Saturday, July 24, 2010


The emergence of some feature
Through selection of mutations
Doesn’t happen in one creature,
But across the populations!

Permutations, combinations,
Both additions and omissions,
Lead to phenotype creations
And their rapid acquisitions

Sometimes networks are redundant
And the extras act to buffer—
When mutations are abundant
We don’t always have to suffer!

And environmental factors
May give rise to phenocopy
Where the genes are not the actors
(Yes, it’s all a little sloppy).

So it seems that the initial
View of evolution’s liable
To be somewhat superficial
(Not as much, though, as the bible)

When the pressures of selection
Shape the feature’s distribution,
This determines the direction
Of the change called “evolution”.

PZ writes a very nice post, outlining one of my pet peeves (ok, that's not his point, but it happens to be a pet peeve of mine), a common misunderstanding about evolution, and (to my thinking) about the broader functional contextualist view, of which Evolution is the most visible example (radical behaviorism is a distant second, but is misunderstood in precisely the same manner that PZ points out for evolution). The misunderstanding is most easily seen in the search for "firsts"--the first human, the first cuttlefish, the first anything. Tony the Fish. Gakky Two-Feet. The firsts. There were no firsts. There were populations.

Friday, July 23, 2010


Oh, HATE!!! Distilled to element—oh, hate; oh, hate; oh, hate-oh!
An idealized form of hatred scarcely dreamt about by Plato
I despise the caterpillars that descend on my tomatoes
And I wish that every one of them would die.

Though I hate them with a passion, and I kill them with devotion
There are others who feel differently—one group had got the notion
They could X-ray one while crawling, and examine it in motion
(While the gardeners among us wonder “why?”)

So they took these little bastards (whose existence is appalling)
And they photographed their innards with an x-ray, while they’re crawling,
For the purposes of science (which I still find rather galling,
And I hold a strong suspicion that they’re nuts!)

But they took the fancy x-rays, and they looked inside the critter,
With a particle accelerator acting as transmitter,
(I’m not certain, but the odds are they announced it all on twitter!)
And his walking starts with movement of his guts!

Yes, each movement that he makes begins with innards forward-thrusting
Which the scientists find wonderful—myself, I find disgusting—
They propose a robot model (which, with luck, will soon be rusting)
Where a soft and gushy robot would be best

And the nasty little bastard who demolishes my garden
And who makes my hope diminish, and who makes my anger harden
And who ought to die a horrid death, if you will beg my pardon…
Is the prototype. I think you might have guessed.

Ok, the truth is, I don't know what sort of caterpillar was used by the researchers. But most of the popular press articles are using the Tomato Hornworm as their example.

I hate tomato hornworms. Hate, hate, hate, hate.... On every level, I hate them. I have found a total of one of them thus far this year... which makes me nervous, because how the hell do you end up with one caterpillar?


Researchers have examined them, and have found a new means of locomotion! Rather like me at a buffet line, these caterpillars lead with their guts, and let the rest of them catch up. Different, as I said, from any other walk.

Of course, the possibility of robotics is being explored. I would bet, without a shred of evidence thus far, that the caterpillars' contribution is being used to deliver ordnance. Just guessing.

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Galileo, again

A re-posting, of sorts--I blogged about this last year, but now the exhibit has started. Florence's History of Science Museum (now named, appropriately enough, the Galileo Museum) is giving us the finger. Several, in fact. And a tooth.

When overseas 2 years ago, one thing that fascinated me was the varied reactions to the icons of saints in the various churches. The finger of this saint, the skull of this one, the whole body of this one... a pebble from the place where the loaves and fishes miracle occurred... Some visitors rolled their eyes to all, some were in obvious ecstasy about all, and many drew their own personal lines as to which were worthy of veneration and which were just plain silly.

The exhibit at the Galileo Museum is both-- amazing and silly.

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!
Today, his fans may go and see ‘em
At Florence’s History of Science Museum.

(all I had to change was one word!)


With surf and sun
It’s lots of fun
To swim at Wallis Sands
Wield plastic tools,
Dig sandy pools
In which to wash your hands

Where you can share
Your picnic fare
With seagulls, if you wish
And now, the place
Where you may face
A giant jellyfish!

