Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas Morning

It is christmas morning at cuttlehouse. I am the only one awake at the moment, aside from the cats who woke me. Years ago, by this time, our young children would have been whispering excitedly back and forth from their rooms, eager to pounce on their presents. Christmas morning was magic for them, and because of that, it was magic for us.

This year, the Cuttlekids are back from college. Sleeping in holds more appeal than the early start on presents. But they are both here, and so there is a new sort of christmas magic for me. Perhaps in a few more years, the cycle will repeat itself. For now, I am enjoying this calmer, quieter magic.

Happy Christmas to all of you, too. I hope it is a good day for you. We all could use a few of those, I'm sure.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Nope, Didn't Work (It Never Works)

Hush-a-bye puppy
Here on the bed
No need for barking
Lay down your head
I know it’s scary
When everything’s dark
But Daddy’s still grading,
Puppy, don’t bark!

On the plus side, no burglar will ever come within 50 feet of the house without the dogs barking their heads off. On the minus side, I will have habituated to this barking, and will sleep soundly while the burglar relieves us of our valuables. On the plus side, we have no valuables. On the minus side, we have no valuables.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Life Everlasting

There are promises made of a life everlasting,
Though first we bid this one good-bye,
Of a feast up in heaven we all will be tasting—
I’m happily waiting to die.

There is beauty around me—I choose to ignore it—
To heaven I’m casting my eye;
Though heathens fear death, I am eagerly for it
I’m happily waiting to die.

The atheist folks are so angry and bitter
As heaven itself they deny
They fight against death; I am gladly a quitter;
I’m happily waiting to die.

They see beauty on earth, or they look through the Hubble
At galaxies strewn through the sky,
What a miserable lot—why, it’s not worth the trouble—
I’m happily waiting to die.

When loved ones pass on, why, the atheists grieve them
I can’t for a moment see why;
There are stories of heaven—why can’t they believe them?
I’m happily waiting to die.

The atheists all must be daft or deluded
They listen to me and they sigh
I’ve looked—not around, but inside, and concluded
I’m happily waiting to die.

You know, it doesn't take much translation to turn a perfectly ordinary sermon into the rants of Jim Jones, Charles Manson, or Marshall Applewhite. "Life everlasting", that extraordinary reward that comes after this miserable existence here on earth, sounds so wonderful. Golly gosh, let's all go gentle into that dark night!

Except, it's not just a lie, it's an insult. My brother died this year; are his daughters supposed to be happy that their daddy is in an even better life now than the mundane one he stumbled through with them? How much happier he must be, lounging around adoring a deity instead of working in the garden with them.

No wonder people like Tim Moyle find that all atheists are angry. I suppose if horseflies or mosquitos were to describe humans in one word, it would be "slappy".

Maybe Moyle isn't bitter, himself... but he's a carrier.

Tuesday, December 21, 2010

It's Tough To Be Christian (At Christmastime)

It’s tough to be Christian, when Christmastime comes,
What with Santa, and reindeer, and elves,
With other religions, or secular folks,
And people who think for themselves

The Christian religion has changed, over time,
And it makes us all anxious as hell,
When the season arrives, and it’s not just for us,
But for other religions as well!

My neighbors are having their holiday feast
And it’s making me angry to see—
Devoutly expressing their deeply felt faith…
But a different religion than me!

The Christian majority’s under attack,
When the holidays force us to share—
We need recognition that’s Christian alone;
Without it, we don’t have a prayer.

Oh, yes, Christmas is a tough time for believers, according to the New York Times' Ross Douthat, in December 20th's op-ed
Christmas is hard for everyone. But it’s particularly hard for people who actually believe in it.
Mind you, that depends on what your definition of "it" is. I love christmas, but I doubt that I believe in the same christmas as Douthat, or he in mine.
In a sense, of course, there’s no better time to be a Christian than the first 25 days of December. But this is also the season when American Christians can feel most embattled. Their piety is overshadowed by materialist ticky-tack. Their great feast is compromised by Christmukkwanzaa multiculturalism. And the once-a-year churchgoers crowding the pews beside them are a reminder of how many Americans regard religion as just another form of midwinter entertainment, wedged in between “The Nutcracker” and “Miracle on 34th Street.”

These anxieties can be overdrawn, and they’re frequently turned to cynical purposes. (Think of the annual “war on Christmas” drumbeat, or last week’s complaints from Republican senators about the supposed “sacrilege” of keeping Congress in session through the holiday.) But they also reflect the peculiar and complicated status of Christian faith in American life. Depending on the angle you take, Christianity is either dominant or under siege, ubiquitous or marginal, the strongest religion in the country or a waning and increasingly archaic faith.
Oddly enough, it doesn't bother me at all that Douthat celebrates as he does, or believes as he does. But it does seem to bother him that I, an atheist, have a christmas tree, with christmas presents underneath it, and christmas cookies, and songs, poems, traditions, and the like, and not a bit of it dependent on Douthat's notions of Christmas. And I suspect that, if he ever actually got the chance to read my blog, he'd have noticed if I had written "Xmas" instead of "Christmas", but thought nothing of the odd term "Christmukkwanzaa", since demeaning terms for other traditions are fine.

Yes, it's tough to be a christian at christmastime.

Monday, December 20, 2010

It Works, Bitches

When we battle slings and arrows
And the path before us narrows
Or when shock or illness harrows
Us, and bedrock yaws and pitches
Though we battle against giants,
We find aid, in our defiance,
When we use the tools of science—
Why? Because they work, bitches.

(click to embiggen!)
(image from XKCD, of course)

At least three times a week, my first stop (after letting the dogs out and making coffee) is XKCD. My guess is, the vast majority of my readers do the same (unless, of course, they don't have dogs). But in case you hadn't checked yet, here it is, once again with a message as simple yet powerful as those stick figure drawings. If you are a regular follower, you'll recognize "this illness" as having particular poignance this time. After this year, I can relate.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

When Johnny Comes Marching Home

As published in 1863...

When Johnny comes marching home again
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give him a hearty welcome then
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The men will cheer and the boys will shout
The ladies they will all turn out
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

The old church bell will peal with joy
Hurrah! Hurrah!
To welcome home our darling boy,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The village lads and lassies say
With roses they will strew the way,
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

Get ready for the Jubilee,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
We'll give the hero three times three,
Hurrah! Hurrah!
The laurel wreath is ready now
To place upon his loyal brow
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

Let love and friendship on that day,
Hurrah, hurrah!
Their choicest pleasures then display,
Hurrah, hurrah!
And let each one perform some part,
To fill with joy the warrior's heart,
And we'll all feel gay
When Johnny comes marching home.

