Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Horrors!

It’s almost time for Trick Or Treat,
And now I’m in a panic—
I’m doubting if my candy is
Sufficiently Satanic!
The needles, pins, and razor blades
(Which used to be tradition)
Are terribly old-fashioned now;
I need new ammunition!
The local Coven gave their curse
As every Coven should,
But will that really be enough
To drive away the Good?
The fundies warn us all about
The evil of this day—
How just by eating candy, we
Become the Devil’s prey!
But I wonder, as I always do,
As kids come to my door,
With all the curses I have cast,
Perhaps I should do more?
I’ve made a perfect pentagram
Of skittle, corn, and dud,
Then baptized all my candy in
A newborn infant’s blood.
While waiting for the mess to dry
I reveled with a goat—
Now every child’s candy sends
Some evil down their throat.

The last I’ve ever had such fun
I don’t remember when—
Too bad I’m not as scary as
The folks from CBN.

Yes, the folks at CBN (this is a google cache--apparently some things are too stupid even for CBN to leave on their site) helpfully write to warn us about the real Halloween.
Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.

While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as "just harmless fun," the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).

Decorating buildings with Halloween scenes, dressing up for parties, going door-to-door for candy, standing around bonfires and highlighting pumpkin patches are all acts rooted in entertaining familiar spirits. All these activities are demonic and have occult roots.

The word "occult" means "secret." The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:

Sex with demons

Orgies between animals and humans

Animal and human sacrifices

Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood

Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies

Revel nights

Conjuring of demons and casting of spells

Release of "time-released" curses against the innocent and the ignorant.

Another abomination that goes on behind the scenes of Halloween is necromancy, or communication with the dead. Séances and contacting spirit guides are very popular on Halloween, so there is a lot of darkness lurking in the air.
Damn, all I ever did was decorate the house and eat too much candy.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.


Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Anglican-Catholic Horizontal Transfer

It's all over the news, it's all over the blogs, it's everywhere, you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a discussion of the Pope's recent invitation to Anglicans. A group of Anglican priests, upset at recent changes in their church (changes which slowly, glacially, tectonically, move the church from the bronze age into the early iron age), are considering the Pope's invitation to return to mother church. I suspect that an even more conservative sect will soon be considering Oogg's invitation to return to the trees.

You say your faith won’t let you hate?
Treat gay folks worse that you treat straight?
Be sexist? Or discriminate?
It’s time to start your search!
You want a group that’s really great,
That’s never seen as second-rate;
Where folks like you can all relate:
Come join the Catholic Church!

See, ever since your church began
When Henry lusted after Anne,
You’ve looked upon the Vatican
With envy, so it seems.
The Pope, you thought, was superman;
You’re secretly a papal fan:
Good news! Just shout that angl-I-CAN
Fulfill my Catholic dreams!

The offer that we now present
Is one way we can circumvent
Our numbers problem; your dissent
Adds members to our herd!
Of course, to open up our tent
Some ancient rules must now be bent,
But only by a small percent
We’ll modify God’s word.

So join the group that’s grand in scope;
That gives the world its greatest hope
That claims to have the One True Pope—
Your old ways, disavow.
One final thing, to help you cope
As on this brand-new path you grope:
In showers, never drop the soap—
Cos you’re a Catholic now.


Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Colossal Sea Monster!! O Noes!!

With powerful jaws, like steel girders in strength,
The biggest uncovered thus far,
At 2.4 meters of bone-crushing length
These jaws could bite clean through a car
With a gullet, we’re told, that could swallow a cow,
Next to this boy, T. rex is a kitten!
The biggest of fishes are Pliosaur chow—
When it bites you, you know you’ve been bitten!

For millions and millions of years, it’s been dead,
But it’s back for a visit, it seems—
Please excuse me—I’m going to go hide in my bed,
And hope we don’t meet in my dreams!

The Beeb reports on a gorgeous fossil skull, ten years in the collecting (as the cliff it was imbedded in slowly eroded), of an immense oceanic carnivore, a Pliosaur (with video... which I cannot, apparently, link directly, but which is very cool and worth visiting!).

The pleiosaur expert says a few things which get your attention--this creature could have bitten a small car in half, for instance, which I think probably explains the lack of automobiles in the fossil record. He says that Pliosaur could have swallowed T. rex in one gulp... which I suspect was hyperbole, but just in case, I'm planning on never swimming in the ocean again.


Sunday, October 25, 2009

Finding Little Albert

“Little Albert” was a baby, nearly ninety years ago,
And a healthy, mild-mannered one, at that,
His demeanor was the reason he was chosen for the task
Of developing a phobia to rat

John B. Watson was the founder of Behaviorism, and
Was, by all accounts, a bastard through and through.
When presented with a baby, unemotional and strong,
John B. Watson knew exactly what to do.

In conditioning a phobia, one stimulus (a rat)
Had been demonstrated neutral to the kid.
Watson paired it with a scary noise, to see if he could make
Little Albert become phobic… which he did.

It was Watson’s final paper as an academic type,
Then a scandalous affair, and he resigned.
But the mystery that lingered was, what happened to the child?
He was difficult for anyone to find.

Did his phobia continue through a long and fearful life?
Was he traumatized, emotionally scarred?
Did he spend his childhood too afraid to even leave his house,
On the chance that there were rabbits in his yard?

A professor of psychology at Appalachian State
Set his students on the trail of “Albert B.”
So they sifted through the records and uncovered names and dates,
But the answer wasn’t waiting there to see.

They discovered information, though, that narrowed down the search;
Through the census and a search of family trees—
To a woman named Arvilla as the mother of a son
Little Douglas—“Albert B.” was just a tease.

While forensics can’t conclusively confirm that it was he,
There are many similarities involved
It’s statistically unlikely that coincidence is all,
So the authors say the mystery is solved!

Did he live in fear of furry things? Or maybe only rats?
Was his phobia an easy thing to fix?
All the rumors are just rumors, and assuredly are false—
For the boy died at the tender age of six.

Though his tale will live forever, it’s a shame he died so young;
Long before he could have recognized his fame;
On the other hand, consider… such a story, such a tale…
And for ninety years, with someone else’s name.

In this month's American Psychologist, an article on a mystery of history--the identity of "Little Albert". Mind Hacks has a summary, for those who prefer their summaries in prose. (Mind Hacks does not mention the blatant typo in paragraph 2 of the pdf; I can only hope that the pdf is a mutation of the original--the word "withouth" does not deserve coining.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Little Albert at all:

Cuttlecap tip to Kylie at Podblack!