A sunny day
The children play
With sunscreen on their faces
With playful dunks
And sand in trunks
And other gritty places

A sudden sting,
A hurtful thing—
The children scream with pain
The swimmers rue
The blob of goo
They call the Lion’s Mane

It's not often that the coast of New Hampshire makes international news--frankly, there's not all that much coast there (which does not stop the state from charging two bucks for the privilege of driving the 17 miles from MA to ME--effectively holding Maine hostage from the contiguous US). But when a giant (ok, a fairly small individual for its species) tentacled menace attacks and injures (ok, technically it was dead, and fell apart when the lifeguard tried to collect it with a pitchfork, having never heard the phrase "nailing jello to the wall") 150 beach-goers, somebody is going to notice.

It is a Lion's Mane Jellyfish, not normally seen so far south, nor in shallow water. I predict that lifeguards will be given a new policy: for jellyfish, use a fishnet, not a pitchfork.

Wednesday, July 21, 2010


The recent farewell post by Bora, and some of the other explanations for departures, have got me thinking. It's not something I do often, or terribly well. But I found a couple spare neurons to rub together, and I am mulling things over. I'm not seriously considering stopping writing--although it is entirely possible that the new world order will make it such that my audience diminishes tremendously. Or not. I really am not that good at predicting the future. But I do know that one thing I want, before the entire internet goes the way of 8-track tapes, is a good, solid, souvenir. A comprehensive book, a best of the three or so years I have been doing this. I liked Vol. 1, but released it at a horrible time for actual sales; vol.2 was thrown together (completely my fault) in too little time. So I'm starting now, with the thought of having something really and truly worthwhile by Halloween or Thanksgiving (Early November would be ideal, I think.)

I'm saying this publicly, because I have said it privately too often and let it slide. I have received valuable advice and offers of help, which (entirely my fault) I let wither on the vine because I was too busy grading papers.

Anyway... 1) I am opening up for good advice, bad advice, and advice that's not quite sure but willing to experiment. 2) I would really (really) like to hear from you, if you are a fan, which verses absolutely must be part of it, and which verses absolutely should be taken out behind the woodshed and shot humanely. If you would, just leave a comment (positive or negative) in the comments of any that strike your fancy--I'll let gmail compile for me. And don't worry about insulting any of them; hell, anyone who likes them all has lousy taste (even *I* dislike some of them)!

Hey, it might give you something to do while SB is on strike. (what? So soon?)

Again, this is not an "I'm thinking of quitting" post--I owe my readers far too much for that; they have made wonderful things possible for me, and it might take me a decade to repay that.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Open Thread For Displaced Pharyngulites

While Pharyngula's going on strike
You can hang around here, if you like.
Look around, take your time--
No, you don't have to rhyme;
(And DM? You can go take a hike!)

No, I don't expect you to migrate here en masse, but I saw Laden invite people, and thought I'd put out the welcome mat as well.

Monday, July 19, 2010

On Social Engineering

I wrote this yesterday, I think, on a comment thread that turned into a tone-fight, so I doubt that more than the half-dozen or so participants bothered to read far enough down to see it. So here it is. A previous commenter had written that he had hoped that people would donate out of the goodness of their hearts, and not need to be rewarded for doing so; I personally would much rather give out a ton of food donated by selfish bastards than half a ton donated by selfless altruists. Besides, I think the latter are mostly found in mythology, anyway:

If we only take donations
With the purest motivations
And our shelves remain half-empty, it's the hungry folks who lose.
If the sponsors can afford it,
There's good reason to reward it!
And the altruists can turn their prizes down, if they so choose.
Do not make it any harder
Than it is, to stock a larder,
With a view of human nature based on freely-chosen good!
I don't care if it looks greedy,
If it helps the poor and needy--
The alternative is hunger, till we give "because we should".
If a prize or recognition
Brings donations to fruition--
"I'll increase my odds of winning if I donate lots of tins!"--
You can say that it looks selfish;
I'm not humanist, I'm shellfish!
When we pay for good behavior, sometimes everybody wins!

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Two Books

There was a man who had a book
Of Things Which He Believed;
He followed it religiously—
He would not be deceived.

The story in its pages was
The Truth that he adored—
The world outside its ancient script,
He faithfully ignored.

When someone found a falsehood
Or a small mistake inside it
(Or even some tremendous flaw)
He eagerly denied it.