So, after the Senate's vote last night, I was toying around with a couple of different potential verses (may still work one of them out), including possibly re-working some traditional song. This one came to mind, and I thought about either writing one with a modern, gay Johnny, or perhaps one with John McCain as Johnny (Republicans will whine and pout, that no-one ought to serve while out"), and I realized I needed to take a look at the original lyrics.

They were already perfect.

Amazing what a change of context can do. So, yeah--let love and friendship on this day their choicest pleasures now display! This is a good day for anyone who actually cares about equal rights.

Friday, December 17, 2010

Your Brain On God? (What, Again?)

Add oomph to your writing;
Make science exciting—
Cos everyone loves a nice scan!
Make “neurotheology
Look like biology—
Look! It’s the brain of a man!
Both god-contemplation
And deep meditation
Show frontal-lobe action, it seems;
But scanning a brain
Doesn’t really explain
All that neurotheology dreams.
Whether fishers of men
Or seekers of zen,
In the scan, we can see what we wish;
But now, let’s examine
The brain of a salmon
Is there god in the head of a fish?

From NPR again, a story that combines some of the things I really really hate about the new, sexy machines that neuroscientists can use. A mediocre study that might not get a second glance gets gussied up with a brain scan or two, and suddenly it's cutting edge science. Humbug. What's more, a brain image, even an image of a brain at work, is a snapshot. Brains are not snapshots. Looking at a scan of the function of a number of adult brains really tells us very little about what those brains are doing, and tells us nothing at all about what sort of history led to the activity seen today.

The researchers found an increase in frontal lobe activity during meditation.
"They had improvements of about 10 or 15 percent," [Dr. Andrew] Newberg [director of research at the Myrna Brind Center of Integrative Medicine at Thomas Jefferson University and Hospital in Philadelphia] says. "This is only after eight weeks at 12 minutes a day, so you can imagine what happens in people who are deeply religious and spiritual and are doing these practices for hours a day for years and years."
Yes, imagine. You'll have to, because the study did nothing of the sort. In fact, brain scans of experts (say, for instance, in chess) show less activity than novices, arguably because they are so good that there is less actual effort expended. So, can we assume that 8 weeks of practice can be extrapolated to a lifetime? I don't know. Frankly, I don't much care; others can be interested in what's going on in the brain--I'm more interested in what's going on in the interaction between the individual and their environment over the years that shape them. The brain is not the "why"--the brain is part of the "how".

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

I Can See Myself (Polluting) In My Sparkling Dishes!

The bloom in the river is turning it green
And it’s killing off all of the fishes,
The river is dying, tree-huggers are crying,
But Mabel, just look at my dishes!

They sparkle! They glimmer! They’re spotlessly clean!
They’re as gorgeous as gorgeous can be!
The scientists may see the cause of the bloom,
I see a reflection of me!

We used to find perch here, and big rainbow trout,
Now it’s carp, gulping air as they spawn;
It’s ugly, so turn your gaze elsewhere, and look
At my beautiful, beautiful lawn!

It’s lush and it’s leafy, it’s weed-free and dense,
A most wonderful deep shade of green;
Sure the chemicals cost a bit more to apply,
But the sacrifice works, as you’ve seen!

The rivers and lakes, and the oceans as well
Are polluted with all sorts of ooze,
From shipwrecks and oil spills and who all knows what—
We’ve watched it each night on the news—

We’ve got to do something! It really looks bad!
This pollution is truly obscene!
But our dishes, our laundry, our car and our lawn,
We’ve been doing our part to keep clean!

From NPR, a story today on why your dishes aren't as sparkling clean as they used to be. Turns out, it's not your fault. Dishwashing detergent has been reformulated, without phosphates.
This was supposed to be good for waterways. But it turned a simple chore into a frustrating mystery for many people across the country.

A couple of months ago, Sandra Young from Vernon, Fla., started to notice that something was seriously amiss with her dishes.

"The pots and pans were gray, the aluminum was starting to turn black, the glasses had fingerprints and lip prints still on them, and they were starting to get this powdery look to them," Vernon says. "I'm like, oh, my goodness, my dishwasher must be dying, I better get a new dishwasher."

Young's not alone. Many people across the country are tearing out their hair over stained flatware, filmy glasses and ruined dishes.
But this is NPR, so I'm sure the story will remind us that phosphates contribute to algal blooms, and show this obsession over sparkling dishes for the vanity it is. Right?
But dirty and damaged dishes are turning many people into skeptics, including Wright.

"I'm angry at the people who decided that phosphate was growing algae. I'm not sure that I believe that," [Sue] Wright [from Austin, Texas] adds.
Um... skeptics? Those who require evidence? NPR, the word you were looking for was "pinheads". But I'm sure there will be a scientist speaking soon, to set Wright... er, right.
Susan Baba from Procter and Gamble says the company had no choice. It just wasn't feasible to make detergent with phosphates for some states and without them for others.

"You know, this isn't really a huge environmental win," she says.

That's because phosphates are wonder ingredients. They not only strip food and grease from dishes but also prevent crud from getting reattached during the wash. So she says without phosphates, people have to wash or rinse their dishes before they put them in the dishwasher, which wastes water. Or they run their dishwasher twice, which wastes electricity.
I'm sure an industry spokeswoman is unbiased, though. Who needs scientists to speak for the science?

Anyway, you just know that NPR (NPR!) will close by chastising the people who are more concerned with seeing their reflections in their dishes than seeing the pollution they are dumping into the ecosystem. Never put your outhouse upstream from your well, and all that. Right, NPR?
But not everyone is willing to adjust. Sandra Young figured out a way to undo the phosphate ban — at least in her own kitchen.

She bought some trisodium phosphate at a hardware store and started mixing her own formula.

"It seems to be working pretty good," Young says.

Other people have given up on their machines altogether and are washing dishes by hand. But some are switching to other brands and making peace with phosphate-free detergents.
Thanks, NPR--I never would have thought of that! I'll just pop right out to the hardware store, and my problem is solved! It's now the problem of the people (and other organisms) who live downstream.

