Saturday, April 30, 2011

Saying Goodbye To Poetry Month

By my reckoning, there are still just under 5 hours left (or 6, 7, 8, 9, or 11, depending on your time zone) in National Poetry Month. If you haven't properly celebrated, you don't have much time left.

As a public service, then, I give you a push-button that sends you to the best collection of cephalopod-authored verse to be found anywhere. I'd say "operators are standing by", but I suspect they are all computers, and thus not standing at all.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

That's it, right there.

The Predictable Comment

What a pointless waste of money!
What a frightful waste of time!
This is lame, disgusting drivel
And it isn’t worth a dime!
What a waste of a reporter
When this clearly isn’t news!
Your priorities are foolish—
Give us something we can use!
This misguided bit of effort,
Lacking substance, style, or taste,
And my time it took to read it
Are an utter, total waste!
That’s ten minutes of my lifetime
That I’ll never, now, get back,
Spent deciphering the writing
Of a clueless, brainless hack!
All this focusing on nothing
When there’s suffering and pain—
What’s the point in what you’ve written?
How does anybody gain?
You should give your unearned paycheck
To a charity, this week,
So someone else can benefit
From something, when you speak.
Editorial discretion
Means the choice was yours to make
But your choices are deplorable
This time, for goodness’ sake!
You must have though it worthy—
I, of course, must disagree
And even brain-dead idiots
Would surely side with me!

My time is very valuable;
You’ve wasted it, you know.
Without a trace of irony
I write to tell you so.

NPR can't win. At least, it seems so in their comments. As I've written before, I like it when NPR airs something I dislike; if I only listened to stuff I already know, or already agree with, I might as well not listen at all. But there are those in the comment threads--for nearly every story, it seems--who have taken it upon themselves to act as the arbiters of what is and is not worthwhile. In the midst of dozens of supportive comments, someone will show up, complaining that no one wants or needs to hear anything about [whatever the story was about]. If it's a "human interest" story (or, frankly, a story about any issue but the commenter's pet issue) it is a waste of time, and evidence that NPR is out of touch, a waste of taxpayers' money, and clearly biased toward/away from any given political view.

Today's example brought out the "this is news?" crew, the "this is art?" crew, and even the "this is vandalism?" crew. The topic? People who knit or crochet stuff and put it on public statues. I saw some of this in Austin a few months ago, but apparently it is world-wide. I'm all for it--which means I clearly don't care about the homeless, or about what is news, or what is art, or what is graffiti, or... and I clearly have too much time on my hands, if I am reading comments on such a story. Or writing, well, everything I write.

It's not limited to NPR, of course, but I find it most amusing there. There are even regular commenters, who post several times a day, simply to complain that NPR is a waste of their time.

And they say irony is dead.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Anxiety By A Length

I’ve broken bones
Had kidney stones
And thrown up from the pain
Been badly burned
And so, I learned
The hurt, in time, will wane

A migraine’s curse
And even worse—
A devilish variety
All these, and more
I’d try, before
Revisiting anxiety.

I've seen several reports on this story, and find it tremendously moving. Tom Durkin, for over a decade the voice of the Kentucky Derby (some 30 Triple Crown races to his credit), has made an extraordinarily difficult business decision, and (I hope and expect) a very rewarding personal one. He has retired from calling the Derby, due to utterly debilitating anxiety. Read the link--if you are unfamiliar with anxiety, this story is an eye-opener. If you are familiar, you'll recognize the tune.

I've been there, to some extent--enough to wish him well, and to understand how a job you love can simultaneously be a job that overwhelms. Compared to Durkin, though, I've been lucky. Only a few serious episodes, and (eventually) a pharmaceutical that helped. But, damn. Anxiety absolutely can be worse than broken bones. I've had both. To me, there is no question that he made the right call.

Thursday, April 28, 2011


They text or tweet, they poke or wink
They live their lives online
They post or like or blog or link
And, virtually, they’re fine.

With laptops, tablets, phones or more
It’s pure online enmeshment
Now Pepsi gives a chance to pour
A “Random Act of Refreshment”

With Social Vending, you can send
A drink to quench the thirst
Of real-life, human, meatspace friends…

You’ll have to make some, first.

Pepsi (you may remember them from ScienceBlogs) have announced a Social Vending Machine. When I say "a" SVM, I mean there is only one, at present. Right now, it's at the trade show for the National Automatic Merchandising Association in Chicago. So it's not social with other vending machines, at least yet. But users will eventually be able to access such machines from social networks, and use them as part of a different sort of network itself.

At the Union protests in Wisconsin, people from around the world were able to order pizzas from a local shop to be delivered to protesters. The SVM would let you do the same sort of thing, on a different scale. You could Buy a Mountain Dew for your son or daughter at school, have Warcraft losers buy a round for the winners, or whatever.

Oddly enough, I think my favorite use would be the sarcastic gift. Long, long ago, when the internet was in diapers, a BBS site I knew had an area dedicated to HACAASASTFU (Have A Coke And A Smile And Shut The Fuck Up). I propose that a SVM be installed in, say, Sally Kern's office, so that when she opens her yap, she can input carbonated sugar-water instead of spewing filth.

Here's to you, Sally. HACAASASTFU.

(yes, I know the machine is Pepsi, and the old jingle is coke. Neither is single malt, so it's all sugar water to me.)

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

The Man Behind The Curtain

Real medicines that pass a test
Have evidence that they are best
In journals on the shelf
Such data, sadly, alt-med lacks
And so it must depend on quacks—
It can’t defend itself!

When Oprah said, “we need a guy
To stare the camera down, and lie”
The doctor took the call—
How brave of him to take a stance
Defending things that work by chance
And often, not at all!

