Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Happy Blasphemy Day, Take Two!

Ack! I forgot! I have an illustration for my Blasphemy Day verse--another brilliant drawing by Michael McRae! So I'm re-posting the verse here, so that it hits the rss feeder again and McRae gets the kudos he deserves. (Thinking about maybe putting a mug up in the cuttleswag, with this pic and this verse...)

The first amendment means, to me,
The right to play at blasphemy;
The right to say “There is no God”
Without the threat of firing squad.
To speak, or sing, or draw, or write
And not be paralyzed with fright.
To mock Jehovah if I wish;
To point and laugh at Jesus fish;
And though the image strikes me weird,
To pluck Mohammed’s silly beard.
To say such things as I may choose
Regardless of opposing views.

About the pow’r of Holy Writ
I proudly do not give a shit.


Happy Blasphemy Day!

The first amendment means, to me,
The right to play at blasphemy;
The right to say “There is no God”
Without the threat of firing squad.
To speak, or sing, or draw, or write
And not be paralyzed with fright.
To mock Jehovah if I wish;
To point and laugh at Jesus fish;
And though the image strikes me weird,
To pluck Mohammed’s silly beard.
To say such things as I may choose
Regardless of opposing views.

About the pow’r of Holy Writ
I proudly do not give a shit.



Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Offensive Billboard Removed By Courageous Bigot(s)




It almost made me ill, Lord,
What I saw up on that billboard
Down at Poplar Ave and High Street, as I drove along today;
I was passing by, commuting,
When I saw a man saluting—
In a uniform and everything—but doing it while gay!
It’s offensive and disgusting,
How he’s standing there, just lusting
(You can see it in his eyes, I think, or maybe in his smile)
We must all protect the children,
Who must find such smut bewild’rin’,
And remove these homo billboards as offensive, crude, and vile!
Must we really see gay faces
In our normal, public places?
Must they rub it in our faces that they’re living in our town?
It could jeopardize the traffic,
Standing there, all pornographic—
For the benefit of everyone, I had to tear it down!

I’m all for the First Amendment
But the messages these send, meant
That my children might think homos are the same as you and me
So I used my free expression
To remove their indiscretion
Now the Memphis that we live in is decidedly more free!
There are other billboards out there
That the world can do without, where
People see them on their way to work, with children in the car—
Why, it’s bordering on criminal:
A sign on which two women’ll
Be saying that “We’re married, and God loves us as we are”!
I’m not normally so pensive
But these signs are so offensive,
And what’s worse, they’ve got me thinking, which I really hate to do!
If the message is far-reaching,
What a horror that they’re teaching—
What if people start believing it… that gays are normal, too?


(I could have sworn I saw this story on, but it is not there now. Poor memory? I certainly hope so.)

Sunday, September 27, 2009

An Answer In Limerick Form

Hmph. PZ gets the emails; I don't. He gets two-inch putts handed to him; I don't. So, since he posts his email, I guess I'll just take the chance and respond to it anyway. "Advice for Atheists" indeed. I refuse to use Comic Sans, though.

1. Stop being so smug.

This “smugness” to which you object
I’d invite you to closely inspect:
Go on, open your mind,
Take a look, and you’ll find
It’s not smugness—we’re simply correct.

Your description’s a bit of a mystery
When compared to a glance at the history—
You know God’s mind so well
You consign us to Hell
And think it’s our rhetoric that’s blistery?

You claim to be humble and meek
Though for God you’re entitled to speak
In that book on your shelf,
Jesus says so himself!
There’s hypocrisy in your critique.

2. Don't assume every piece of Christian evangelism is directed at you - we want the undecideds, not the decided-uns.

Imagine my shock and dismay—
It’s not me that you want? Well, ok…
But we still may collide;
See, I can’t stand aside,
So I’m here—between you and your prey.

“Undecideds” deserve to be free
From your bronze-age mythology, see?
So although you’re upset
That I pose you a threat,
I’m afraid that we’ll never agree.

3. Admit that the debate about God's existence is complex - and that it can, depending on your presuppositions, be quite possible for intelligent and rational people to intelligently believe in an intervening deity who communicates through a book.

This is something I’ll surely admit—
One could think that a god was legit,
And may speak through a book,
Into which you may look…
If your presuppositions were shit.

Well, of course the debate is complex—
Why, the rules are designed to perplex!
An omnipotent being
Who hides from our seeing?
Of course such a concept should vex!

I have a book, too, you could buy!
And I’m really a reasonable guy—
If you’d just call me “God”
(I’ll admit, it feels odd)
I would (unlike Jehovah) reply!

4. Admit that the scientific method - which by its nature relies on induction rather than deduction (starting with a hypothesis and testing it rather than observing facts and forming a hypothesis) - is as open to abuse as any religious belief, and is neither objective nor infallible.