Funny thing about an ecosystem. We're all downstream. Thanks, NPR.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Hang Stockings, Hang Mistletoe... Hang An Elf?

Photo source

The war against Christmas has taken a turn
With the hanging of one of the elves—
No need for a godless opponent, we learn,
The Christians can fight it themselves!

For some, any elf is the work of the Devil—
It’s Satan, not Santa, at play
He’s not making toys; he’s distributing evil
And needs to be hanged right away!

We’ve all hung our stockings, and mistletoe too,
But an elf is a new one on me!
But pastor Jon Knudsen knew just what to do,
So he hanged it, for children to see!

For Christmas is sacred, and solemn, and sad,
So we’re killing off Santa, forthwith!
And the lesson, this season, is “God will get mad,
So you’d better believe the right myth!”

I couldn't have made up this story; it boggles the imagination. Santa and the elves are the Devil's work. This we already knew, but what are ya gonna do? Pastor Knudsen did what the rest of us can only wish we had the courage to do; he hanged an elf.

Let me repeat that: He hanged an elf.

The war on Christmas is not fought from without; it is fought from within. What could possibly kill Christmas? Taking it seriously, that's what could kill it.

Think of the children (won't somebody, please?)--little Bjorn has a choice between a Santa Claus who brings him presents, or "the truth about christmas" for which a pastor hanged an elf. Game over, man. The believers have scored, but it's an own goal.

The good news?
The executed elf was originally supposed to remain hanging from the church until Sunday, and the church had set up a night watch in order to prevent it from being stolen.

One offended resident took action Monday afternoon while no one was watching, however, and pulled down the elf. He left a message with the pastor that the elf was being “kept safe until after the New Year”.

Knudsen reported the theft to the police, and the culprit confessed. The police, however, refused to press charges, stating that their “caseload was too heavy to make investigating theft of a stuffed toy elf a priority”.
Cuttlecap tip to Noadi, via twitter.

Friday, December 10, 2010

On Freedom Of Speech

Freedom of speech offends me
And I hope it always will,
Till the sun explodes, or worlds collide,
Or hands of time stand still.
If I hate what you are saying
And you hate my words as well
That’s the way we know it’s working,
Or as far as I can tell.
You are free to be offensive,
Rude and crude and vile and mean—
It’s a radical idea,
But the best I’ve ever seen.

Strange... someone was looking for a particular verse of mine last night, and couldn't find it. Looking through my computer files around the date in question, I found this one, which google tells me I never posted anywhere. Not here as a post, nor anywhere else as a comment. Not terribly surprising--I wrote it the morning my brother died, in the time when we were still optimistic that he'd recover. I know there have been times I've started on a verse, then set it aside when, say, the dog needed walking. I wonder how many orphaned poems there are on various computer drives (including dead drives) scattered around my life-space.

What with the WikiLeaks stuff going on, freedom of speech is being tested in a different way--not so much offensive speech, as speech that a person or party in power does not want to be made public. But I'll put this verse up today anyway, and you can probably guess my stance on today's issue as well.

Wednesday, December 08, 2010

Tomorrow's Table

I’m healthy and wealthy; I’ve outgrown my past;
When I need to lose weight, I can diet or fast;
Starvation is not in the lot I’ve been cast—
My perspective is clearly not skewed.
I can buy the best produce they’ve managed to breed,
Have it shipped to my doorstep with mind-boggling speed;
In a world of such plenty, I don’t see the need
For genetically modified food

We can learn about foods from the Frankenstein myth
And distill what we know into substance and pith:
It’s much safer, our going without food than with
If the food isn’t natural, like mine
Some time in the future, we might pay the price
For life-saving products like GMO rice
(Of course the poor love it, but we can think twice—
Our neglect will be purely benign!)

Concerned about pesticides used to grow cotton?
The GE varieties best be forgotten;
We want, after all, to show people how rotten
Such produce can be for the Earth
The civilized buyer will treat as pariah,
The virus-resistant new strains of papaya,
A slap in the face of our dear Mother Gaia,
Despite how the poor see its worth

Of course, there’s a view, if you’re willing to learn,
Where the rest of humanity’s still our concern—
Even those who don’t make what us comfy folk earn,
But who still do the best they are able—
If you’re part of the planet (it seems so to me)
And look all around you, and find you agree
With John Donne, when he noted the bell tolls for thee…
There’s a seat here, for you, at the table.

I have noticed a pattern. You may have seen, our historically incredibly good health has allowed the fortunate members of our culture, the beneficiaries of decades of vaccination, sanitation, medication, and other ations, to wax eloquent of the virtues of a romanticized past, and to forego vaccines or other procedures that our grandparents would have viewed as miraculous. Our affluence, essentially, has allowed us to forget our very recent past, and to make stupid decisions without the consequences those same decisions would have led to not long ago.

Similarly, our affluence with regard to diet has similarly allowed us the privilege of choosing options which are simply impossible for most of the world. The problem is, we are forcing our blinkered views on others who are not so privileged as we are. The unvaccinated child is victim of a privileged parent's ignorance (as are the child's friends). The poor consumers may be victim of the privileged consumers' natural food fetish, if the latter can bend regulations to their will. Myths of frankenfoods don't match the actual safety record, but may be enough to hinder their development in a world where food is not nearly so easy to come by as it is for, well, me.

Scary graphics and bullet points make compelling viewing; "GM foods shown to be safe--film at eleven!" will have people asleep by 10:59. Unless. Unless you are one of those who needs drought-resistant crops. Or cares about pesticide and fertilizer runoff killing the fish you need to eat. Or whose life is changed by biofortified Golden rice. But those people are not watching TV, so they can be safely ignored. And we all know, a problem that isn't in your own back yard, isn't really a problem at all.

Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Oh, Oprah!

Just how wonderful is Oprah?
We may never know for sure;
Any scientific answer
Is, at this point, premature--
Oprah borders on angelic;
She's a miracle, it's true!
She's beyond the realm of science
Or what scientists can view.

Just how awesome is her intellect?
How sensitive her soul?
How delicate her energies,
Which no one can control--
Can her viewers' admiration
Make the world a better place?
Is her heart so big it really can
Be seen from outer space?

Does she really know The Secret
Is the cure for all your ills?
Will she tell you modern medicine's
The one that really kills?
Will she take responsibility
For those who die of cancer?
Is there any depth she will not go?
We'll never know the answer.

