Thursday, March 31, 2011


We mustn't call it poetry
Lest poets take offense
We dare not call it balladry--
That simply makes no sense
We cannot call it lyric verse
That label, too, falls flat--
I've heard some call it doggerel...

Well, I can live with that.

Ok, so I have a bit of an issue with Calvin Trillin. He is "The Nation's Deadline Poet", drawing the inspiration for his verses from the headlines of the day. Dammit, I finally find my perfect job, and someone has it already. And there's only one.

He even has a book out--"Deadline Poet,or, My Life As A Doggerelist".

That's right. He calls himself a doggerelist.

Check and mate, Mr. Trillin. You may call yourself a doggerelist. Other people call me a doggerelist. Yeah, that's right. It's a dictionary. I'm in a dictionary. Of sorts. Kinda. And I am example #2 of "doggerelist".

So there.

Wait, really? "Doggerelist" isn't a compliment?


Tuesday, March 29, 2011

I Am The Bishop (II)

I am the Bishop, the first in the line
When reviewing a case, the decision is mine;
If I choose, I will forward the case to the board—
Most often, I don’t do a thing (thank the Lord!)

I am the Bishop; the Board of Review
Are my people, who do what I tell them to do
In each of the cases my Board made a call
They decided the case had no substance at all

I am the Bishop, the man you can trust—
Well, can is inaccurate; really, you must
Just ask me your questions; I give you my word
To give every detail that I want to be heard

I am the Bishop; I see in the news
They are calling for new, independent reviews!
It’s simply outrageous, to treat us this way
And put private Church business on public display

I am the Bishop; I know what we did—
How much is now public; how much is still hid
There’s a chance you’ve been actively kept unaware—
But I am the Bishop. I really don’t care.

NPR is running a story entitled "How Priests Accused Of Abuse Can Go Undetected". The title pretty much lets you know you're not going to like what you read. While some of those interviewed see no evidence that the church intentionally protected priests who rape children, the system does appear to be stacked in their favor. The numbers agree, always rising when outside investigators look at the same cases church investigators have already found without merit.

To be fair, it looks like they are trying. And they are, after all, only human.

I'll give them a break, then. Just as soon as they stop claiming they hold the moral high ground. If they want to be the moral authority, they are asking to be held to a much higher standard. And frankly, they don't measure up.

(For those who remember, I've approached this topic before. Different city, similar story. My version is I Am The Bishop.)

The Talk On A Cereal Box

Who are you? And who am I?
Why are we here? Why ask why?
What are the biggest, toughest questions?
I want suggestions.

What is time? And what is space?
Do humans hold a special place?
Is conscious thought on just this planet?
And what began it?

What is beauty? What is truth?
Can wisdom coexist with youth?
Does everybody wear a mask?
Why do we ask?

Is justice just? Is kindness kind?
With eyes kept shut, what might we find?
Is there a job that pays to sit
And write this shit?

On NPR's 13.7 Cosmos And Culture blog, an odd post, about asking questions:
What if one starts asking: Why are we here? Why am I here now? What does it mean to be human? What is our humanity? How did the universe and life come about? What really is the nature of reality? What is time? What is space? How do we really know? What is the nature of God? Why is there evil? What is the nature of consciousness?

Who is "I"? What is beauty? Are we under the control of a deterministic universe or do we have free-will? How can we choose, if we don't really know what can happen? What is the next step in human evolution? The evolution of anything? Can we even say it? What are the goals of technology? Just because we can, should we? (Not that these are new questions, but rather, new questions to the one pondering the questions.)
There are more questions there, of course, from the sacred to the profane. The authors end with "Where in this day and age, does one go to ask the questions?" (ok, so there's a little bit after that.)

I found the juxtaposition of questions interesting. The authors (and most of the commenters, as of this writing) made no distinction between empirical questions and questions that arise because of assumptions we have made along the way. "What is the nature of God?" is asked, as is "why do the redwing blackbirds come back each year?"

The process of scientific discovery has given us more answers in science's relatively short life than philosophy has in its considerably longer one. Ok, probably not true; philosophy gives us all kinds of answers, including multiple contradictory ones to the same question. Lemme rephrase: science has given us more actual answers... But of course (as evidenced in the comments) some people like the mystery of not knowing. Asking questions about the nature of god will give you plenty of not knowing. I prefer knowing.

Sunday, March 27, 2011

That Sunday Gathering...

Predictably, we see reports
Of godly, fundamental sorts
Complaining that we worship sports
Instead of god

It happens once or twice a year
When tournaments or playoffs near
And empty pews are cause to fear
The other squad

The Lord commands for all to see
To “have no gods ahead of me”
Which clearly makes idolatry
A mortal sin

Their future hanging by a thread,
They claim that fans have been misled
They know, if they went head to head
They wouldn’t win

It should not surprise anyone to find, on CNN's Belief Blog, a report on christian churches coveting the fanaticism of... well, fans. Sports fans. Apparently, idolatrous worship of real, live athletes is getting in the way of worshipping imaginary beings.
“That’s … one of the major things I decry in my book,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes,” who's based in Portland, Oregon. “The lack of that sort of prophetic distance from sports or the willingness to critique sports, the lack of setting priorities so that the worship of God is more important than this idolatrous relationship with sports.”
Sports worship, of course, predates christianity by centuries, but that doesn't fit the narrative:
“There have been changes... in Christianity, particularly in evangelicalism over the years, and as sports has increased its popularity and increased its ways of invading our lives,” said Shirl James Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport.”