While it’s simple to suss out your aims
As your strawmen are playing at games
An empirical test
Can put questions to rest—
Are there any to question your claims?

You may claim we are one and the same,
Though I think you know better—for shame!
Unless you will admit
Your faith might not mean shit,
Then your challenge is nothing but lame.

5. Try to deal with the actual notions of God seriously believed in by millions of people rather than inventing strawmen (or spaghetti monsters) to dismiss the concepts of God - and deal with the Bible paying attention to context and the broader Christological narrative rather than quoting obscure Old Testament laws. By all means quote the laws when they are applied incorrectly by "Christians" - but understand how they're meant to work before dealing with the Christians described in point 3.

Your advice would be all sorts of fun
If, indeed, such a thing could be done!
With cacophonous voices
Of myriad choices
You want me to stay true to one?

Just imagine my terrible plight—
I must find the religion that’s right,
Though the simplest look
In a history book
Shows, for centuries, all of them fight!

It is more than a little bit chilling
When one sees how incredibly willing
The believers in God
From an alternate squad
Are disposed, for His sake, to do killing!

So please tell me, now, which one is true?
I would be as enlightened as you!
I would argue just one
(It would really be fun!)
And I’d do it, if only I knew!


Friday, September 25, 2009

"Is God Dead?" Redux

At the US News & World Report website, the "God & Country" column has a couple of recent stories of interest. Of course, there is the poll that PZ links to, but there is also a brief bit on the recent death of John T. Elson, the Time magazine editor responsible for the "Is God Dead?" issue. Poking around through various different obituaries (here, for example), I find (not surprisingly) that the firestorm that erupted around that issue has not subsided. People are using the comment threads to Elson's obituaries as a forum to continue their arguing (I almost said "continue their debate", but that would not be true).

So, is God Dead? I say no. Something which was never alive cannot properly be said to be dead; trees may be dead, but not stones; birds may be dead, but not clouds; people may be dead, but not living-room sofas. If we may say God was alive through the thoughts of believers (the "Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus" version of being alive), then God is still not dead, because there are still believers.

Which brings us back to the poll. "A new survey says a quarter of all Americans are likely to claim to have "no religion" within 20 years. How do you view the boom in Americans without a religious affiliation?" With fewer and fewer believers, is God (in the "YVtiaSC" version) dying? Answer: mu. The question is useless. What matters is the actions of those left who do believe, whether they are a huge majority, a bare majority, a large minority, or even a handful.

The sort of true believers who will never spare the rod
For they know that they are following the sacred will of God;
Devout and faithful followers, the ones for whom Christ died,
Or the ones who know that Allah will be watching them with pride,
The servants of Jehovah, who see prophecy fulfilled
When they look upon the legions of the heathens that they’ve killed,
The good and gentle pilgrims who burned witches at the stake
Which was only right and proper, and was done for Heaven’s sake;
The powerful inquisitors, the torturers, the beasts,
The sexual molesters who still hide among the priests,
Fanatic true believers, who, as part of Allah’s powers
Would hijack planes and crash into the World Trade Center towers
The actions of believers, and the deeds of the devout,
If you’ll pardon me, are things that I could really do without.

Thursday, September 24, 2009


I have been waiting for this one. There have been hints in the news, then announcements that announcements were to be forthcoming, and finally there are pictures and stories and everything: a huge Anglo-Saxon gold hoard has been found! This past July, in a farmer's field, by a metal-detecting enthusiast, Terry Herbert.

I have used a metal detector a grand total of once, years ago. A friend had made one from a kit, I think, and had planned to make a living (that summer, anyway) walking up and down the beach and finding buried car keys, watches, and other things that tourists would gladly pay him lots of money for. I don't think anything actually ever came of it. My friend gave up too quickly. Mr. Herbert, on the other hand, has been at this for 18 years! I would love to know what sorts of things he has found in that time, to keep him going.

But back to July's find. Over 5 kg of gold, over 2.5 kg of silver, and seemingly all of it significant. The metalwork is superb, and the collection large enough to suggest that this belonged to someone of real importance. It includes the gold decorations from sword hilt plates and pommel caps, buttons, cheek plates (or at least one) from a helmet, armbands, crosses, and more (check out the slide show at that link--I don't know how to link to it directly. Most stunning to me is the photo of a couple of pieces of the treasure sitting on the surface of the field, having been plowed up by the farmer. Just sitting there. Beautiful, historical, ancient, gold). It appears to be primarily if not totally a male collection; trophies from battles (one, or several?), as described in Beowulf. The collection includes "boxes and boxes" of items, literally hundreds of individual pieces. Many, I am sure, would have been significant finds by themselves; taken together, this is staggering.

