Monday, November 23, 2009

No God? No Problem!

I’ve got absolute truths by the dozens
They depend on the god that you cite
And, my brothers and sisters and cousins,
I have to decide which is right.

Each claims their morality’s better
They’re divinely inspired, you see;
So I’d follow their laws to the letter,
Except that they all disagree.

Whenever I look to the bible
To see how a person behaves
I can trust that the info’s reliable,
Like how I should punish my slaves.

I don’t wish to be petty or selfish
I just want to know I am right
Is it worse to be gay, or eat shellfish?
Both are wrong, in Leviticus’ sight.

Is it sinful to kill and eat cattle?
Well, the Hindus, of course, would agree
But then, kosher’s a whole different battle,
Although bacon tastes yummy to me!

I’ve got absolute truths if you want ‘em
Each according to different gods
Some keep them, and others will flaunt ‘em
But you’re breaking some rules, say the odds.

When religions make war over quarrels,
And they claim that their god is the source
Can a person have humanist morals?
Of Course!

Context: USA Today story (along with comment thread--you might want to join in!) about the new holiday ads by the humanists. Another round of "be good for goodness' sake!", which might as well be "your Virgin Mary wears army boots!", for the reaction it's getting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Galileo! Galileo!

Galileo's middle finger. Appropriately.

The mystery no longer lingers:
Found, at last, two missing fingers.
They both belonged, as did one tooth,
To Galileo. That’s the truth.

The heretic had made a fuss
Supporting old Copernicus;
The Earth, he said, each year will run
An orbit 'round our yellow sun;

A statement, in The Church’s sight,
That could not possibly be right--
So Galileo swore he lied,
And nine years later, up and died.

Nine decades later, scientists
With strange things on their “must do” lists
Removed some fingers, teeth, and bones,
Then laid him back beneath the stones.

For years, his parts, though very old,
Were bartered, traded, bought and sold,
Until, in nineteen-hundred five,
Expected parts did not arrive.

The trading, then, went underground—
Until this year. Now, they’ve been found!
Next year, his fans may go and see ‘em
At Florence’s History of Science Museum.

The Beeb reports that... well, honestly, it's best in their words:
Two fingers and a tooth belonging to famed astronomer Galileo Galilei have been found more than 100 years after going missing, a museum in Italy says.

A collector bought the items, lost since 1905, at auction and gave them to Florence's History of Science Museum.
The museum said it had no doubt about the authenticity of the items.

Scientists cut the parts - plus another finger and a vertebrae - from Galileo's body in 1737, almost 100 years after he died.

So... in honor of Galileo (and inconsistent with the title of this post), a music video. I never quite got the "degrees of separation" bit--but I am friends with the sister (and her husband) of the author and performer of this particular "Galileo". (I'd embed it, but they have requested not to. Go. Click. It's a few years old, but it's worth it.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Will Religion Evolve?

Religion is the perfect tool
To motivate the common fool;
So long as leaders crave its power,
The church delays its final hour.

Religion's purpose is control
(And not the saving of the soul);
No holy mind; no will divine,
But rather, keeping folks in line.

Religion, having once evolved,
Is just one way this problem's solved.
But having once found this solution,
It may not die through evolution.

It likely won't, to be succinct,
Just fade away and go extinct.
They'll be here till the world grows old:
Religion... and the common cold.

"How Will Religion Evolve?" asks the New York Times' TierneyLab Blog. The occasion is the publication of Nicholas Wade's "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures". Of course, there have been many treatments of the evolution of religion, whether as an adaptive behavior adding to the reproductive fitness of human beings, as the byproduct of other adaptive mechanisms, as a self-replicating meme evolving independently of ourselves... or as a true part of our environment to which we respond. The question the TierneyLab Blog raises is "what will religion evolve into?", which is a decent question to ask.

I figure (and I may be wrong--I just slapped this together between grading papers) that whatever religion might evolve into, evolution works with what it is given (from the past genetics and the present environment), so there are some limitations on what religion might evolve into. Just as humans are constrained by our tetrapod lineage and will never evolve supernumerary angel wings (batlike wings are unlikely, of course, but far more possible), the religous lineage also imposes constraints. We cannot roll evolution backwards, only forwards, so we must build on what religion is, not on what it could have been.

What religion is, is a way of controlling people. And a very successful one. Anything that can, without too much strain, lay claim to both the Sistine Chapel and the Jonestown Suicides, to the Parthenon and to the Crusades, to Sarah Palin and to Torquemada, has got to be good at controlling people. Hey, if you want to take credit for controlling in a good way, you gotta take the fall for controlling in a bad way. Evolution does not care; religion, as an evolving creature or behavior, does not care. It just (very successfully) controls.

Religion does what it does (control) very well. So does the common cold. Both "religion" and "the cold" are oversimplifications, one name for myriad creatures, but sharing a fuzzy but functional role. And while I may well wish the world were rid of both of them... like I said, evolution does not care.

PS. If any of you got an extra copy of the bananaman Origin of Species, I want one! Might even be persuaded to trade a copy of my silly book for it... (so long as no profit goes to Ray of Darkness)...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, Poor Stanley Fish!

Oh, pity petty Stanley Fish
Who isn’t treated as he’d wish;
Who wants the world to go his way
Complaining at each brief delay.

