marmorkrebs can make the world a better place

Michael Nielsen's Blog: The Future of Science

Mind the Gap: In which science becomes a sport - hypothetically speaking

Minor Revisions: To Whom it May Concern

Nano2Hybrids: What IS a carbon nanotube?

Neurotic Physiology: Uber Coca, by Sigmund Freud, (reposted on Neurotopia 2.0: Uber Coca, by Sigmund Freud)

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Space Invader DNA jumped across mammalian genomes

Nothing's Shocking: Poster session paparazzi

Observations of a Nerd: Having Some Fun With Evolution

Plus magazine - news from the world of maths: United Kingdom - Nil Points

Podblack Blog: Smart Bitches, Not Meerly Sex

Pondering Pikaia: Social Clocks: How do cave bats know when it is dark outside?

Providentia: Dr. Fliess' Patient

Quintessence of Dust: Finches, bah! What about Darwin's tomatoes?

Reciprocal Space: I get my kicks from thermodynamicks!

Rubor Dolor Calor Tumor: Calor?

Science After Sunclipse: Physics Makes a Toy of the Brain

Sciencewomen: A reckless proposal, or 'Scientists are people too, and it's time we started treating them that way.'

Terra Sigilatta: Liveblogging the Vasectomy Chronicles

The End Of The Pier Show: On The Hardness of Biology

The Loom: Even Blood Flukes Get Divorced

The OpenHelix Blog: The Beginnings of Immunofluorescence

The Oyster's Garter: How a coccolithophore without its plates is like a grin without a cat

The Scientist: On the Nature of Networking

The Tree of Life: What is so bad about brain doping? Apparently, NIH thinks something is.

Tom Paine's Ghost: Biochemistry of Halloween: Installment 1

Tomorrow's Table: 10 Things about GE crops to Scratch From Your Worry List

Uncertain Principles: We Are Science

Wired Science Blog: Correlations: The Third Branch of Science?

A canna' change the laws of physics: Expect The Unexpected

xkcd: Purity

Digital Cuttlefish: The Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem

Monday, January 05, 2009

The Worms Go In

PZ reports on an email he received recently... which you can read all about for yourself if you like--it's not really my topic today. Just one tiny comment she made struck me, and made me feel sorry for her. "... I reckon I'd be a pretty miserable, angry person with a chip on my shoulder if I also believed that I was no more than worm meat at the end of the day." Poor woman.

When we are dead, we’ll feed the worms
And other stuff that writhes and squirms
And if you cannot come to terms
With that—well, use your head!
There are no ifs nor ands nor buts:
Bacteria within our guts
Will start to eat us; that is what’s
In store, once we are dead.

Yes, life is short and full of toil,
And when we’ve shuffled off this coil
Our carcasses will start to spoil—
There’s nothing wrong with that.
Our share of fish or pigs or cows,
And all the chicken time allows,
Is done. It’s only fair that now’s
The worms’ turn to get fat.

Should we die young, or old and gray,
The laws of nature we’ll obey
And spend our heat in mere decay,
Replenishing the Earth;
“Three score and twelve” may be our years
For love and laughter, hope and fears
And then—mere smoke—life disappears;
No heaven, no rebirth.

And with no heaven up above
Nor hell we ought be frightened of
It’s best we fill our lives with love,
With learning, and with fun!
Don’t waste a lifetime while you wait
For halo, wings, and pearly gate—
This is your life, so get it straight:
You only get the one!

I’ll have no moment lost to prayer,
To cleanse my soul and thus prepare
For passage to… THERE’S NOTHING THERE!
Those moments, all, are wasted!
I’m only here a little time
Before it’s bugs and worms and slime;
I’ll eat and drink my life so I’m
Delicious when I’m tasted!

Sunday, January 04, 2009

Ruloff Shows He Really Does Understand Hitler

An in-depth interview in the Vancouver Sun shows just what an unapologetic liar and propagandist the producer of Expelled is. His research on the methods of the Nazis brings to mind a Greek saying a friend of mine once told me: "I'm listening to your words, but I'm watching your feet". Walt Ruloff's words, as represented by the steaming pile "Expelled", show a misunderstanding of Hitler and his machinations. Ruloff's feet, on the other hand, show he has learned the dance well. He claims to be a Christian, but I have serious doubts that he believes in punishment for bearing false witness.

“The Darwinists have built a ‘Berlin Wall’
Dividing evolution from creation
They then insist their godless view is all
That can be taught in schools across the nation;”

“The First Amendment builds that wall, but that
Would never get the viewers into seats—
The truth? The simple truth would be too flat;
We need a lie that everyone repeats.”

“And who to mouth our lies? We need a man
Who’d sell his soul when others would decline;
A Black who’d advertise the Ku Klux Klan,
Or Jew who’d—hey, I know—How ‘bout Ben Stein!”

Seems Ruloff learned his propoganda well
This Christian man… who’s surely bound for hell.

Cuttlecap tip: Pharyngula

Friday, January 02, 2009

Olympia, mostly.