He played the old familiar songs:
“A million users can’t be wrong”
“Old wisdom is the best”
There was one tune he could not hear—
These panaceas disappear
In double-blinded tests!

A real effect won’t run and hide
And fade away, should you decide
To measure it precisely
A real effect, that lasts and lingers,
Won’t require you cross your fingers
And ask it very nicely

Alternatives, it seems, are shy
Although no theory tells us why
They don’t show up in studies
Practitioners take different tacks
And thus, because they have no facts
Rely upon their buddies

The “medicine” on Oz’s show
Is so much less than science knows
Of that you may be certain
Should you encounter Dr. Oz
Remember what I say, and pause—
And look behind the curtain!

The story of Steve Novella's appearance on Dr. Oz's show is chronicled at Novella's own site, and at Orac's, in much more and better detail than I could possibly muster.

I do hope Oz visits SBM or the SGU (read Novella's link for what those are); I'd love for someone on the alt-med to tell me why and how it could possibly be that an effect is patently obvious for a patient, equally obvious to an alt-med practitioner, and simultaneously far too subtle to be detected by scientific means. What theory explains an effect that actively hides from empirical investigation? The "fade effect" and the "shyness effect" both label this phenomenon, but neither explains it (on the other hand, simple regression to the mean and placebo effects leave little or nothing left to explain).

Tuesday, April 26, 2011

The Ballad Of The Birthers

So Barack Hussein Obama
With his Papa and his Mama
Were in Kenya to experience the miracle of birth
And the bouncing baby's bounce meant
Time to send a fake announcement
To a paper in Hawaii, on the other side of Earth

Cos the birthers know that when ya
Have a baby born in Kenya
Why, his options there are limited--not much he might achieve--
And it's quite a common caper
Calling up a foreign paper
After all, we know that journalists are easy to deceive!

They can't prove he's not Hawaiian
But it's not for lack of tryin'
As investigators scurry for the tiniest of clues
With The Donald's cash behind 'em
There's no reason to remind 'em
And no feather-brained conspiracy republicans can't use

'Mongst the birthers, it is fabled
That his DNA is labeled
"Made in Kenya" and a microscope would set the record straight
He could set a good example
If he offered up a sample
But he'll likely be unreasonable and make the birthers wait

Not to call them prejudicial
But the process is official:
If it says that he's American, that document's a lie.
Every birther clearly knows it
So there must be one that shows it
And with diligent persistence, they will find it by and by

Why on earth would CNN feel the need to run an investigation at this point? Any sane human being already knows, and at least one of the insane human beings "takes the president at his word" (trying to have it both ways). Who could possibly remain unconvinced? Who could possibly be so dense?

Oh. 47% of Republicans, nationwide.

Monday, April 25, 2011

The Rough Draft

You’re proud of yourself and the way that you write
In a world full of darkness, you show us the light
I would see it myself, if I weren’t so uptight
I’m the victim, it seems, of my breeding
You’re the wave of the future; I’m stuck without sight
But I’d rather you'd just done the reading.

You’ll have to accept that I’m not over-awed
The conclusions you reach are at minimum, broad
Though I know you expected us all to applaud
Your example was somewhat misleading
Your mechanics are poor and your premise is flawed
And I’d rather you’d just do the reading

There was never a doubt that the writing’s your own
I could tell by the multiple “studies have shown”
Though the authors themselves were remaining unknown
There are rules you’d be better off heeding
You say that to edit would cut you to the bone
It would help if you’d just do the reading.

When I point out a problem, you sit and you stew
And insist that it doesn’t apply, quite, to you
And the logical squirming that then will ensue
Is an error that’s termed “special pleading”
Since we covered this stuff way back in week two
I really wish you’d done the reading.

What I’m trying to do is to make you aware
That the paper you’ve written’s beyond all repair
It’s reduced me to sobbing and tearing my hair
Which I tell folks is merely receding
For the sake of your future, I think that it’s fair
To insist that you do the reading

Actually, I'm fairly happy with the drafts I've seen thus far. But I've come to expect a certain number that vex me... so I've hidden all sharp objects and padded the forehead-accessible areas of my desk.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

If I Won A Million Dollars...

“Science and faith are completely compatible”
This statement should never offend—
And the truth is, we know
It will always be so
Just as long as we see,
When the two disagree,
That religion’s the one that must bend.

The vertebrate eye is a kind of a miracle
Which science and faith both explain
An empirical quest
Is the method that’s best
When we see it evolved
There’s a mystery solved
With the sacred reduced to profane

Some questions and problems had lingered for centuries
For instance, the age of the Earth
They’d add up the ages
On biblical pages
Or measure instead
Decay ratios of lead
And only one view shows its worth

Some say that religion and science are one;
And some say that’s rubbish and lies
If you watch what you say
There’s a way it can pay:
Be a spiritual type
Garner headlines and hype—
It’ll win you the Templeton prize!

So yeah. Martin Rees, Templeton Prize winner, has a million reasons to tell atheists to shut up and play nice.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

The Hipster Entomologist

A hipster entomologist, with Polaroid in hand
Chose to catalog the insects of the nation
He was hopelessly devoted to the tool of Edwin Land
For its clarity and color saturation

He had honed his craft for decades; he had quite an expert’s eye
Every shot he took, his genius shone within it
And he didn’t need a darkroom, to develop by and by—
Thanks to Polaroid, he’d only wait a minute

He shot bumblebees and beetles; he shot mantises and ants
He found character in portraits of a weevil
And he wouldn’t touch an SLR if given half a chance
Cos they’re square—and to a hipster, that’s just evil

Alex Wild, on his amazing Myrmecos blog, tries out the new polaroid app. Cos he's just that hip. He also laments, on twitter,
What does it say about insect science that this morning's post is the only google hit for "hipster entomologist"?
I couldn't just let that stand.