"Instead of exploring creative ways sport might serve true religious purposes such as spiritual growth and enrichment, the Christian community has seized on sport as a tool of status enhancement, advertising, and evangelism," he says.
Maybe it's because I have the Onion News Network on TV right now, but I'm tempted to think that this report recognizes the absurdity, and simply hangs it out there.

Sport is huge in human history. What an incredible achievement, to reach a point where we have comfortably met our immediate and future needs to an extent that allows us to compete with one another, not for food or shelter, but for sport! This, more than religion, is the marker of humanity. As Friedrich Schiller put it, "Man... is only completely a man when he plays."

I know many people who find sports obsession to be silly. Perhaps. We can probably reach near 100% agreement that other people's sports obsessions are silly. But in this particular war over weekend activities, I know which side gets my support.

Saturday, March 26, 2011

W. S. Gilbert Meets Randall Monroe

There’s a marvel in the makeup of a mold
There is splendor in a cytoplasmic slime
And when scientists first noticed
This peculiar-looking protist
They agreed it was aesthetically sublime

Such a cheerful little fellow
In a brilliant shade of yellow
Yes I think it is aesthetically sublime!

There’s a multitude that live within a drop
They’re invisible until you use your lens
You can magnify the features
Of a myriad of creatures
Say hello to all your microscopic friends

If you grind it with precision
Then a lens can give you vision
So you notice all your microscopic friends!

If you agree
Sing derry down derry
It’s beautiful, very
And so much fun
Just look and see
Them verily vary
No magical fairy
To get things done

There is wonder in a parasitic wasp
In the horror she inflicts upon her foe
If a host should be infested,
From the inside she’s digested
In a process that’s as gruesome as it’s slow

What a wonder, but unnerving
I can think of none deserving
Such a process that’s as gruesome as it’s slow

There is beauty in a toxoplasmic spore
When it alters the behavior of a rat
With a tendency to pull it
Till it’s marching down the gullet
And residing in the stomach of a cat

Toxoplasma likes it best in-
Side a kitty-cat’s intestine
Which you get to through the stomach of a cat

If you agree
Sing derry down derry
It’s beautiful, very
And so much fun
Just look and see
Them verily vary
No magical fairy
To get things done

Inspired by The Mikado, of course, and by XKCD comic 877, "Beauty".

Wednesday, March 23, 2011

The Battle Of The Bulb

Grab your pitchforks! Grab your torches!
Cos it’s time to join the fight!
Take up arms against Big Government;
They want to take your right
To illuminate your castle
With an incandescent light—
All-American—designed by Thomas Edison!

We should act as burning beacons
Blazing bravely through the night
Never hid beneath a bushel
But held proudly, shining bright!
So the world can see our power
And can tremble at our might—
It’s our duty to refuse to take our medicine!

So we’ll rally ‘round the bulb, then,
We’ll rally ‘round the bulb
The incandescent symbol of our freedom
Watt for watt, they’re not as bright;
They produce more heat than light
They’re just like us—and that is why we need ‘em!

It’s not just about a light bulb
No, it represents much more
It’s a symbol of our freedom
And it’s why we went to war!
Cos the right to use more energy
Is what we’re fighting for—
This is principled and righteous, not a rant

So we’ll hoard them while they’re legal
Yes, we’ll empty out the store
When electric rates start climbing
We can blame it on Al Gore
We’ll pretend this is an issue
That affects us to our core
But it’s mostly cos Obama says we can’t

So we’ll rally ‘round the bulb, then,
We’ll rally ‘round the bulb
We never will give up our incandescents!
Though it’s such a small demand
We’ll choose here to make our stand
The battle plan of whining adolescents!

Yes we’ll rally ‘round the bulb, then,
We’ll rally ‘round the bulb
The incandescent symbol of our freedom
Watt for watt, they’re not as bright;
They produce more heat than light
They’re just like us—and that is why we need ‘em!

I may actually be giving Michele Bachmann more credit for maturity than she deserves, comparing her "I want light bulb freedom!" stance to the whinging of an adolescent. Parents know well, that once a toddler has forgotten all about a toy, and hasn't played with it for months, the surest way of making it a favorite again is by threatening to take it away.

Bachmann describes Edison as a true patriot, and describes the inventing of the light bulb as a patriotic act. Mind you, Bachmann may be the only one who does this, but fine. If Edison were alive and inventing today, you can be damned sure he'd be one of the people pushing the envelope of technology. After all, he did not actually invent the light bulb; what he did was to improve it, and to continue to improve it.

It's strange. It used to be that the patriotic thing to do was that which helped your country, even if it meant a bit of belt-tightening on your own part. When did waste become patriotic? Bachmann is proudly, defiantly backward. But, as an inefficient waste of energy, generating heat rather than illuminating, this dim bulb has at least provided us with a bit of light entertainment.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Open Lab Is Now Available!

