Saturday, October 30, 2010

Trick Or Treat! (VOTE!!!)

The leaves are red and yellow, and
A chill is in the air
It’s frosty in the mornings, so
You have to dress with care
The last days of October mean
That creepy things are out—
Cos scaring folks is what this season’s really all about.

With fearsome, greedy pirates, and
With nasty, ghastly ghouls;
They’re canvassing the neighborhoods
And threatening our schools
They’re after sweets and money—
Just as much as they can tote—
Only one chance to defend yourself—so please be sure to vote!

The most fearsome of the little trick-or-treat monsters that accosted us this evening (Cuttleville had trick-or-treat tonight, because local towns share police, and thus need to split trick-or-treat nights over 2 or 3 nights) was maybe three feet tall, and had difficulty seeing through his mask. Much, much more frightening are the political ads, and perhaps more frightening than that are the polls. Sadly, I've been polled a couple of times, and I have heard for myself the sort of leading questions that are asked in order to push for a favorable outcome.

One of the "Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me" panelists has a book, "Don't vote--it just encourages the bastards"; I'd suggest that anyone who really doesn't want to vote... goddammit, vote anyway! No one can tell if you are not voting out of protest or out of apathy; not voting as a protest is about as sane as not eating or not breathing as a way to make a point--more harm than good. If you want to send a "none of the above" message... write in "none of the above", don't stay home. Or better, write in Digital Cuttlefish. I can let them know what you meant.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Bears Repeating

A story from Russia that might bear repeating;
The bears there are starving—no food to be eating—
Since bears are resourceful, seems every so often
They’ll head to a graveyard and dig up a coffin!
You’ll visit the grave of some newly deceased,
Just to find that some hungry, enormous old beast
Has decided your uncle would make quite a feast!

It’s a serious matter—with no roast to carve,
And no berries to eat, why, the bears may all starve!
It’s a sad thing, as well, for the friends of the corpse,
But around Halloween, see, my funny-bone warps
And I can’t blame the bears for the way they behave
Nor the family or friends as they rant and they rave
Cos for bears and for humans, the scene is quite grave!

More mourners, it seems, may be caught unawares
Cos a trick to find food will spread fast among bears—
How the hole should be dug, and the top should be pried,
Exposing the soft, chewy morsel inside—
As for me, should I die while the bears are unfed,
(and assuming I really and truly am dead)
Since I’m through with my body for good—go ahead!

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Humpty-Dumpty, the Christian

I'm Christian, and I'm born again,
By which I mean, I'm not.
My faith is not the simple faith
A True Believer's got,
But something more ephemeral
Which cannot be defined;
I'd tell you all about it, but
I'm rather disinclined.

But yes, I am a Christian--though
I mostly don't believe;
To treat me as a strawman, why,
It's really quite naive.
I've simply re-defined the words
As what they mean to me;
I've decked my church in camouflage,
It's your fault you can't see!

Inspired by a bit of conversation, starting more or less here, in which a real-life example of Humpty Dumpty expects readers to understand that by "Christian", he means atheist, and by "God", he means "the pursuit of knowledge and wisdom". Really, how could people be so dense as not to understand when he uses those terms?

`When I use a word,' Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, `it means just what I choose it to mean -- neither more nor less.'

`The question is,' said Alice, `whether you can make words mean so many different things.'

Saturday, October 23, 2010

On Predictions

For folks who invest in their fictions, predictions
Are common as pennies, but worth a bit less;
When people rely on their visions, decisions
Turn out to be nothing but ignorant guess.

Predicting the future is never so clever—
When constantly wrong, it’s a good time to quit;
But dissonance drives their obsession—expression
Of failure means, really, they’re just full of shit.

I've had, you may recall, a few Jehovah's Witnesses come to the house recently. Their sect has made multiple end-time prophesies (which, in case you haven't been paying attention, have not come to pass). Of course, there have been many religions which have made similar prophecies; after so many failed predictions, it might seem unusual that a group like the Heaven's Gate cult could have convinced people that their prediction was true. A handful of people believed, though, and are dead as a result.

Leon Festinger's theory of Cognitive Dissonance was inspired by one such group and their predictions. There has been plenty written on CD, so I won't repeat here. I just want to note that public announcement of belief is one of Festinger's important variables--arguably, the development of the internet, of web pages, blogs, discussion boards and the like, have allowed people who would otherwise have remained in the shadows to make public pronouncements of various bits and pieces of ludicrous belief. Once these beliefs are defended (say, in the comments of a blog), it is rarer than pigeon teeth to find someone recanting them based on additional evidence. (Note, this is a primary characteristic of the scientific community as a whole--even if individual scientists may stubbornly cling to a view in the face of disconfirming evidence, the community is able to respond to the evidence.)