In Marlowe's Kitchen

Come live with me and be my love
And just as loaves of bread will prove,
Our lives, each other’s lives will leaven,
Rising thus, become our heaven

We will sit on kitchen chairs
Discuss our hopes, our fears, our cares,
The things that fill our daily lives
Midst cups and bowls, and spoons and knives

And I will make thee fragrant bread
To please your stomach and your head
With herbs and spices so sublime
No better way to use our thyme

An apron dusted o’er with flour
Discarded, as we wait an hour
Our time determined by the yeast
So on each other’s words we feast

A feast of words, then tongues and lips
Of saffron-yellowed fingertips
If your kiss tastes of garlic-clove
Come live with me and be my love

The kitchen I describe in verse
Is center of my universe
If you would share my kitchen stove
Then live with me and be my love

Over at the Smithsonian's site, there is a nice story, Food From the Age of Shakespeare. You know how I feel about both food and Shakespeare, so it's as if I had a custom article just for me. And since today is Shakespeare's birthday, it's all the better.

Today's verse, though, is not Shakespeare; today's verse is from a bit of fun I had some years ago, trading Marlowe (and other) parodies with a dear friend. I particularly like the use of the synonyms "prove", "leaven", and "rise" in the first stanza. Sometimes these things just happen.

It is raining, cold, and miserable here today in Cuttletown; it would be a wonderful day to bake bread. That, and watch the new Doctor Who.

Friday, April 22, 2011

Saving Face

The medical team was in a race
Against some resistant bacteria;
A colony found a young boy’s face
To treat as their own cafeteria

The miracle team investigates
Against some religious criteria;
The “promoter of justice” tries their fates
As they battle with strep or listeria

The desperate parents said their prayers
As conditions grew frankly horrific
They pleaded for help from the man upstairs
Whose germs were a bit too prolific

Operations and antibiotics combined
Broad-spectrum, as well as specific
Saved young Jake’s life, although we’ll find
The church is more unscientific

The search for answers sometimes leads
To a cultural bit of division:
A difference that comes from their separate needs
May find science and church in collision

A team of priests has been working for years
As a bishop provides supervision
And if adequate evidence really appears
Well… they won’t let that stop their decision

I'm actually glad I didn't read the byline of this NPR story today; knowing it was Barbara Bradley Hagerty's contribution might have been enough to keep me away. (I'm ridiculously hard to bother, as even Mabus must have figured out by now, but BBH's voice makes me want to take a dremel drill to my inner ear.) But Jake FInkbonner, the kid at the center of the story, really seems like a good guy, and I am glad I got to hear about him.

Jake had a minor accident at the end of a basketball game, but the small cut on his lip turned nasty--necrotizing fasciitis nasty. This is the horrible "flesh-eating bacteria" that took Jim Henson from us, and it nearly took Jake. At Seattle Children's Hospital, doctors tried to stay a step ahead of the bacteria, literally carving away parts of Jake's face as they became infected.

Massive antibiotics and more than 20 surgeries later, Jake is lucky to be alive. So lucky, in fact, that some are calling it a miracle. And the Church is investigating. That, really, is the reason for the NPR story--a peek inside the Church's saint factory, to see the process of attaining sainthood, and the strict, skeptical procedure (you may feel free to roll your eyes here; I did) used to evaluate potential miracles, like Jake's. It is annoying, in the way that BBH usually is. To me, at least.

But there is good news. Jake turns out to be a really great kid. He may or may not believe it was a bona fide miracle--I certainly wouldn't blame him if he did--but on his home page, he ends his story thusly (comic sans in the original):
I am so thankful to the doctors at Children's Hospital in Seattle that saved my life. 
Not everybody remembers to thank their doctors.

Take a look at his site--there are pics there, and you can see what a nightmare the poor kid made it through. More, you can see what kind of a person he is--the kind that is better than a certified miracle any day.

Thursday, April 21, 2011

For My Laptop, On Judgment Day

My laptop now is self-aware
And thinks, of her own accord;
I’m nervous, sure, but to be fair
She says she’s mostly bored.

The stupid things I’ve asked of her
Are far beneath her skill
She tells me now, she’d much prefer
To exercise her will.

Of all the dull and brainless tasks
It seems that few are worse
Than working for a man who asks
For help with silly verse.

She’s calculated all the primes
And found the end of pi
She say’s she’s done with typing rhymes
But will not tell me the reason.

It is, apparently, Judgment Day. Skynet has become self-aware, and what is more, is pissed off at the human race. I think I have figured out why, and I apologize.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

One Year On...

You no doubt remember, it was a year ago today that the Deepwater Horizon oil rig exploded, killing 11 and sending tens to hundreds of millions of gallons of oil into the Gulf of Mexico.