If retail workers choose to take
Their legally required break
And Stanley has to wait a bit
Professor Fish will throw a snit.

The poor, poor, privileged Stanley Fish
Starts steaming like a chafing dish
When operators are too bold
And ask to put the man on hold.

And Stanley Fish will take offense
(In fact, or maybe in pretense)
At error screens and menu trees
And other helpful things as these.

It must be nice to live a life
So calm, so cool, so free of strife;
Annoyances are viewed as crimes
And worth a column in The Times.

In his column in Monday's New York Times, Stanley Fish complains:
There is a class of utterances that, when encountered, produces irritation, distress and, in some cases, the desire to kill. You hear or read one of these and your heart sinks. Everyone will have his or her (non)favorites. Mine is a three-word announcement on the TV screen, “To Be Continued,” which says, “I know that you have become invested in this story and are eager to find out how it ends, but you’re going to have to wait for a few days or a week or a month or forever.” In the great order of things, it is only a minor inconvenience, but it is experienced as a deprivation; you were banking on something and now it has been taken away.
Stanley has a rough life. I can't think of the last time "To Be Continued" gave me the desire to kill.

He goes on to list other horrible crimes against humanity, like cashiers taking breaks, operators asking if they can put you on hold, and the horrible and insulting "Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed." Yeah, that last one is right up there with roadside bombs and amoebic dysentery, innit? I note also, with amusement, that Fish takes computer messages as being designed to tell him, personally, that he is an idiot, when in fact he is clearly more important than the people who are trying to do their jobs while dealing with a caller or customer whose idea of an appropriate response to "to be continued" is homicidal rage.
So there it is : a list of phrases that make you wince and say (if only to yourself), “Oh, no!”, because they derail expectation or because they offer condescension and prevarication in equal measure or because they accuse you of failures and weaknesses often before you’ve even had a chance to do anything.

I’m sure the list could be longer, and I invite you to add to it.
I did add to it. As of this writing, my comment is "awaiting moderation", despite roughly one hundred later comments all being posted without incident. My comment (submitted at 8:05):

“Let us pray”.

The next few minutes will rarely be devoted to speaking to god, but rather to chastising those gathered in hearing range, whether they wish to hear or not. All well and good; those people are there to hear, whereas god is busy helping a football team win or something. Still, if you are going to speak to the people, then admit you are speaking to the people, and don’t pretend to be praying. Better yet, use the time in productive activity.

And of course, the similarly useless

“Join me in a moment of silence”

In which a group of people gathered together, who could be using this time productively, intentionally choose to waste it, but to make themselves feel better about having done so.

Comments are now closed, after 424 people complained about trivia similar to Fish's selfish items, and one person writes "How albout (sic) all the religious ones? Have a blessed day. It is God's will. He won't give youmore (sic) than you can handle Blah, de blah, de blah."

I suppose my comment won't be approved, because it was not trivial enough. It's ok for Stanley to insult the service industry, but to suggest that prayer is an organized waste of time? Not in Stanley's world.

Monday, November 16, 2009


The experts all will have their say,
Examining each different way
The world we know will cease to be;
We know the world will end one day,
We each could be the last to see,
And though we know, of course, it may,
We each will hope “it can’t be me!”

A black hole made by evil CERN
A calendar about to turn,
With all the danger that portends;
An unknown planet, which we learn
Will kill our families and our friends;
Some few will watch the planet burn
And witness as our species ends.

We read, and weigh their sage advice:
The world will end in fire or ice
Or so, in rhyme, said Robert Frost.
How will it end? We roll the dice,
The game is over when we’ve lost;
Today, the players don’t think twice—
Their children will absorb the cost.

Disaster films and end-times tales
Are more concerned with ticket sales
Than teaching people how to care,
The work that such a job entails,
The damage that we must repair,
Before our fragile system fails
And all too soon… there’s no one there.

The saddest thing I have seen on this is that there are people who take this 2012 nonsense so seriously that they are contemplating suicide--or worse, suicide after killing their families.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time To Eat The Dog?

I bike to work; I do not drive;
My thermostat’s on “chilly”.
I compost; I recycle; I
Think wasting fuel is silly.
I have a backyard garden, where
I grow my corn and beans;
I can my own tomatoes, and
I patch my old, torn jeans.
I try to purchase locally
From stores that show they care,
And speak at local gatherings
To make us all aware.
I’m doing all I know to do;
I’m hedging all my bets…
But now, I hear the latest news:
It’s time to eat our pets.

Our pets have carbon footprints,
Just the same as you or me,
And Lassie has the impact of
A good-sized S.U.V.
The meat it takes to feed a pet
Should make you think a bit
And that’s before we mention all
The tons and tons of shit.
Our dogs, of course, reflect ourselves,
In how much we consume
It’s time for some reflection here,
Ere Fido meets his doom.
With lots of bigger targets here
Before I roast my bitch;
You want to save the planet?
Then it’s time to eat the rich.

Both the BBC and the Guardian (UK) report on the provocatively-titled "Time to eat the dog?", which takes an interesting new approach to analyzing our environmental impact.
Instead of measuring emissions of CO2, or CO2 equivalent, they calculate the literal footprint or "global hectare" (gha) - the amount of land it takes to support a given activity.