The Truth was there inside his book
And never found outside
If something contradicted it
Why then, that something lied

And when he met another man
Who had another book,
He fell not to temptation—why,
He didn’t even look.

And, surely, there are other men
With other books in hand
Who walk, with views obstructed,
Here and there across the land


There was a man who had a book
(I find this quite exciting)
Who looked upon a tangled bank
And then… he started writing.

He wrote about the things he saw
And what he saw them do
And when he found mistakes he’d made
He wrote about them, too

He shared his book with other men
And women that he met—
They found the catch is bigger, when
You cast a wider net.

They shared their observations
So that everyone could read;
They worked as a community,
The better to succeed.

They found they saw much further,
And discovered so much more
When they stood upon the shoulders
Of the ones who’d gone before

It’s a book that keeps evolving,
Always growing, as we learn.
Many people help to write it:
Would you like to take a turn?

Friday, July 16, 2010

I Will Survive!

My original beef with Libertarians is at a very basic level--I disagree with a great many of their philosophical foundations. Now this--Libertarians are Darwinian?

Well, selection might have maimed me
And the old Grim Reaper claimed me
Many years ago, but medicine kept both of them at bay.
Penicillin gave protection,
When without its help, selection
Would have taken me in childhood, and there'd be no me today.
My political opinion?
If your party is Darwinian
You're a right cold-hearted bastard who assumes your kind survives.
Evolution? Hell, I love it,
But I'm glad to rise above it
And to help both friend and stranger to live better, longer lives

From PZ again

Now That's A Crime!

I knew a man who broke the rules—
As many others did—
He didn’t troll through Sunday schools
And try to rape a kid;
He didn’t gag the doctors,
Hard at work promoting health;
He didn’t tithe the destitute
To redistribute wealth;
He didn’t push for ignorance
Of reproductive choice,
Or silence the dissenting gays
Who tried to raise their voice.
Oh, no—this man was worse than that,
The horrid, horrid beast!
He pushed for ordination
Of a woman as a priest!

Via PZ, of course.

Wednesday, July 14, 2010

I Put A Spell On You!

P-Zed reports on the Indianapolis public school system's decision to block certain websites from their school's computers. Nothing major there. But it appears (maybe it's just a grammar problem--wait, in the schools? can't be!), but it looks like one of the things they are worried about is that students would then have access to the spells and incantations used by atheists.

I couldn't find my copy of "atheist spells for dummies", and I don't trust my memory any more, but I don't seem to recall us atheist types actually having any spells or incantations in the first place.

So I wrote one.

I invoke the godless fires
In the name of P. Z. Myers
And if Satan were not fiction, I'd be using his name, too!
Poison potions in my kitchens
Are the legacy of Hitchens,
And of Dennett, Dawkins, Harris... (if you're reading this, then you!)
It's a special incantation
For the heathens in our nation
Surely Darwin grants approval from his sulphur throne in hell--
If I knew the phrase in Latin
I'd recite it, smooth as satin,
But since atheists don't do that shit, perhaps it's just as well.

Monday, July 12, 2010

Jesus On My Sheet

The cuttlesignal went off the other day--I've misplaced the link, but it was another case of pareidolia; a business was in tough times and needed a sign that everything was going to be ok, and then *drumroll, angelic trumpets* the image of Jesus appeared in a flag, or a towel, or an awning, I forget which. It hit the news when a local priest agreed to go check it out--and of course, business at that [water park, I think] has been booming. It helps that there has been a heat wave, after two consecutive summers of record rainfall during the busy season. But I guess this was just J's way of making sure we all knew who was responsible for the good weather.

And I started thinking--are there ever any of these cases where someone sees Christ in their shower curtain and thinks "eww, mold--I'd better clean" instead of "call the priest and FOX news!"? I mean, there have got to be times when Jesus is just not the guy you want hanging around... (for my non-USA readers, "Hints from Heloise" is a newspaper advice column with household cleaning and cooking tips.)

Dear Heloise, I’m writing cos I need some good advice,
And I knew that this was trouble, by the time I’d washed it twice
It’s a rather dicey problem, so I hope you’ll be discreet:
See, I’ve got the face of Jesus on my sheet.