Terry Herbert took his gear
And set out for the field;
He had his hopes, but no idea
Of what the day would yield.
For eighteen years, he’d searched for coins
Through rolling hill and fold,
When in the field of a farmer friend
This summer, he found gold.

The largest Anglo-Saxon hoard
To date, is what he found.
Five kilograms of gold, and more,
Lay buried in the ground.
Gold fittings from the hilts of swords
Inlaid with precious stones
The trophies of a battle?
There are still a few unknowns.

As treasure, art, and history,
This find is just immense.
The Queen, by law, now owns it,
Though she’ll pay a recompense.
And Mr. Herbert’s place is sealed
In the annals of collectors;
Me? I’m investing in whoever sells
His brand of metal detectors.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

On Prayer (And Introducing A Real God)

“In prayer, you should stay silent.” ”No, you have to pray out loud!”
“Your thoughts, you share with God alone.” ”No, share them with the crowd!
“Your prayers must follow models; you can’t make them up yourself!”
“If prayers are from the heart, then leave the Bible on its shelf!”
“Your prayers are adoration to the lord, thy God, above!”
“If you ask, it shall be granted, be it health, or gold, or love!”

With all the disagreement on the proper form of prayer,
It’s enough to make you wonder if a God is really there.

So, yeah, the New York Times Sunday Magazine has a story today entitled "The Right Way To Pray?", with the tag line "Americans aren’t sure they know how to talk to God. Fortunately, there is plenty of instruction available." Not "Many Americans", or even "Most Americans", let alone "Some Americans". Americans. So I guess I am not sure I know how to talk to God. Fortunately or unfortunately (see how easy that was?), there was this article to enlighten me.

(Oh, there was also a link to the comments section, with the phrase "How do you pray? Share your experiences." Again, the assumption is there, taunting me.)

The article, predictably, found that the "plenty of instruction" often disagreed (but one is left with the notion that, no matter how you do it, it is better to pray than not to... even though the author does not pray, himself). Even better, the comment section disagreed. Not nearly enough atheist voices among them for my taste, but that is just me, and you will recall from above that I do not know how to talk to God.

Anyway, I have come up with a solution.

Part of the problem, of course, is that these people are talking to a fictional entity, and asking for advice, or saying how cool He is, or asking forgiveness of Him rather than of the person they slighted. They aren't getting answers, because they might as well be asking the Cat in the Hat. So, it seems to me we need a Living God. And heavy though the burden may be, I am hereby declaring myself to be a god. Maybe the only one, for all I know, but I do know that I exist, and that I can give advice, and that I can declare myself to be a god.

So. The first question, then, and the reason for me being a god in the first place, is this silliness about "what is the right way to pray?" No more asking a mute god and getting to make shit up; I am a god that will actually give an answer. There is a right way to pray, and as soon as I decide what it is, I will let you know.

Ok, I have decided.

First, I don't want you praying to me at all, although I will tell you how to if you must. You see, most of the stuff people pray for, I can't give you. I'm not omnipotent, nor omnipresent, nor omniscient. There is a name for the sort of god who is those things. Fictional. Me, I'm just me, although I am now a god. Because I said so. Exactly the same authority as any other god.

So, no praying to me except in conditions which require you to. For instance, if a different religious group gets permission to pray in public school, and in order not to violate the establishment clause of the First Amendment you need to have an official prayer to me (by the way, in situations like this, I not only will accept your prayers, but I will demand them--I am not a fickle and jealous god, but if I were there would be plenty of precedent). If your principal or superintendent doubts your religious sincerity, have them call me. I will assure them that, yes, I am a god, and yes, I require a very particular prayer ritual. Should they question it, I can only ask that they likewise question any and all other religious rituals from other gods.

The ritual? Oh, it is fairly simple. You take a relatively small animal (a large rabbit, for instance, or a small lamb), and have two strong people hold it firmly. While shouting, loudly (if at school, I require the public address system to broadcast the entire ritual), the verse "The Octopus Gods", repeatedly, but slowly, stab the creature with a well-sharpened number two pencil. The goal is to get it to scream, loudly and horribly, as it dies. If it takes a while, repeat the poem.

I very seriously do not anyone to pray to me. I sincerely hope this ritual is never used, not even once. But it is the only proper way to pray, according to this self-declared god. And if any other religion gets their prayers in public school, I want mine there too. Well, actually, I don't, but the law is the law, and if one religion gets in, we all do.

It occurs to me that there are some other benefits of being a god. For instance, one of the chief uses of gods these days is as someone on whom to foist unpopular or immoral decisions, like "God told us this was our land", or "god hates fags", or "god wants us to kill abortionists". Well, I'll have none of it. You see a guy with a "god hates fags" sign, I can guarantee he's lying, and I am happy to be quoted by news outlets. No more "god was unavailable for comment" (wouldn't that actually be nice to see in a story); next time a tortilla gets scorched, Fox News can call me to confirm or deny. Hey, I won't lie--if I actually did do it, I'd admit it.