I don't have the time to properly sing its praises at this time, but just take a look at the table of contents, and you'll see that this is something worth having on your shelf.

While you're at Lulu anyway, remember the Digital Cuttlefish Omnibus is also available.


We want to shrink the government
Just like we’ve always said
We want to make it small enough
To fit inside your bed

We’re cleaning up the IRS,
We’re getting out the broom
The tax code now cut down to size
To fit inside a womb


Sunday, March 20, 2011

To Phrase A Coin

The motto is “In God We Trust”;
Display it everywhere, we must!
In doing so, recall, it’s just
A hollow little phrase.
It’s on our money, even though
It lost religion long ago—
Rote repetition made it so
It’s meaningless these days.

If you’re like me, you find it odd
That those who claim to love their god
Would fight to keep this cheap façade,
Especially on money!
But now, in congress, start the fight
To grow the phrase in public sight—
Replacing God with new “God lite”
You must admit, it’s funny

Remember Teddy Roosevelt
Opposed the motto, cos he felt
It sacrilege to put on gelt,
Insulting the creator
But that was then, and this is now;
We’ll push our god; we don’t care how,
With every method we allow.
And jobs? Well, maybe later.

According to CNN, the crazy season is upon us the House Judiciary Committee has scheduled a vote this thursday, reaffirming "In God We Trust" as our national motto. The Supreme Court has held that ceremonial use of religious language does not constitute a violation of the establishment clause, in cases where rote repetition has rendered the language meaningless.

That is, the phrase is legal if it is meaningless. If lawmakers wish to argue that "In God We Trust" actually refers to their particular choice of god, their usage would apparently violate the First Amendment.

Of course, the real motivation is likely to be considerably more secular; the brilliant legal mind of Michele Bachmann, with the tenacity and quickness of a barnacle, has latched onto President Obama's use of E Pluribus Unum as more representative of our nation. It is, of course, more inclusive, and less pandering toward any particular religious view. Which makes it utterly unacceptable to Bachmann.

Plus, of course, it's much easier to score points with one's constituents this way, than to tackle the important issues.

Saturday, March 19, 2011


The New York Times is having a bit of fun; it notes that Monday is both World Poetry Day and the fifth anniversary of the very first Twitter tweet. To commemorate the day, they are asking for poetry within the 140-character Twitter constraint.

So, if you are a tweeting type, you can play along (or follow along) with the hashtag #poetweet. If you are a lover of poetry, you might want to stay away. Internet poetry is bad enough; inviting thousands (I have no idea what number to use there) of internet poets to write, using an arbitrary and unnatural 140-character hobble, is just asking for trouble.

Speaking of which, here was my first attempt:
Its a challenge;its really a feat/Im afraid tho its quite got me beat/this Ill leave 4 my bettrs/4 I need more lettrs/140s 2 few 2 #poetweet
There is one verse form that seems appropriate for Twitter, though:
The highway signs / you used to read / have been replaced / by Twitter feed. #burmashave #poetweet
Have fun!

Friday, March 18, 2011

10 Plagues Over Kentucky!

Step right up and buy your tickets,
While you wait for Noah’s flood;
Buckle up and watch your hands now
As the water turns to blood!
It’s the first of ten to visit,
Killing all the little fish;
Take a sniff—the smell’s authentic
Cos we know that’s what you’d wish!

With the fish all dead and dying
In the rivers, lakes, and bogs,
Time to move on to the second—
It’s the plague of raining frogs!
As they splatter all around you,
Watch your children’s pure delight;
Cos the Bible is our blueprint
And we try to do it right.

Now the trolley turns a corner
And you’re thinking “this is nice”
Cos you know what’s coming third in line—
A plague of gnats or lice!
Deeply hidden in your follicles,
The eggs begin to hatch,
And it’s family fun for everyone,
So everybody scratch!

If you haven’t read your Bible
Then the next room’s a surprise
When you’re driven to distraction
By the swarm of beasts and flies!
It’s an accurate portrayal
So your skin will puff and bleed,
But you’re here to see the Bible
And we give you what you need!

In the next room, watch the animals
All stricken with disease!
You want to see the pestilence,
And we just want to please!
Ahead of you, a plaintive moo
Betrays a dying calf—
Your children see its painful sores
And laugh, and laugh, and laugh!

Moving on, we see the dreadful price
Exacted for your sin,
As boils erupt, unhealable,
On every inch of skin;
It’s painful, itching, oozing,
With an odor of decay—
Cos we chose the right bacteria;
You’d want it just that way.

We are sticking to the Bible
To the very last detail
So we use no safety helmets
As you meet the plague of hail
You’ll be battered and bombarded,
You’ll be broken, bleeding, bruised,
But you’ll truly feel the wrath of God
With methods that He used!

For the next, a plague of locusts,
Wreaking havoc on your crops;
Here we focus on your hunger
And the dust that never stops.
It makes every breath an effort
So the kids will think it’s fun,
As it raises their awareness
Of the things that God has done.

