Friday, July 31, 2009

Eating Mermaid

Via PZ, and via SC (!!!), the news is that there is a fatwa on the subject of eating mermaid.

Now, as a cuttlefish, I have known a mermaid or two in my day. One, of course, preferred to go by the Greek, "gorgona", from which we get the monster "Gorgon"; there is no cute and cuddly Disney mermaid in Greek culture. The other mermaid I knew was decidedly cuter and cuddlier. I never had the opportunity, nor the desire, to consume either of them, so I want to make it clear that today's verse is not about either of those mermaids.

It is, however, about food. But (as my first Mermaid always reminded me)... the food is just an excuse.

A fish connoisseur made paella with Mermaid;
He thought the aroma was nice.
With garnish of seaweed (his sycophants “oui-oui-ed”)
And saffron infusing the rice.
He clarified butter, and started to mutter
“It tastes like it’s really Mazola”
Then added blue cheeses: “the trick, if you please, is—
With Gorgon, you need gorgonzola!”
With minimum bluster, he gutted and trussed her;
You see, in his studies, he’d learned
That the delicate features of mermaid-like creatures,
If left unattended, get burned.
The succulent breast of (as well as the rest of)
The meal, would make proud its creator;
I was told that one bite would bring utter delight,
And I could not refuse… so I ate her.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Where In The World Was Digital Cuttlefish?

You can know the answer, or find it out with an accurate globe and a set of calipers...

Take the distance, point A to point B,
For three points on the map, and you'll see
Where the arcs intersect,
Take a look! I suspect
You'll find someone who looks quite like me!

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Ah... Church Camp!

PZ reports on the Rapture Ready response to an atheist summer camp. Nothing that was not predictable, of course. (ETA: I forgot to mention, but should, that the germ of the idea for this verse came from commenter "William", here. Thanks, William!)

But I have to wonder if the Rapture Ready people have ever actually been to church camp. Ok, sure, some of them probably are conservative, staid, boring and godly camps, where same-sex groups gather to read scripture and look down on others. But that was not my experience. The following... was. The names are changed slightly to protect the innocent*, and to tell the truth I was not a terribly active participant in all the fooling around that was going on, but if anything it was far more than my report here alludes.

I remember Church Camp as a very happy place
Where adolescents gathered with each other, face to face,
And hormones started racing at a rather frightening pace,
And Jesus Christ was nowhere to be found.

I remember rainy days, and soggy, smoldering fires
With teenaged girls and teenaged boys and teenage strong desires,
And all the earthy fantasies that such a place inspires
And, Jesus Christ, we loved to mess around.

I remember Sarah, with her long and gorgeous hair;
She wore a string bikini, and she didn’t seem to care
If it slipped a couple inches while the counselors would stare,
And Jesus Christ himself would find her hot.

I remember Christie, with the braces on her smile;
The daughter of a preacher, she was very versatile,
And we knew that making friends with her was very worth our while,
And Jesus Christ protect us if we’re caught!

I remember learning about what the Bible meant,
Though I never really listened more than one or two percent;
My attention held by how the girls could help me pitch a tent,
And, Jesus Christ, I grew to love that place!

I remember going hiking, going swimming, playing games,
I remember every crush I had—I still recall their names—
Though I rather doubt such memories would fit the church camp aims…
But Jesus Christ? He never showed his face.

(* "Sarah" was actually Sara, and at age 17 she married a man she met at camp, when he was a counselor and she was 14, but looked 18. They spent a lot of time together that year. "Christie" was actually Christine, and a very sweet girl. I think she was my very first meaningful kiss.)

Friday, July 17, 2009

Wish Me Luck! (And Recipes!)

It's early, and I am about to go to bed. We are leaving Cuttlehouse at about 3:30 tomorrow morning, and will not arrive at our final destination until Sunday afternoon (local time). Yes, some time will be spent waiting in airports, but the vast majority of that time will be spent in the air.


And I won't be back here until, probably, the 27th. If all goes well.