Friday, October 23, 2009

Blue Roses: A Halloween Poem

The BBC reports on a genetic breakthrough, of sorts. Japanese whisky distiller Suntory, along with Australian biotech firm Florigene, have succeeded (you can be the judge as to how well) in developing a blue rose. Blue roses, it appears, have been long sought, and are nearly mythological in status--a symbol of mystery, of impossible things, of hope against unattainable love.

Or not.

Horticultural purists find the genetic manipulation to be ... cheating, I suppose. As for me, I choose my roses by smell, not by color. I am far more interested in the possibility of trying 12 or 18 year aged Japanese single malt whisky. I guess maybe their gambit is paying off.

In honor of the blue rose, and because we are getting close to Halloween:

Blue Roses: A Halloween Poem

My love has roses in her cheeks—
This always has been true.
Last week, she tumbled down the stairs;
Those roses now are blue.

Her ivory teeth, her ruby lips,
Her blush of rosy red;
Each aspect’s hue now changed, because
She landed on her head.

I loved to lay my head upon
The pillow of her breast;
A cooler pillow now that she’s
Eternally at rest.

Geneticists have conjured up
The first true-blue blue rose
I’ll have to buy one for my love,
To sweeten her repose.

Blue roses at her bedside, and
Blue roses in her cheeks;
Eternal love, transcending death
The message it bespeaks

Beside her grave, I planted
Roses red, for love so true;
But every spring, the roses bloom
A deathly shade of blue.

Is this her way of telling me
She knows how much I loved her?
Or else, perhaps, a message that
She’s angry that I shoved her.


Thursday, October 22, 2009

Arizona Update: Three Dead, Thanks To James Arthur Ray

The participants are speaking, telling what occurred that day,
Sharing stories of their puzzlement and grief;
But the dissonance believers feel, is giving Mr. Ray
The impenetrable armor of belief.

How could people die for nothing? How could all this be a scam?
All my money, all my effort, all my pain?
When a Faithful True Believer is the heart of what I am,
Then a sacrifice must always lead to gain.

While the victims fell unconscious, Mr. Ray stood at the door,
Telling people they were going to have to wait—
It’s a difficult experience, but that is what it’s for,
And the attitude you take will choose your fate.

So the blame fell on the victims, and their weakness was the cause,
I’ll survive it if I only just believe—
And I’ll praise the New Age guru, cos he pointed out our flaws,
As the victims’ friends and families now grieve.

The New York Times has a followup article on the deadly Sedona sweat lodge ceremony run by Oprah's darling James Arthur Ray. I had written on this earlier, and I hate to say that my analysis was pretty damned close--victims are being blamed, Ray is being lauded, excuses are being made.

It must be a horrible thing, to know that you paid a lot of money, went through a lot of trouble and pain, to be lied to and endangered by a cult leader. So, of course, that can't be what happened. The article should be used as the new textbook example for cognitive dissonance. It sounds like it was just horrendous:
Midway through a two-hour sweat lodge ceremony intended to be a rebirthing experience, participants say, some people began to fall desperately ill from the heat, even as their leader, James Arthur Ray, a nationally known New Age guru, urged them to press on.

Investigators looking over a sweat lodge at a retreat center near Sedona, Ariz. Three people died after an event there this month.

“There were people throwing up everywhere,” said Dr. Beverley Bunn, 43, an orthodontist from Texas, who said she struggled to remain conscious in the sweat lodge, a makeshift structure covered with blankets and plastic and heated with fiery rocks.

Dr. Bunn said Mr. Ray told the more than 50 people jammed into the small structure — people who had just completed a 36-hour “vision quest” in which they fasted alone in the desert — that vomiting “was good for you, that you are purging what your body doesn’t want, what it doesn’t need.” But by the end of the ordeal on Oct. 8, emergency crews had taken 21 people to hospitals. Three have since died.
Mr. Ray has been accused of standing by the exit, intimidating people who wished to leave:
Mr. Ray, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. At a public seminar in Denver on Tuesday, he was interrupted by two men who shouted, “Tell them the truth!” and: “You control people! You stood in front of the door and refused to let people leave.”

The men were escorted from the meeting, and people burst into applause for Mr. Ray. “I, too, want answers and am cooperating with authorities,” he said. He asked for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died.
Read that again. The applause was for Mr. Ray. Not for the two man standing up to him. Leon Festinger was right. But, of course, it gets worse:
The deaths have not shaken all of Mr. Ray’s supporters. “He sets up the stage for people to change their lives — he gives you the tools,” said Meredith Ann Murray, a real estate agent in Bellingham, Wash. She attended a 2007 Spiritual Warrior retreat, where she spent three hours in a sweat lodge. Mr. Ray let people come and go as they pleased, she said. Ms. Murray said she had had a “huge breakthrough” in the sweat lodge that helped her overcome claustrophobia.

She also described a game — enacted again at the retreat this month — in which Mr. Ray wears white robes and plays God, ordering some participants to commit mock suicide.
Mr. Ray, I'd like you to meet Jim Jones; Jim Jones, this is Mr. Ray. I think you two will have a lot to talk about.

The Times article saves the biggest slap in the face for last:
Dr. Bunn and others said that by the end of the final round in the sweat lodge, at least three people were unconscious. Mr. Ray’s employees, called the Dream Team, threw water on people as they emerged from the structure, which was about 24 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet tall.

The events have left Dr. Bunn distraught and angry. Dr. Bunn said that as she was crawling out of the tent, weak from exhaustion, she found Ms. Brown, her roommate at Angel Valley, not moving. “I think Kirby was barely gasping her last breaths, and that’s what I was hearing as I got out of the tent.”

On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. Bunn was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”

Dr. Bunn had a less charitable view: “They couldn’t re-enter their bodies because they were dead.”
"The Secret" is all about blaming the victims. But damn...


For Dr. Pal

I'm cutting corners where I can;
It's good to be so frugal!
I'm cutting out my doctor, and
Replacing him with Google!

That mole that keeps on growing?
I'm convinced it's fungal rust!
(If I can't trust Wikipaedia,
Who else, then, can I trust?

My doctor says such fungi
Are a problem... but for plants.
He's stuck in Western Medicine,
Won't give my view a chance!)

My Neighbor swears by St. John's Wort,
My mom, by chicken soup--
And eBay has a listing for
Some pure organic goop--

I'm going to cure that silly mole
Through different ways of knowing;
Ignore the fact that, as I act,
The damned thing keeps on growing.