Context: Here, here, and especially here.

My First Review!

The new book, and the gorgeous mug from CafePress.

Reader Joan comments here:
Move over Dawkins..

Missed the book sale by one day
But I love it anyway
It would certainly be gold at any price.
Boxed shrink packaging is great.
This book will not meet the fate
Of poor handling here. You need not roll the dice

Three hundred forty poems plus one
This book promises much fun
And the content has included added spice.
There are illustrations, ten
(Cephalopodic, never men)
And the photo plates are way more than nice.

There’s no space here to reveal
The great depth of its appeal,
Humor, irony, a palatable screed.
But it passed my final litmus
I don’t have to wait for Xmas
To open up this truly perfect read.

Wow! This is just an amazing magnum opus. The volume, variety and quality of the poems stun me and I’m astounded at what a great job LuLu did with it. No ratty newprintish stock. The cover, the layout, and the quality of the paper are indistinguishable from expensive college texts. And, oh yes, It’s just as funny as hell. ( Should one believe that it exists and that there is anything to laugh about down there.)

One small correction--it's actually not 341 poems; it's 244 (if I counted correctly), but well over 300 pages of actual content (plus the foreword and table of contents and that sort of thing). Still, that's less than a dime a poem--try and get that sort of deal with any other cephalopod!

Joan is right, though--I just got my own copies yesterday, and it really looks great. It shocked me to see just how much there is here (and yeah, I wrote it and put it together, so if anyone should have known better...). It's considerably more substantial than I was anticipating, and I had honestly forgotten just how good some of this stuff is. I've had a great time putting this collection together and revisiting some of the old verses, but it is soooo much nicer to have in a book than to scroll back through pages on this blog.

Thank you, Joan! Enjoy it in good health!

Monday, December 06, 2010

Making A (Nativity) Scene

It’s Donohue’s proclivity
To protest progressivity
He’ll make a scene (nativity)
Predictably, each year—
The atheists’ activity
Regarding his festivity
Is pure insensitivity—
Just let him bend your ear.

A war on Christianity
By atheist humanity—
The harshest of profanity,
The godless at their worst!
His writing, though, is vanity
That borders on insanity
So silly, its inanity
Is what we notice first.

Oh, my. According to CNN's "belief blog", Bill Donohue has taken it upon himself (read: pleaded for donations from gullible and fearful combatants in the War FOR Christmas) to take the high road:
This supposedly peaceful time of year has the capacity to create tension - Christmas light rivalries and fights over whether religious decorations should adorn government spaces.

But the conservative Catholic League for Religious and Civil Rights says it is just trying to spread holiday cheer by sending nativity scenes to governors in all 50 states.

In a letter last month, the Catholic League told governors and their chiefs of staff that the nativities were on their way and suggested they be displayed in capitol rotundas.
Just trying to spread holiday cheer. That's all. Nothing paranoid about that. Oops, their slip is showing:
The Catholic League says its campaign is meant to counter what it calls “militant atheists.” The group is erecting a life-sized nativity scene in Central Park on December 16. The world’s largest menorah is currently on display there.

“We're taking the moral high road,” says a statement on the group’s website. “The atheists are out in force this year trying to neuter Christmas. While a few of their efforts are benign… most are predictably hostile.”
The "militant" and "hostile" atheists have committed such atrocities as... erect billboards. Clearly, the pendulum has swung far enough that Donohue's plea for the demolition of the first amendment. It's only fair.

Friday, December 03, 2010

Disaster At The Creationist Theme Park

Our day at the park
Having fun on the ark
Will begin as we stroll up the ramp
With the mammals and dino’s
And strange hellifino’s
And all of it, gaudy and camp

There are creatures in twos
Like the grandest of zoos
Some in cages for people to see
Some are plastic, of course,
Like the odd “Jesus horse”
You can ride on (just children!) for free

With the tour guide explaining
It soon will start raining—
It’s best that we get through the doors
And with thunder and lightning
More piped-in than frightening
The skies open up, and it pours

It isn’t surprising
The water starts rising
With rivers obscuring the ground
We’re on board! We’re the winners!
We laugh at the sinners
Outside, who are there to be drowned.

Some electrical junction
Is bound to malfunction;
The waters continue to rise—
Now it’s panic and screaming
(Please tell me we’re dreaming!)
On board, we can hear all the cries

Now the water is rushing,
The pipes are still gushing,
We realize, we’re really afloat!
Like the Genesis story
We share in the glory
And ride in the biblical boat

Though it’s ill-built and creaky,
Substantially leaky,
We ought to be fine for a while
And although we’re all stuck
We rejoice in our luck
And we look at each other and smile.

Soon the still-rising tides
Means the screaming subsides
From the folks who did not get on board
And we know that God willed
That these people be killed
So we all praise the works of Our Lord

As the day turns to night
With no rescue in sight
Our exhaustion will drive us to sleep
Though the children are wary
Cos darkness is scary
And the lions are eating the sheep

So we all sleep in shifts
As our giant bed drifts
And there’s still not a star in the sky
Soon the sun will arrive
And we’re mostly alive
And if not, then God wants us to die.

At the whim of the weather
We huddle together
As carnivores roam through the decks
And we learned within hours
The stench overpowers—
Of feces, of death, and of sex

When the rain finally ceases
We pick up the pieces
And head to the top deck, for sun,
Where the clean-smelling breezes
Sweep by (thank you Jesus!)
And we kneel down and pray, every one!

As we float, we survey
The remains of the day
From our vantage above, on the ark
Where our neighbors and friends
Met their untimely ends
With the visitors there at the park

And we bow heads, and praise
God’s mysterious ways—
Our friends’ bodies have now begun bloating
And as plump as you please
They rise up through the seas
All disfigured and blue, they are floating

All the husbands and wives,
Little children whose lives
Were destroyed by their callous Creator
While we’re safe on the ark
Cos we chose to embark
A bit sooner, and not a bit later

There was water to drink
But it’s starting to stink
And starvation’s its own form of hell
But the hunger and thirst
Isn’t even the worst—
More than that, is the horrible smell

The miasma which flows
Though you cover your nose
Overwhelms you, and just never ends
And the worst of it all
This olfactory pall
Is the smell of our neighbors and friends

We float day after day
As around us, decay
And disease take a toll on our minds;
And our bodies grow weak
As around us, unspeak-
able horrors are all that one finds

In the decks down below
Where we never dare go
There is carnage like never before;
Most the mammals are gone
But the beetles live on
As they feast on the filth and the gore

There are maggots and flies
Which is no great surprise
In the dung and the foul, rancid meat
But up top, it is grim
Cos the pickings are slim
And there’s nothing for humans to eat

If we haven’t quite died
When the waters subside
We’ll praise God, and we won’t think to sue
Sure, it’s horribly cruel
But we learned, at home school
That what’s right is what Yahweh would do

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Sinister Plot

It happened again, just this morning,
As Winter took over from Fall
I find thirty-two gloves for my right hand;
For my left, I find nothing at all.