So... If you are checking in and read this, I have two things to ask of you (especially if you are someone who has been here before, or plans to stop back here again):

1) Where are you? How did you find this blog? (the first because I note that google statistics shows me a number of people from the areas I am heading off to see, and I am curious; the latter just because I am curious. I suspect I know where the majority come from, but I could very well be mistaken.)

2) Can you get me a recipe? Seriously (and for both personal and academic reasons), I am looking for recipes. Specifically, I want old family recipes, especially if they are representative of whatever culture (from midwest US to middle east, from Nordic to Aboriginal, I don't care which culture!), and all the more especially if they have stories attached to them about the people who cooked and/or ate this food. No recipe is too strange, and no recipe is too ordinary, if it is (for instance) your great-great-aunt's favorite.

Take your time--I won't be back for over a week--but please, for the sake of my frail ego, don't let me come home to an empty comment thread! (If your family recipes are considered secret, you don't have to give the entire recipe, or you can email it to me and maintain plausible deniability.)

I am, perhaps uncharacteristically, perfectly serious about this request; I hope to use some of the recipes in a class I am teaching this upcoming Fall. Last semester, I only asked my students--I did get some nice recipes, for (among other things, just to show the variety) blood sausage, chitlins, and feta with watermelon. I shared with them a recipe for goat lung, which is not a family recipe, only because my family has a history of very bad cooks. My grandmother pan-fried spaghetti. Seriously.


Deepily, Sleepily
Digital Cuttlefish
Starting the countdown, to
Get on the plane;

Flying away from here
Hoping the week is not
Wholly insane.

In the words of Tim Minchin... "see you on the other side."

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Good News On The Parasitic Worm Front!

The Beeb is reporting on an article in the current edition of the journal Nature, reporting a draft genomic sequence for the Schistosoma flatworms (the nasty little buggers responsible for schistosomiasis, which kills hundreds of thousands of people each year. The Nature paper is fascinating; sequencing the gene has allowed the researchers to identify a great deal about the critter's physiology and behavior, and has led to many promising avenues toward combatting the parasite in humans and other mammals.

Readily, steadily,
Diligent scientists
Studying parasites,
Sequencing genes,

Target the worm that brings
Finding new treatments, and
Maybe vaccines!

Killingly, chillingly,
Deadly S. mansoni
Lives in your liver, your
Bloodstream, your guts;

Suddenly, somehow my
No longer seems like I’m
Totally nuts.

Crawlingly, gallingly,
Snail-hosted parasites
Work their way into their
Humans as well;

Now, these advances in
May save their hosts from a
Miserable hell.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Church Vs. Virus--Who Will Blink?

In an interesting look at the intersection of faith and science, we see another example of (I believe it was) Dennett's observation that religious practice may change due to scientific discovery, but that the flow of information seems to only go from science to religion, never from religion to science. In times of illness, people may turn to science, or they may turn to their faith, for comfort. Some fully expect healing miracles, but I would be surprised if many people felt that turning to faith for comfort would actually be harmful (in and of itself--I will assume here that people still see a doctor; if they turn to religion instead of medicine, we have a different story). Turns out, the church has found that some of its cherished rituals may indeed contribute to the spread of swine flu, and they are taking measures (as they should) to address the issue and to limit the spread of the virus.
A bishop has advised that holy water be removed from churches in a bid to halt the spread of swine flu.
The Bishop of Chelmsford, the Right Reverend John Gladwin, said at some churches people were invited make a sign of the cross using holy water.
"The water in stoups can easily become a source of infection and a means of rapidly spreading the virus," he said.
They are also asking people with flu symptoms not to drink communion wine from the chalice, and are advising priests to wear protective gear if they feel they must visit flu sufferers. Apparently, the Church recognizes the effectiveness of barrier methods of protection against viral infections. For priests, anyway, if not for people in Africa.

In sane and thoughtful words, which ought
To comfort and inspire us,
The Bishop says the love of God
Will not hold back a virus.
Holy water, used for prayers
By people in a group,
May somewhat inadvertently
Be turned to swine flu soup,
And spread the flu to others, who
Might dip their fingers there,
And so the Bishop, rightly, asks
His flock to take some care.