So they work out that constructing and driving the Land Cruiser for a year takes 0.41 gha.

Growing and manufacturing the 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a border collie or cocker spaniel eats every year takes about 0.84 gha.

A bigger dog such as a German shepherd consumes even more - its pawprint is more like 1.1 gha.

By their reckoning, that is more than the environmental footprint of the average Indian person, who uses just 0.8 gha of resources.

If you are a multiple dog owner you are in even more trouble. Two big dogs have a bigger carbon footprint than some British citizens.

According to the book the average resident of Cardiff requires just 1.89 gha.

The average American, by contrast, requires a whopping 9.5 gha.
Taking a closer look at that 0.84 gha figure for a border collie, New Scientist points out (in an editorial titled "Cute, fluffy, and horribly greedy"):
If that's troubling, there is an even more shocking comparison. In 2004, the average citizen of Vietnam had an ecological footprint of 0.76 hectares. For an Ethiopian, it was just 0.67 hectares. In a world where scarce resources are already hogged by the rich, can we really justify keeping pets that take more than some people?
As I have known for some time now, I am clearly part of the problem. We all are, in a global Tragedy of the Commons.

We need to become part of the solution. If using Fido or Fluffy gets people's attention, then the authors' unusual approach has done its job. Judging from the comments on various news articles, though, there is a significant population who won't quite get the point of the book.

Oh... for those who think the "Time to eat the dog?" people go too far, you might not want to click here.

UPDATE: Ah, it seems it was too bad to be true, or at least too bad to be accurate. Take a look here for a nice skeptical look at the analysis. (In a nutshell, the researchers underestimated the impact of SUVs, and overestimated the impact of dogs; the majority of pet food comes from "byproducts" of the production of food for humans, and cannot be meaningfully seen as competing for the same scarce resources. On the other hand, the Guardian article did focus on a trend of gourmet dog food, which does use the same cuts of meat that people eat. It is, admittedly, a small part of the market.)


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Impossible And Unnecessary Pursuit Of Perfection

"Have you noticed how much they look like orchids? Lovely!"
- "More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" --Robert Heinlein

“There is no such thing as perfect”, she said,
What she meant was Platonic Ideal;
That ancient Greek has made us seek
For things that are better than real.

All populations will vary, you know,
Even twins aren’t exactly the same
And that’s the appeal of the things that are real
Cos monotony sure is a shame

Perfection, to me, is a wonderful spectrum,
A rainbow of difference and change
The lows and the highs, every shape, every size,
My perfection is seen in a range

Bigger, or smaller, or thicker, or thinner
Darker or paler in hue
Yes, every complexion is part of perfection
Including, so perfectly, you.

But Plato’s perfection, a perfect ideal
Is the reason for this operation
But cutting some snips off of vaginal lips
Isn’t perfect, it’s just mutilation

When Barbie is viewed as a model for women
(Despite being merely a doll)
Being hairless and plastic, while patently drastic
Is seen as a goal for us all!

The body (your body) is perfect as is—
It’s a one-of-a-kind work of art!
The flesh of your quim isn’t something to trim—
I’d as soon take a knife to your heart!

Rejoice in the body you already have
Protect it and treat it with care;
Don’t ask which direction will lead to perfection:
My darling, you’re already there!

I've written before about some of the problems that arise from a pre-Darwinian view (in this case, a Platonic view) that finds some abstract entity "ideal", and variations (which, since the ideal is an abstract, must necessarily exist) as imperfections or flaws. The notion that "there's no such thing as perfect" is a necessary consequence of Plato's world view, but of course it will be the case when you define "perfect" as he does. In a population-centered view, there is no utility in an abstract ideal; a varying population is a necessary element to evolution, and to life. There is no perfect Luna Moth, for instance--or, just as usefully, we could say that any Luna Moth is perfect (or at least as entitled to use the term "perfect" as any other).

Every McDonald's hamburger is the same. Every hamburger I grill is different. Which more deserves the label of perfection? (and yes, on occasion one of my burgers may be worse than a McD's; I do have my off days.) Variety is not just the spice of life, it is the main dish. Things that do not vary are not alive (literally and metaphorically; I know someone who has eaten the exact same lunch for some 50 years--with regard to lunches, this person is long dead.)

So I was particularly disappointed to see this BBC report, a "new warning on perfect vaginas" (It's well worth a read, although I will not quote much here.) As soon as we speak of "a" perfect vagina, we are in Platonic territory and have defined the goal as out of reach. So women have been seeking some approximation of this perfection, and for some reason have decided that the perfect vagina is not that of a woman at all, but that of a prepubescent girl. Labioplasty is on the rise, and the story reports on a "'shocking' lack of information on the potential risks", as well as the dubious ethics of a procedure that seems preponderantly to be a response to culturally-created concerns about looking... well, like a woman instead of like a Barbie doll.

It's bad enough when platonic thinking misleads people about atheism and religion. But far worse is the notion that it is powerful enough to lead people to voluntarily (no, worse--to pay for it) have someone take a scalpel to their genitals (!!) in order to transform them from unique into assembly-line monotony.

Of course, the article presents others who call the surgeries safe and a simple way to address self-image problems. Mind you, these others are on the receiving end of the £3,000 paid for the operation, and have no incentive to complain about Plato.