And the more often they are presented with disconfirming evidence, the more opportunities they have to re-buttress their unsupported beliefs. Take the public faces of creationism, for instance, who lecture to intelligent audiences; they are corrected again and again, and must build strong walls against the forces of evidence and rationality. Or take conspiracy theorists, or vaccination denialists, or... or... or...

Or take our friend the Dancing Monkey. Many are convinced he is insane, but it is not necessary, in order to explain his aberrant behavior. Defending his unsupportable world view would have started gradually (as, I am told, it did, back in the early days of internet discussion boards). Now, every time reality slaps him on the nose with a rolled up newspaper, he has to reinforce his world view. And make no mistake, he is wrong again and again. Just on this blog, he has predicted my death "today", several times a week, for months. Not only am I still alive, but The Digital Cuttlefish is now in its third year. Dancing Monkey has been wrong hundreds of times; Leon Festinger would be proud. The more often he comments, the more often he is wrong; the more often he is wrong, the more often he must comment. He is too weak to stop. Pity him.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Think Of The (Fictional) Children!

The names are all real, but the stories are fiction;
Some details are changed to protect a world-view.
The point is, it would have been bad, had it happened,
And that’s just as horrid as if it were true.

We’ve focused our sights on particular problems,
But some—just as awful—are going unheard;
The horrible deaths of these Christians should shock us—
Regardless of whether they really occurred.

Won’t somebody think of the fictional children
Whose fictional lives are in fictional danger?
The fictional cases Mike Adams has shown us?
They could be your kids (or some fictional stranger)!

So, thank you, Mike Adams, for showing such courage
By making up stories that never were true!
Teen suicide’s now in its proper perspective—
Right up there with fiction… according to you.

Details here; cuttlecap tip to P-Zed, of course.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Let Them Eat Pi

Long, long ago, when gods were gods
The things they did defied the odds;
They vanquished armies, stopped the sun,
Delivered plagues and thought it fun.
And those who saw were not deceived--
There was not doubt, so they believed!

But now, it seems, we've been misled;
If those gods lived, by now they're dead.
We find god now (don't ask me why)
By looking in a piece of pi.

Just a quick comment on the "evidence for god" kerfuffle (to go along with the mile-high Jesus of last week). It seems we no longer look for a God Of The Gaps. The current deity du jour is The Incredible Shrinking God, who once performed miracles and now hides in equations.

One wonders if it is the same god at all.

Monday, October 18, 2010

My Place In The Dance Of The Universe

I am accident on accident
And chance on random chance
I’m the product of environment
And changing circumstance

The odds of my occurrence
Are incalculably small—
If you round off to the m b trillionth place
I don’t exist at all!

Every atom in my body
From an ancient star’s collapse;
I’m a long time in my making—
Several billion years, perhaps!

In a corner of infinity,
A cold and hostile place
On a tiny blue oasis
Set adrift in empty space

I’m a subset of the universe
That’s learned to look around—
And which cannot help but wonder
At the marvels I have found!

The descendent of bacteria,
Of annelids, of fish,
I’m a member of the primates,
Just an ape-man, if you wish

Through the engine of selection
Some would live and some would die—
“From so simple a beginning”
Just how fortunate am I!

And I pass along my molecules
And take my place in line
So some distant, future life form
Will have carbon that was mine

And perhaps my DNA as well—
Unlikely, though, my friend—
I have ridden quite a lucky streak,
And lucky streaks must end.

So it is, and so it must be
When so much depends on chance
Since the music plays so briefly,
Can you blame me if I dance?

Friday, October 15, 2010

A Tale Of Two "Better"s

By now, of course, you have seen the "viral video" of Joel Burns. On the off chance you are the last remaining person on the internet who has not seen it, here it is:

It is a remarkable speech. It took courage, but I doubt Councilman Burns felt he had any choice. To see the problem, as Burns did, and to do nothing, was not something he had in him. When the end of the year rolls around, and TIME magazine is fishing around for nominations for "Man of the Year", I hope they will remember Councilman Burns. His measured (if emotional) speech is one of the finest examples I have ever seen of what it means to be a good and moral person.

I am tempted to write more, but frankly, there are no superlatives strong enough to describe Burns's courage and goodness, and writing more would merely distract from his message.