Communion wine, the Blood of Christ,
Where all may share a chalice,
May also act to spread the flu,
Though not through purposed malice.
The Bishop, faced with evidence,
Could not remain a fool—
Communion is a sacrament,
But still he changed the rule.
You now can take communion with
No wine, but just a wafer;
If Christ’s blood is infected, then
The cracker may be safer.

Lastly, those who get the flu
And want a priest to visit
Are apt to have some problems here
(Not unexpected, is it?)
The priests should wear an apron,
Surgeon’s mask, and sterile gloves,
Before they meet with sickly folks
To show how much God loves.
It’s simple, but it’s good advice
When comforting a carrier,
God knows, when fighting viruses
It’s best to use a barrier.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

A Parable

It’s new! Improved! Efficient!
It’s got power! It’s got speed!
There are some who’ll even tell you it’s the only thing you’ll need!
It makes medicines effective!
It makes buildings extra-strong!
It’s the reason that we’re healthy, and it’s why we live so long!
It can help us find more energy,
Or help us grow more food,
And begin to answer questions that we always have pursued.
When it breaks, it’s self-repairing,
Till it’s better than before,
So there really isn’t any competition any more.

But the market can be fickle;
Many buyers may refuse,
And prefer the obsolete, because it’s what they used to use;
Sure, it’s rather old and cranky
And it isn’t like it works,
But the buyers are accustomed to its problems and its quirks.
Is there any way to reach them?
Is this segment simply lost?
After all, they’d get more benefit, and suffer smaller cost!
I found a friendly framer,
And inquired for advice,
But the counsel that was offered had me thinking more than twice:

“You’ve got quite a nifty product,
And it’s working really well,
But you need to offer Heaven, and you need to threaten Hell;
You need to tell your customers
God loves them, every one,
And that purchasing your product is what Jesus would have done.
If you want to do some selling
(And you do) then I’ll be blunt—
You have to, have to, have to give the people what they want!
The problem with your product is,
You made it much too good!
If maybe you could cripple it, I think perhaps you should.”

“If you build a better mousetrap
Then the world will beat a path
To the older, lesser mousetrap with the smiting and the wrath;
It’s the mousetrap that they’re used to,
And aesthetically it’s nice,
And it doesn’t really matter if a mousetrap catches mice.”
So listened, quite politely,
And I thought a moment more,
Then I quietly went back to just the way I worked before.
No heaven, hell, or angels,
Gods or demons, prayer, or voodoo—
So tell me… if the choice was yours… well, what the heck would you do?

Inspired by this post.

Monday, July 13, 2009

Getting Ready To Fly

... well, at the end of the week.

I have been a bit quiet these last few days; real life is uncharacteristically busy. Among other things, I am getting ready for my second overseas trip in just over a year. No, I won't tell you precisely where, or I won't be able to do one of those "where in the world is..." posts. But... see... it used to rain when we went camping. Every time. We would show up at a national park during a drought, and there would be flash flood warnings that night.

Then my parents started traveling for real. And wherever they went, within a few months there was major unrest. I won't name names, but I blame the fall of the Soviet Union, the chaos in the Middle East, and even global warming, on my parents' travels.

And this trip is with them.

I’m heading to an area that struggles with malaria—
Today was spent in frantic preparation for that fact;
With bug repellant for my skin; my first week’s dose of mefloquine;
Permethrin sprayed on clothing, and I still could be attacked.

In truth, I’m really not concerned with flying insects; I have learned,
No matter if they bite or sting, I face a greater threat.
Nor predatory carnivore—one entity disturbs me more:
It’s humans that are scarier than anything I’ve met.

And not just any people—see, I’m traveling with my family,
And frankly, there’s a history that really gets me scared!
See, everywhere my parents travel, governments will soon unravel—
Doubt me at your peril, and it’s best to be prepared!

(The correlation’s spurious, and yet I still am curious,
And someday I may calculate and figure out the odds;
There’s some small probability, despite their false humility,
My parents may, statistically, be War and Chaos gods.)