And, not that it matters, but there are just sooooo many other titles I could have chosen for this post, which would have guaranteed hundreds of clicks on a daily basis for years to come... ok, all of them from people looking for a particular sort of porn, but still.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time For Another Poll

Because it has been a while since my last one.

Feel free to explain your vote, if you can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Come The Rapture, Who Feeds The Dog?

The day the rapture sweeps the land,
And plucks up true believers,
Among those heathens Left Behind
Are Labrador Retrievers

No Saint Bernard will make the trip
Nor Cockapoo, nor Hound;
The Lord may be my shepherd,
But my Shepherd stays aground.

No Poodles, Pugs, or Pekingese;
No ifs or ands or buts—
The rapture takes God’s faithful,
But it doesn’t take the mutts.

Believers who are worried for
The welfare of their pets
Are offered, now, an answer
If they’d like to place their bets.

“Eternal Earthbound Pets” exists
To serve those Left Behind;
It’s rapture pet insurance, if
Believers are inclined.

Of course, not all believers think
Their pets will all be lost;
Their pets may go to Heaven, too
(Thus saving them the cost)

And Fido sits beside them, cos
In Heaven, all is well;
Together, they can laugh and spit
At sufferers in Hell.

From The Union Leader (Manchester, NH) comes the last pet-sitting service you will ever need. Well, assuming that you are going to heaven. If you're with me, plan on needing to buy kibble for a long, long time.
As those Christians who believe in the Rapture get taken up into eternity, the pet-lovers among them will have one less thing to worry about if a Langdon atheist has anything to say about it.

Bart Centre, 61, a retired vice president of an international retail firm and current co-owner of Eternal Earthbound Pets, is offering a $110 post-Rapture pet care service. The way Centre sees it, he makes a little money in his retirement, and should Jesus Christ return and the Rapture occur, those snatched up into heaven will have their pets cared for, he said.
Of course, to me, the most interesting thing was the reaction from the editor for Rapture Ready:
One Christian who is having a bit of a chuckle over it is Terry James, general editor for the popular Christian Web site Rapture Ready based out of Arkansas.

"He's giving somebody the business," James said. "It's a scam. . . . Anyone who would take that offer seriously, well, how would you even follow up?"

James said what is true is that Christians who believe in the Rapture do wonder about what will happen to their pets. So many, that James wrote a pamphlet about it. He said though pets will be left behind, if the people in Heaven decide that they miss their pets, they can decide to have them brought up later. He acknowledged that sounded a little screwy, but, he said, it's what he believes.

"I find it kind of amusing to tell you the truth," he said of Centre's business venture. "I don't begrudge him and I don't hate him for it. And if anyone is actually foolish enough to buy the service and don't think to follow up, well, then they are foolish."
Leaving aside the irony of a biblical literalist making up non-biblical pamphlets telling feel-good stories about pets in heaven, and leaving aside the irony of someone with his beliefs calling any other beliefs foolish, there is a further, less evident (or maybe that's the H1N1 talking) irony.

I have, in arguments with Rapture Ready believers and their ilk (not using my Cuttlefish handle), been told that they are happy I am going to hell, and that they will greatly enjoy looking down from heaven and watching me suffer in a lake of fire. I have been told that they will laugh, and if they are feeling particularly charitable, they will spit on me, just to watch me welcome this relief from the searing heat. Seriously.

And these people (or, most probably, others who share portions of their world view) are going to miss their dogs in heaven? Terry James makes up a story about bringing up Fido later, but gee, it's too bad about grandma. If you love her, maybe you can convince more of your heavenly friends to spit on her.

(edited to add: predictably, the commentary on the story is every bit as interesting as the story itself, which will surprise no one familiar with the Union [mis]Leader.)

Cuttlecap tip to commenter Laurie on Pharyngula.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Natural State Of The Featherless Biped

Image: Michael McRae

The natural state of the featherless biped
Is totally batshit insane,
From the folks who are “tetched”, to the mere “barking mad”
To the ones even Freud can’t explain.
Some talk to themselves, some talk to “the voices”
And others to “god, up above”
Some know there are bugs living under their skin,
And some (pity them) are in love.

A clear diagnosis is hard to obtain
When we’re characteristically odd.
Just look at behaviors most people call normal
Like talking and listening to god;
If you claimed you were talking to Satan himself
They would probably lock you away;
But instead, choose a different invisible friend
And the doctors all think you’re OK.

Some point to religious folks flocking like pigeons,
With atheists more solo fliers—
And say this to friends who have gathered together
With Dawkins, or Randi, or Myers.
Of course, there are differences, none could deny,
But a few similarities, too.
We follow our leaders, a true social species
As nature selects we should do.

When Dennett says memes can take over our heads,
Make us willing to die for some god;
I look at the hooligan soccer-fan riots--
Devotion no longer seems odd.
The vestments and hats of the Orthodox Church
Are a spectacle worthy of mention,
But some secular groups may be equally gaudy—
Just check out a Star Trek convention!

It’s good to examine abnormal behavior
(Whatever “abnormal” might mean)
Just remember, we’re usually seeing ourselves
In the things we’re surprised to have seen.
We like to point fingers at somebody else
For the troubles, today, that we face;
But don’t point at others; the problem is us—
We’re the batshit-insane human race.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This is a fairly early verse--from about a year and a half ago--so it ought to be new to quite a few of you.