You might think me a bit frightened, seeing this menu--looking at it now, I just want to be back there. (This pic is from Nafplion--all others are from Olympia.)

The helmet of Miltiades. At the Olympia museum. I remember reading, last year, how the flames of the wildfires were surrounding this museum; seeing the charred stumps this past summer, I was, and remain, humbled by the dedication of the museum staff. These truly are priceless artifacts, and yet lives were in danger. Miltiades is known centuries after his death, but the people who saved the museum? Anonymous... at least to the vast majority of the world, including visitors to the museum.

The frieze from the Temple of Zeus... a stunning bit of work, and a grand example of the severe style. Note the serene, almost blank look on the face of the Lapith woman...

... while the faces of the Centaurs...

... are contorted with effort and pain. A sculptural morality lesson; the higher motives of mankind (rationality, logic, etc.) will always win over the bestial animal nature.

Beyond this arch is the ... erm... THE ... Stadium at Olympia. The original Olympic Stadium. Where the Olympic Games were originally held. Yes, I ran there. No, you don't get to see that photo.

Also at Olympia. Without words.

I have hundreds more pictures, of course. Thousands, really. Seriously. The temple of Zeus at Olympia was one of the wonders of the ancient world, and very deservedly so. Today, of course, the magnificent columns are strewn like so much cordwood, the result of an earthquake. Even what you see here is not "what remains" so much as "what has been restored." The gods have all died, and left the rocks to fend for themselves. Anonymous museum attendants save their memories from random wildfires.

No, no verse with these pictures. Nothing I could write would do justice.

The Digital Pack-Rat, vol. 9

All the xmas verses that got away--starting with a response to a youtube clip of ignorant buffoons pontificating on how the true meaning of christmas was being destroyed by having other belief systems ... basically, do what christianity had done in its turn.

I do not think highly of Mr. O'Reilly
(That's fine--he can do that himself)

And Gretchen's kvetchin' just pure leaves me retchin'

My guts out, the bleached little elf.

They do love the season, but don't know the reason

Their holiday comes in December

It was stolen from Norse, and from Romans, of course,

But these "journalists" must not remember.

These pinheads demand, but the Puritans banned

The observance of Christmas, you know:

True Christians could see that a creche or a tree

Was improper, and really should go!

So Gretchen and Billo, go purchase some brillo

And use it to polish your brains

So that maybe next year we can live without fear

Of your ignorant, selfish refrains.

As part of that continuing saga, you may recall, the (horrible, deplorable, sacrilegious, whatever) sign that the atheists put up beside the creche... was stolen! And yes, I stole the melody.

They came upon a midnight clear
Unto the Olympia Square
The night disguised them while they took
The sign the godless put there:
"It is our wish this Solstice time
That reason should prevail"
With hardened hearts and minds enslaved
The thieves may land in jail.

Still, tis the season to forgive;
To turn the other cheek.
Let's hope they've learned their lesson if
It's wisdom that they seek:
"Be kind unto your fellow man;
Treat them as you'd have them treat you"
There's room for you in the public square
But only if others fit, too.

The right to different views is where
The strength of our nation abides
The First Amendment makes it clear
The government cannot take sides;
The tyranny of majority
May change with the whim of the day
And someday you may need it too--
Don't throw your rights away.

My last (I hope) comment on this particular silly nonsense. This year, at least:

The traditional creche, to my thinking, is fine;
I won't mess with theirs if they don't mess with mine.
Not even the one at my town's public square
So long as my own has an equal place there.
If you want the display to be yours, and yours only,
Then keep it at home; hope you like being lonely.
Or join with the rest of us--come and have fun,
If you want a real party... invite every one!

Another in the long line of back-and-forth regarding the Cinci Zoo and FantasyGodLand or whatever it was called...

I'm looking for some funding; gonna open up a zoo
With cages of creationists, all blithely flinging poo
They're much more fun than pandas--much more active in their cages
With a longer line on Sundays, when they all sing "Rock of Ages"
The children love to point and laugh--they say "Hey look! They're praying!"
And when they talk, you almost feel they know what they are saying
But clearly it's just gibberish, not language like a man's;
(It shows itself--in transcripts, it comes out in comic sans!)

And lastly (this time, anyway), a response to an editorial. This year is Darwin Year, but sadly, it seems that some of those who will speak at Darwin Year events are (gasp!) atheists! Why can't those militant atheists be more like, say, Darwin himself, and act like the second-class citizens they are? Won't somebody think of the children!

I thought I saw an atheist, who dared to speak aloud,
Who did not meekly bow his head--oh, no, this man was proud!
Who, rather than--like Darwin--hold his tongue and keep his place,
Demanded equal membership among the human race!

I thought I saw an atheist--a scientist, as well--
Who dared to mention Darwin in the stories he would tell!
Whose glib association with the noble Darwin name
Would tar it with comparison to atheistic shame!

I thought I saw an atheist who read what Darwin wrote,
Who did not have agenda or religion to promote,
Who, on this anniversary, will stand in line to thank
A man who saw a view of life inside a tangled bank.