I can't really offer forgiveness, but then neither can the fictional gods. I can, however, tell you to go and beg forgiveness from the people you hurt, and to work to make it right again. Yeah, not what you want to hear, but the alternative is admitting that all that praying to the fictional gods was just to make yourself feel better.

Hmm... Just thinking.... I may have to change the "tip jar" into "tithes and offerings".


Saturday, September 19, 2009

Suppose You Found An Actual Alien...

Daringly, erringly,
Children in Panama
Saw a strange being, and
All held their breath:

Certain the creature was
Showed they were human, and
Beat it to death.

In some of the pictures, the "creature" looks like E.T., or "a fetus", or some unidentifiable alien being. In the video, it is fairly clearly (to my eye, anyway) a three-toed tree sloth. But "teens beat sloth to death" is not nearly so cool a headline as "unidentifiable creature found in Panama" (the title of the linked video). Note the use of "unidentifiable" rather than "unidentified"; a small but crucial difference.

There are a great many stories already, and there will be more. Even CNN is going with the "unknown/unknowable" angle. As of this writing, Google news lists a mere 120 news articles. Any bets?

My favorite coverage thus far is this nicely skeptical article:
The story begins at a waterfall near the town of Cerro Azul, Panama. A group of teens, four in all, were playing in the area when the mystery creature, a large hairless monster, shuffled out from a cave hidden by the waterfall. According to most accounts, the creature approached the boys. Growing alarmed, they began to throw rocks at the monster. They continued to do so until it -- Gollum, E.T., monster, whatever -- stopped moving. Satisfied that they had killed the hairless mystery creature, the Panamanian emissaries of Earth tossed E.T. into the water.

But in all the pictures being circulated on the web, E.T./Gollum looks more like a hairless sloth (and has been identified as such by many who have seen a full body picture of the Panamanian mystery creature), which means that the animal moves at an extremely slow pace (it is difficult to move across the ground on its hooked-claw feet). Which means that the teens might have been alarmed when they first saw the creature but could have easily outran it, so remaining frightened at something that presents no real danger probably did not occur. And they certainly did not have to pelt the mystery creature with stones until it died. That the teens decided to make a sport out of hitting the mystery creature with rocks sounds like a typical teen reaction. But it is doubtful they did it out of fear.

So they lied. They're teenagers. It's what they do best, besides eat and sleep and whine about being bored.

There are other news outlets showing evidence that it is a sloth:

Nevertheless the local media has played up the story, reporting that zoologists are unable to identify the "alien-like" creature. But DNA testing should soon confirm what most are saying: the animal is a sloth.

As a consequence of a slow news cycle towards the end of summer, August and September tend to be peak months for sightings of "strange" and "unidentified" creatures including unusual marine life, malformed animals and the mythological beasts like the Chupacabra, the Mongolian Death Worm, Big Foot, and the Loch Ness Monster.
I wonder how long it will take CNN to correct themselves?

It's a sloth. They are teenagers. Ignorance->fear->kill it. No wonder the aliens all choose to show themselves to isolated individuals with lousy cameras. They are scared!


Friday, September 18, 2009

Love At First Sight... On Separate Trains

I have to say, as a hopeless romantic, that this is my favorite BBC story in, perhaps, forever.
It's the stuff of fairytales and songs that sell millions of copies around the world and make you an international singing star, if you're James Blunt.

As almost anyone with ears and a radio in 2005 would know, he saw a woman's face in a crowded place and he didn't know what to do. Should have put an appeal in Lovestruck.

The dating column in the Londonpaper, a free evening newspaper distributed across London, is hugely popular with commuters. It tries to match those whose eyes met across the bus, tube or train carriage and share one of those "moments" Blunt sings about.
Sadly, the paper appears to be going under, as of Friday, losing a competition with another free paper. But the article notes that there are other sites geared toward facilitating meetings between these "ships passing in the night" sorts of encounters.

More, the article explores the notion of that instant, the moment when eyes meet, pulses race, imaginations run wild...
But are these "moments" real or is it all in our heads? Attraction can be that instant, in fact human beings are wired up that way, says Professor Adrian Furnham, co-author of The Psychology of Physical Attraction.

"We do pick things up very quickly - someone's scent or a look that lasts a second longer than normal. Men in particular are wired up this way," he says.
Not terribly surprising there, from my point of view. Oh, wait, there's more:
"The interesting thing is that people believe the feeling is reciprocated, that something has been shared and that isn't always the case. Even if it is mutual it's not about romance, it's about lust. Humans are wired up to mate, not be romantic."
Spoilsport. (Ok, as a serious parenthetical in the middle of a lighthearted post, I have witnessed men who thought their feelings reciprocated. They thought they were in love; technically, in this case, due to differences in positional power, it was sexual harassment. Men, please do not assume she feels the same way. Ask. And listen.... ok, back to the lighthearted post:)

I have felt this, many times. When I met Cuttlespouse, I fell in love roughly .0001 seconds after seeing her for the first time. It took her a bit longer.