So, anyway, this may be my last chance to say "buy my book", or "note the tip jar", or "don't bother praying for me, but if you have any decent advice, I am all ears"... especially that last one.

Don't know how much time I will have this week, and I doubt I will have any time at all next week (or internet, or sanity), but I plan on being back, with as many photos as I can cram onto as many SD memory deallies as I can afford.

It really ought to be a wonderful time, with only a slight but statistically significant chance that the world itself will end.

Saturday, July 11, 2009

Get off yer arses and vote!

Ok, so I voted. Some time ago. Took a bit of time; they want you to register. Worth it. If you tried earlier and could not get through... try again. And tell your friends. Seriously. Come on, it will take all of two minutes; they are your friends, aren't they? Tell your parents/siblings/children/coworkers/dog/cat/guppies, too--anyone who has an email address (or two, apparently).

See, the thing is... the threat alert is at ORANGE. Orange, people! ORANGE! The word that stops verse-mongers like myself in their tracks! (Ok, in truth, I have, on occasion, been put in a situation where I have had to rhyme "orange"... and I did. And not with "door hinge", either, as my brother once tried. No, I will not tell you the story; that is not what this post is about! This post is about voting!)

Seriously--just for fun, pretend that you are one of those people who falls for pyramid schemes. Tell 5 friends/relatives. Have each of them tell 5 more (and so on, and so on... as the shampoo commercial goes). The difference is, you will actually be making a difference!

Also, I think I figured out what to rhyme with GrrlScientist...

She should be first on any list—
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Let no one’s vote be lost or miss’d—
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Let one and all her cause assist—
Come join with me; I must insist!
Just move your fingers, hands, and wrist--
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Come raise your voice and clench your fist—
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Come march, or strut, or do the twist—
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Her cause is just; you can’t resist;
Don’t let her lose, or I’ll be pissed!
(I’ll stop for now—you’ve got the gist)
GrrlScientist! GrrlScientist!

Thursday, July 09, 2009

I'm In Love!

I like my food spicy; some like their food bland.
I like an adventure; some want their lives planned.
My love is a woman who takes her own stand
While others want someone whom they can command.

While some treat their love like a delicate flower—
Watched and protected, locked up in some tower—
My love, I am certain, has shown she has power,
Which grows every day, and in truth, every hour.

My love has a power, which must be respected;
She’s earned it, of course, she’s not falsely protected
To make up for promises long since neglected,
Like some I could name, though that’s not unexpected.

My love is amazing; my love never tires,
My love, like a goddess, compels and inspires,
A muse to the people—like Dawkins or Myers—
Who wear on their sleeves scientific desires.

Some long for the common; we put our reliance
In methods where evidence earns its defiance;
We’ll climb till we see even further than giants—
The woman I love is a beauty called Science.

What... you want context? Ok, here.

Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Applied Religion 101A-- Agriculture

So it seems that Science and Religion are two separate, different, but equally valid ways of knowing. Or so the claim goes, anyway (oddly enough, it appears the majority making that claim are of the religious camp). Of course, science tends to converge on a consensus about a particular topic, and religion tends to stake claims to different answers, which they will defend at any cost.

But hey, they both have things they can contribute. It is clear that, say, agriculture has been historically associated with religion, and more recently with science. So both must help, no? Of course, we could compare the progress made by each camp in the centuries they have been associated with agriculture... but that would not be fair--evidence is part of the scientific way of knowing, which is only one way. It could be that the smaller yields we used to see were of holier crops...

They told me their religion gave “a different way of knowing”,
In addition to experiments, I also learn through prayer;
The precious love of Jesus is what keeps my garden growing—
It’s the fertilizer used, along with water, sun, and air.

While science speaks of Nitrogen, Potassium and Phosphorus,
Religion speaks of Angels that can help my plants to grow;
Like Europe meeting Asia at the strait they call the Bosporus,
Both Science and Religion meet where I have weeds to hoe.

Generations of selection give varieties that thrive—
Horticulture, as a science, helps me constantly, I note;
But Religion also helps me! Why, to keep my plants alive,
I make sure, in planting season, that I sacrifice a goat!