It's harder to ignore it now,
And keep it out of sight;
But god I hate that doctor, cos
He's so convinced he's right!

I'm going to try some reiki, and
Some therapeutic touch;
It's just as good as doctors, and
It doesn't cost as much!

Ok, it's been a month or two--
I guess it didn't work.
It's time to suck it up and see
The doctor (what a jerk!).

I TOLD YOU SO! I did! I did!
My fears have all come true!
The doctor saw the mole and said
There's nothing he can do.

(In truth, he added "at this point",
And placed the blame on me--
Which shows that I was right, to hate
The worthless S.O.B.)

Context--for the record, I really like Dr. Pal, and appreciate his honest blogging, his passion and occasional exasperation, and the care he so obviously shows for his community. Check out his "donors choose" posts, and help make a meaningful difference!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Milestone Of Sorts

One Hundred, now number my followers;
I’m not really sure what that means.
I think those are people who follow my posts
On electric computing machines.

One Hundred, who read silly verses
On science, religion, and more;
They each clicked a link that said “follow this blog”,
Though I’m not really sure what it’s for.

One Hundred is twice more than fifty;
At least, that’s what I understand.
And more might be better—if that is the case,
Then a thousand would really be grand!

One Hundred delightful companions!
One Hundred intelligent folks!
One Hundred to argue, critique, or just comment,
Or laugh at my miserable jokes.

One Hundred! One Hundred and counting!
I hope that the growth never ends!
Today I invite you, encourage, incite you,
To share all the fun with your friends*!

*or enemies, depending on which verses you choose to focus on.

So, yeah, I looked over there to the right and I see that, as of recently (today? yesterday? before?), I officially have 100 followers! That's gotta be a good thing, right? (Seriously, is it a good thing? I assume it is, but I have no idea what it means. I am not internet savvy, nor computer savvy, nor all that happy with a pocket calculator. I write these things on a coal-fired difference engine, which represents a major step up from my previous waterwheel powered device.)

Thank you, all of you. I don't quite know why, but I thank you, because it's a nice round number and I am easily impressed by stuff like that. Friday is my second blogoversary, and I would never have guessed two years ago that my blog would still exist now, let alone have more followers than ever before (and we are on course for the biggest month in terms of visitors and pageviews in all that time)! So anyway, thanks, and feel free to pick your favorite verses and send links to your friends, cos as cool as 100 is, I have heard that they make even bigger numbers! (oh, no! He's a follower addict!)


Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Which Is Witch?

An extremely sad story today from the BBC, although with a better ending than hundreds of other such stories.
Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India's Jharkhand state.

Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric.
As may be expected, at least two theories are offered to explain the violence--the religious superstition itself, or as a cover for economic motive:
Hundreds of people, mostly women, have been killed in India because their neighbours thought they were witches.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people - especially widows - are targeted for their land and property.
Just as we so often call an animal dangerous, when we are a greater threat to them than they are to us, it is clear that in this village, wickedness was less a characteristic of the witches than of the accusers.

And so, in a bit of role reversal, a bit of MacBeth:

First villager:
Thrice the local clerics call’d

Second villager:
Thrice and once the mad mob thronged

Third villager:
Cameras on! ‘Tis time, ‘tis time.

First Villager:
Round about the village go
Take the five and drive them so.
Rend their clothes and strip them bare
Beat them in the village square
Know the bible must forgive:
“Suffer not a witch to live.”

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second villager:
Muslim widows, old or rich,
Labeled by the clerics: “Witch!”
Helpless women, now we see,
Targeted for property.
Hundreds watch, and some join in
To stone a witch, it is no sin—
Treat them to a sacrament
Of filthy human excrement.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third villager:
Stunted morals, blunted hearts,
Faith, its tyranny imparts,
Son and daughter, father, mother,
Join as one to fight The Other,
Holy scripture, clerics’ will,
Economic needs fulfill.
Superstition, prejudice,
Religion leads to things like this—
Mere accusation will suffice;
Five women, now, serve sacrifice.
The village now will cast their blame
And thus preserve their own good name.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Villager:
Cool it while the cameras roll;
When they leave we’ll take our toll.

Video, for those who wish.

Oh, the really sad thing? From the BBC website:


Monday, October 19, 2009

One Fish, Two Fish

One fish
Two fish
Crew fish
Wonder who fish?
Yellow-blue fish!
Little fish, as bright as lights
Who love to munch on parasites!
Some are yellow; some are blue
Some very few, some other hue
Why are they colored just like this?
Go ask an ichthyologist!
Some are happy; some may gripe
The nice one has a vivid stripe!
From here to there, from there to here,
There’s fishes in our hydrosphere!
Here are some who like to learn
They love to learn for food they earn
Oh me! Oh my!
Oh my! Oh me!
What funny things live in the sea!
Some have two fins, and some have four
Some have eight legs, and some have more!
Where did they come from?
Ooze or slime?
They’ve co-evolved for a long, long time
We see them live
We see them die
Beneath the sea
Beneath the sky
Too many times
We say good-bye
Each one unique; each one distinct
Sometimes we’re why
They go extinct.

The New York Times has a really nice article about learning in fish, with both laboratory and reef studies examining different aspects of a single larger question, but with an irritating, very basic mistake that happens to be one of my pet peeves.

On the reef, the article reports on two different teams out of the University of Queensland, one looking at the effect of the cleaner wrasse (reefs without cleaner wrasses had about 5 times as many parasites as those with cleaners), and the other examining the role of color and pattern in the recognition of cleaner wrasses (color and stripe are both important, in case you wondered). In the lab, the ability of fish to recognize and differentially respond to visual stimuli was examined by yet more of those busy Queenslanders; damselfish demonstrated they could learn to recognize various patterns (in one experiment) and colors (in another) in both two and three dimensional targets.
Remarkably, the fish also learned when the food reward was delayed and delivered far from the stimulus. The damselfish exhibited what is called anticipatory behavior, in that they would tap the image and then swim quickly to the other end of their tank in anticipation of their food reward. This response is much like Pavlov’s dogs who learned to anticipate food at the sound of a bell.
No, it's not. Not like Pavlov's dogs, that is. The task the fish were presented with was clearly an operant chamber--a Skinner box (or Skinner tank, as it were)--the elegant device B. F. Skinner invented in order to examine operant behavior. Not respondent behavior, which is what Pavlov looked at.

In an otherwise excellent article (including a description of the procedure clear enough to easily see this error), does one sentence really make such a difference?