In instances where it is clearly an impossibility, the feeling is still inescapably wonderful; there is a fruit market in Athens that is indelibly etched in my memory simply for two moments. Going up the street, I chanced to look in the store and met her eyes. Going back down the street several hours later, the same. As the BBC story goes, this was one of those glances that lasted a little longer than usual, and that is all it takes. It was magical. Perhaps all the more magical because it can never be sullied by the harsh treatment of reality--in truth, she may have been looking past me toward someone else. But not in my memory.

Of course, the BBC includes a successful meeting in their writeup; the story would be just to horrible without it. But hey, those one-in-a-million success stories are what keep us going. For the Cuttlespouse and I, going for 25 years so far.

The verse is fictional--I started it in third person, but it just worked better in first.

I saw her—just a fleeting glance—
Amidst the milling crowd;
I thought she had to notice me,
My heart, it beat so loud.

I caught her eye, and kept my gaze,
As witnesses attest,
But I was in the eastbound queue
And she was in the west.

I very nearly missed my train
To keep her in my sight.
An angel, even in the glare
Of cold fluorescent light

Transformed I was; forevermore
I’d live a life possessed;
For I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

My sadness grew with every mile
A dull and aching pain
I’d seen my heart’s companion, whom
I’d never see again.

My heart, I thought, would break apart
In pieces in my chest
For I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

A week, then two, a month and more
I watched to see her face
Although I witnessed thousands there,
Of her there was no trace.

I loved, I knew, the perfect heart
Inside her perfect breast,
But I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

It seemed a lifetime that I sought
The one whom I desired,
While she remained invisible
As if the gods conspired.

And if the gods denied me love,
The gods I would contest
Though I was on the eastbound train
And she was on the west.

And then, one day, a Lovestruck ad:
“The day we almost met”
The time, the place, the date, the face
I never will forget.

For weeks she had been looking,
But it’s just as you have guessed:
If she looked on the eastbound train,
That day I’d search the west.

We met, of course, and fell in love;
Now constantly explain
Just how it was we first met eyes
While riding separate trains.

And none could be so happy, no,
And none have been so blessed,
We sometimes take the eastbound train
And sometimes take the west.


Thursday, September 17, 2009

Barnacle Stan, The Sessile Man

Barnacle Stan, the sessile man,
Afraid to even look;
A timid fool, his tidal pool
An ancient holy book.
Between its pages, stuck for ages,
Keeping safe from Hell,
For fear of fire, he'll ne'er inquire,
But stay inside his shell.

Barnacle Stan, he hatched a plan;
The gist of it was this:
He'd stay inside, forever hide,
Cos ignorance is bliss;
He'd sometimes write, with great delight
About his lovely view--
And tell us we should be so free...
I'm not convinced. Are you?



Wednesday, September 16, 2009

A Modest Proposal (Jennifer, Jennifer)

Inspired by the comments (though not the actual initial post) on PZ's post here. My verse is more a response to the general issue than to the specifics of the posted incident.

Jennifer, Jennifer, got herself pregnant,
The poor, irresponsible slut.
See, boys will be boys, so it’s up to the girls
To be moral, and keep their legs shut.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, couldn’t be bothered;
She led her young Billy astray.
They met, after classes, at Jennifer’s house,
And now there’s a kid on the way.

Jennifer, Jennifer, wants an abortion—
She says she’s too young for a baby—
But the law of the land says abortion is murder;
The answer is no, and not maybe.
See, murder is murder; we cannot condone
The destruction of innocent life.
And Billy, of course, is an innocent, too,
And he’s much, much too young for a wife.

So Jennifer, Jennifer, finds herself caught
In the view of a watchful Big Brother,
And Country and Church have a task on their hands—
How to keep the babe safe from its mother.
If murder is murder, for fetus or child,
Then surely assault is assault;
A fetus is damaged by drinking or smoking,
And all of it, Jennifer’s fault.

If Jennifer, Jennifer, falls down the stairs
Then the baby inside could be harmed;
And since that poor child is a ward of the state
It is right we should all be alarmed!
So Jennifer, Jennifer, needs to be safe
For the sake of the babe in her womb;
To keep the poor innocent safe from all harm,
Let’s keep Jennifer locked in her room.