As I bike from my home to my office
Though the weather’s exceedingly nice
I arrive with my right hand all toasty
But my left, like a large block of ice.

Is it dogs? Is it mice? Is it chipmunks?
Is it vengeful and devious elves?
Are my neighbors conspiring against me?
Do my gloves walk away by themselves?

I suspect my left gloves band together
In some secret lair, hidden from sight;
In their absence I travel half-frozen,
But don’t worry—I’m clearly all right.

Monday, November 29, 2010


It doesn't seem quite fair to me, but it appears that Lulu (where my book is available) is having a CyberMonday sale--today only, 25% off any purchase (30% off purchases of $750 or more, for anyone who wants to buy 38 copies of my book). To those people who already have their copies on the way--I'm sorry; I honestly didn't know they were going to do this.

My question is, are they lowering the price by cutting authors' commissions? Or is that sheer paranoia on my part?

Anyway... they say the code for today is CYBER25 to get the discount. You should all try it out, and get your shopping out of the way early.

The Cyber Monday shoppers
Could find savings on some whoppers
If they buy a giant flat-screen, or a Kindle or a Nook
They could click away at clothing
Or computer gear with loathing
Or could see their worries melt away, by ordering my book.
They could feel the calm erasing
The anxieties they're facing--
Sure, they could use medication, but I've got a better way
If your gift-list has you crying
And you want to stop the buying
Might I recommend the Cuttle-Book--but order it today!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

One Stop Atheist Christmas

Looking back over the years, I find that I have written quite a bit for christmastime. Of course, I post them as the day draws near, and typically far too late for anyone to send them out as cards, or (more likely) as a response to somebody's chain-letter, spam, facebook rant, or Fox news story. So I thought I'd collect some of them here, on the off chance that they might come in handy a bit earlier in the season.

First, An Atheist Christmas, from 3 years ago (have I really been writing this blog that long?):
We’ll all open presents, and cook a big dinner,
And share in traditions we learned long ago
But Christmas is different for this humble sinner,
No “birth of the saviour”, just people we know.
I always liked that one.

Then, the war on christmas reared its ugly head, and had to be explained:
So it’s Christmas—my Christmas—my secular day;
The Supreme Court decided it must be that way.
As a secular holiday, Christmas can stay,
With department-store Santa Claus, there on display,
Or with Rudolph, or some other TV cliché,
And your photograph taken in front of the sleigh.
A bit clunkier than the first, but war does that.

"The war on christmas" has been a frequent theme; my proposal on how to fight it was... to celebrate it in all the ways the puritanical enemy finds abhorrent:
From the Cape of Good Hope to the Newfoundland islands,
The sands of Iran to the Panama isthmus;
From Outback Australia to Inverness Highlands
It’s time to take arms in the War Against Christmas!

My weapons are mistletoe, Christmas trees, holly,
A yule-log, and caroling out in the snow;
Sleigh-rides and snowball-fights, eggnog and Jolly
Old Santa Claus, laughing his loud “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

We’ll make them forget all the Truth of the season—
The sacrifice planned by a god up above—
And have them believing some bastardized reason
Like giving, or kindness, or caring or love!
I'm devious, I am.

If I had the slightest artistic talent, I'd have produced my own atheist christmas cards. But I don't so I didn't:

As we battle our way through the line at the store
And think to ourselves “there has got to be more”
And wonder where “Christmas of long ago” went,
When the meaning of Christmas was what it first meant…

It was stolen by Christians from heathens, of course—
From Greeks and from Romans, from Celtics and Norse—
Why, Christmas is pagan, from yule-log to tree
To mistletoe waiting for you and for me


And lastly, from just a few weeks ago, the night before (the war on) christmas:
‘Twas the night before Christmas; the Christians all hunkered
In basements of buildings they’d armored and bunkered.
They huddled in silence; they huddled in fear,
With thoughts that the atheists soon would draw near

Actually, there is even more back in the archives, but this is enough.

Oh, and every one of these is included in the new book!

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Cuttlefish Omnibus

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

It’s the latest in technology, delivered to your door
Like the internet, but portable—why, who could ask for more?
All that Cuttlefishy goodness, but in one convenient book
What a marvelous invention; don’t you want to take a look?

You can take it to the mountains; you can take it to the park;
With a flashlight or a candle, you can read it in the dark!
It’s much lighter than a laptop, so transporting it’s a breeze
There’s no silicon or plastic—nope, it’s all recycled trees!

It's the omnibus edition! It's the Cuttlefish, condensed;
If your dog is acting funny, it's because he must have sensed!
So you'd better buy an extra, when you're buying one for you,
Cos the animals all know, it's all the verse that's fit to chew!

You could buy one for your Mother; you could buy one for your Pop
You could buy one for your Pastor just to hear him holler “stop!”
You could buy a bunch, and swap out all the hymnals in a church
So they never find “Amazing Grace” no matter where they search!

You could pull one on the Gideons, and place them in hotels
You could slip one to a Wiccan while she’s murmuring her spells
It’s the perfect gift for enemies—the perfect gift for friends!
It’s the gift that keeps on giving—oh, the messages it sends!

You can take one on an airplane; you can take one to the beach;
You could buy them by the dozen, so there's always one in reach
It's a conversation starter, if you bring it on a date,
And you'll know if you're compatible before it gets too late!

Be the first one on your block to place your order—click today,
And the elf and fairy printers will get on it right away!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Tolerance Of Atheists (Just Not By That Name)

So I was driving along last night, listening to the radio, and the local NPR station was playing a rerun of a program on Robert Putnam's book "American Grace: How religion divides and unites us". "Religion, in general, is a positive contribution, I think, to civic life", begins Putnam. He notes that America is very religious (more so than, say, Iran), and notes that religion can be, "when taken in large doses... toxic to civic life". But americans are both very religious and very tolerant. He says.