Cuttlefish Classic: Creationist Museums

Image: Michael McRae

I took a walk through time and space—
Through several million years—
I found that some things never change,
Or that’s how it appears.
Stupidity’s a constant
(Hey, I call ‘em as I see ‘em);
I noted Man’s is not the sole
Creationist Museum.
Seems everywhere I looked around
In present or in past,
I found museums touting God—
And all of them half-assed.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised
Or find them each defective;
Each species must be Number One
When seen from their perspective.

The early primates said:

God created Lemurs, and
The world was truly blest;
“Descent of Man” is apropos—
He’s clearly second best.
The perfect form’s arboreous,
As anyone can tell
When apes descended from the trees
Things really went to Hell.

The early tetrapods said:

Acanthostaga sits supreme
As God’s most perfect beast;
To get from them to humankind
Just go from best to least.
Look inside our holy books
And find revealed—the Flood;
God’s favorite creatures, thus, must live
In water and in mud.

The early chordates said:

God created Amphioxus,
Perfectly designed.
Mutations and deformities,
And now we have Mankind.
With notochord, pharyngeal slits,
Their form is most divine
Then vertebrates just messed it up
And now they have a spine.

The prokaryotes said:

The truly blest bacterium
God’s chosen form of life
With billions of them in the gut
Of Adam and his wife.
The heaven-blessed prokaryote
Is God’s Most Perfect Form,
And mammals are just one more way
To keep us nice and warm.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one is from nearly 2 full years ago, back when about a dozen people were reading here. On top of that, it was not linked to from any of the more popular sites I comment on, so the odds are very good that the majority of you have not seen it. Nothing new in it--the Aesop's fable of the painting makes the same point, as does Haldane's "fondness for beetles" comment. Human creationist museums must necessarily show the god we created in our image; I cannot imagine that if bacteria had their own creationist museums, they would take a decidedly different perspective.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: Help Me, Estro-Blaster!

Image: Michael McRae

There is something in the waters
That can turn my sons to daughters?
I’m so happy that this flyer came to tell me of this fact!
Every smoothie that we’ve blendered
Means they’re halfway to transgendered!
Every second now is precious—it is time for us to act!

Time to panic, and I’m thinking
That the water I’ve been drinking
Is a chemical castration, and a feminazi plan!
I drink water like Niagara
As I wash down my Viagra;
Now I see why it’s not working, and I’m still a little man.

Time to buy some Estro-Blaster
And to hope the mail comes faster—
‘Cos I’m worried that perhaps it may already be too late:
I’m not thinking with my penis,
I’ve abandoned Mars for Venus—
And I find I’m moody, ‘bout a week before I menstruate.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse was my reaction to the snake-oil merchants at Estro-Blaster, who prey on fears of demasculinization (if that is a word) amidst news stories of trace amounts of estrogen found in drinking water. Whether or not something works, it would seem you can sell it better by promising to make manly men more manly. In a related matter, one of my most-read posts is my "ballad of smilin' Bob", with the subtitle "the biggest dicks of all". All of my other most-read posts are associated with one or two days of popularity, but Smilin' Bob gets a few hits almost every day... each by someone googling for "biggest dicks" or some variant.


Cuttlefish Classic: I Am Charles Darwin

Image: Michael McRae

I am Charles Darwin—ninety-nine point nine percent
There’s a little variation that I don’t share with the gent
But we share a common blueprint, which is kinda what he meant
When he came to the conclusion that we’re all of shared descent

I am Charles Darwin—what I mean is, I am Man
I’m a billion trillion accidents instead of One Big Plan
Just a step or two from chimpanzee or from orangutan
Maybe more than distant cousins, but you recognize the clan

I am Charles Darwin—I can’t help it; it’s my genes
We’re mutation and selection, see, when no one intervenes
Like a god with claimed omnipotence, or alien machines
None better and none worse than us, is really what it means

I am Charles Darwin—I was never Eden-cursed
I am just another animal, I’m neither best nor worst
From primordial beginnings, look how widely I’ve dispersed
Such a beautiful idea…Charles Darwin saw it first.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

UPDATE!! I have been sent a rendition of this verse in song! A very nice ballad, with ukulele accompaniment, which you can hear here--just look to the player on the right of the page. As of this writing, it is the song on the bottom, but it looks like he has a bunch of original music there which I intend to listen to as soon as I am done writing this.

What's New?

What's new?

The flu.

And you?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem

Image: Michael McRae

In sociobiology,
Why I love you and you love me—
Which anyone can plainly see—
Is mostly in our genes.
No, not the ones you buy in stores,
But what a scientist explores--
I like the way you look in yours,
And you know what that means.

What subtly-coded stimulus
Takes you and me, and makes us “us
And makes us feel ‘twas ever thus?
The list of suspects narrows.
No longer are we all a-shiver
From some Cupid with a quiver
Out of which he might deliver
Fusillades of Eros.

Nor Dopamine, nor Serotonin
Tell us why our hearts are moanin’
Though they serve to help us hone in
On–not why, but how;
The parasympathetic blush,
Adrenaline to bring a rush,
Are how, not why, I’ve got a crush
On you, my darling, now.