But Jennifer, Jennifer, isn’t the first
Nor the last to be pregnant, you see.
The task that’s before us—protecting our children—
Is crucial, I think you’ll agree.
With the passing to law of my modest proposal,
I honestly think we’ll prevail.
It’s simple: Each woman who finds herself pregnant
Must spend the next nine months in jail.

Jennifer, Jennifer, shielded from harm
In a cell with a toilet and cot
With a closed-circuit camera, an unblinking eye,
For the safety of Jennifer’s tot.
When at last you deliver your new baby boy
We’ll whisk you right out through the door;
We care about kids while they’re inside your womb—
Once they’re out, we don’t care any more.

And Jennifer, Jennifer, can’t find her Billy—
Besides, he’s too young for a wife—
She weighs her alternatives, looks down each road…
And reluctantly takes her own life.

And the church says a prayer for the baby unborn
And a heartfelt and tearful farewell.
But Jennifer, Jennifer, so says the church,
Will be heading directly to hell.


Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Behind The Scenes

I got a few interesting comments after I posted the following comment on Pharyngula:
They put me on committee, which I thought was really nice,
But they never seem to listen to my wonderful advice!
When I tell them that the Word Of God should underlie our laws,
They just smile and nod a second, maybe just an awkward pause,
Then it's back to what the government can do for us today,
Though it's infinitely cheaper just to bow our heads and pray.

They look at lots of options, while I know there's only one;
When will they learn, that only prayer can ever get things done?
Why, what could be supported through the governmental coffers
That could possibly compete with what the Holy Bible offers?
As they fiddle with incentives, and with programs to promote,
I'll be getting God's attention, as I sacrifice a goat!
The topic was Obama's "Faith Council", and one member's complaints that this particular government body was spending too much time looking at government-type solutions and not enough time looking at holy texts for inspiration.

Anyway, I read PZ's post, typed up my comment, and posted. I was as surprised as anyone else to find that it was comment #4. One commenter even suggested that I must have had advance notice of the topic, to write this in under 23 minutes. So I thought I'd just say a couple of things about how I tend to write.

In this particular instance (which was fairly typical), I read the post and opened up the comment box before I had any notion of what I was going to say. I can't remember whether anyone else had commented yet or not. Given that I get most of my traffic from PZ's blog, and given that a substantial number of people quit reading the comments after a couple score are posted, I make it my goal to be in the first 50 comments if I can. I usually can't. More often than not, I open up the comment box, and... wait... and... think... and... realize I have nothing to say. Or if I have something to say that is not in rhyme, I sign a different name. (I use the same email; any blog owners know it is me. I am not trying to hide; I always use the same name, and I have used it for years.) But occasionally, something will come to me in verse. This post was one of those occasions. I made a total of one slight edit (the last couplet was written before the second to last, and I switched them), but other than that, it just came out, pretty much as quickly as prose does--some of it perhaps faster, because rhyme constrains choices so that you have to think of two lines at once instead of just one.

I do sometimes (I never really counted, but maybe half, more or less) take the time to write something out separately from the comment box. More rarely, I work on something for a day or more--usually, those are written longhand, in my terrible handwriting, even if I am at my computer at the time. I find it much more difficult to work on the day-or-more verses; it is almost as if those ones don't want to be written. Something like the above, though, writes itself.

Oh, and for the poetry purists... I don't consider what I write to be poetry. It is commentary... that happens to be in verse.


Hell if I know.

Some day, they'll do a PET scan, and they'll peek inside my brain,
And discover things that even Ramachandran can't explain,
Like connections from my liver to my left prefrontal cortex
Or cascades of hippocampal volleys, spinning in a vortex,
My gyri and my sulci spelling out, as plain as day
(Just as aliens leave circle-shapes in fields of un-mown hay),
In a hieroglyphic pattern that you've never seen before:
"Don't look at us, you moron; we don't work here any more!"
Yes, my brain is on vacation when I write the things I write;
I pity all the people who can only dream at night.


Saturday, September 12, 2009

To GrrlScientist:

Go, blog for me, and be my eyes
And ears, beneath Antarctic skies,
Where colonies of penguins dwell
(Creating quite a rancid smell).

And you will sit upon the ice
And snow, and blog in words concise
By rugged glaciers, icy shelves,
For us, who can’t be there ourselves.

And I will read your priceless posts
And offer you a thousand toasts,
To health and heart, to pen and ink,
Whatever gift I chance to think.

I’ll wish I could be there to see
The wonders that you write for me,
So eloquent your vivid prose
I’ll feel the cold wind as it blows.

Such alien and foreign climes
Are too much work to cast in rhymes:
If you have schemes you would devise
Then blog for me and be my eyes.

The penguins there will sing and dance:
“GrrlScientist has won the chance!”
To friends up North, you’ll say good-byes,
And blog for us, and be our eyes.