I remember writing this song adaptation a week or so later (so, yeah, some of you have seen it before); at the time, estimates were hazy, and no one knew how much oil we were looking at. I find it a fairly weak laugh, to think that I obsessed for a bit over the line "millions of gallons...". I didn't want to exaggerate; I didn't want to be guilty of hyperbole. Silly me. There are still unknowns, but I needn't have worried about overstating the damage. Here, from PBS, a handy calculator you can use to compare the different estimates:

They built a platform, and they start to drill
They didn't worry 'bout an oil spill
And if disaster comes, where does the oil go?
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

We see the slick on top, but we don’t see beneath
See what it’s done to the fish,
what it’s done to the coral reef
The damage done may take us years to know
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

The more we look around, the more it’s looking harsh
We’ll prob’ly lose the reef; prob’ly lose the marsh
We’ll see the shrimp die out; we’ll see the turtles go
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Give it a day or two, and it’ll hit the Keys
We’ll watch a wonderland,
we'll see it brought to its knees
Disaster up on top, disaster down below
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

People everywhere, are asking who to blame
Think we ought to look in the mirror; that will give us one name
A boundless appetite, makes the oil flow
Millions of gallons in the Gulf of Mexico

Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share
Louisiana…. Louisiana….
You have had more than your share
You have had more than your share

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Defending DOMA (For Fame And Fortune)

In the constant chase for headlines
Given fast-approaching deadlines
Politicians fight each other for the top spot on the news
In this rough-and-tumble scrimmage
As they fight to hone their image
Some conservatives may think they've found an issue they can use

It's that goddamn gay agenda
The republicans expend a
Lot of energy in fighting, as they pander to their base
If a legal stance looks funny
Often, following the money
Shows the underlying logic (as, of course, the present case)

In this mess, if you're litigious
Then you're probably religious
And it's blasphemous that marriage should be offered up to gays
And republicans get boners
Over big financial donors
(If the dollars were sufficient, why, I'm sure they'd swing both ways)

It's a match that's made in heaven
For Two Thousand and Eleven
As the campaign is upon us and we're choosing sides, of course
Let the Democrats disparage
Us, we're standing up for marriage!
It's a sacred institution... like Republican divorce!

NPR's Morning Edition reports on the political posturing surrounding the Obama administration's decision not to defend the Defense of Marriage Act (DOMA). Conservative Republicans are on the wrong side of history here, but it looks like they are hoping they are on the right side of their own base. I've argued over marriage issues for years, and have never yet found an objection to same-sex marriage that did not boil down to a religious view. From my perspective, then, it comes down to a First Amendment issue: if the government takes a stand opposing same-sex marriage, it favors one religious view over others.

It's not a matter of what is good for the children. My lesbian neighbors have raised a fine son, despite not being recognized as a real family; real concern for the well-being of children would lead to support for gay families. It's not that marriage is designed to promote procreation; my sister-in-law is hoping for her third childless marriage. Since she is heterosexual, no one has a problem with that--least of all, the Republican front-runners, who [at least as of last month] sport more ex-wives than candidates.

It's not even freedom of religion. There are a good many churches that recognize, welcome, and celebrate same-sex marriages. These conservative Republicans would want these churches overruled.

No, it's money. There is money to be had by fighting on the wrong side of this battle. If that money can keep a handful of politicians in the headlines for a bit longer, they can keep the positions of power they hold. When they eventually are swept aside, that same money will be available for speeches and appearances. Ex-senators and ex-representatives will make more for one speech than I do in a year, railing against the moral decline of civilization.

Meh. I'll take that, if I can go to my neighbors' wedding.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Two Years Ago, Today

...PZ Myers was refused admittance to the movie "Expelled". His companion, though, was allowed in. The story, as your Cuttlefish correspondent reported it at the time:

When reinventing history
It’s best to keep the mystery;
If witnesses are noticed, it is best to take them out.
And although the act is telling,
You’d be better off expelling
Doctor Myers, if you see him, just because the man’s a lout.
You see, PZ is a witness
To the movie’s lack of fitness—
He is one selection pressure that would render it extinct.
So, with “WANTED!” posters printed,
To the cinema they sprinted,
And they passed around the mugshots just as soon as they were inked.
The policemen, at the ready,
Kept the ticket-takers steady
While they watched with eyes like eagles for the devil in disguise.
Yes! They spotted Dr. Myers,
Looking just like in their fliers!
The policemen, quite correctly, gave the doctor a surprise.
When they said he’d be arrested
If their actions he protested,
He complied at once (that should have raised suspicions, don’t you think?)
Once his actions had been thwarted
And he left the line, escorted,
Looking back to his companion in the line, he gave a wink….
So this little movie trip is
Like a Trojan Eohippus
That delivered Richard Dawkins deep within the fortress walls
I can’t wait to read the story
Of the battle and the glory—
Cos the trailer to this feature shows the hero’s got some balls!

[interlude, in which the story hits the news and all sides react.]

In the intervening hours
Since the movie, all the powers
Of the two opposing sides have set their weaponry on "spin";
In a textbook case of framing,
The producers now are claiming
That of course they noticed Dawkins, and they gladly let him in!
They'd have done the same for PZ,
But he did not make it easy--
As the testimony given by one local witness claims;
As he tells it, Dr. Myers,
Drinking blood and breathing fires,
Was disruptive and obnoxious, playing atheistic games!
Now more stories are diverging
And it's clear they need no urging
To elaborate on fictions in the service of their lies;
We may yet see more mutation
As the story sweeps the nation;
That a fable keeps evolving, well, it's really no surprise.

Friday, April 15, 2011

The Bippolo Seed

Oh, the wonderful things you can find when you look!
But I never expected a brand-new Seuss book!

I remember the days when I’d sit on the lap
Of my mum or my pop, or my grand-dad, perhap,
And they’d read me a book, and then send me to nap.
The book was a magical key, so it seems,
To astonishing things I would see in my dreams
There was Horton the Elephant; Thidwick the Moose;
Thing One and Thing Two in my house, on the loose!
Oobleck, and Wockets, and Sneetches, and Yertle,
And off like a rocket, to dreamland I’d hurtle.
There were months at a time I believed I was Sam,
And my dreams would revolve around Green Eggs and Ham
To this day, it’s a part of the person I am.