Up ahead, a plague of darkness,
As the world dissolves from sight
It’s a darkness that is palpable
Beyond a lack of light
You can feel it like a blanket,
Like a blindfold, or a hood;
It’s a terrifying notice
And it tells you God is good.

But of course, we’ve saved the best for last,
The tenth, the plague of death,
Where the dead, decaying babies
You will smell with every breath.
There are corpses, corpses, everywhere!
It’s every firstborn son!
And so you see, we guarantee
It’s wholesome family fun!

Wait, you say--no sentient being would ever consider making a tourist attraction out of the 10 plagues of Exodus! Well, you are mostly right. No sentient being would do it. But it appears that the creationist don't-think-tank planning Ken Ham's biblical theme park are planning it:

So, not so much "Six Flags" (for non-USA--that's an amusement park) as "Ten Plagues". Fun.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

The God-Shaped Hole

There’s a god-shaped part
That is missing from my heart
And the rivers of hell are running through it
So when god above
Tries to fill it up with love
Then the devil takes my tongue, and I say, “screw it”

There’s a god-shaped hole
In the middle of my soul
Where the devil takes control of my behavior
And I can’t break free
From his power over me
Till I recognize that Jesus is my savior

There’s a god-shaped strain
That’s been nibbling at my brain
And I really can’t explain how it hurts me
Cos my logic fails
Rationality then bails
And my cognitive ability deserts me

There’s a god-shaped wound
That has festered and ballooned
A malignant and metastasizing cancer
Through the whole damned land
And you have to understand
That religion is the cause, not the answer.

Context here.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

In Support Of NPR

NPR offends me; that’s the way it ought to be.
It exposes me to views with which I sometimes disagree;
If it served up pap and pablum, then it’s not the place for me;
I can get my fill of that stuff on TV.

It’s accused of being leftist by the listeners on the right;
And of being too conservative, and maybe too uptight,
By the bleeding-hearts and liberals who notice every slight,
Though it’s really not a case of black and white.

Now republicans will do their best to knock it off the air
Or at least remove the funding that’s the governmental share,
As they try to take advantage of a hidden camera snare
And to do it while the public’s unaware.

I like NPR. A lot. Partly, I like it because it goes places I wish I could, and allows me to expand my world by proxy. Partly, I like it because it exposes me to things I wouldn't have chosen to expose myself to. It is altogether too easy to find a news source that agrees with the position you already hold; what with cable news and entertainment, satellite radio, and the internet, you could live your days in an echo chamber of your own choice.

NPR doesn't allow that. Along with having a little something for everyone to enjoy (P.T. Barnum's recipe for success), NPR offers a little something to offend everyone. Just look at the website comments on their stories. The accusations of bias come from all directions, with each listener an oasis of rationality in a desert of unthinking idiots. Now, I appreciate being offended, and even I am occasionally gob-smacked by their choices. For instance, last week's piece on Ken Ham's creationist theme park proposal was presented as straightforward news, when by rights it should have been accompanied by the mother of all laugh tracks. But as I said, I don't need radio to tell me what I already believe; I need it to expand my world, not bunker it. This is too important to leave up to the market that gives us all the echo chambers. Tell your congressweasel, and tell them Cuttlefish sent you.

So NPR offends me. Good for them. I try to have a little something on this blog to offend everyone, too. If you find yourself agreeing with me on every issue, let me know and I'll try harder.

Wednesday, March 16, 2011

Limerick/Haiku Contest

No, not mine.

The Smithsonian Human Origins Program (that link is to their facebook page; here is their web page) is sponsoring a limerick/haiku contest (topic--human evolution)! And there is a prize! A signed copy of "What does it mean to be human?" by Potts and Sloan.

The bad news is, you have less than 24 hours, as of this posting. So get busy!

My entries (so far):

A young Mitochondrial Eve
Was the mother to all, we believe;
Her mtDNA
Is still with us today
A remarkable feat to achieve!

He’s muscular, thick-browed, and hairy
His demeanor is savage and scary
A Neanderthal, or
Is it just Jersey Shore?
Sure, we’re different, but really, not very.

As we look at our similar shape
A conclusion that few can escape
(Save a few who still try
To believe in a lie):
It is clear, now, that man is an ape


One difference between a fly and a man
They used to say, was attention span.
He may or may not, but at least he can
Pay attention for more than a second.
The world has changed; it seems, today,
We live our lives a different way—
A major shift? Too soon to say,
But that’s how some have reckoned.

We used to sit and read a book,
Though days or weeks (or months) it took
But now, we wouldn’t waste a look
On something of that length;
We’ll look, perhaps, for something short,
Condensed into a brief report,
Or gut the classics for our sport
If we can find the strength

Our lives, now lived in snippets brief
Each written on a single leaf,
And when some day we come to grief
An epitaph bizarre:
Beneath this stone, a person’s head;
So many tales he could have read
But chose a different path, instead—

From NPR today, an interesting essay on the increasingly fractured informational landscape we live in. Books have gone, or are going, the way of the slow-cooked meal; who has time for a roast, or a novel? Give me a burger and a blog, to go! By the time information has made its way to a book, it is obsolete! (Interestingly, the notion that a portion of that "obsolete" knowledge is what was reported in shorter form along the way, and thus did not have to stand the test of time, is not explored. There are advantages to both the shorter, quicker and the longer, slower forms.)