To everybody else:

I know that as small fish go, I am a very very very small little tiny little cuttlefish in a global virtual pond. I struggle to maintain just over a hundred readers per day, with occasional spikes a bit higher. Rarely, one of my readers will do something, and I will suddenly get over a thousand readers, and once double that! So, yeah, I am a small fish.

So I need your help. Whatever it is that you do to share one of my posts that you like, please do it for this one. Post it on whatever blogs, forums, newsgroups, tin cans with string, semaphore chains, electronic telegraph machines or smoke signals you have, and get lots of eyes over to GrrlScientist's blog, or (if you trust me) directly to her entry, to vote. (Yeah, she's Devorah; no, I've never met anyone with that name before, either.) You may, within the rules, vote from two different email accounts if you have them; voting does require registration, but it is simple, and a worthy cause.

That worthy cause is self-interest. See, Quark is sending someone, as my little verse says, to be our eyes and ears, to be our proxy in Antarctica. This is not something for just anyone. Odds are, if you are reading this, you already know that there are better and worse bloggers, better and worse writers (the two are not synonymous), and it makes a difference who you send to observe and report for you. For me, what clinched it for GrrlScientist was her photo series on the mosaics of the NYC subway system. I want someone who does not just passively take in the sights, sounds, and smells, but who actively looks for the beauty (or the beast) in even the overlooked corners. After all, she will be a guest there, and we will be guests there through her; to us, even the things the long-timers have long ago taken for granted, are new and strange, and I (quite selfishly) want someone there who sees the world the way GrrlScientist does.

Anyway... go vote, and please go spread the word in the other places you haunt. There are about 2 weeks left in voting, and she could use your help. And you could use her talent.


Thursday, September 10, 2009

Winston The Pigeon

Carrier pigeons are diligent workers,
And some have been honored as heroes!
But, sadly, technology changed their careers,
With the messages, now, ones and zeroes.

Information now moves over fibers and wires,
At the speed (so they tell me) of light;
And people accustomed to speed such as this
Aren’t impressed by a pigeon in flight.

But intertubes clog, and cables will jam,
And data gets stuck on its way;
Uploading a file takes forever, it seems,
With the fastest computers today.

A firm down in Durban, South Africa, thought
That their ADSL seemed too slow.
Would a pigeon be faster? They planned out a test
So the firm could empirically know.

Thus, Winston the Pigeon was all loaded up,
Four gigs on a flash memory stick,
From Howick to Durban, about sixty miles,
His job was to get it there quick.

They started the clock when they opened the cage,
And a regular upload as well—
Would bird or technology first cross the line?
The experiment, surely, would tell.

Winston the Pigeon first circled the square,
Then was off at full speed for the coast!
In sixty-eight minutes, brave Winston was there
But of course, he was not one to boast.

In about one more hour, the data were loaded,
It looked as if Winston had won!
But wait—check the status of ADSL,
And they found…only four percent done!

Now Winston the Pigeon is over the moon;
He’s faster than broadband, no less!
But technology marches; the internet, now
Must compete with the Pony Express!

(second link--BBC coverage--includes video of the race!)



I have a small bottle of sepia ink
Which I use for particular writing.
The feel of a quill-pen is special, I think,
And I find the whole process exciting.

I read in the news, of an interesting find,
Of a well-preserved cephalo-fossil
(The paleontologists gladly remind,
What we learn may be truly colossal!

See, soft-tissue fossils are rare, as a rule,
So an ink-sac was quite unexpected—
This cephalofind was the coolest of cool,
As a rock that can still be dissected!)

The scientists ground up the fossilized sac
To make ink for its own illustration—
Some see this as fitting, while others attack
It as cruel (in unique presentation!*)

Myself, as his great-great-great-great-great-great-great
Great-great-grandson, I want his return.
His repatriation to Cuttle-Estate,
To his burial inkwell—er, urn.

*Anyone who does not follow this link and read the whole thing is a complete gooberhead. Just sayin'.

Cuttlecap tip to Karen--Thanks!

Wednesday, September 09, 2009

Nathaniel Jeanson, Stealth Ph. D.

Nate was a Creationist, who hated bugs and blood,
And he wondered, "What's the perfect job for me?"
He could spread the word of Jesus, the Creation, and the Flood,
If he got a Harvard Medical Degree!

It would give him credibility, and earn him some respect,
And would help him to evangelize, he said.
Since he claimed a higher calling--there were souls he must protect--
It's ok if his advisors were misled.

His profs expected honesty; they treated him with trust.
Did they mold him to a scientist? They tried...
When he found a contradiction, he would manage as he must;
He just murmured "What would Jesus do?", and lied.

With degree in hand, and facing competition for a job,
Why, he found a path much easier by far!
"Why bother with competing with the Harvard Med School mob,
I can lie for Jesus, at the I.C.R.!"