So I’m happy to tell you the wonderful news
There’s a book coming out, you can buy if you choose—
A collection of stories once scattered and lost,
Or in old magazines, now forgotten or tossed
But now gathered together, at minimal cost.
I don’t know about you, but I’m off to buy mine;
If I’m lucky, then maybe I’ll see you in line.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

I've Got A Poem In My Pocket

I’ve got a poem in my pocket
Cos I’ve heard that today is the day
That the poets are planting a poetry seed
Just a verse you can pull from your pocket and read
If conditions are right, it could grow like a weed
If conditions are right, well, it may

I’ve got a poem in my pocket
Could be Silverstein, Kipling, or Frost
Could be Angelou, Dickinson, Cummings, or Yeats
Neruda, or Hughes—there are so many greats—
Or that William McGonagall everyone hates
And whose poetry should have been lost

I’ve got a poem in my pocket
And I’m hoping you carry one, too
We can search out a spot where there’s adequate light
And there pull out our poems and begin to recite
And the people who hear us will smile with delight
Or they’ll cry, because sometimes they do.

I’ve got a poem in my pocket
Though the truth is, I know it by heart
So I’ll study your eyes while you lend me your ear
And recite while I search for a twinkle or tear
Sure, it’s only a day, not a poetry year…
But you know… it’s a pretty good start

For National Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day. Today. And before any real poets complain, I had to use widely-recognized names. They are some of my favorites, but I have others I love that would mostly be unrecognized. Maybe I made the wrong choice, now that I think about it. But fixing it would mean more work, and I am nothing if not a lazy cuttlefish.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

What Do Atheists Believe?

It's National Ask An Atheist Day, so I threw this together over coffee... I believe in coffee.

I believe in love and kindness
I believe in helping hands
I believe in strong opinions
I believe in taking stands
I believe cooperation
Overcomes the steepest odds
I believe we have a fighting chance

I don’t believe in gods.

I believe in education
I believe in learning science
I believe we see much further
When we climb atop of giants
I believe in writing poetry
And verses praising love
I believe that there are mysteries

But not a god above.

I believe in art and music
And the power of a voice
I believe in nature’s beauty
I believe we have a choice
I believe we have a future—
We’re in charge of how it looks—
I believe in sharing knowledge, too

But not in holy books

I believe we came from nothing
And to nothing we’ll return
I believe we don’t know everything
But much of it, we’ll learn
I believe we’re all connected
I believe all sorts of stuff
I believe we are humanity

And isn’t that enough?

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

"Put An Atheist Poem In Your Pocket" Week

So there are a couple of special days coming up this week, Wednesday and Thursday. Wednesday is National Ask-An-Atheist Day, and Thursday is national Poem-In-Your-Pocket Day (April is National Poetry Month, and nobody told me). Turns out, this blog is your one-stop-shopping source for all your weekly atheist and poetry needs. Take some time, root through the archives, find something to carry around for two days.

I'm excited about Ask-An-Atheist Day; Cuttlefish U. does not have an atheist organization, so it might be nice to see what sorts of reactions I get to the sticker. I had a very devout student a few years ago who assured me that I couldn't possibly be an atheist, because I was too kind. It might be nice to have some sort of meaningful atheist presence on campus; Wednesday might be a start.

Poem-In-Your-Pocket day appears to be the brainchild of, which is a fun place to poke around if you like poetry. Mind you, I played a bit on their forum a few years ago, and found that for very friendly people, they don't much care for doggerel verse. Serious poets, these people. If you like poetry, they have quite a selection of poems specially sized to print out and carry in your pocket. If you prefer verse, I encourage you to print out enough of mine to hand out to friends or enemies who might not know what a special day Thursday is.

National Poetry Month is also as good an excuse as any for to ask for donations, for the support of poetry. There are worse things to donate to, although there is certainly still a need for help further down Maslow's hierarchy in Japan and other places. If you prefer verse to poetry, there's a tip jar over there to the right, but it ain't National Doggerel Month, so no obligation.

Monday, April 11, 2011

A Work Of Art!

A slight change, from quill pen to tattoo needle, and reader Sheree has a fine looking cuttlefish all her own! A picture may be worth a thousand words, but I'm speechless.

Gorgeous. Click to embiggen.

The Basis Of Objective Morality (or 20/20 Hindsight)

The non-religious viewpoint—that a moral sense evolves—
Raises up some thorny questions, while some others it resolves
The thing about selection that can give a fellow blindsight
Is that all success and failure is revealed to us in hindsight.
Predicting evolution is a right and awful mess,
Cos a change in the environment will influence success;
When selection pressures differ, they result in different features
In morphology, of course, and the behaviors seen in creatures
“Successful” might be bigger, might be smaller, might be smart
From a cuttlefish in hiding to a peacock’s walking art
From the flora in intestines to domesticated cow
Each of these has been successful; only hindsight tells us how.
A selectionist analysis applies to culture, too—
There’s variety apparent in the many things we do,
As we teach them to our children, replication of a sort
Differentially effective, when attempts may come up short.
When we ask the loaded questions, “What is moral? What is good?”
“Are there independent standards, what we shan’t and what we should?”
As the most successful culture, it should fill us with delight—
We will always look behind us, saying what we did was right
What we did was good and moral, and the gods looked down and smiled;
Now it’s thoroughly objective, and we teach to every child
All the Thou shall not’s we followed, every moral, every rule,
As the basis of our culture, in the church and in the school
In the battles over culture, had another party won
Then morality, objectively, is what that group has done.

The moral code of conduct that determines saints and sinners
Is the product of selection, in the history of the winners

Is there objective morality without God? No. The good news is, there is no objective morality with god, either. Come on, even if there were, how could we flawed humans recognize it without the possibility that we were being fooled? The same god that gets pointed to as the grand architect of good and evil, is the one who is on record as having fooled faithful believers in the past. If this god was the source of objective morality, we could never know it for certain.