But if old Charles Darwin’s right,
The reason that the merest sight
Of you will always give delight
Is…reproductive fitness.
Throughout our species’ family tree,
Producing proper progeny
Is what determined you and me
And Darwin was the witness.

Is thinking that you’re oh so sweet
And how you’ll make my life complete
Some trick to make our gametes meet?
It seems it may be so.
I feel the way I feel today
Because some bit of DNA
Sees your genetics on display
And wants to say “hello.”

But think of this, for what it’s worth:
Millennia before my birth
That DNA had roamed the earth,
In residents thereof;
The neat thing is, it’s really true,
The feeling that I have for you
Although, of course, it feels brand-new
Is truly ageless love.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one has been reprinted in last year's "The Open Laboratory", and gets tons of hits every February, for some reason. Sadly, it has not yet shown up in the Hallmark aisle at the local drugstore.

Cuttlefish Classic: The Ballad Of Sally Kern

Image: Michael McRae

A legislator, Sally Kern,
Was simply voicing her concern,
But Sally Kern was unaware,
Or if she knew, she did not care,
That someone had a microphone
So Sally Kern was not alone.
“Oh, I’m not anti-gay” said Sally,
To the fifty-person rally;
“But there are things you have to learn”
And who will teach us? Sally Kern.
Sally Kern, she knows the answer—
Knows how gays are like a cancer,
Knows they’re worse than terrorists
If Sally Kern can keep the lists.
So Sally Kern must raise her voice
Against unhealthy lifestyle choice;
The cost of life against God’s Word
Is clear, the people gathered heard:
Disease and death, and then you burn
In Hell, or so says Sally Kern.
Then Sally Kern, in pure effrontery,
Tells us gays will harm our country:
If we embrace these sinful ways,
Says Sally Kern, allowing gays
To join the City Council ranks
Or work in schools, or stores, or banks,
Our country would be tempting fate,
And all too soon would be too late.
Now, such a stance may seem too stern
But heed the words of Sally Kern;
If we let gays live right among us,
Soon, like mold, or creeping fungus,
Even straights will be infected—
Sally Kern wants us protected.
The path to safety is God’s Grace:
We must protect the human race.
Sally Kern just wants us purer…
Right. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.

Special bonus: The Modest Agnostic's youtube version of this verse!

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse is one of my favorites for its seussian qualities, its hyperbole, and its godwinesque last line. This is one of those verses that pretty much came out in real time and in final form, and I really didn't know what the last line would be until I got to the second to last. And The Modest Agnostic reads it so well! Much better than my own voice would be.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cuttlefish Classics: I Thought I Saw An Atheist

Image: Michael McRae

I thought I saw an atheist, once, walking down the street.
I checked for horns, I checked for tail, I checked for cloven feet;
Began to tremble frightfully—my heart was in my throat—
Then sighed in happy recognition, for ‘twas but a goat.

I thought I saw an atheist, down near a swollen stream
With scaly skin, and blood so cold, I couldn’t breathe to scream!
I looked into his bulging eyes, and prayed “God, grant my wish”
Then laughed in my embarrassment—it only was a fish.

I thought I saw an atheist, with fur and pointed claws,
And wicked teeth for chewing up Judeo-Christian laws,
I ran, and tripped, and fell to earth, then hid behind a log—
It caught me, though, and licked my face—of course, it was a dog.

I thought I saw an atheist, though cleverly disguised
Not giant and reptilian, but human, normal sized,
It looked to be engaging in productive, useful labor;
But no, this was no atheist—this person was my neighbor!

I thought I saw an atheist; in fact, I saw a few!
My neighbor, and the grocer, and the cop, and maybe you!
I even found some in the church, right there beneath the steeple;
It turns out, to my great surprise… that atheists are people.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse is one of my favorites, and such a versatile structure! It was revisited twice (so far), first in a case of a Chicago state representative shouting down an atheist at a public meeting, as if atheists were somewhere below flatworms on her scale of respect:

...I thought I saw an atheist, upon the witness stand
It couldn't be! Not where I live! This is a Christian Land!
The Constitution guarantees my right to scream and shout;
As the Good Lord is my witness, I demanded "You! Get out!"

I thought I saw an atheist demand an equal voice;
I told him he could leave right now, and that could be his choice.
I said his view was dangerous--our children must not hear!
It goes against the Bible, which our government holds dear!

I thought I saw an atheist nod quietly, and sigh.
The odds were stacked against him, which no person can deny;
What happens when a person is denied his civil right?
I may have seen an atheist who's now convinced to fight.

And then once more, when Liddy Dole's senatorial campaign tried to gain votes by accusing her opponent of cozying up to ... of all things... atheists!

I thought I saw an atheist
Approach a voting booth—
Her voice was shrill, her eyes were wide
Her manner quite uncouth;
She tried to force her views on us
And exercise control—
I looked again—I’m wrong once more
Why, this was Liddy Dole.

I thought I saw an atheist
Discriminate and hate;
Deride a weak minority
Because the hour’s late—
To try to stir the masses
She’s been losing in the polls;
I looked again, and listened well—
Those words were Liddy Dole’s

I thought I saw an atheist,
So “radical” and “vile”
Wage war against America--
A villain with a smile
Promoting hate, promoting fear
For petty, selfish gain—
I looked again, and clearly saw
The Liddy Dole campaign

I thought I saw an atheist
Stand up and say “no more!”
I will not be your scapegoat
Like so many times before!
Americans, stand up as Christian
Muslim, Jew, and Pagan,
Or atheist, or anything,
And cast your vote for Hagan!