Well... yes. I don't know whether the mistake is the fault of the reporter or of the research team; sadly, either is possible. Behaviorism has been subject to steady misrepresentation for decades. It's as if the creationists got to control what the majority of Americans knew about evolution... Like that could ever happen.

And this one is so incredibly easy, too.


Like, oh... Dr. Seuss.



Plato, Linnaeus, Darwin, and Atheism

Barbara Bradley Hagerty's NPR piece, "A Bitter Rift Divides Atheists", put two thoughts in my head. The briefer first: Taking a look at religious sectarian violence the world over, isn't BBH impressed at how atheists handle alleged disagreements?

The second will take some time. You might want to pour yourself a drink first.

Plato’s view of reality proposed that there were ideal forms (platonic ideals) which we mere humans could not perceive—our abilities limited to seeing only imperfect copies of these ideals. We did, however, recognize kinds, as approximations to those ideals. We saw and recognized triangles because of their similarity to the ideal triangle, cats because of their similarity to the ideal cat, and so forth.

Linnaeus, in categorizing species, followed the platonic tradition. A species was defined by a representative of that species, a prototype, and by limited variation from that ideal. There was an ideal cat, but of course some are larger or smaller, striped or solid or tortoise-shell mottled or calico, with longer or shorter tails, faster or slower, more or fewer toes. This view of life made it very difficult to conceive of one species becoming another, or splitting into two.

Darwin rocked the world when, in his “Origin of Species”, he essentially rendered the word “species” obsolete, at least as it had previously been known. The average or ideal cat was no longer of any great interest; rather, the population of cats, individuals varying from one another, was what was important. There is, if I may abuse a metaphor, a spectrum of cats, a spectrum of pigeons, a spectrum of finches on each island of the Galapagos. The spectra vary for each species, but we could no more treat one individual as “the ideal” than we could suggest that any one wavelength represents sunlight, or fluorescent light, or incandescent.

Religions, arguably, may be described platonically. Using Linnaeus as our guide, we could arrive at Homo catholicus, “catholic man”; H. orthojudaicus, “orthodox jewish man”; H. australobapticus, southern baptist man, and so forth. We may do this because there does exist a set of beliefs that defines each religion (whether or not its followers adhere to those beliefs). There is no requirement for H. orthojudaicus to believe in the divinity of Christ, nor of H. australobapticus to follow the ex cathedra pronouncements of the pope. Each species religion has its own defining dogma, so a positive definition is quite appropriate. Many individuals fall short of that defining dogma, so variation (or “error”) is also expected.

Note, though, that these positive definitions are quite limited. To know that someone is H. catholicus tells us a few things to expect about this person. Knowing only that someone is not a member of this species tells us very nearly nothing at all. The non-catholic may be Christian, Muslim, Jew, Hindu, Pantheist, Wiccan, Polytheist, Deist, any of thousands of other belief systems… or may be atheist. The non-Sunni may be Muslim, Christian, Jew, Hindu… or atheist. The non Orthodox Jew may be Jew, Christian, Muslim… or atheist. A negative definition (non-X) tells us almost nothing at all about someone.

Atheism is, and must be, negatively defined. It is the “none of the above” alternative to the list of thousands of religions and sects. There is no creed to which all atheists must cling, even in theory. There is no defining characteristic shared by all atheists—even “they don’t believe in god” is incomplete, as the majority of religious believers also do not believe in the other religions’ god(s). (Recall that the first people to be called “atheist” were early Christians, because they did not believe in the Greek pantheon!)

As a privative category (defined by what it is not), there is no ideal atheism from which to have schisms. There is, instead, a spectrum of beliefs. To the extent that we take this spectrum and attempt to split it into black and white (or any segments, even ROY G. BIV) , we are artificially imposing boundaries where there are none naturally. The “hard atheism” and “soft atheism” dichotomy is not about atheism, but rather about the presence or absence of a completely different and orthogonal set of beliefs—after all, the people most likely to positively affirm the statement “there is no Zeus” are people who also positively affirm that there is a Yahweh. “Hard” atheism can only be defined one deity at a time, which makes it something other than “none of the above”. It is an attempt to use the vocabulary of religion to describe the absence of same.

A Darwinian, population-centered approach, is more accurate. Atheists are bigger or smaller, smarter or stupider, louder or quieter… pretty much like the rest of H. sapiens is. And, in truth, H. catholicus varies pretty widely from its alleged ideal form, so much so that the term “cafeteria catholic” is commonplace. The entire Order Religiosa will, in fact, contain tremendous variability, both within and between species. We should not expect all catholics to behave alike, nor all jews, nor all muslims, nor all protestants (let alone all denominations within these broader groups).

The truth is, no matter where we look, we see spectra. We see variability. It is not unexpected; it is not diagnostic; it is not evidence of schism. It is nature.

Writingly, Bitingly,
B. Bradley Hagerty
Writes about Atheists,
Finding a schism;

Godlessness, organized
All of humanity
Seen through her prism.


Sunday, October 18, 2009

Icarus, Daedalus, Falcon, and Richard Heene

Daedalus wanted a show on TV
Which his fans, by the millions, would view
Where he’d show off his theories, inventions, and stuff,
And be famous, and maybe rich, too.

Daedalus worked on a flying machine
With his wife, and his children as well
Which Falcon er, Icarus fit right inside—
And they thought that it really looked swell!

A weather balloon and some duct tape and mylar,
Supporting a small plywood box
Which Daedalus (“Dad”) claimed would carry a charge
For potentially dangerous shocks

It looked like a saucer—A UFO ship
Which they knew that the networks would love
They were right, and by millions the people tuned in,
Holding breath as it drifted above

While Icarus hid in the attic for hours,
Dad cried for the cameras below
The cops and the networks took in every word,
Each doing their part “for the show”

Though cautious at first, police are now saying
The whole thing is likely a hoax;
And now that potential disaster is moot,
Be prepared for a windfall of jokes

All Daedalus wanted was cameras and lights,
For people to all know his name
But his cunning plan melted, came crashing to earth
When his family flew too close to fame.

Context, for those living in caves.


Missed It By *That* Much

So there I was, just twiddling my tentacles, trying to come up with something to write about, when the wonderful Ava, from The Reef Tank, emails me to ask if I might be willing to write some stuff for that site. Willing? Delighted! So we kick around some ideas, and eventually settle on the notion of an occasional piece built around the alphabet (though not in alphabetical order!). The first installment, A is for Aquarium, is now up at The Reef Tank (and for once, I am just gonna let you click through to read it!)