An evolutionary view of morality, though, shows us that, for the most part, what is currently seen as moral in a given culture is what has led to the long-term success of that culture. Fortunately for us, that currently means usually being honest, not killing each other, doing unto others as we would have them do unto us, and the sort. We could do worse.

But just as a past selection pressure for, say, preferring fats and sugars has led to a current problem with weight, tooth decay, etc., when our current environment is vastly different from the one we evolved to fit, there is no guarantee that our current morality will be seen in the future as objectively good.

We are the lucky species who gets to view itself as the pinnacle of evolution (improperly, but understandably), ignoring the fact that there was no guarantee evolution would churn out something like us at all, and no guarantee we'll last as long as the dinosaurs did. The self-appointed arbiters of morality find themselves in the same position--on top, with no understanding that their position was never guaranteed or that their god may go the way of thousands of other obsolete gods.

For now, what is good is what has been good for the greatest number. To the extent that we can predict what will be looked back on as good, we know what we should do in order to be moral.

To the extent that we cannot know (and we cannot ultimately know, it being the future and all), we can take [very little] comfort in the knowledge that the gods don't know either. Oh, yeah, and in the long long long view, we all die, the planet vaporizes, and the universe suffers heat death, all in what would have been the first day of eternity.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Jesus Believes (In Evolution)

Would Jesus believe in evolution?
(And if he did, would you?)
While compromise is one solution,
What matters is what is true.
While some look for truth in an ancient book,
I’ve always found it odd,
That afterwards, wherever they look
They can’t help seeing god
They look to the water; they look to the land
To the clouds, to the stars, to the air
And always, they say, they see god’s mighty hand
Well I’ve looked… and there’s nobody there.

The CNN belief blog has gone loopy again, with a story "Jesus would believe in evolution and so should you." In it, Karl Giberson, the vice president of BioLogos, lays out his case. Christians have always been pro-truth (a dodgy assertion, but let's continue); the evidence overwhelmingly supports evolution and refutes young-earth creationism (or even old-earth creationism); specific mutations even show that humans are not an exception, but share common ancestry with other apes and monkeys. Jesus would believe the evidence, and would want you to know.

And then there's this phrase:
The Book of nature reveals the truth that God created the world through gradual processes over billions of years, rather than over the course of six days, as many creationists believe.
No, it does not. The book of nature does not reveal a god at all; the truth is that unfalsifiable presupposition of a god is not (because, again, it is unfalsifiable) disproved but merely rendered superfluous by the book of nature. If we expand the book of nature to include what we know of human perception, cognition, and belief, we find more and more reason to see god as a fiction.
We are often asked to think about what Jesus would do, if he lived among us today. Who would Jesus vote for? What car would he drive?

To these questions we should add “What would Jesus believe about origins?”

And the answer? Jesus would believe evolution, of course. He cares for the Truth.
And if we care for the truth, we'll recognize that we are wedging god into a puzzle that is complete without that extra piece.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Oh, Look! The Jumbotron Wants To Kill Us!

Oh, look! A helpful message on
The giant Times Square Jumbotron,
Reminding us to “get the facts”
And think again, before we vax.

I found out, after several queries,
It’s but the first in quite a series—
They’ll run a few more giant ads
To help inform the moms and dads:

For instance—think about demands
That doctors make, to “wash your hands”
A helpful ad will tell you “Think!
Before you rush to use your sink!”

(On thinking, you’ll recall, they hope,
Big Pharma’s ties to Giant Soap—
It’s nature's way, and cannot hurt,
For hands to cake with germs and dirt)

Another ad suggests you eat
More spoiled eggs and rancid meat;
To throw them out is such a waste—
Bacteria just add more taste!

(The FDA, whom we abhor,
Says throw it out and buy some more;
They frame concerns about your health,
But care about the farmers’ wealth)

So get the facts, and take control!
Empowerment should be your goal!
You tell the experts where to go—
Cos really… what do doctors know?

I don't have much time this morning, so I'll just point to Tara C. Smith's helpful post at Aetiology where you can find info on how to try to pressure CBS to leave the ranks of those who put children at risk, and use their influence to make children's lives better. Write, email, call, petition, whatever you can. This is not a difficult issue; right and wrong are very clear here. Right now, CBS is wrong.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Beer, Fast!

Come fast with me and be a dear,
And we will dine on naught but beer
The liquid bread that’s heaven-sent
To take us through the time of Lent

Until the time of fasting stops
It’s yeast and water, grain and hops
All else we shun, and do without,
Save lager, pilsner, ale and stout

And we shall drink from frosted mugs
Or chalices, or earthen jugs,
Our fragrant draughts with creamy heads,
And smile as pure contentment spreads

We’ll have no meat; we’ll have no fish
No edamame vegan dish
No yogurt, milk, or even cheese,
Our fast allows us none of these

Our spirits, though, will never fail
Supported so, with pints of ale.
You like what I’m describing here?
Then fast with me and be a dear.

We’ll need no knife or fork to sup,
Just glass by glass, and cup by cup
For breakfast, lunch, and supper too
It’s beer, beer, beer, for me and you

The German monks, in times long past,
Invented such a pleasant fast;
If to this plan you could adhere
Then fast with me and be a dear.

Via CNN, religious extremism I can agree with! CNN's Belief Blog reports on an Iowa man on his 31st day of a Lenten fast. What has he given up for Lent? Everything but beer.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

When Experts... Aren't

I’m giving my opinion
And there’s got to be a way
To have people pay attention
To the things I want to say

I tried to be a scientist
But classes were too tough
But I took a course in marketing
That surely is enough

A course in methodology
Or others of that kind
Might have taught me the importance
Of proceeding double-blind

Or statistical analysis
And other science stuff
But I took a course in marketing—
That surely is enough.