The first caller (about 10 minutes in), though, is an atheist, who has experienced the intolerance of religious believers herself. Putnam is clearly uncomfortable. The research showing that americans are so tolerant... did not use the term "atheist" when asking about tolerance of those who hold no religious beliefs. He really does not like the word "atheist" ("a very bad word in american life"), and has to resort to some serious verbal gymnastics to avoid using it at times.

It's an interesting listen (found it!), and I found myself drawing very different conclusions from the same findings Putnam was reporting (not always--some were quite straightforward). It was exceedingly frustrating whenever Putnam was asked about atheists--the host does press him about not using the word "atheist" ("Doesn't the fact that you have to use a different word show a degree of intolerance?"); the host knew about recent polls indicating that an atheist would not be electable, and asks Putnam about that. It really seems he wanted to find tolerance. He does find intolerance toward non-believers, but the word atheist ("Most americans don't use the word atheist, even describing themselves") seems to be a special case.

Yeah, I can believe many people don't use the word "atheist" to describe themselves. This is a result of intolerance. Most people don't walk around with a "kick me" sign on their back, if they can help it.

Anyway, I was frustrated. So I wrote this:

Americans are tolerant, despite what you have heard,
Of differing religious groups (though “mine” is still preferred),
Or even non-believers, though the story here is blurred—
They didn’t call them “atheists”, cos that’s a nasty word.

There’s many strong believers in the father, ghost, and son,
But a shift away from churches, in the 60’s, was begun,
And the fastest-growing segment in religion answers “none”
But we dare not call them “atheists”, cos that’s a word we shun.

In the 80’s, you remember, the religious culture war
Pitted Robertson and Falwell ‘gainst the heathens they deplore
And their power, to Republicans, was costly to ignore
So they railed against the “atheists”, whom good folks all abhor.

In the 90’s and two-thousands, there was yet another shift—
Youngsters cutting off religious ties and setting them adrift—
So the ranks of unbelievers got a huge percentage lift
But we didn’t call them “atheists”, in case they might be miffed.

If “Americans are tolerant” is going to be your claim,
But you steer away from labels which might anger or inflame,
Then it’s mere semantic wanking, and the truth is, it’s a shame
When the tolerance researchers fear to mention us by name!

Buy my new book, buy my new book, buy my new book:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Just In Time For Black Friday

I'm exhausted. I could keep tweaking this until some time next year, or bite the bullet and post this now.

So... that's right; all your squidmas shopping worries are over. It's the perfect gift for both friends and enemies alike!

Note--this is not volume three, but rather a three-year collection, with over 300 pages of your favorites, and the favorites of that other person with weird taste. Guaranteed never to make Oprah's list!

So, spread the word, and demand that your local bookstores carry hundreds of copies!

Sunday, November 21, 2010

At The Airport

I was heading on vacation
And I needed transportation
From location to location
So thought I’d hop a plane
But the flying population
Has a modern obligation
Borne of fear and desperation
Though it goes against our grain

At the port of embarkation
There’s increased investigation
(With attendant irritation)
For our safety, so they say—
Using X-ray radiation
In a new configuration
To assist examination
And to get us on our way

But it takes coordination
To avoid some aberration
And despite their dedication
Somehow, problems will arise
Something odd in presentation,
Maybe dithered pixilation,
Or a plain disinclination
To have X-rays near one’s thighs

With the slightest instigation,
Like an awkward hesitation
(or mid-eastern pigmentation),
You’ll get pulled behind the rope
Where to hell with moderation
Or the flyer’s protestation—
Though it’s not quite penetration
It’s a very thorough grope

Is it merely exploitation
Of a country’s trepidation?
Is our self-determination
Just a fad that’s now reversed?
After some deliberation
I’ve got just one stipulation:
I won’t stand for molestation
‘less you buy me dinner first

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

The Night Before (The War On) Christmas

Well... today was a little bit better. I'm no longer 4 or 5 weeks behind. Now, I am a mere 2 weeks behind. Practically skating. Anyway, while I was working, I noticed a few more stories (again! it comes earlier every year!) about the War On Christmas. It seems to me that the fundamentalists who go on about said War may find themselves wishing they had not...

‘Twas the night before Christmas; the Christians all hunkered
In basements of buildings they’d armored and bunkered.
They huddled in silence; they huddled in fear,
With thoughts that the atheists soon would draw near

The War Against Christmas had started on Fox—
Just a couple of fools on the idiot-box
Who were looking for noise to give ratings a boost—
But lately, those chickens have come home to roost:

Believers are frightened; they’re panicked; they’re scared,
And not one among them will go unprepared;
They’ve heard that the atheists roam, Christmas night,
So Christians stay hidden, and safe out of sight.

It’s serious business, the whole Christmas season,
When people of faith fend off people of reason—
At least, that’s the story you hear on TV,
So the basement’s the place meant for children to be

There’ll be no “Silent Night”, or “Away in the Manger”
The godless might hear it! Consider the danger!
And then, they’d attack—Why, they’ve done it for years,
With that vile “Season’s Greetings!” invading the ears!

“Happy Holidays!” may seem inclusive and nice,
But it just isn’t Christmas, unless it’s got Christ;
Those words are no less than a form of assault!
So it’s war (and it’s clearly the atheists’ fault!)

(Plus, it’s unpatriotic, and now it’s high time
We made non-Christian greetings a federal crime!
The clear, true intent of our great founding fathers—
Which someone should check, although nobody bothers)

The elders remember an earlier time,
When a bottle of Coke only cost you a dime,
Each Christmas the snowfall was brilliant and white
And there wasn’t an atheist heathen in sight!

Folks visited neighbors; they caroled with friends;
They hand-crafted gifts out of old odds and ends;
They knew that the joys of the season would last…
But now, such delights are a thing of the past.

There are rifles to oil; there is ammo to check;
There’s a radio, straining to tune in Glen Beck;
No time to sing carols, or even say prayers,
With the danger that some may be caught unawares!

A war—manufactured, but war nonetheless—
Could kill hundreds, or thousands, it’s anyone’s guess;
They’re under attack, and that is the reason
They’re locked and they’re loaded, the whole Christmas season!