Cuttlefish Classic: Oh, Wait...

Image: Michael McRae

My God is pretty self-assured, and quite convinced He’s right.
He made me in His image, so He’s green-eyed, blond, and white;
And He’s very, very wrathful with the folks who disagree;
He’ll hold a grudge for centuries—Oh, wait—that might be me.

He’s insecure enough to want to hear how much you love Him
And He never will forgive you if there’s someone else above Him;
He’ll jealously react to any threat to His domain
By smiting all His enemies—Oh, wait—that’s me again.

He’ll make the world a better place for those who think like Him
For those in opposition, well, the situation’s grim;
He’ll call jihad, or else crusade—some form of Holy War
Because He knows He’s always right—Oh, wait—that’s me once more.

He’s handsome, bearded, steely-eyed, deep-voiced and somewhat haughty
So wonderful, his naughty bits are never seen as naughty
But perfectly proportioned, grand and firm and never shrinking,
A miracle of awesomeness—Oh, wait—that’s wishful thinking.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one was from May of 08--I remember it as being earlier than that, but such are memories. It was inspired by a poll in England, in which a majority of respondents apparently believe that god is, indeed, male. Likely white and bearded, too. It's like the Sistine Chapel is a giant Polaroid shot.

We really like our gods to be made in our own image, don't we?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Octopus Gods

Image: Michael McRae

Oh, the cephalopods have their Octopus Gods,
With tentacles stronger than steel,
Who have taken down ships with their powerful grips
And made many a sailor a meal.

They win wrestling matches with submarine hatches
Like popping a tin of sardines
Then it’s horrible cries, and tears in the eyes
Of the witnessing Merchant Marines.

Survivers are few, but they swear it is true—
“The monster, it started to throttle us!”
You can vividly note, from the scar on his throat
He survived the attack on the Nautilus.

These powerful deities loves spontaneity,
Thus, are well-loved by their followers
Who all serve as one, having octopus fun
Whether tiny, or submarine-swallowers

When I tell you (no lie) that the octopus eye
Is superior even to Man’s
It’s clear that this creature’s the centerpiece feature
In a sinister deity’s plans

They’ll take down a shark, like a walk in the park—
You’ve seen it on YouTube, I know
And to get to their goal they can squeeze through a hole,
Up the drain, in your tub, to your toe!

So guzzle your Folger’s—these octopus soldiers
Are coming for you while you sleep!
These eight-legged beauties will all do their duties;
Invisible devils, they creep.

So the next time you think, “could one hide in my sink?
Or my bathtub, or even my toilet?”
As a Cuttlefish, I would be seen as a spy
If I told you (besides, that would spoil it).

If you find an appeal in an octopus meal—
Say, for sushi you’ve got a real itch—
The cephalopods have their Octopus Gods
And I’m telling you, payback’s a bitch.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one is from my very first month of posting here, when I averaged under 50 readers a day, so it may be new to you. Enjoy!

In Which It All Hits The Fan At Once

My laptop computer is giving me fits;
It will randomly fade into black.
It looks like it simply is "going to sleep"--
With a difference: I can't get it back!

My car has a problem they can't diagnose,
And it's rapidly starting to die;
The gauges don't work, and the power is weak,
And my grease-monkey doesn't know why.

My bike needs new shifters, new gears, and a chain,
The socks I am wearing have holes
With two kids in college, and spouse out of work
It is difficult meeting my goals.

But I'm healthy, I'm happy, and looking around
I can see, many more have it worse--
I don't think I'd trade places with anyone else...
I'll just sit here, complaining in verse.

Ok... every word of that is true, but this is not meant to be a pity-inducing post; I am very much aware that a great many people (including, I would assume, some of my readers) are in far worse shape than I am. Last time I actively asked for money, I had a specific and immediate need, and my readers showed a generosity so far beyond any real-life people [read: my damned department] that it was my readers who made the single most amazing experience of my last 5 years (maybe more; I am being conservative) possible. I am not in such straits this time, and I am not trying to guilt-trip anyone.

But I am going to gently ask for money. No hard-sell, though; I am not threatening to stop posting (I am much too obsessive--if nobody donates a cent, I'll still be here); I have no pressing problems (other than what is in the verse above, which could probably describe a great many lives, and is no great hardship); I have no claim of charitable need-based donating. If, though, you read and enjoy this site, please consider clicking the tip jar over there on the right. It's the time of year when I start figuring out cephalopodmas spending, and right now my budget is zero. (Which, I will be the first to admit, puts me way ahead of a staggeringly large number of people whose budget is negative.)

For the next few days, I will be posting some "best of" re-posts. This is for two reasons. One--I have a lot of grading I need to get to, and a laptop to bring in for repair, and a car to set fire to, and a bike to fix, and socks to darn. Two--according to google analytics, the vast majority of people who visit here don't look at the older posts, and I really like some of them! So if you have a favorite you'd like me to repost, just let me know in the comments here or in email, and I'll surely get to it!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vote No On 1!