But I am not writing to speak about Mr. Burns. I am writing about another man I respect, Bishop Gene Robinson of New Hampshire, about whom I have written before. Bishop Robinson has also contributed to the "It gets better" project:

I am very glad that he has contributed; I respect him tremendously for this action. I know it has not been easy to walk the path he has walked, and that he is demonstrating bravery much like Councilman Burns. I do not mean to take away one bit of the true goodness I see in Bishop Robinson.

But listen to the two talks. Burns does not, to my recollection, mention god, not once. Robinson mentions god 14 times, repeating that "god loves you beyond your wildest imagining". Now, there are some very good aspects to Robinson't talk--for example, noting that not only does it get better, but that it is getting better; that views are changing, prejudices are diminishing, equality is, in his view, inevitable. And his position as a religious authority allows him a different approach than Burns can take.


"God loves you beyond your wildest imagining" is, when compared to the real world that features in Burns's speech, rather thin gruel. I was regularly beaten up as a kid; I hated it, and yet I know I did not go through a tenth of what either of these speakers did. My wildest imaginings might include going a whole month without getting jumped on the way home. Their wildest imaginings might include going a day, or a week, without a bruise, a cut, or a word that might be worse than either. Bishop Robinson's god, who loves us beyond our wildest imaginings, is letting kids die, at the hands of others or themselves. Councilman Burns's adults (whom he addresses, saying they we cannot stand by and let this abuse continue) are much more present than Robinson's god. They We contribute to the problem today, by our inaction; they we can contribute to its solution by our action.

Gene Robinson is a good man, a very good man. Joel Burns is a good man, and a model for the rest of us (at least in this--I don't wish to put him on a pedestal no man can live up to). The difference in their speeches is, in my humble opinion, the vapidity of religion.

If someone who "loves you beyond your wildest imaginings" neglects you in your suffering--and worse, contributes to it--it is time to end that relationship. And when you do...

It gets better.

No verse today. You want poetry? Listen to Councilman Burns's speech again.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

The Mile-High Floating Jesus Problem

As if it were magic, it happened last night,
And we woke to a very improbable sight—
It certainly got our attention, all right—
A mile-high statue of Christ.

We looked for its makers, but none could be found;
The atheists saw it, and termed it “profound”;
What’s more, it was floating, two feet above ground;
As evidence goes, it sufficed.

They called out the networks, and went on the air,
Admitting it seemed as if something was there,
And if some called it God, now, they thought it was fair
Cos the burden of proof had been met.

“To be perfectly fair, we have always maintained
That no proof could be found”, disbelievers explained,
“But the God explanation must be entertained
As a likely hypothesis yet!”

“Though it seemed, till last night, our position was strong,
When new data come in, we admit we were wrong!
We admit it! So now, could we please get along?
There is much now that needs to be done!”

“If the theist hypothesis now is the best
We have new variations to put to the test—
For if one God is real, well then, what of the rest?
What a marvelous path we’ve begun!”

But believers were hesitant, slow to agree,
They ignored, for the most part, the atheists’ plea—
A demeanor, on their part, which none could foresee—
You’d have thought they’d be head of the line.

“Are we sure that it’s Jesus? We’re not being played?
We haven’t confirmed that it isn’t man-made—
(And I’m sure that His skin is a much lighter shade)
It’s too early to call this divine.”

“This isn’t the Jesus that my people follow;
His hair is too long, and his cheeks are too hollow.
If anything, maybe it might be Apollo,
A false god, who doesn’t exist!”

“Some billionaire made it, to make us lose face,
Or aliens, maybe, from far outer space—
Examine the evidence! Every last trace!
There are too many left on the list!”

In the meantime, the Muslims were busy denying,
And Orthodox Jews accused newsmen of lying,
While Wiccans, world-wide, began weeping and crying
And chaos pervaded the day.

The Christians, confused about what they were seeing,
Found one point on which every sect was agreeing:
“With each bit of faith, every ounce of our being,
We’re praying it just goes away.”

For Stephen_P, and thanks of course to Dr. A. who did it better.

Friday, October 08, 2010

Out Of Nowhere

Although my post was intended to launch discussion, not to state a personal viewpoint, it's been mis-read to imply that I personally hate babies. My favorite out-of-nowhere slap (among many prompted by the ever-scathing, always fun PZ Myers) is from the blogger at Digital Cuttlefish who imagines that if my house were on fire, I'd leave the baby and grab the Bible. No, seriously...