For my thinking, the perfect compromise is a book, say some 300 pages in length, but which contains briefer bits that one could finish in just a few minutes, perfect for bedside or *cough* water closet. Overarching themes may well develop, and lessons may be learned, but such a book would take advantage of the new, shorter attention span. Indeed, the condensation of information into such brief forms might well require specific mnemonic and other cognitive devices--say, meter and rhyme, for instance, as a means of facilitating the acquisition of information. And it would be easy to obtain, just the click of a button away, like this:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.
It should not be free, though--studies have shown that information too easily obtained is valued more cheaply, and may be too quickly discarded. No, this perfect book should be priced realistically, reflecting its value, and yet inexpensive enough to be the perfect gift for a loved one, or to ask that loved one to buy for you.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Concord Hymn

The Granite State, New Hampshire, could
Remember her, or else forget:
Here once Michele Bachmann stood
And spoke the gaffe heard round the net

Republicans and students there
Had gathered, for to hear her speak,
But Bachmann, blithely unaware,
Displayed a knowledge far too weak:

The shot was fired, but one state south,
She did not know, or else forgot
But still she opened up her mouth—
So now New Hampshire gets the shot

She would not, could not take the blame,
Admit mistake and let it pass:
Instead she played a little game
Of “always kiss New Hampshire’s ass”

I don't know which one amuses me more in this story--Michele Bachmann, or New Hampshire. Of course, the story isn't funny without both of them contributing. Bachmann, of course, is a self-important tea party hotshot, whose rhetoric is full of reference to the founding fathers, revolution, the flag, mom's apple pie, truth, justice and the american way. Her rhetoric far outstrips her actual understanding, but that happens. New Hampshire, likewise, is the self-important "first in the nation primary" state, where the sense of entitlement breeds individuals who will not vote for a candidate unless they have personally sat down with them and discussed the issues over a meal (or at the very least, pie).

Bachmann first tries kissing up to New Hampshire by sweet-talking about Lexington and Concord (yes, with a teabag in her hand). When she is corrected (by granite staters who take themselves so seriously that they see this as a "major gaffe"), she chooses not to admit mistake, but to take the NH ass-kissing to a whole new level (tea-bagging is so 2010--this is the Bachmann slip of the tongue) and post on her facebook wall "So I misplaced the battles Concord and Lexington by saying they were in New Hampshire. It was my mistake, Massachusetts is where they happened. New Hampshire is where they are still proud of it!"

Prediction: New Hampshire, rather than being appreciative of the Bachmann Slurpp, will take offense at the suggestion they could ever be proud of something that happened in the People's Republic of Massachusetts.

Cuttlecap tip to Ralph Waldo Emerson, for the original Concord Hymn.

Monday, March 14, 2011

False Equivalence Dance

On the one side were the scientists, and Ph. D.’s, and such,
With a vast amount of data for their model
On the other side, celebrities who didn’t know so much
But were passionately supporting utter twaddle

In the middle were the media, delivering the news
With a lot of time to fill, from six to eight
Since it takes a bit of work to find the better side to choose,
They give evidence and piffle equal weight

You can dedicate your life to understanding a disease
And can truly make the world a better place
But the channel six reporter with a sponsor to appease
Gives the other side, with someone’s famous face

It’s a dance of false equivalence that actively distorts,
Giving idiots and experts equal say
And the audience grows dumber just from watching these reports
Couldn’t someone, somewhere, find a better way?

I was going to have separate verses for different example of this dance in the news, from climate change to vaccines to torture to whether a lobotomy is required, or just customary, for republican front-runners, but I have grading to do, so the briefer version is here and done. Of course, I'm looking for someone to give the opposing view equal time, so feel free to give a rebuttal in the comments, along with evidence that you are rich, famous, powerful, or attractive (preferably some combination of these factors) so that we know how much to pay attention to your point of view.

Inspired by the comment thread here, but not directly.

Sunday, March 13, 2011


When reality assaults us,
Giving more than we can take
Like the utter devastation
Of tsunami and of quake
When admitting in the horror
Opens up the very heart
I suspect that, just to save itself,
The brain shuts down a part.

When the death and the destruction
Overwhelms your every sense,
Then your frontal lobe may run and hide
In simple self-defense;
It’s a manner of escape—
A means of slipping terror’s yoke—
Then, brainless, daft, and frightened,
You see cruelty as a joke.

If disaster breeds heroics,
As we see it sometimes can
When we put aside our differences
And help our fellow man,
It may show reserves of courage
When we feel our hearts may burst
Or it may peel back civility
And show us at our worst.

By now, you have likely seen the shameful comments on facebook, the callous, stupid references to Pearl Harbor, karma, and the ongoing disaster in Japan. Tragedy of this scale is overwhelming; perhaps stupidity is these people's way of distancing themselves from it.

Of course, the same process goes on all the time. I followed a twitter link from GrrlScientist to this story, of a 92-yr-old state representative who advocates eugenics. His (final?) solution to his state's financial problems is to wish they could send a portion of the population ("You know the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions - the defective people society would be better off without.") to Siberia to freeze.