Why, then, my title? Well. The verse was ready about a week ago, save for a few minor edits. Then, PZ posts this on Pharyngula, with his concluding line: "I hope we can take better care of it, so it isn't all confined to a few large tanks here and there." Yeah, I could have had the first comment, with the perfect verse, but this one wasn't for Pharyngula, but for The Reef Tank. So I write to Ava, advising her to link TRT to the comment thread... and she was away for the weekend.

Missed it by *that* much.

The message is the same, in prose or in verse (or, most eloquently, in video). The truth is, it is already too late to prevent some of the damage we have done and continue to do. Some of the effects of our current lifestyles will be felt for generations. I want my children, and theirs, and theirs, to have a world where fish don't have to live indoors.


Friday, October 16, 2009

Booty And The Priest (A Tragedy)

Tale as old as time
Crude as it may be
Nothing was amiss
Then he gave a kiss
Did not keep his vows
Sad, to say the least
Father was a cad
Now Father is a dad—
Booty and the Priest

Happens all the time
Rarely a surprise
Cover what he did
Too bad about the kid
It’s time to tell some lies

Tale as old as time
Act as old as sin
Tell her to abort
As a last resort
Call the lawyers in
Certain as The Church
Wants the claim released
Tale as old as time
Act as old as slime
Booty and the Priest

Tale as old as time
Act as old as slime
Booty and the Priest

The New York Times reports the story of "A Mother, A Sick Son, and His Father, the Priest"; the Rev. Henry Willenborg (seriously, is he still "Reverend"? Lemme check the dictionary. ok, yeah, the prefix to the name of a member of the clergy, check... worthy to be revered; entitled to reverence, uncheck... pertaining to or characteristic of the clergy... I get it--it's an oxymoron!) abused his position of authority (with more than one woman, according to the story), Fathered (pun intended) a child (after asking the mother to abort), and did pretty much everything in his power, with the aid of The Church, to avoid taking responsibility in any meaningful way. An absentee Father.

Oh, yeah, the kid, now 22, is dying of cancer. The sort of thing that would make a normal parent move heaven and earth to help their child. Hell, I'm ready to donate bone marrow if the Cuttledaughter gets a cold... and don't get me started on the Cuttleson's diabetes! Surely cancer would...
“We’ve been very caring, very supportive, very generous over these 20-something years. It’s very tragic what’s going on with Nathan, but, you know?” said Father Willenborg, before trailing off and ending the interview.
Bastard. The Father, not the son. Oh, yeah, and the Church are also bastards:
Father Willenborg’s Franciscan superiors were aware of his relationship with Ms. Bond well before Nathan was born. A year earlier, Father Willenborg and Ms. Bond had conceived another child. Ms. Bond said that Father Willenborg suggested she have an abortion, which she found unthinkable. He finally informed his Franciscan superiors of their liaison.
Anyway, the whole article (first link above) is worth reading, if you are in the mood to really get mad at somebody. Oh, and here is an audio slideshow. I am very impressed that they managed to mention the fact that the Father has sent his son a get-well card, without making a snarky comment. I don't know that I could have managed that.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

The Flight Of The Falcon

The Flight of the Falcon, on cable TV,
Was followed by millions (including, yes, me),
Who watched as the media chased a balloon
And hoped against hope that they’d find the kid soon.

You ask why a knowledge of science is needed?
The info was there, though it wasn’t much heeded:
The size of the craft was decidedly small,
And it couldn’t have lifted young Falcon at all.

At five feet in thickness, and twenty feet wide,
The saucer held 600 cubed feet inside;
A hundred and fifty (or more) feet too few,
So flying was something the boy could not do.

(I cynically picture some geek on the staff
Who ran through the numbers and had a quick laugh,
Alerted the bosses: “there’s nothing to fear!”
“--But the ratings!” they said, “get your ass outta here!)

I realize, just now, at the end of my verse,
I really can’t figure which option is worse!
A cynical network, just jerking our chain,
Or science too tough for the news to explain!

Context, in case you live in a cave.


Someone Is Wrong On The Internet

Someone Is Wrong
…On The Internet,
And I won’t get to sleep for a while,
Cos I’ll stay up and fight if it takes me all night
When I know I am right and my coffee is strong
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
And the cases they cite are all lame;
I don’t mean to be picky, but hell, it’s not tricky,
Just google or wiki, you’ll see before long
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
And I’m not going to idly sit by!
What he says is a crock! So I’ll teach, tease, or mock
Till my internal clock thinks I live in Hong Kong
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
On a topic of interest to me,
And the rancor’s increased; I’m becoming a beast
And that glow in the East is becoming quite strong
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
Which I’ve stayed up the whole night to say
But his head is cement, and I’ve made not a dent
And one hundred percent of the gathering throng
Says that Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
But it looks like they’re siding with him.
They are here not to cheer for the points I’ve made clear
On this fight I’ve used sheer force of will to prolong
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet
It’s beginning to look like it’s me.
I can hardly admit that my logic is shit
But it doesn’t quite fit, ‘less I twist it a bit,
So defeated I sit, at the end of my wit…
Since time will permit, I will land one more hit:
Declare victory, quit, let that be my swan song,
Because Someone Is Wrong!
…On The Internet

image source XKCD, as if I had to tell you


Monday, October 12, 2009

Shakespeare's "Linguistic Fingerprint" Solves Mystery

We crave to know: Did Shakespeare write this play?
The academic types love to dispute
This work or that; the tool they ply today,
A software program, used in the pursuit
Of plagiarism in college papers. Now
It serves to tally up the phrases seen
In this and Shakespeare’s plays, and thus allow
Comparisons made, among them and between.
Two Hundred matches found, of phrases three
Words or more in length. (In truth, they did
Find as many for another—thus, we see
That Shakespeare shared the task with Thomas Kyd)
“Linguistic fingerprints”, it seems, have shown
He wrote the play, but did not work alone.

The software program "Pl@giarizm" was intended to catch cheating students. It may have caught an entirely different fish. Scholars have disagreed as to the authorship of The Reign of King Edward III, although at least some Shakespeare anthologies include it. Much of it seemed... just not Shakespeare.

We may have an answer:
Sir Brian Vickers, an authority on Shakespeare at the Institute of English Studies at the University of London, believes that a comparison of phrases used in The Reign of King Edward III with Shakespeare’s early works proves conclusively that the Bard wrote the play in collaboration with Thomas Kyd, one of the most popular playwrights of his day.
The program found about 200 matches between Shakespeare and the play, and about 200 between Kyd and the play:
The Shakespeare matches came from four scenes, about 40 per cent of the play. The remaining scenes had about 200 matches with works by Kyd, best known for The Spanish Tragedy, a play known to have influenced Shakespeare, indicating that he wrote the other 60 per cent of the play.
Nice work.