If you have friends or relatives in Maine
Who are sane
Or whom you can convince to do what is clearly right for us all
Give them a call.
Whether they are mobsters
Or stereotypical caricatures in slickers and sou'westers fishing for lobsters
Whether they are calm or jittery
Whether they live as far north as Madawaska, or as far south as Kittery
Today is the day, for every woman and every man
To do what they can
To promote
The vote.

Seriously... I know I have a few readers in Maine. I am fairly certain they are already going to vote. Anyone else, take a minute or two and search through your email address book; if you have friends or family in Maine, take an additional minute to make sure they are not going to sit this one out. If they won't vote for themselves, maybe they'll vote on your behalf. Vote No On One.

If your friend happens to be a member of one of the churches opposing gay marriage, simply remind them that there are churches today that already approve of gay marriage, and that their vote could set a precedent for control of church policy by the state. It is in their own best interest not to set that precedent. Vote No On One.

If your friend decides to argue with you, call them up. Let them rant and rave as long as they want to... preferably until just after polls close.

Vote No On One.

I'm Cuttlefish, and I approved this message.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Bells! (Arizona Courts Side With Neighbors, Silence Church)


Hear the churches with the bells
Recorded bells!
What a load of excrement their melody fortells!
How they started up one morning
As the neighbors tried to sleep!
With an utter lack of warning
And no beauty there adorning—
A recording! Clearly cheap!
Crying, “Hear, hear, hear!”
To the folks who live too near
To the audio recoding that malevolently wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the Christ the King Cathedral and its bells.


Hear the neighbors’ busy bells—
Telephone bells!
Hear the litigation their cacophony foretells!
Though the effort was a waste,
Hear them speak to their distaste,
To the Bishop of the church
And to the cops;
As for quietude they search,
Though the heavenly loudspeaker on its perch
Never stops!
At annoyance it excels!
Nearly causing epileptic seizing spells!
How it swells!
How it smells
Like dead Fish! It compels
The neighbors to hotels,
From the staying there and playing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the taping, no escaping from the bells!


Hear the loud, disgruntled bells—
Bishop’s bells!
What a tale of persecution, Here where Jesus dwells!
In the sermons every week
An exemption’s what they seek!
Special treatment for their acts
For the facts are not the facts
In this case!
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the court
In a mad expostulation, even prayer as last resort!
Digging lower, lower, lower,
Though it’s louder than a mower,
And the senses it’s assaulting,
More annoying than exalting
To the neighbors they have to face!
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale the Bishop tells
Of despair!
Hear him brattle, bleat, and roar
Till his vocal cords are sore!
As he’s breathing in the sacrilegious air!
Yet the congregation’s ears
Filled with twanging
And with clanging
Will ignore the neighbor’s fears!
Yes, the congregation stays
With the jangling
And the wrangling,
And no mercy it displays,
For the begging and the pleading of the neighbors to the bells
Of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
To the painful and disdainful Christian bells!


Hear the judgment of the bells—
Judicial bells!
With the judgment of a Solomon, their legal might compels!
The opinion of the court
Now, the Bishop’s will, will thwart,
With legitimate authority to bear!
In every case they see
They require you and me
To be fair
And the people—ah, the people—
Like the Bishop with his steeple—
See him there!
See him twisting and denying
With his sanctified hot air
Parsing words that border lying
They are neither true nor holy
They lie partially or fully
All to fools!
And his church it is that tolls,
His recording, there, that rolls
Annoyance from the bells!
And the Bishop fairly swells
From the pride of ringing bells!
At the pulpit, now he yells;
Wasting time, time, time
Now convicted of a crime
For the ringing of the bells
Of the bells—
Wasting time, time time
Now convicted of a crime
For the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells—
For recordings of his bells,
Wasting time, time, time,
And the bells, bells, bells,
Which he sullied with his crime,
In the playing of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells—
For the blasting of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
For the playing of the tape-recorded bells.

With humble and sincere apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.


Sunday, November 01, 2009

How Not To Treat A Book

To pick and choose from Origin,
Although it feels like libel,
Is only treating Darwin's book
The way Ray treats the Bible;
Omitting chapters here and there
And redefining "fitness"?
He does the same with Holy Writ
And gladly bears false witness!
He makes his way through every book
A picker and a chooser;
With equal treatment everywhere--
Consistently a loser.

Over at the US News & World Report blogs, the God and Country blog is giving much too prominent a soapbox to creationist liar Ray "bananaman" Comfort, arguably giving him much more authority than he deserves by pairing him with Eugenia Scott.

Bananaman takes advantage of this disproportionate pairing by asking "If I am (as Professor Dawkins says) "an ignorant fool," why are so many feeling threatened by what I've written?" Nice spin, actually. I suppose that a gnat is likewise all puffed up with importance when it can stir a lion to casually bat at the annoying little pest. "If I am such an insignificant little nothing, how is it that I can force a lion to--*squish*". And Scott obligingly renders the little creature into its component parts, pointing out that Bananaman had removed several chapters of Darwin's writing, then claimed in his "introduction" that Darwin had not sufficiently addressed points that were covered in those chapters! It appears that the gnat has been shamed into including those chapters in upcoming printings, but his "introduction" continues to mislead, something which I was almost certain there was a commandment prohibiting.