Out of nowhere? Oh, dear me, no. Out of nowhere is this: “Do you think a baby conceived in test tube is still a child in the eyes of God?” Particularly in an article entitled “'Test tube babies': God's work or human error?”. Such questions can only be asked out of religious belief. Out of nowhere.

No, Ms. Grossman, my comment was not ‘out of nowhere’. It was out of the recognition that the words I had read were the words that you had written. If you’d like to distance yourself from them, I can understand that, but perhaps it would have been better not to have written them. “I’m only asking questions” is the refuge of 9/11 conspiracy buffs and holocaust deniers, not the stance of a newspaper columnist. It ranks with one I saw earlier this year: “are blacks equal to whites?”

You are aware, I am sure, that the way a question is phrased is important. It frames the debate, and shapes the discussion even as it launches it. Your question was an out-of-nowhere slap. My response did not come from out of nowhere; it came from disgust that religious belief, so often seen as a fountain of all that is good in the world, could so twist someone into thinking that such a question was reasonable to ask. In a world without religion, your question would not have been asked… and atheists are seen as the angry and bitter people. Go figure.

As for your current question--am I sick of being slammed? It's hard to answer, really. I've rarely not encountered it, so I'm not really sure how it would feel to be rid of it. I can assure you it is a false stereotype--but then, what stereotypes are accurate? Anyone who knows me would assure you that I have a sense of wonder, of awe, of joy for having the extraordinary good fortune to be alive in such a world as this. I am patient, giving, kind, gentle... and every so often I will hear, from someone who means well in saying it, that I "really don't seem like an atheist at all". Awfully white of them to say, don't you think?

Here--if you are going to look for how atheists are perceived, how we perceive our perception, and how we really are, you may as well click a couple more links. Yes, bitter angry atheists write silly verses. We are human, after all.

Real world vs. bible.
I thought I saw an atheist
Nothing Missing

Thursday, October 07, 2010

4 Ways To See God (and I still don't)

Which God do you believe in?
Cos we really want to know—
There’s a fellow with a clipboard
And a poll he wants to show—
He’s collecting lots of data:
“How Americans See God”
And he wants to know which version gets the nod.

Is your God authoritative,
And judgmental and engaged?
Is He critical? Vindictive?
Is He apt to be enraged?
Is He distant and hands-offish?
Or benevolent, with love?
But I couldn’t find a “none of the above!”

What a poorly worded survey!
My opinion couldn’t count!
Not a bit—not one iota—
Not the tiniest amount!
Take a segment of the country
And eliminate their views;
And they dare to show this bullshit on the news?

So the closing story tonight on ABC's "World news" was "A Look at the 4 Ways Americans View God" There's even a poll, but don't bother to vote; there is no "none of the above" option. "Americans", apparently, all believe in some form--one of these four--of God.

C'mon, ABC News. I know you have a religious bias; I've written about it before. Today's link also contains a number of videos of previous shows, each of which demonstrates the same sort of ... well, rudeness, frankly. Not "what SOME americans believe", or the possibility of a "none of the above" on the poll. Seriously, this is just plain bad journalism; it misstates the actual facts, by ignoring the people who don't fit their preconceived notions.

ABC News, why no "none of the above" option? What are you afraid of? Could it be that there are more nonbelievers around than you are comfortable with?

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Too Bad About The Baby...

She's got perfect little fingers;
She's got perfect little toes,
With the darkest eyes I've ever seen,
And tiny button nose--
She's more delicate than poetry,
More powerful than prose--
She's a beauty, and there isn't any doubt

She's a miracle in diapers,
As I watch her calmly doze;
Even through her father's awkward looks
Her mother's beauty shows
We conceived her in a test tube
So, as everybody knows,
She is soulless, and we'll have to throw her out.

Via PZ, a tale told by an idiot. What horrible world view could look at a baby and consign it to the trash bin based on something so trivial as an ancient book? I get the feeling that Cathy Lynn Grossman, given the choice between saving the family bible or her own daughter from a house fire, would proudly emerge from the smoke clutching the book with both hands.

Update! It seems Ms. Grossman has read my response, and considers it an out-of-nowhere slap, much as I thought her question a bit of a rabbit-punch to the families helped by IVF. I have responded here.

Tuesday, October 05, 2010

Jesus In The MRI

The image in the MRI, according to the rumor,
Was the sacred face of Jesus, not a carcinoma tumor;
When the woman needed comfort, she knew Jesus was the answer—
Now, she knows he is within her… and, it seems, so is the cancer.