But according to the software, some of my students must have collaborated with some pretty impressive researchers! I should show them a bit more respect!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

NPR's Brain On God

Image (and story), NPR

Part 1: The God Chemical

Serotonin, in the human, is found mostly in the gut;
It helps peristaltic motion not to quit.
Serotonin—“the God chemical?”—If true, I’ll tell you what:
In both processes, the end result is shit.

Neurotransmitters will regulate the way we think and feel,
Or hallucinate or daydream, just the same.
We may feel a holy presence, but that doesn’t make it real;
It’s just serotonin, playing at its game.

Part 2: The God Spot

Teasingly, seizingly,
Neural activity,
Mostly confined to the
Temporal lobe,

Looks diagnostic to
Pointing to Abraham,
Moses, or Job.

Part 3: Spiritual Virtuosos

The brains of those who meditate (or speak in tongues, or pray)
Exhibit odd activity, or so researchers say.
It shouldn’t be surprising that their brains are acting odd—
That’s quite a lot of work for them to do… creating God.

Part 4: The Biology Of Belief

Can I influence things with my mind?
In experiments, run double-blind,
The clear answer is “no”;
But the money will go
To the studies more poorly designed.

The data, so far, have been clear;
Your mind won’t, when you’re gone, persevere.
Once you draw your last breath,
There’s no life after death,
Though that isn’t what some want to hear.

And the numbers are clear about prayer:
No effect (maybe God isn’t there?).
And I don’t find it funny
To hear that my money
Is spent on this sordid affair.

Part 5: Near-Death Experiences

The cases all vary, as well you might guess—
There cannot be “standard conditions”
The end of a life is a terrible mess—
Too bad for the researchers’ missions.

Reports of a “near death experience” may
Involve seeing a light, or may not.
Did your life flash before you, as some people say?
(I guess sometimes, they simply forgot.)

Was your heart being monitored? How ‘bout your brain?
You may guess that such cases are rare.
The claims may be many, but sometimes we strain
To find something reliable there.

But always the stories will grow in the telling
To tales we can hardly conceive!
(Especially so, when there’s books to be selling)
Some people just want to believe.

A couple of comments... I really really really found this article annoying. In what appears to be "showing both sides to the story", weasel-like language is used again and again. "Scientists are looking at..." um... how many scientists? What percentage of the people looking at this topic are looking at it from this perspective? "[A] small but increasing number of scientists..." increasing from what to what? Again, what percentage of relevant researchers fit your description?

In this case, I have taught courses in relevant subject areas, and I know that they are presenting a very highly distorted view of the picture. But you don't have to believe me; there are libraries and databases you could check. Libraries and databases that NPR must have studiously ignored.


Friday, October 09, 2009

Greed And Woo Kill Two In AZ

In Arizona news, today
A tale involving James A. Ray—
As seen on Oprah, he’s the man
Who tells us all, that Yes! We can!
Can make more money! Gain more wealth!
Can grow our spirit, mind, and health!
Create the life of which you dream!

He’s hit a speed bump, it would seem.
He hosts a lodge, where people meet
At his Sedona health retreat
His guests lined up—they chose to pay
Perhaps nine thousand bucks to stay
And join with other open minds
And other guests of many kinds
(I’ve seen his website—all you need,
To wish to join this group is… greed.)
At Angel Valley, host James Ray
Was with the others, there today,
Inside a sweat lodge, close and hot,
Where people learn what they have got—
A journey of the spirit, and
The mind—at least, that’s what was planned.
A leap of faith; a show of trust;
They’d brave the sweat-lodge if they must;
And when they started feeling funny,
Concentrated on the money.
Like Oprah’s “Secret”, here you’ll find
Success is found inside your mind—
Mind over matter! Just be tough!
You’ll win, if you are strong enough!

With sixty-four shut tight inside
A score fell sick, and two have died.

A brief story in most of the major news providers, but an interesting backstory. This was a retreat hosted by an Oprah favorite, James Arthur Ray, who is one helluva motivational speaker, apparently. From his website: (wait, seriously, is that a pyramid? How can anyone offering wealth on the internet put a pyramid on their website?)

Anyway, he hosts retreats at Angel Valley in Arizona, where people pay a bunch of money to do stuff.
Self-help expert and author James Arthur Ray rented the facility as part of his "Spiritual Warrior" retreat that began Oct. 3 and that promised to "absolutely change your life." The schedule had few details about what participants could expect, other than thrice-daily meals and group gatherings that started at 7 a.m. and ended 16 hours later.

The details came in a lengthy release of liability that acknowledges participants may suffer "physical, emotional, financial or other injuries" while hiking or swimming, or during a multi-day personal and spiritual quest in the wilderness without food or water or the sweat lodge.
Some participants told detectives they paid up to $9,000 for the event. In a testimonial on the Angel Valley retreat's Web site, Ray said it "offers an ideal environment for my teachings."
Source: AP.
Woo-inspired mind-over-matter bullshit led these people to stay in that lodge after they felt sick. If they leave, it is because they are weak, because they lack faith, because they aren't good enough.

I only hope Ray has the balls to accept responsibility. It would certainly be consistent with his message to blame the victims, and that would be horrible.

Again from the AP:
Ray's most recent posting on his Twitter account said: "Still in Spiritual Warrior ... for anything new to live something first must die. What needs to die in you so that new life can emerge?"

The posting and two others were deleted Friday afternoon.
No comment.


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Cephalopod Awareness Days!

I am reminded (thank you, Cephalopodcast!) that today is the beginning of a three-day orgy... erm... celebration... recognition of cephalopods! That's right, these are the Cephalopod Awareness Days!

The time has come! (What time, again?)
October 8, and 9, and 10!
Each year, this time, We play the odds
And celebrate the cephalopods!
(See, Pascal’s wager must apply
To more than just that Yahweh guy—
And crosses, crescents, pentacles
Cannot compare to tentacles!)
You need to hug a cuttlefish,
Or, yes, a squid, if you should wish,
Or octopus, if you insist,
But someone, somewhere, must be kissed,
With lots of arms to hold you tight,
And though we could, we will not bite.
(I would not even make a fuss
If you should snogg a Nautilus)

If you should think these days are Holy,
You do not grasp the concept fully—
The cephalopod, the fish, the eel,
Unlike the God, you see… are real.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

The Worth Of Science

Ok, I never do this--it is tough enough to come up with one post a day (I usually can't, so you get a few a week, but rarely as many as seven!), let alone more than that. But the NPR comment thread includes people asking what tangible value we get from the amazing discovery of the new (ok, newly found) ring around Saturn. And other commenters are taking the bait, giving answers framed in terms of dollars or other pragmatic criteria.