It all started when I noticed, just a week ago, a stain;
It was still there after washing, but I’m not one to complain
If it’s clean enough for sleeping on, there’s nothing more to do
But my girlfriend had a different point of view

We were heading for the bedroom for a bit of bad behavior
When my girlfriend was distracted by the visage of Her Savior
And I knew, as of that moment, I was wholly out of luck,
Cos my girlfriend won’t let Jesus watch us fuck.

Just a bit of dirty laundry
But it’s got me in a quandary
So I’m asking you to help me get it clean
Cos I’d love to do some sinnin’
But with Jesus on my linen
I’ve a snowball’s chance in hell to get obscene

I’ve tried OxyClean and Method; I’ve tried Gain, and All, and Tide;
I could sit here twenty minutes, listing all the things I’ve tried
I’ve tried bleaching and ammonia, but I’ve only met defeat;
There is still the face of Jesus on my sheet!

I could make a bit of money if I called the local priest,
And the local news affiliates—or email FOX, at least,
All the money-making options leave me dizzy in the head
When I only want to get my girl in bed

If I tell her it’s spaghetti sauce, or motor oil, or semen,
She would hit me with her rosary and shun me as a demon
So I’m asking you, Dear Heloise, cos you’re my only hope,
Have you got a special Christ-removing soap?

So the problem, as I tol’ ya
Is annoying pareidolia
She sees Jesus Christ, where Jesus really ain’t
Though my Mary ain’t a virgin
She’ll need more than simple urgin’
Cos with Christ around, she’s acting like a saint

I could soak and boil and scrub it, for forever and a day
Or just give it to my girlfriend, and then send them both away
Cos the problem’s not the image, when you get right down to facts,
No, the problem is in how the world reacts.

There was Christ in a potato; there was Satan in a cloud;
There were things in Rorschach inkblots that we dared not speak aloud
It’s a feature of perception, not a puzzle to perplex
So go on, let Jesus watch you having sex!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Free Verse

I'd shill for a shilling
But no one is willing
To pay for the things that I write.
I'd rant and I'd holler
For minimum dollar
But no one is offering, quite.
A couple of euros
To stuff in my bureau's
Sufficient for verses like these;
Though some call it whoring,
I'm begging--imploring--
Come, sully my principles, please!
If someone would shell out,
I'd promise to sell out--
My standards, I'll keep in my purse--
For now, though, I'm sighing
Cos no one is buying...
And all I can write is Free Verse.

Originally posted at ERV.

Ok, the truth is, I once got an offer of some money to put an advert anywhere on the right side of the page. I don't think I ever replied, because frankly I did not believe it could possibly be a serious offer!

Friday, July 09, 2010

De Media

The internet's a funny place
For learning or for study--
Compared to books, a different pace,
And apt to be more muddy;
An ADHD metaphor,
Abstraction in mosaic;
A banquet for an omnivore
That's more than most can take;
It's drinking from the firehose;
It's rumors, lies, and flames,
Where no one seems to care for clothes
And people make up names.
Where idiots who've learned to type
Can act as Trusted Source,
Spew propaganda, spin, and hype
And change a nation's course!

But let's not go all addle-brained
In praise of books in print;
Their reputation's not un-stained
(Not even if we squint)
The printed book of days gone by,
That stalwart of the ages--
It seems to me, a lie's a lie,
In pixels or in pages.
If better days are sorely missed;
Of elevated worth;
The New York Times Best-Seller List
Will bring you down to earth.
The books that people buy, I'll bet,
Are rarely what they need--
And books, as well as internet
Can mangle and mislead.

When reading leads to tedium,
Both book and web are one:
It's writing that's the medium--
Not rare, and not well done.

Context: David Brooks in NYTimes
Cuttlecap tip to Adam Bly's new blog.

Tuesday, July 06, 2010

Octopus Picks Spain; Cuttlefish Picks Germany

With all those arms (or are they legs?)
The octopus named Paul now pegs
The Spanish team to win the day
Or so the German papers say.

With all those legs (or are they arms?)
Paul’s pick makes Germans sound alarms—
The credulous are worried sick
Since Paul has made his octo-pick

But me? I’ve seen the Germans play;
I’ll go out on a limb today
(And since I’ve two more limbs than Paul,
My pick is better, all in all)

I’ll choose the Germans over Spain;
The octopus has picked in vain!
His streak will end, once I have won!
(And yes, I know… it’s just for fun.)