There are artificial pesticides, or totally organic,
And the scientific knowledge can support me either way,
And Religion also tells me I have no real need to panic—
There are prayers and incantations that can keep the bugs away!

When the time has come to harvest, then technology and Science
Have combined to help me multiply the bounty of the fields.
And, of course, the Gods and Angels where I’m placing my reliance
Are (I’m certain) doing something to the quantity of yields.

The power of Religion, as I pray for intervention
While the atheistic farmers on their tractors point and smirk,
Is tremendous and insightful, though I think I ought to mention
I’m beginning to discover… that it really doesn’t work.

Tuesday, July 07, 2009

Lonely Percy

Heh. So, PZ tells us about the Missing Universe Creation Museum, a cute little place that reminds us just how wrong someone can be and still claim to have a clue.

In particular, this site loves to use one particular phrase (in bold, italic, bright red letters): "If you don't believe God created all living things, male and female, in 6 days.... How many millions of years was it between the first male and the first female?" Just in case you think maybe they meant something else, their "Evolution Test" includes questions "Which evolved first, male or female?" and "How many millions of years elapsed between the first male and first female?"

In the spirit of Tim Minchin's "Tony The Fish" (click for video, or just keep reading and I'll imbed the video below), I give you the story of Percy... a very lonely young man.

Percy would wander for years at a time;
He was terribly sad and incredibly lonely—
Percy was looking for love, but too bad;
The world had, so far, evolved male creatures only.

Percy was restless, and anxiously watching,
He knew what he wanted; he wanted a wife.
(Although, since the female had not yet evolved,
He had never seen women in all of his life!)

For long generations, his forefathers sought
For some womanly tenderness, softness, and mercy,
But cold evolution denied them their wish;
Now the burden was borne by poor, motherless Percy.

From Grand-dad to Father, from Father to Son,
Generations would pass, without calling for sex.
I haven’t a clue how they managed to do it;
The method, it seems, is a little complex.

Percy has walked tens of thousands of miles
In search of a hopeful mutation or two.
You see, he has parts that he thinks may be useful,
Which haven’t, as yet, had a damned thing to do.

Far away, on the shores of a vast, distant ocean,
A small population is camped by the water,
Where all by themselves, they just sit there evolving,
Granny to Mother, and Mother to Daughter.

Someday, perhaps, as he wanders and wanders,
Percy could find, with a great deal of luck,
He may stumble upon this remote population,
And finally end up with someone to love.

Oh, and here's Tony The Fish!

Sunday, July 05, 2009

Happy Birthday To Me...

Yeah, well, I was going to wait until midnight to post this, but I'm sleepy. And old, too. So there. Besides, in some parts of the world it has been my birthday for over half the day already! Six July, wherever you are...

I’m not that old, it seems to me;
Not even half a century,
In truth a mere four dozen years—
It’s not as bad as it appears—
To live so long it is my fate;
The Cuttlefish is Forty-Eight.

Each year, I take a look behind,
To see what changes I may find;
The aching knees, the fuzzing eyes,
The clothes that seem a smaller size,
Who knows what other ills await?
The Cuttlefish is Forty-Eight.

The CuttleSpouse is doing well
Although the job-search sure is hell.
The CuttleKids amaze me still,
In truth, I hope they always will—
Who knew that kids could be so great?
The Cuttlefish is Forty-Eight.

This year was not the worst, or best;
I’m not elated, nor depressed.
There’s been some good; there’s been some bad,
As in each year I get to add;
So take a pen and mark the date—
The Cuttlefish is Forty-Eight.

So, yeah... Last year, my birthday was the last full day overseas (again, thanks in humongous part to my readers, without whose amazing generosity I would have had to decline my amazing opportunity), which I spent (among other things) climbing Mt. Vitosha, just outside of Sofia, Bulgaria. No way this year could have topped that, I suppose. Currently, I am preparing for another trip (so I wait that long to leave the continent for the first time, and I get to leave again in just over a year?), so this past year is a bit of a stay-at-home sandwich.