It is in times like this that I am thankful to both History and Winston Churchill. History, because scientific discoveries so often prove practically useful--sometimes long after they are found (the recent Nobel prizes show that practical applications certainly can come from pure research), and Churchill for one quote. Asked if he would suspend Arts subsidies in order to help the war effort, Churchill replied "What the hell do you think we're fighting for?"

If Churchill can use that reasoning, so can I.

What use is this discovery?
How many will it feed?
How many will it rescue from their poverty and need?
How many of my dollars went
To see this plan succeed,
While all around the globe, the people starve, the people bleed?

This money could be better used—
We could have gotten more!
Let’s fix the problems here at home, before we go explore!
The piles of money spent on this
We cannot just ignore—
A tenth of a percent* of what we spent on Iraq’s war!

Let’s question all the cost, of course,
And effort that we’re spending,
Against the gains in science, and the knowledge we’re extending.
It may not help to win a war,
If that’s what we’re pretending,
But stuff like this can make our culture one that’s worth defending**.

*ok, slightly less. Poetic license. Total cost of Spitzer telescope: 720 million dollars, according to Caltech. Total cost of Iraq war so far: 860 Billion as of February of this year, according to the NYTimes.

**not my idea—Winston Churchill’s.

Oh, I forgot! This and the last post were also posted as comments on an NPR story here.


New Bling For Saturn! (Galileo's Revenge)

When Galileo told the Pope
“Here, look into my telescope—
You’ll see much beauty there, I hope.”
His Holiness, the Pope, said “Nope.”

“Now kiss my ring, instead, and swear
That nothing of the sort is there—
I know you think it is not fair,
But I’m the Pope, as you’re aware.”

The Pope’s command was quite absurd,
But Galileo gave his word,
(Though some report him undeterred:
“E pur si muove” overheard.)

In hindsight now, with great delight,
We know, despite his Papal might,
That evidence would come to light
To prove the heretic was right.

With Urban’s ring already kissed,
The chance to get it right was missed,
Just one more error on the list—
But now, we find another twist!

What wonders will the cosmos bring?
Now Saturn sports another ring!
Much bigger than the Pope’s, this thing
Is interplanetary bling!

Four centuries have come to pass
Since Galileo ground his glass;
Far too much time for him, alas,
To tell the Pope to kiss his ass.

But now, the kids will learn in school:
That Saturn sports another jewel;
That telescopes are really cool;
One may be Pope, but still a fool.

I hope you will all, by now, have heard the very cool news: a new ring has been discovered around Saturn--a very different ring than any of the others; thicker, wider, in a different orientation than the other rings. The infrared imager on the Spitzer Space Telescope detected the faint image; the density of this ring equates to about 20 grains of material per cubic kilometer. You would not see it if you were standing in the middle of it; as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, "when you get there, there isn't any there there." Once again, science and technology stretch the limits of what humankind can perceive... when we are willing to look through the eyepiece.


Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Archie, Betty, Veronica, and the Many-Worlds Hypothesis

Two paths play out in a comic book,
When Archie walks down memory lane
“The road not taken” is the hook;
So now, the writers take a look
And re-write Archie’s life again,

This time with Betty as his bride;
Veronica the woman spurned,
Who once upon a time, with pride,
Was wed to Archie. Thus allied,
They lived while many seasons turned.

With either girl, he could not fail,
And Archie lived a happy life.
No matter which one wore the veil,
They were the toast of Riverdale,
Young Archie and his lovely wife.

Oh, we shall be buying them in the stores,
And looking to see what we shall find:
Two girls, whom Archie both adores,
Are made his mental paramours
Within the redhead’s tortured mind.

The New York Times reports that Archie is getting married. Again. This time, to Betty. Last time Archie made the NYT, he was getting married to Veronica.

In an attempt to be classier than Dallas ("it was all a dream?"), the writers (at least according to the NYT; I would not be surprised if this is their own attempt to salvage respect) claim that one of their inspirations was Frost's "The Road Not Taken". I'd claim it as one of my inspirations, too, but you would all know better.

Rather, my inspiration is quantum physics. In particular, Everett's many-worlds interpretation of quantum mechanics (which, for all I know, got its inspiration from Frost--at least in some branches of the wavefunction), and the popular "parallel universes" framing of the interpretation.

In fact, I wrote a song (many, many years ago, long before I was a cuttlefish) using the notion of parallel universes as a metaphor for our (my? I doubt it) tendency to re-live important conversations (or other interactions) many many times after the only "real" conversation (in this universe, anyway) was long over: "If only I had said this instead of that"; "If only I hadn't stuttered and stammered so much"; "what if I had kissed her?" These important conversations get one shot in our universe, then get replayed over and over again countless times with small but important variations in our obsessive thoughts.

Or maybe it's just me.

But I know I am not the only one thinking of many-worlds and being wistful about the wonderful things happening to some other me, some other universe. I am in very good company with Emmy.
I'm sitting at the computer typing, when the dog bumps up against my legs. I look down, and she's sniffing the floor around my feet intently.

"What are you doing down there?"

"I'm looking for steak!" she says, wagging her tail hopefully.

"I'm pretty certain that there's no steak down there," I say. "I've never eaten steak at the computer, and I've certainly never dropped any on the floor."

"You did in some universe," she says, still sniffing.

I sigh. "I'm going to move the quantum physics books to a higher shelf, so you can't reach them."
I've read the book, so I know that Emmy is going to get a better explanation than I can give--seriously, I recommend it highly. (even wrote a review.) But Emmy is more of an optimist than I am:
"Hey, look on the bright side," I say. "In the universe where a version of me dropped a piece of steak on the floor, there's also a version of you."

"Yeah?" Her head picks up.

"Yeah. And you're a mighty hunter, so you probbaly got to the steak before I could pick it up."

"Yeah?" Her tail starts wagging.

"Yeah. So, in the universe where I dropped steak, you got to eat steak."

"Oooh!" The tail wags furiously. "I like steak!"