The atheists, meanwhile, are feasting and singing;
Our stockings are hung and our sleigh-bells are ringing—
Though Jesus had nothing to do with a sleigh,
We’re all unbelievers, and so it’s ok!

With holly, and eggnog, and mistletoe kisses,
We’ll watch “It’s a wonderful life" (just like this is)
With family and friends—with the people who love us—
With no one beneath us, nor no one above us

We’ll celebrate all the things Christmas is for,
Like giving, and loving, not hatred or war
And we’ll say to the world (cos we’ve got every right):
Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night!

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Not The Book For Me, Thank You

How is it that work multiplies so? What sort of reproductive strategy does it use? Wouldn't you think it would be in danger of killing off its host? Anyway, what I'm saying is that the hiatus continues, and it remains Cuttlefish Pledge Week. So for now, another favorite from the archives--not as old as some, but old enough I had forgotten about it, and maybe you did as well. Or maybe that just tells me something about my memory, and explains a bit about why that pile of work doesn't seem to get any smaller. This one is for the Witnesses coming to my door with their silly book...

I’ve seen fossils of the ammonites, in lovely curving spirals,
I’ve seen children saved from certain death by modern antivirals,
I’ve seen salmon swim up waterfalls, to find their tiny brook--
And you’re asking me to trade it for the contents of one book?

I’ve seen galaxies, and nebulas of brilliant glowing gases
I’ve seen Painted Desert valleys; I’ve seen Rocky Mountain passes
I was at the Gulf of Corinth when the earth beneath me shook--
Do you really think I’d trade it for some stuff that's in a book?

I’ve seen elephants and rhinos; I’ve seen buffalo and deer
I’ve seen humpback whales I almost could have touched, they came so near;
I’ve seen giant redwood forests, where I craned my neck to look;
Is there anything so awesome in your tiny little book?

I’ve seen microscopic beasties of a thousand different forms
I’ve seen hurricanes, tornadoes, snow and hail and thunderstorms
I’ve seen babies reach adulthood—Oh, how little time it took!
And I would not trade one heartbeat for that obsolescent book!

I’ve seen beauty that you couldn’t buy, no matter what the price;
I have tasted of life’s bounty, each ingredient and spice--
I would throw it all together in a pot, and let it cook…
And I guarantee it’s better than the contents of your book;
Yes, I’d sooner starve, than swallow all the poison in your book.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

I Know Just What You Are Thinking...

So, Cuttlefish Pledge Week continues. All that really means is that the real world continues to pile work on top of me, so I'm here at the office while Cuttlefish University is on holiday. Maybe I'll even get caught up a bit. From way, way behind to just way behind, probably. Anyway.

Today's choice of verses comes from a discussion in class this week. No, none of my students reads this, that I am aware of. But we do sometimes get off on some fun tangents in our explorations. This week, a discussion of the limits of self-knowledge, and of the contributions science can make toward exploring a topic which some philosophers have argued is so far removed from the observable world around us that it is an entirely different reality. I could write for a solid week on this topic, but that would rather defeat the purpose of CPW, wouldn't it?

I have no eyes to look behind
And view my brain, much less my mind;
I cannot know your thoughts, and you
Are blind to what I’m thinking, too.
These are the facts; we can’t deny
We have no working “inner eye”
Nor any form of ESP;
Your thoughts cannot be seen by me.

The claim that we can "know ourselves"
Is countered by the miles of shelves
Of self-help books. Our knowledge hides
From where, in theory, it resides!
If we could simply take a look
Inside our minds, why need a book?
We’d never ask “How do I feel?
Could this be love? Could it be real?”

If God or Science offered me
Some cranial transparency
So you could see my every thought—
The change of mind; the urge I fought,
The censored comment never spoken,
Secret kept and promise broken—
What fabled treasures! Wondrous finds,
If we could read each other’s minds!

But we cannot. Make no mistake,
Our skulls and minds are both opaque
We do, instead, what we can do;
We read the things in public view
We see the song, the poem, the kiss;
Infer from these that love is this.
In turn, each element we find
We sum, and call the total “mind”.

If I could see inside my head,
(A place where angels fear to tread)
And see how thinking really works,
The jumble of selected quirks
And if (what wonders “if” can do!)
I saw inside your thinking too
I think that I should never see
What now makes up philosophy.

Sunday, November 07, 2010

Priorities, Priorities

After the last elections, it may be time to get accustomed to a new old morality, a mythological good old days to return to, when god was in the schools, the gummint was small and kept out of the way except for what we did in our bedrooms, minorities and women knew their place, and all was right with the world.

It's all quite simple, really: blame the victims. In all things. That way they have earned their miseries, and we (part of the trick is convincing each outgroup to band together as "we" in opposition to other outgroups) can feel justified in denying basic human rights to our fellow human beings. The narrative must always go "when you blame society, you are letting criminals off the hook!" Even when we could have prevented the crime by having a job, an education, a future for the eventual criminal. Preventing a crime does not give the satisfaction that punishing a criminal does. Preventing a crime reminds us that it is in our power to influence one another, and that is one frightening step away from... being responsible for one another. Can't have that. When we blame a criminal, we are quite intentionally letting the rest of us off the hook.

Dammit, I got off narrative. Like I was saying, the clock has been turned back. It's time to embrace the new old world view. So, for our third installment of Cuttlefish Pledge Week, a story and a modest proposal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maybe if we cut funding for prenatal care, we can save enough money to pay for those jail cells and closed-circuit cameras...

Saturday, November 06, 2010

Gary Aldridge: The Back Story

Y'know, Twitter is an odd thing. All these people I've never met, together at a virtual cocktail party where they can snoop on other conversations, pontificate on weighty or trivial topics, and take a drink from the firehose of public opinion on any topic they care to. I'm not certain how I feel about it. But anyway, one of my recent Twitter followers is author of a book and host of a website, both of which tout the Bible as the cure for pornography addiction. I'm thinking perhaps this person didn't take a really good look at my blog before deciding to follow my tweets. Either that, or he's a porn viewer so deep in the closet that he knows half of Narnia personally.

So, as a public service for him, one of the first verses ever on this blog--in fact, posted on Pharyngula before this blog even existed (which, of course, means that a total of like 6 people saw it here, after thousands saw it there). As the second post of Cuttlefish Pledge Break, I give you the Eulogy of Gary Aldridge (based on true events, of course).