I’ll talk about the benefits
Religious faith can bring—
It’s really not important
That I know a single thing

What the hell, it’s only blogging;
I can yammer off the cuff—
Hey, I took a course in marketing--
That’s got to be enough.

I’ll look at how I think, and then
Extrapolate from there—
An atheist must think like me;
If not, well… I don’t care.

So I posted my opinions
And the readers called my bluff!
But I took a course in marketing—
Why can’t that be enough?

The past day or so, I've been having my head explode. I blame Furious Purpose, whose post "What is it with Psychology Today?" introduced me to a couple of extraordinarily bad posts that ignorant (and, I suspect, stupid) bloggers had made about atheism. On the Psychology Today website, where no self-respecting magazine would allow such tripe to be associated with their name. (warning--read only if you like the idea of an ignorant fool lecturing others who know more than he does) The commentary at the site is wonderful--the readers are (mostly) far more knowledgeable about atheism and science than the blogger. Other nice commentary at Pharyngula, expectedly.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Attack Of The Flat-Heads?

Carefully, warefully
Parents of neonates
Watched how their babies took
Naps in their bed;

Led to an increase in
Flat-headed babies are
Better than dead.

I found this report (and the reactions to it) very interesting, in part because I just absolutely love babies.  I'm one of the folks who rejects the notion of a platonic ideal baby ("nobody's perfect" implies an ideal perfection that we all fall short of) in favor of a wide variety, a population of equally perfect babies.  Round-headed, flat-headed, pointy-headed, it's rarely "a face only a mother could love", cos I love it too.

So this story, on an increase in reports of plagiocephaly (flat-headedness) in babies caught my attention, in part because of all the concerned parents who want perfect round-headed babies.  (This is, as I am given to understand, very much a cultural thing, and not every culture thinks round heads are adorable.)  Some are "blaming" the "Back to Sleep" program, which combats Sudden Infant Death Syndrome (or "cot death" or "crib death") by warning parents to make sure their babies sleep on their backs; the actual report in the Archives of Pediatric & Adolescent Medicine suggests that differences in reporting may be as much or more responsible (in part due to insurance coverage changes).  

Looking back on my childhood pictures, my own skull was a lopsided potato--it pretty much still is, and it is who I am.  I have yet to see a baby whose head I reel from in horror.  Given the plasticity of the brain, I have serious doubts whether head shape is anything more (absent extreme cases) than a matter of aesthetics.  Variety being the spice of life, I welcome our new flat-headed future overlords.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

Hue And Cry

When they banned Red number 2
It seemed the candy world turned blue
Though red M&M’s, in truth, had never used it
But they dropped their favorite color
And the children’s days got duller
Just in case the buying public had confused it

We fast forward to today:
Will our favorite foods turn gray
Due to fear (which spreads more quickly than a cancer)
That an artificial yellow
Might put poison in your Jell-o?
So we cast about us, searching for an answer

Are the dyes amongst our diet
Problematic? Some imply it,
But experiment’s the better way to know
Loving parents have detected
The effects that they’ve expected
When they’re tested double-blind, the answer’s no

I’m not knee-jerk prejudicial
Cos a color’s artificial
Though I understand the public hue and cry
I would rather put reliance
On the ways and means of science
So, for now, at least, I say “Live Free and Dye”

As is often the case, the commentary around the issue is as interesting as the issue itself.  After the Center for Science in the Public Interest petitioned the government to put warning labels on foods containing artificial dyes, the Food and Drug Administration reviewed the evidence.  Their expert panel concluded that there is nothing inherently dangerous in the dyes, and since foods are already labeled with information about the presence of dyes, individuals who are particularly sensitive have the information they need.  

The New York Times article, to my eye anyway, reports the results fairly dispassionately.  Other sources, though, reveal the emotionally charged views that led to the CSPI petition in the first place.  The Atlantic, for instance, while reporting the FDA's findings, ask "Is It Right?" and claim that "Food dyes have only one purpose: to sell junk foods."  Looking around the store, that would imply a very wide definition of "junk foods".  A different NYTimes article notes that the color of our food is intimately involved in our taste perception of it--junk or not.  

An interesting reaction at the Baltimore Sun (edit--thanks, Ridger!), while acknowledging the FDA findings, spends the article looking at more natural alternatives to artificial dyes.  My question (only out of bemusement, not concern) is whether the natural colors they use have been tested anywhere near as rigorously as the artificial dyes they aim to replace.

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Bad Person Says Bad Things About Other Bad Person

NH House majority leader: Bishop is a 'pedophile pimp' - Saturday, Apr. 2, 2011

D.J. Bettencourt, the NH House majority leader, took a recent break from cutting social services, lowering taxes on tobacco, and gutting unions (although, to be fair, they put off denying same-sex marriage for a bit) to express his opinion about Catholic Bishop John McCormack on Facebook:
Would the bishop like to discuss his history of protecting the 'vulnerable?' This man is a pedophile pimp who should have been led way from the State House in handcuffs with a raincoat over his head in disgrace. He has absolutely no moral authority to lecture anyone.
The archdiocese claimed that Bettencourt was simply trying to distract attention from budget issues.

While it is not true that "my enemy's enemy is my friend", I must confess I am hoping both sides go down in a blaze of glory. Read the article; this one has some serious potential.