Apparently, the nonagenarian freshman lawmaker is past his prime (according to accounts by his fellow representatives), which does not excuse but which may explain his statement. What is inexcusable, though, is the defense of his statements by members of his party (care to guess?). The comments at GrrlScientist's link are shameful, but unsurprising. Someone says something utterly indefensible, and what do we do? Admit it, condemn it, and work together? No, of course not! Circle the wagons, bring up the worst of the other side, even take the current idiocy and claim it is more characteristic of one's opponents!

I suspect that some things are just too far beyond the pale to contemplate. But rather than face it, some portion of the population (and I cannot help but wonder, could it be any of us, given the right situation? I hope not.) takes flight to fantasy. To some alternate reality where disasters are deserved, where contemplation of eugenics is justified, where the appropriate response to every crisis is to blame one's political opponents or the victims.

Sorry, this is a rambling rant. Fortunately, being utterly incoherent seems to be in fashion these days.

Friday, March 11, 2011

A Low Moral Bar

When a thinking person quarrels
Over Abrahamic morals
And they look at evolution to compare
Though the legions of the godly
May decide I'm thinking oddly
There's a little observation I can share:

If a God, in His discretion
Wants to punish a transgression
With an everlasting punishment in Hell,
Any ethical solution
That's derived from evolution
Could address the problem every bit as well!

Any god, or gods, or trinity
That tortures to infinity
Is acting in a manner most unjust!
You may think there's nothing greater
Than your fictional creator
But as moral creatures go, your god's a bust.

Inspired by the insipidity here. Astonishing, how mere animals are immoral, when compared to god. I get the feeling the real problem is, animals are not as efficient in their cruelty.

Wednesday, March 09, 2011


I read it first from a random man
It was on my Twitter feed
He couldn’t believe what had just gone down
That they’d really done the deed
The Wisconsin House went around the rules
Though the people were opposed
They couldn’t come up with a quorum,
But their minds were still closed
They split the bill, and voted,
Against the spirit of the law
I looked around for coverage,
But the only thing I saw, on my TV screen
Was fucking Charlie Sheen

I see the pics on the internet
The assembly hall is packed
With people seeing the Governor’s blame
For a spineless coward’s act
The crowd has come together
And they’re vowing they will fight
The obstacles are many,
But they know they’re in the right
They say Scott Walker’s only
Just a walking piece of shit
But the networks have decided
That the only thing that’s fit, to be seen,
Is fucking Charlie Sheen

The stories now accumulate,
About the GOP
And how they fight for billionaires
And against you and me
A peaceful people’s protest
A demonstration of their power
Without the need to fire a shot,
Growing stronger by the hour
But looking at the networks
Leaves me tangled up in blues
They throw some shit together
And they dare to call it news? It’s obscene!
It’s fucking Charlie Sheen

I should go on, but I will leave further verses to my talented and impassioned readers. I was reading twitter feeds tonight, and one (if memory serves, a retweet by @drskyskull, but the feed has been fast and furious, and if I take the time to look for it now, I'll post this tomorrow) mentioned that CNN was airing a special on Charlie Sheen. (I feel like saying *another* special on Sheen, but I am probably mixing up CNN with every other network on television, which seems to have been nonstop Sheenathon for the past week. I'm glad I'm not a conspiracy theorist, or I'd suspect the Koch brothers of buying hookers and blow for Charlie, just to grab the news cycle.

And yes, it's Dylan, if you don't recognize the melody from context.

The Evolution Of A Cup O Joe

If you look in my basement (you’d think I’m a pig)
As a sort of an archaeological dig
You’d uncover a history, of husband and wife
And the coffee we had in our life.

Automatic drip brewers? We’ve got them galore
And espresso machines—there are two on the floor
There’s the time we decided to try a French Press
Now an artifact, there in the mess.

There’s a pot for unfiltered—that’s Turkish or Greek
In a pile of old pans, playing hide and go seek;
And a ghastly device that’s a microwave cup
Whose inventor was truly messed up.

Through the decades of methods we’ve tested and tried
There are some that we modified, some that just died—
It’s not like a problem we tackled and solved,
But rather, our method evolved.

There’s an art to it—no, what I mean is, a science—
Not simply a hunt for the perfect appliance,
But a test of each variable, to see what you find
That persists when you test double-blind

Now the people who’ve taken the trouble to test
Have agreed that my method is really the best—
A little more effort, one cup at a time,
But really, the coffee’s sublime.

Via Scicurious and others (via twitter), a delightful little essay at the Scientific American guest blog on "science in the neighborhood: how to make a really good coffee", in which the co-owner of a coffee shop applies experimental methodology (controlling some variables, manipulating others, double-blind taste testing) to really understand the process of brewing coffee. The resulting method, I note with pride, is exactly how I've been brewing my morning cup for years now.

I tell my students that there is precious little in their lives that cannot be systematically examined through science--and that the more important something is to you, the more reason there is to use this incredibly powerful set of tools. The morning cup of coffee is an extremely important thing.