Anyway. Now, the important part. Would you have guessed 48? Older? Younger? Does this blog make me look old?

Wednesday, July 01, 2009

The Digital Pack-Rat, Vol. 19

It has been raining here for roughly forty days and nights; I am partway through several books and several chores; Cuttledaughter is a happy graduate and off having fun; it must be time to collect the detritus, flotsam and jetsam of the past couple of weeks' worth of comments.

I begin with one that took no thought whatsoever on my part; all I did was take PZ's post and translate it to cuttlefish:
Like shooting flies with howitzers
Or fighting ants with mines
John Lynch will take his intellect
And decimate Ben Stein's.

The program claims the topic
Will be "Why Ben Stein Is Wrong".
Condensed, of course--the unabridged
Is several days too long.

No matter how it's edited,
I have a nagging hunch,
It's going to be a long one, so
You'd better pack a lunch.

(Ok, I've said what PZ said
And took so little time--
I wonder--how come Myers never
Writes his posts in rhyme?)

Speaking of cuttlefish, Cuttleson just came back from a visit to the semi-local aquarium; he spoke of seeing a 600-pound turtle, of a huge octopus that "looked like he kept turning inside out"... and his favorites, the cuttlefish. And no, he does not know I write this. I'm so proud... I'd give him an award, if I could...

Ok, maybe not a Templeton award:
Stealthily, wealthily,
Billionaire Templeton
Offers his money, with
This little hedge:

Topics appear to be
Variants on the
Creationist wedge.

Those Templetonians... I wish I had the dilemma of choosing between accepting their tons of money or being a good cuttlefish. I could use the money. (I am reminded a bit of Romeo & Juliet--V.i.78-79; see if you can guess the lines before you look them up.) Oh, well. At least others are in a position to question and refuse such generosity:
The goal of that Templeton chap
Was to re-write the scientists' map;
Though they thought it seemed odd,
He would print "Heere be Godde"
Where cartographers once left a gap.

Some scientists, sensing a trap,
Caused a ruckus, or maybe a flap
When they turned down his money
And said it smell'd funny
As if it were printed with crap!

Some others jumped right in his lap
Took his money in less than a snap
So the folks in the first
Group, expecting the worst,
Advised they be tested for clap.

See, there I am disobeying my rules about limericks, too. Oh, well. Could be worse. At least I was not off hiking the Appalachian Trail:
Nothing could be keener than to be in Argentina in the morning.
No one could be sweeter than my little senorita in the morning
When I say I'm camping
The Appalachian trail
Honestly, I'm tramping
With some Argentina tail
Any politician will be hungry for some fishin' in the morning
Lordy, she's appealing, and my rod could have her reeling in the morning
If I had Aladdin's lamp for only a day
I'd make a wish and here's what I'd say
Nothing could be keener than to be in Argentina in the morning!

See, I'd never be able to pull off a Sanford; I am not nearly so technologically savvy. I would never be able to lose my entire staff for a whole weekend (oh, wait--no staff); hell, I can't even figure out having to register to comment at a site:
User registration
Only leads me to frustration--
Though I try to do it properly, I always mess it up.
So I'll probably just lurk here
While you people go to work here
And while PZ finds some German beer to overflow his cup.
So I guess I'll read the greetings
Posted from the Lindau Meetings
Though it seems to me my invitation must have gotten lost
I'd report in rhyme and meter
With my German co-host Dieter
But apparently the Germans know... I ain't no Robert Frost.

Lastly... a comment on an unconventional but biblical approach to overpopulation:
With zero reproduction rate, and population static,
There are no ills of over-use; it's really quite pragmatic!
A self-sufficient microcosm, Eden was sustainable--
I don't know why you think this situation's unexplainable.

But since Eve bit the apple, well, we've reproduced like rabbits,
And the world has suffered greatly from our numbers and our habits;
No more a balanced system that could just as well be sealed,
As the writer of your email has so cogently revealed.

A Malthusian catastrophe could surely be prevented
If with zero population growth we'd only been contented;
The population problem is tremendous and complex,
And it's all because, in Eden, we decided to have sex.