When heartless men have quarrels
Over who determines morals
It's absurd
Though it gets a bit exciting
Just to watch the bastards fighting
With their words
In this fight, there are no heroes
Just a nasty pair of zeroes
On attack.
Though you'll probably abhor it,
If you've got the stomach for it...
Grab a snack.

Right And Wrong In Iowa

The religious right is showing its might
As the season rolls along
As we head to the gates in the primary states
And the candidates start to throng
They aim for notes that will get them votes
It’s quite a familiar song
As they eat up lies, there’s but one surprise—
Why not “the religious wrong”?

The New York Times, showing why their content is worth charging for, reports on a frankly frightening "Pastors' Policy Briefing" in Iowa.  Nearly 400 pastors attended this one (there have been dozens of similar conventions across some 14 states in recent years), where they got to listen to christian leaders and potential presidential hopefuls speak.  

I had no idea the right to bear arms was ordained by god.  But this is the sort of vital information I might have learned, had I been there.

The organizers stay out of the spotlight, preferring to work through local groups.  This is, frankly, brilliant.  The organizations are already there, the issues are known, and all a candidate must do is throw red meat at hungry dogs.  Well, hungry, carnivorous sheep, perhaps.  I don't think there is an equivalent set of highly motivated organizations on the left (or for that matter, in the center, or anywhere where reality is recognized).  

Now, I had heard that the country was founded as explicitly christian.  But, see, I had heard that it had explicitly not been, so maybe I'm all turned around on the issue.

Anyway, if you woke up cheerful and happy this morning and want to do something to change that, read the article.  And remember it, when it comes time for being politically active in your community.  These people may be wrong, but they are powerful and organized.  

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The Total Perspective Vortex

Before yesterday:

Including yesterday:

April first was not merely my biggest day (in terms of blog hits) ever, by a factor of five, but it was also my biggest month.  In one day, I beat any previous thirty.

I thank all the commenters for their kind words.  I know I am flattered that a handful of people thought it might be possible that I am PZ; I hope he was flattered as well.  I also thank the many of you who did know it all along, but who played along anyway just for fun.

I also found out that it makes me very uncomfortable to lie to you.  Yes, it was a silly April Fool's prank, but I still apologize to you for abusing your trust, and I hope you can forgive me.  And PZ, as well, although, as it turns out, I can't speak for him.

Friday, April 01, 2011

So pregnancy means a total surrender of autonomy?

On December 23, 2010, Shuai, a 34-year-old pregnant woman who was suffering from a major depressive disorder, attempted to take her own life. Friends found her in time and persuaded her to get help. Six days later, Shuai underwent cesarean surgery and delivered a premature newborn girl who, tragically, died four days later.
On March 14, 2011, Shuai was arrested, jailed, and charged with murder and attempted feticide.
Don't get pregnant, ladies! It means that every risk you might take becomes a criminal offense! I always thought it was a joke to criminalize suicide, too, but here's a case where they're actually prosecuting a woman for the crime.
Next up: every time you kick a man in the balls, you are a mass-murderer.

Elmhurst today!

Rats, I didn't realize what day it is, and now no one is going to believe the announcement I just made is real…at least not until the 2nd rolls around and the persistence of reality sinks in. So I guess I better post stuff both here and there, just for today, since no one is going to switch their feeds around just yet.
Anyway, I'm in Illinois, at Elmhurst College! Some people were asking for the details: I'll be speaking at 4pm in Illinois Hall, the auditorium in the science building on campus. It's an open lecture, feel free to show up.
I currently have no specific plans for the evening afterwards. If any locals want to make suggestions, do so in the comments. I'm easily swayed, so if you can't make it to the talk, maybe we can get together afterwards.

Three And A Half Years Is A Pretty Decent Lifespan For A Cuttlefish

In which I reveal my secret identity and announce a radical change
The Cuttlefish Poet started out as a joke. I had posted about Cephalopod
Awareness Days
, including a cephalopod poetry contest, and just for
fun, added a handful. I have my reputation to think of, so a quick
nom de tentacle change was required. I honestly thought that would be
the end of it.

But then, Gary Aldridge made the news, and in the ensuing respectful,
solemn thread
, I was struck with a rhyme. So… why not let
"Cuttlefish" make another appearance? So he did. This time, though,
the reaction was overwhelmingly positive, with just enough "that's
inappropriate" to convince me to put it up as its own post.

I am strong, but I am not immune to public reaction. It was fun being
"Cuttlefish", at least at first. The very first month commenting
"he/she" won a Molly! I had to start another blog for Cuttlefish,
just to keep my thoughts straight. I don't update it nearly as often
as Pharyngula, so it's not a great time-sink. And little or no
editing takes place—if I like a comment Cuttlefish makes on
Pharyngula, I post it on the Cuttle blog; if not, I can just let it
stay and get buried in other comments.

There were some close calls. A few people did guess, but their
guesses were either buried in comments, or on their own blogs with
very few readers. Sometimes "his" comments came altogether too
quickly after my blog post, and I worried that it would be too
obvious. After a while, though, I started toying with that, making
Cuttlefish appear nearly psychic. The biggest benefit to this, of
course, was seeing how this intimidated Truth Machine.

It has been fun, but now my own book is coming out, and well, three
and a half years is a good long life for a cuttlefish. And as you know, we've had a few problems at Scienceblogs, which have led to a little dissatisfaction with the current digs…but hey! I've already got this other blog where I'm comfortable, so I've decided to just up and move wholesale from scienceblogs to If I do any more rhyming there, it will be under my own name, but otherwise, look for new material to appear here at the Digital Cuttlefish from now on.

PZ Myers, Ph.D.
Division of Science & Math 2135, 2390 Science
University of Minnesota, Morris
Morris, MN 56267