"I know you do." I save what I was working on. "Tell you what, how about we go for a walk?"

"Ooooh! Good plan!" and she's off, clattering down the stairs for the back door and the leash.

She's really a very silly dog.
Me? I want the universe with the perfect conversation, and the kiss, to be this one. I don't particularly care about some other Cuttlefish, even if it happens to be another me.

And I really don't care about Archie.

(excerpts from "How To Teach Physics To Your Dog" are not actually from the book, but from the blog-post that inspired it. I like the book version better, but I am much too lazy to type it all in.)


Monday, October 05, 2009

Happy 40th, Monty Python! (And Now, For Something Completely Different)

A word or two was often all it took,
Just "Crunchy frog?" or "Dinsdale!" and we're off;
Skits, recited like our holy book--
"Nudge, nudge, wink, wink", or Anne Elk's nervous cough.
The parrot sketch; a cheese-shop free of cheese,
Mrs. Premise's chat with Mrs. Conclusion;
Michael Baldwin's name--which means, if he's
Not Bruce, that's going to cause a little confusion.
"Albatross!" "What's brown and sounds like a bell?"
The stirring song of Eric the Half a Bee
Deleted scenes, with Satan up from Hell
And crucifixion not for us to see.
You've influenced us more than you may know:
Happy Birthday, Monty Python show!

Oct. 5, 1969--Monty Python's Flying Circus premiers. BBC story.

For your one-stop shopping, the Monty Python YouTube Channel. Revel in it.


Sunday, October 04, 2009

Ode To Bulgarian Beer

I’ve enjoyed a tasty pizza
With a glass of Kamenitza
In a restaurant on Shipka street, one perfect summer night.
I have had a friend uncork a
Giant bottle of Zagorka
As we argued over politics (we both, of course, were right).
I’ve found arguments intense go
So much better with Shumensko
So I asked my local grocer “can I special-order beer?”
When I told him what I wanted,
Had my fantasies confronted
With the tragic information: “No, you cannot get that here.”


I'm was looking, strictly for educational purposes, to find a place I can buy Bulgarian beer. I know, it won't be the same here in the US, but over there it was wonderful stuff. At the "O Shipka!" restaurant on Shipka street, it was perfect. At Boyan's apartment, it was perfect. At Veliko Tournovo, shared with new friends while preparing to watch the light show, it was perfect. In Bourgas. In Plovdiv. It helped that we were near the breweries, and it was always fresh. It helped that it was summer. It helped that we were with friends. But still, it was damned good beer. And I can't get any here.

So if you are where you can get some, and want to take pity on a poor, thirsty Cuttlefish...

Oh, just for fun, some of the Bulgarian beer ads are interesting. Very different target audiences, I think.



Friday, October 02, 2009

Ardi, You Gorgeous Creature!

If my blog is the first you have heard of Ardi, you need to get out more. Ardipithecus ramidus is her species, "Ardi" is her nickname, and I love her. She is, I will admit, a bit old for me, and a bit dead. Four point four million years dead. So it is a bit of a Platonic love, even if she predated Plato by more years than the gent could have imagined were possible. She made the front page of the New York Times today (that's the link above), with a photo spread online and everything, and I knew exactly what I was getting into when I clicked to look at the comments. I swear, the experimental studies on cognitive dissonance prove that creationists know they are liars: Festinger knew that we tend to look for confirming evidence--things that support what we already believe--and tend to avoid discomfirming evidence... but creationists are all over this story like stupid on Ken Ham, making excuses for what seems like the millionth nail in their pathetic coffin.

For those of you who love the archaeology/anthropology bit, have fun with all the wonderful articles and commentary. For those of you who also enjoy watching a nice train wreck... don't forget to read the comment threads.

It’s predictable as sunrise; it’s predicable as tide;
As the evidence is published, it is just as soon denied.
“It’s the fossil of a monkey!” “Hey, my brother’s also short!”
“There is nothing in the Bible that’s denied by this report!”
“Evolutionist conspiracy!” I cannot list them all,
As if Ardi acts as proof there was Creation, and then Fall.
There will never be a fossil found to calm the silly storm,
That’s accepted as example that’s transitional in form.
The specimens were numerous, but never quite enough—
Unless you’ve found “the missing link”, they’re gonna call your bluff.

Our family tree has changed again, as many times before;
Each fossil was disputed in its turn, so what’s one more?
How comforting—there’s one thing that’s consistent from the start:
Creationists and ignorance will never, ever part.

As an aside... The NYTimes article, in part, states
The Ardipithecus specimen, an adult female, probably stood four feet tall and weighed about 120 pounds, almost a foot taller and twice the weight of Lucy. Its brain was no larger than a modern chimp’s. It retained an agility for tree-climbing but already walked upright on two legs, a transforming innovation in hominids, though not as efficiently as Lucy’s kin.
In one sentence, they identify Ardi as female; in the next and following, her pronoun is "it". Wha? My pets have the privilege of gendered pronouns, but not my great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-.... great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandmother? (bonus points for whoever can fill in the ellipses within an order of magnitude) This is just not fair!


Thursday, October 01, 2009

News Item (Australia): Churches Allowed To Discriminate

In the Sydney Morning Herald a few days ago, a brief story on a legal compromise; in exchange for church groups being forbidden "to discriminate on the basis of race, age, disability, political beliefs, breastfeeding and physical features", they will be allowed "to discriminate on grounds of sex, sexual orientation, marital status and parental status".

My favorite juxtaposition: the opening paragraph and the church spokesweasel reaction.
The Victorian government is expected to announce today that religious groups will be allowed to discriminate against gays and single mothers in a controversial compromise reached on workers' rights.
The changes have angered critics, but church leaders applauded the decision.

Good News, Today, for those who hate;
The Church may now discriminate!
(It did, before, and that was bad,
But now it’s good, so please be glad!)
There are some limits, let’s be clear,
For instance, say you’re old and queer:
Age is protected, but as of today,
They’ll kick you out for being gay.
Or if you’re female, and you’re black,
The key’s the penis that you lack—
Discrimination based on race
Is now forbidden. Not the case
With sex, or with sexual orientation,
Parental, or marital situation.

So remember, Church, the change this season,
And cite the appropriate legal reason.
With so many options still left on the table
I’m sure, if you’re willing, you’re bound to be able.
For any employee, just make a list,
And check for any you may have missed,
And something, somewhere is bound to fit
On the list of the sins you’re allowed to commit,
Which will make it all legal—they won’t get to sue

I’m sure it’s what Jesus would want you to do.