We gather here to eulogize
The Pastor and the Man
Old Gary Aldridge, often wise,
Though not his latest plan.

A member of the Christian nation,
Friend of Jerry Falwell,
His last attempt at masturbation
Didn't go at all well.

For fifteen years, he'd preached the word
A Southern Baptist minister
His death--now, is it just absurd
Or something rather sinister?

How does a person come to wear
Not one wetsuit, but two?
(Although, I know, I should not care
I'm curious--aren't you?)

I tend to think that, years ago,
He spied a rubber glove,
And wondered "Should I--well, you know--
When God and I make love?"

He tried it on, and found a tube,
Half hidden on his shelf,
Of KY--smiled, and murmered "Lube
Thy neighbor as thy self."

And minutes later, hard at work,
He felt a little odd
Was this a sin, or just a quirk?
He talked it out with God.

"Is what I'm doing here a sin?
Or is my pleasure Thine?
Is this as bad as skin on skin?
Lord, please, give me a sign!"

So God produced a pamphlet: "Your
Vacation in Aruba!"
And pointed out--right there, page four--
The wetsuits used for SCUBA

See, God's not really how you think
A deity might be
He's got a wicked bondage kink
(Just ask His son, J. C.)

So Gary died, not steeped in sin
But following God's plan;
So straight to Heaven--come on in!
And bring the wetsuits, man!

A story, sure, but it may yet
Explain what happened then.
The moral is, please don't forget:
Your safeword is "Amen".

Friday, November 05, 2010

SIWOTI (the poem)

It's day one of Cuttlefish Pledge Week, so we dig into the vaults (or at least to before I was on Facebook or Twitter) for some of my favorites. What with ... well, everything, from post-election bickering, to Halloween costume nonsense, to "vaccination awareness week", to increasingly annoying opinion pieces I won't bother to link to, it is clearly time to revisit this one. Except, really, actually, in truth... I wasn't wrong.

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

image source XKCD, as if I had to tell you

So, What's Up?

So, what’s up?

I’m taking a bit of a break. Lots to do, and I’m spending too much time looking for stuff to write about. I need to force myself to stay away for a while, until the pile of stuff gets finished.

What about the blog?

I’ll put up some “best of” posts. It’ll be like PBS re-running that Celtic Dancing special, or the Yanni concert, or a Red Green marathon, during their pledge break. That’s it—this is the Cuttlefish Pledge Break. Donations gladly accepted at the Tip Jar, over there, to your right.

What will happen if they don’t donate?

Not a damned thing; Blogger doesn’t charge, I can’t imagine quitting, I don’t like ads, and so I don’t think I’ll change anything at all.

Wait, what if nobody donates anything at all?

Then they save themselves that much money. If they need it, they should keep it.

So why would anybody donate?

I would hope they think some of what I do here is worth paying for.

Dude, you are deluded.

Well, if it isn’t, then I surely don’t deserve donations for it, do I?

Fair enough. So, is there going to be a verse on this post?

Um… that would kind of defeat the purpose, don’t you think? There will be some best-of posts coming up shortly—gotta load up the Yanni concert…

Edited to add: A couple of years ago, I had a very specific and genuine need for monetary help. When I announced this, my incredible readers responded with kindness and generosity that I will never be able to repay fully. This, today's post, is not that sort of situation. I never ever want to take advantage of my readers, and so I want to make that clear.

Thursday, November 04, 2010

The Billion Dollar Lie

It’s often said that “Love is blind”;
If that were true, perhaps we’d find
We’d still be seen as beautiful, although we’re slightly older.
But research shows, a different truth—
That beauty’s seen in fertile youth—
So industries arise to fool the eye of the beholder.
It may seem cruel; it can’t be fair,
But flawless skin and shiny hair
Are hallmarks of attraction, so perhaps it’s no surprise
This aspect of biology
Gives rise to cosmetology—
A billion-dollar industry* that’s based on telling lies.

*I lied. Eight billion dollars a year, in the US alone.

This seems like quite a cynical verse, but if you want to see the science behind it, visit Christie Wilcox's blog here. And if you visit before November 5th, (noon, pacific time), click on through and vote for her in the 10K blogging scholarship contest, to encourage posts like that.

Tuesday, November 02, 2010

Election Day Verse

I don't have time now to write, so I have tweaked an old verse just a little, so as to have something appropriate for (US) election day. I suppose it also would have been a fairly fitting verse to add to the Rally To Support [something], so if you happen to know Jon Stewart, you can point him to it.

When the original was posted, it came with a series of videos, of some of the worst of the pre-election rallies last cycle. Now, of course, the Tea Party has its own network, so I don't even have to link videos--you already know what sorts of thing are being referred to.

Of course there are Christians, of course there are Muslims,
And Atheists, Pagans, and Jews
Supporting the left or supporting the right—
Supporting a spectrum of views—
Of course there are numbskulls, and ignorant pinheads
Whose views are incredibly dense,
And of course they reside on both sides, red and blue
Of the nation’s political fence
It gets to the point where we almost expect it—
Perhaps it’s what humans just do—
We forget these are merely the vocal extremists
Whose numbers, in truth, are quite few.
These salient images seen in the media
Show us ourselves at our worst
But just look around, and you’ll see something different,
And not what it looked like at first:
The people who back both the left and the right
Are people like you and like me
And most are intelligent, thoughtful and kind,
And like us, they don’t like what they see.
This silent majority, not in the news,
When confronted with ignorant hate
May decide to combat it, or maybe ignore it,
Or challenge them to a debate
And sometimes you’ll find that these ignorant cowards
Back down when you call out their bluff
So… if you’re like me, and you’re sick of the lying,
Decide that enough is enough!
And remember, the ignorant liars can shout
Until all of their faces are blue;
When you get in that booth, and you pull shut the curtain…
The one with the power is you.

Anyway, go vote! And if you seriously are considering "sending a message" by boycotting the vote, read the comments here first.

Monday, November 01, 2010

Carnival of Evolution #29 is up!

...over at Byte Size Biology.

Yes, I'm in it, but you've already read that one--you should be visiting it to read all the other wonderful posts. Besides which, the commentary is great fun! It never fails to awe and humble me, to get the merest glimpse of the enormous landscape of evolutionary biology. Seriously, I thought my own contribution to this one took a bit of a wide view, but it is positively blinkered compared with the scope of articles collected at BSB.

So, go! Read! Enjoy!

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?