Is it possible to just stumble upon the same solution that scientific investigation will give you? Of course! Orgel's Second Law ("Evolution is smarter than you are") tells us that with replication, variation, and differential success, and a whole lot of time, evolution (in this case, coffee is a parasite, depending on us for its reproduction) will find solutions. The fossil record in my basement reflects this.

But science is powerful. The barista in the article "spent well over fifty hours perfecting his technique". Took me over 20 years to stumble upon it. But the good news is, we stumbled upon it quite some time back, so we have had many years of excellent coffee, using a method that the experts are now "discovering". If I could wrestle with this metaphor a bit, it's odd to have a cup of coffee remind us of the importance of preserving ecosystems. Evolution has been solving problems since long before we were here; in our rush to clear land and tame wilderness, we are most assuredly obliterating treasures. If only for selfish reasons, it is imperative that we look where we are stepping.

Monday, March 07, 2011

The Rest Of The Story

When our family toured
Your creation museum
With cool dioramas
Where children could see 'em,
My dear little boy--
My angel, named Liam,
Was hoping he wouldn't be bored

I thank you today
Dearest Sir, or Dear Madam--
See, after we saw
Your fine show, "The Last Adam",
My Liam grabbed a card
From the stack where you had 'em
And converted himself to the Lord!

At first, at his school,
He confronted his teachers
By showing them how
All the fossilized features
Of dinosaurs, show
They are God-designed creatures
Which shows evolution is wrong!

In most of his classes
His grades began falling--
His father and I
Found the whole thing appalling--
But Liam, our angel,
Had found his true calling,
And asked us to keep our faith strong!

So now, when we ask
How his classes are going,
He tells us his brain
And his heart are both growing,
And school is obsessed
With a poor way of knowing:
He'd rather have Biblical knowledge!

He says Darwinists lie,
And they won't get their hooks
In him, not if he shuns
All biology books--
I can't disagree,
But it certainly looks
Like our boy won't be going to college.

But I thought you might like
To observe what you've done
To my angel, my Liam,
My dear little son;
His heart has been changed*
And a new life begun,
And for that, we're eternally thankful.

And we pray with our hearts
That it soon come to pass
That our boy, who was once
At the head of his class
Finds his faith is repaid--
But for now, he pumps gas,
Praising Jesus with every tankful

*"His heart has been changed" is the title of a post at Ken Ham's "answers in genesis" site, in which a mother writes the creationist liar to tell a heartwarming tale (my mistake--just a bit too much mustard on my salami--I meant a tale likely to cause heartburn) of her son's trip to the "museum" and his subsequent conversion to christianity. I just continued the story.

Tip of the cuttlecap to Millard Fillmore's Bathtub.

Sunday, March 06, 2011

BART Bugs!

When you make your seat selection
Note the coffee-colored stains,
Which were found, upon inspection,
To contain resistant strains—
A bacterial infection
Which the Transit man explains
Is a function of the fabric
That’s a feature of these trains.

You could start your own collection
Of the stuff beneath the seats
Crumbs of crackers or confections
Little scraps of luncheon meats
It’s a sample of perfection,
What a hungry microbe eats
In a perfect little petri dish
That runs beneath the streets

For the customers’ protection
Every night they try to clean,
And to figure a correction
For the problems that are seen
But keep up with your injections
Of all relevant vaccines
Cos these buggers are resistant
And they’re cunning, and they’re mean

One of the features of the Bay Area Rapid Transit system is the (comparatively) luxurious, wide fabric seats. But this feature has a bug--potentially, a superbug. Swabs taken from BART seat cushions have tested positive for all kinds of nasty creatures, including (subject to further testing) MRSA--methicillin resistant staphylococcus aureus.

BART are working on the problem, and are keeping the public informed.

Saturday, March 05, 2011

Couldn't Have Said It Better Myself, Caller!

Good morning, all my listeners,
There’s a caller on the line!
An American expressing what he feels!
It’s an honor, folks, to share with him
This microphone of mine,
Since he shares the same American ideals!
With the honesty of Washington,
Who could not tell a lie,
Here’s a citizen to tell us what he thinks
Just a normal, random caller
Just the same as you or I,
Here to tell us the administration stinks.
There’s an eloquence of honesty—
When honest folk speak out,
It can sound like they are reading from a script!
Their opinions on the radio—
They call up just to shout—
Show the balance of the powers has been tipped.
In a democratic nation,
We must heed the people’s voice
And the people call the radio and shout
On the issues of small government,
Gun ownership, and choice,
On conspiracies, and global warming doubt!

These prominent conservatives
Lay claim to speak for masses—
Though they fan the flames, they didn’t start the fires—
Take away their authenticity,
They’re merely braying asses,
Influential, yes, but merely common liars.

From Crooks & Liars, a completely unsurprising story of radio hosts and grass-roots conservatism. These particular grass roots--callers to radio programs--are actors, hired to read scripted rants that fit the program's narrative.

This is actually very good news. It was extraordinarily depressing to listen to these radio shows, not because the hosts were liars (that much was transparently true and vaguely amusing), but because the people who called in seemed so unaware of it, and so divorced from reality. I did not want to believe that these people existed (although I do have relatives who were big fans, so I really should know better). And, it seems, some of them did not exist! Not, at least, outside the imagination of the show's writers!