Of course, no one really believes the superstitious claptrap that an octopus can see the future. Besides, why just *see* the future, when you can influence it?

Germany coach Joachim Loew says he will wear his blue sweater during the match because it has brought him good luck. "I am not superstitious, but the coaching staff want me to wear it because we always score four goals when I wear it," he said. "They won't let me wash it and I do think I will wear it again."


Update: Ok, I was wrong and the octopus was right. My only excuse (cos, the thing is, I was wrong) is that when I made my pick, I had forgotten that Muller had picked up a second yellow and was out for today's game. Good luck to Spain, but my hearts are with The Netherlands!

Monday, July 05, 2010

Stoning Sakineh

In Iran, Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani has been sentenced to death, by stoning, for adultery. There have been 126 executions in Iran thus far this year (as of June 6). There have been 30 in the US, as of last week.

Pick a stone, and feel its heft;
We want to make this last.
Convicted of adultery,
She should not die too fast.
The whore confessed to all her sins
Beneath the lash’s sting—
By number 99, of course
She’d say most any thing—
Now we, as Allah’s instruments
Must rob her of her breath;
The law’s the law, and clearly calls
For stoning her to death

Her acts were unforgivable;
We’re righteous as we kill--
Her act was human selfishness
While ours is Allah’s will

From CNN:
A veteran Iranian human rights activist has warned that Sakineh Mohammadie Ashtiani, a mother of two, could be stoned to death at any moment under the terms of a death sentence handed down by Iranian authorities.
Ashtiani, 42, will be buried up to her chest, according to an Amnesty International report citing the Iranian penal code. The stones that will be hurled at her will be large enough to cause pain but not so large as to kill her immediately.

Plastic Surgery?

The perky breasts of mannequins
Inflame the poor Irannequins;
Because their lust could not be sated
They had the boobies amputated!
Now, lest you think their actions drastic--
Plastic surgery on plastic--
The clerics claim they had good cause
To hack away at tits with saws;
There is, I think perhaps, an answer--
A cause as cruel, as dire as cancer:

Religion is the real disease
That led to these mastectomies.

Image source. Cuttlecap tip to PZ.

Friday, July 02, 2010

If George Berkin Worked For Hallmark

So I heard, today—you’re dying; God has blessed you with a cancer
In the past, a certain-death-by-torture sentence.
So I send congratulations! “Why?” you ask; well, here’s my answer:
Now there’s time and motivation for repentance!

Since the hand of God has touched you, with His doom-inflicting fingers
Your esophageal cancer is sublime!
And I wish for you the type of death that lingers, lingers, lingers,
With the merciful benevolence of time!

You have time to turn to Jesus, and to thank your carcinoma
If you’ll listen to Our Lord Almighty’s voice
Just repent to God, your savior, just before you lapse to coma,
Cos Jehovah gave you time to make your choice

If you choose to shun the chance to make a godly new beginning
And you tell yourself it’s really just as well
Then you’re reaping what you’ve sown, and since you spent your life a-sinning
Then I hope you like eternity in Hell!


Thursday, July 01, 2010

Zombie Day?

Apparently it is Zombie Day over on ScienceBlogs. I never get those memos. Anyway, I'm reposting a couple of Zombie-themed verses from a while ago, just for fun.


The delicious brains of Jessica Hagy, that is. I can't believe I had never seen her site before Pharyngula posted this one:

I commented there, but added a few more stanzas here...

We struggle in vain to distinguish a Mass
From your typical Zombie behavior
As they guzzle down red by the bottle or glass
And delight in Filet of Our Savior.

Perhaps it's a matter of what's on the menu;
Your Catholic is more of a snacker,
But if you feel teeth on your shoulder, why, then you
Know zombies want more than a cracker.

When Jesus said “This is my blood that you drink,
And this is my body you eat”
Did something he knew of their tastes make him think
They were zombies, and lusting for meat?

Did the Catholic Church, from the time of Saint Peter,
Rejoice in the words that he said,
And at least once a week, become Zombie flesh-eater
And feast upon Jesus Undead?

I worry it's some sort of slippery slope
Where they struggle 'gainst gravity's chains
And I wonder if Ratzinger got to be Pope
By eating the Cardinals' brains.