Now he's got a shiny title; he'll do research, speak, and write,
With his Harvard cred to use and to abuse,
And he'll make "eternal friends" (a fact which brings him great delight),
While the people who need medicine? ... they lose.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Newspapers Are Born To Exaggerate

It seems these things come in waves. This time, it is the Times Online overreaching the consequences of some recent neuroscience finding, presenting it in a splashy way, and misrepresenting pretty much whatever they need to in order to fit the message in the simple headline. "We are born to believe in God", says the paper this time, and lists a number of researchers (at least one of whom has complained about his depiction) whose work is shoehorned into the "hardwired belief" message. (I have not read all of them, but certainly Dawkins, Hood, and Persinger, and while I can see the germ of what the present authors saw, I must say they have read them differently than I did.)

There is, in my view, a considerably simpler explanation that still fits. (I am reminded, with tremendous feelings of inadequacy, of Douglas Adams' description of humans as fundamentally tool-makers, inventing a god who, like them, is a creator. I am taking a different track, viewing us as fundamentally social creatures, even before we are tool-makers.) We are social creatures. As such, it has behooved us to use certain social strategies, which have apparently served us well. To wit, we are easily influenced by others. We are, unsurprisingly, influenced by the social power of the majority (see Asch), and of course by the positional power of authorities (see Milgram). This is not bad nor good, this is simply who and what we are. That there are areas of the brain associated with obeying (perhaps even worshipping or feeling awe in the presence of) others is no surprise whatsoever. I wonder if those same areas might light up, for some people, in the presence of an adored movie star, singer, or politician. (Would this be evidence that Sophia Loren is God? A much better thought than the idea of scanning my in-laws' brains while they listen to O'Reilly.) Religion would be, in this model, simply a successful hijacking of this genetic predisposition toward social living. No pre-wiring for belief in god (and did you notice the capital letter? Are we pre-wired for a particular religion?), but rather a predisposition toward particular behaviors that facilitate social living.

In other words...

The Times Online has just opined
It seems as if we are designed,
When growing up, to seek and find
Some evidence for God.
(Of course, the authors whom they quote,
Like Hood and Dawkins, don't promote
This view at all, so one may note
The Times is acting odd.)

Such explanations soon run thin--
It seems to me that what's built in
For social humans and their kin
And each religious pilgrim
Is deference to authority,
A bow to the majority
(Just look to a sorority,
Or shocking Stanley Milgram).

Communal lifestyle surely shapes
Our genes, and so, as social apes
Such strategies have served in scrapes,
Thus following's selected.
The Times is also well-controlled
By genes that fit our social mold--
Reporting only what they're told
By someone well-respected!

Saturday, September 05, 2009

A Verse On The Echidna's Four-Headed Penis

Ok, in truth, this was inspired by this post on Pharyngula, but that was not the whole point of PZ's post, so I was going to use some other source... but frankly, if you google "echidna penis" you get more than, perhaps, you were looking for. Anyway, go ahead and do an image search for an echidna's penis, and you will see that it has four heads. A little more looking into the available information about female echidnas, and you may understand why.

I count myself very grateful indeed that I am not an Echidna.

Two heads are better than one, so they say,
So four heads are better by far;
It took evolution to build this array,
And to humans, it still seems bizarre.

It never would work for a human male, though,
(Is it blessing, or is it a pity?)
See, men tend to think with their dicks, and we know
That nothing gets done by committee.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Step One: Get On Your Knees...

PZ reports on a helpful manual put out by the Catholic Truth Society: the Prayer Book For Spouses.
The book contains prayers for every stage of marriage and family life, including engagement, planning for parenthood, pregnancy and caring for children and elderly parents.

The prayers, written by a variety of authors, are interspersed with Catholic teaching on the meaning of marriage and family.
But of course, the media attention they are getting is for their "Prayer Before Making Love". Go figure.

My wife and I are nervous wrecks—
The church is getting into sex!
They’ve come up with a book describing how we ought to do it.
But maybe it’s not all that bad;
I’m calmer now, but just a tad—
Before I just dismiss it, guess I’ll buy one and look through it.


Step one: you get down on your knees…
Hey, I could live with rules like these!
And pray to God for tenderness, and purified intent—
A union that does not deceive,
A loving spouse, to whom to cleave…

I liked the bit on kneeling, till I found out what it meant.

The handbook’s authors claim to be
The “Catholic Truth Society”
A group of (oxy)morons who believe they’re doing good;
So, sex for them is holy duty,
Not some chance to knock some booty
Earnest prayer is foreplay; they’re a bit misunderstood.

Putting God back into screwing—
If that’s really what they’re doing
Then the way they go about it is, to me, a little odd;
A religious genuflection
Could diminish my erection—
And that’s quite the wrong direction, if she’s gonna say “Oh GOD!”