Thursday, March 03, 2011

Go U (Kinky) Northwestern!

Dear Mom, You were saying you missed me a lot
And were hoping that maybe I’d write—
But my classes were boring, and really there’s not
Much to write about … up till last night.

When a guest gives a talk for psychology class
On a topic that’s really complex
It’s often a genuine pain in the ass
But for our class, the topic is sex!

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

The subject this evening was sexual response
And it featured a live demonstration
(With such a large audience, such nonchalance!)
Of a power-assist masturbation!

The guest presentation was simply displayed—
Just a towel on the stage set the scene
And a sawzall, with dildo instead of a blade,
Creating a fucking machine.

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

The students were warned—they were over eighteen,
They were able to leave if they wanted.
But none were offended by what they had seen
Or the action the class had confronted

But now, a week later, the class hits the news
And we’re playing the media game.
And I hope we can hear the presenter enthuse:
“All in all, I’m just glad that I came.”

So, Hail to the Purple!
I’m swollen with pride,
The love for my school
Leaves me tingly inside.
And Go, U Northwestern!
Hit hard and hit low!
It’s sex education,
So on with the show!

Professor Bailey's Human Sexuality class is, by all accounts, very popular, with nearly 600 students enrolled in a given semester. One reason for the popularity, it appears, is the optional add-on lectures, discussions, and demonstrations, which give the students exposure to a bit more than a textbook provides. Professor Bailey's description of the class makes it clear that these add-ons are an important part of his course--including the now-contraversial add-on of February 21st.

Of course, once the story hits the news, Northwestern President Morton Schapiro has no choice, politially, but to be "troubled" by reports of the evening. The Daily Beast reports that Northwestern is defending Bailey, but it looks like it will be difficult to please everybody in this case.

I seriously considered quoting from each of these sources, but instead I'll just say that this story is worth clicking through and reading. I guarantee something like this would get me fired at Cuttlefish U.

I don't know if that's a good or a bad thing.

Wednesday, March 02, 2011

Fetal Testimony

Republican Congressmen sat in committee
And called, as their witness, young Tommy.
His presence was purely an act to draw pity;
The lad was still stuck in his mommy.

Their witness, unable to swear or affirm,
And unable to raise his right hand,
Looking less like a baby and more like a worm,
Reluctantly took to the stand.

"I'm glad you had time in your schedule to meet us"
The first representative smiled,
"Your perspective is needed; because you're a fetus
We value you more than a child."

The congressmen heard him, so loud and so clear,
Though Tommy, of course, had no voice;
(That's the reason young Tommy was called to be here--
His mother, of course, had no choice.)

Tommy's Mommy was there as a baby container--
What's important is, Tommy was there--
If she'd spoken up, they'd have had to restrain 'er
Cos Mom's voice? We really don't care.

You can't make this stuff up. All over the news, a committee of the Ohio house of representatives was to hear "testimony" from a fetus. A real one, not a doll like New Hampshire's Bob Smith used to bring to the US House. It appears, though, that the witness was not cooperative.

Tuesday, March 01, 2011

Civil Discourse

We’ve got to acknowledge the different opinions,
The views of the people from differing sides;
Respectfully bow to PZ and his minions
As well as the targets he often derides.
We’ll see eye-to-eye with the paranoid birthers
Whose ravings are worthy of utmost respect;
The young-earth creationists, even flat-earthers,
Since all are god’s children, the last time we checked.
The True Libertarians, common flat-taxers,
Tea Party candidates, all of them civil!
Alt-med practitioners, rude anti-vaxers,
We’ll keep turning cheeks like our head’s on a swivel!
Some may believe in a hell or a heaven;
We have to respect such a reasonable view.
Some think the Jews are behind 9/11,
Clearly deserving civility too.
Ravings of lunatics? Watch what you’re saying!
There’s no earthly reason we can’t get along!
With none so unbalanced they don’t deserve weighing,
We’ll all be all right, because none can be wrong.

Cuttlecap tip (and context) to PZ

Critical Mass

The man in the car
Couldn't get very far
Cos the road was blockaded by bikes
A deliberate slight
To his god-given right
To drive fast, and wherever he likes.
When a critical mass
Is a pain in the ass
To a man in a car in Brazil
Just remember, the car
Is much bigger, by far,
So just step on the pedal, and kill.

Warning--the following video may be a bit disturbing, especially if you ever ride a bike.

I've seen critical masses in Athens, Greece and here in Cuttletown, and they have been cheerful occasions. Yes, I have seen drivers a bit irritated; always, though, the cyclists were obeying the laws of the road. I've also ridden behind these drivers in traffic jams when I could have illegally passed them easily. Not all bike riders disobey the laws. Bikers have every bit as much legal right to the road as drivers; both populations should follow the rules.

If you watch the video, there is a clearly wrong party here. There is simply no justification for the behavior of the driver. But, as long-time readers may know, my hobby is reading the comments. I saw this story on NPR's two-way blog, and it surprises me that the comments there are far more (as of my most recent reading) critical of the cyclists and defensive of the driver, than the comments at youtube!

Update--the man has been arrested: details are scarce, but here.