Actually, I don’t know that the cancer is still in her; if I were her and found my cancer in remission, I know that would be a big part of the story, but I don’t see it anywhere. I hope for her sake that she has the chance to deny that modern medicine had anything to do with Jesus saving her life.

The Next Thing I'd Do

If I were the devil, the next thing I'd do...

Seems that there is quite a lot that can be explained about the relationships among differing faith communities, if you simply apply the Flip Wilson defense: "The Devil made me do it!"

My first take was yesterday's post:

If I were the devil, the first thing I’d do
(I’d be subtle, and not too apparent)
Is create holy writings that all disagree
And announce that each one is inerrant.

Thinker added

If I were the devil, the next thing I’d do
(as if the first wasn’t sufficient)
is to claim god is always benevolent
and almighty, as well as omniscient.

Me again:

If I were the devil, the third thing I'd do
(when the first two had ceased to delight)
Is to find two opponents, with two different views,
And privately tell each: "you're right".

Ring Tailed Lemurian added

If I were the devil, the fourth thing I'd do
(because I'd be evil and love to start wars)
is to find a tribe near some inhabited land
and tell them "It's holy to me, and it's yours".

Thinker again:

If I were the devil, the fifth thing I’d do
(after four, I’m becoming quite nimble)
is to tell one group “Here, eat the meat of God’s Son”
and another “The wafer’s a symbol”.

He then observed, quite correctly, "this is fun!"

So go ahead! Pick any number you like, or use "the next thing", and have fun!

If I were the devil, the next thing I'd do
(As we make our way up to infinity)
Is tell one group that Jesus is simply a prophet,
And others he's part of The Trinity

Of course, you can write about other topics than conflicts in religious doctrine. Once you get the devil involved, everything makes more sense!

If I were the devil, one more thing I'd do
(cos I work in mysterious ways)
Is to make fundamentalist homophobes preachers
Disclose they are closeted gays

Monday, October 04, 2010

Organized Religion

If I were the devil, the first thing I’d do
(I’d be subtle, and not too apparent)
Is create holy writings that all disagree
And announce that each one is inerrant.

So I have had a couple of visits from JWs recently. They have given me literature to read (this, and this, for those who want to play along with the home version of the game), and I asked them if they had ever read The Origin of Species. They had not, of course--I asked them to do so before they visited again. The pamphlets they gave me are wonderful propaganda--cherry-picked quotes, selectively edited, out of context... and Behe mentioned as a microbiologist rather than as a creationist (yeah, I know, but which is the more accurate description?)!

But that is not my point today. My point was, when I mentioned Origin, one of them mumbled "that's just a book". Which, of course, is true, and which is the whole point. I could have pointed him to tens of thousands of journal articles, other books, websites, magazines, etc., and he could point me to... another "just a book", bound in black leather, clutched in his hand.

His book claims inerrancy. His book claims to be more than a book. Mine does not. He is desperate to prove his book completely and utterly, literally 100% true. Me, not so much. Disproving bits and pieces of my view brings us closer to the truth. Disproving one sentence of his brings his whole house of cards down around him.

This requirement of absolute inerrancy seems to me the perfect seed for discord. If I were the devil, I would be hard pressed to find a simpler, more elegant way to incite humans to war with one another than to do what organized religion has already done.

Saturday, October 02, 2010

A New Verse Form? (and a guest verse!)

From commenter "Thinker":

If you find the stuff in the bible reliable,
and you trust the clerics: “It’s all we can know!”
If you in your pew with your missus think bliss is
sitting still, never moving, then how will you grow?
You’re proud you’ve accepted, not doubted, what’s touted:
that Truth is eternal and never will change
while we find the iconoclastic fantastic
and your static worldview as something quite strange.

If Old Truth is wrong, well, let’s face it: replace it
with models that fit data better – no sweat!
To us, it’s a quest never-ending: ascending
the shoulders of giants, to see further yet.
If you cannot see what is grand in expandin’
the body of knowledge we humans can share
and, frankly, if you think exploring is boring
as Hell, then in our view, you’re already there!

For those of you who have been paying attention, this is the same form as one I have used three times before--here, here, and here.

It is great fun coming up with the internal rhymes, and it makes me very happy that at least one other person has been enticed into trying the same form!

Now, the thing is, I can't recall another poem like this--but I am not well-versed (pun, unfortunately, intended) in the various forms rhyme and meter can take. Have you seen such an animal before? Or do I get naming rights? (In which case, I am taking suggestions for names--just one so far, so I want more!)