Monday, August 01, 2011

The Official Announcement

Hey, it's past midnight here.  Time for a press release.

Please, if you are a member of a forum, or own a major newspaper or television network, feel free to post the following:

Freethought Blogs debuts Aug. 1

A new blog network is hitting the web on August 1. Led by two of the most prominent and widely read secular-minded blogs in the country – PZ Myers’ Pharyngula and Ed Brayton’s Dispatches from the Culture Wars – <>  will, we hope, quickly become and important  gathering place for atheists, humanists, skeptics and freethinkers in the blogosphere.

Freethoughtblogs will be more than just a place for people to read the opinions of their favorite bloggers. It will be a community of like-minded people exchanging ideas and joining forces to advocate for a more secular and rational world.

The network will launch Aug. 1 with a handful of blogs with many more to be added after the first three months of operation. Here are the five blogs that will lead the way:

Pharyngula <> . PZ Myers has built one of the most popular atheist blogs in the world. Never one to shy away from controversy, Myers has built an astonishing following over the last few years and has traveled around the world speaking to skeptical audiences. As a PhD biologist he is the scourge of creationists everywhere but he takes on a wide range of subjects in his blogging, including religious criticism, women’s rights and progressive politics.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars <> . Ed Brayton was raised by a Pentecostal and an atheist, sealing his fate forever as someone who is endlessly fascinated by how religion intersects with other subject, particularly science, law, history and politics. He is a popular speaker for secular organizations around the country, has appeared on the Rachel Maddow show and is pretty certain he’s the only person who has ever made fun of Chuck Norris on C-SPAN.

The Digital Cuttlefish <> : Cuttlefish are shy and elusive creatures; when necessary, they hide in their own ink.  This particular cuttlefish has chosen as its habitat the comment threads of science, religion, and news sites, where it feeds on the opinions of those who are emboldened by the cloak of internet anonymity. Cuttlefish is an atheist, a skeptic, and is madly, passionately in love with science. The Digital Cuttlefish has, since October of 2007, been a repository of commentary and satire, usually (but not exclusively) in verse and now moves to Freethoughtblogs.

This Week in Christian Nationalism <> . Chris Rodda is the author of "Liars For Jesus: The Religious Right's Alternate Version of American History." Since the release of her book in 2006, Chris has been blogging at and Huffington Post about the use of historical revisionism in everything from education to legislation. Chris is now launching her own blog on that will accompany her weekly podcast, This Week in Christian Nationalism.

Zingularity <> . Steven "DarkSyde" Andrew is a 40 something former stock and bond trader and one time moderate conservative. He grew up in the Southwest and has long been fascinated by science, particularly evolutionary biology, physics, and astronomy. He is a frequest contributor to the popular progressive website Daily Kos and now blogs at Zingularity, where legit science disappears forever down an event horizon of petty snark and cynicism.

Comradde PhysioProffe <> . The pseudonymous PhysioProffe is, as the name suggests, a physiology professor at a private medical school who blogs about politics, academia, food, booze and sports. Not necessarily in that order.
 This is only the beginning. Over the next few months we will add many more blogs to the network, including Greta Christina’s brilliant blog, a new companion to the award winning Reasonable Doubts podcast and many others.


Sunday, July 31, 2011

Headline Muse, 7/31

The verdict was certainly binding
But the pathways to justice are winding
Though “an eye for an eye”
Was the law to apply
Now the victim has pardoned a blinding

Headline: Iranian sentenced to blinding for acid attack pardoned

Ameneh Bahrami, after years of fighting for "justice" (read: for her attacker to be blinded with acid, as he had done to her), has pardoned Majd Movahedi, her attacker, at the last minute. She is still, quite understandably, seeking compensation for medical fees.
The state television website reported: "With the request of Ameneh Bahrami, the acid attack victim, Majid (Movahedi) who was sentenced for 'qisas' was pardoned at the last minute."

The Isna news agency quoted Tehran prosecutor Abbas Jafari Dolatabadi as saying: "Today in hospital the blinding of Majid Movahedi was to have been carried out in the presence of an eye specialist and judiciary representative, when Ameneh pardoned him."

Isna quoted Ms Bahrami as saying: "I struggled for seven years with this verdict to prove to people that the person who hurls acid should be punished through 'qisas', but today I pardoned him because it was my right.

Rumor Has It

So, I’ve been hearing rumors. Rumor has it The Digital Cuttlefish will be part of a new blog network, freethoughtblogs, as of tomorrow. Actually, most of the rumors talk about the new network, but somehow leave my name out of it. For some reason, the rumors focus on Ed Brayton and P. Z. Myers.

But the rumors are true. Same Cuttlefish, different address. I am a very little cuttlefish in a big pond already, and this gives me the opportunity to be an even smaller fish in an even bigger ocean. I suspect that I am the smallest name among the new collective.

So, if all goes well, I soon will have successfully lured them all into a false sense of security, at which time I will spring my trap.

Or not.

Either way, I will be sinking or swimming (as a cuttlefish, it’s all the same to me) at a new address as of tomorrow.

And, once more as so many times in the past… I need your help. There will be (with a bit of luck) more eyes on my site than ever before, and I’ll need to introduce myself. You, my regular readers, are already the sort of people who read comments and follow links, or you wouldn’t have found me. But there are a great many people who have no idea what I do.

So I plan to post some of my old stuff over the next couple of weeks or so, to introduce myself to these new people.

My question is… which ones? Which of my oldies should I dredge up? I have my own favorites, which I know I will post, but what are yours?

This blog (the one you are reading right now) will not disappear. This one is home, for me. I love my readers, and owe them too much to raze the old joint. I hope to see you all at the new digs, though, as my honored guests. No… as my family.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

Headline Muse, 7/30

Seems the picture that’s drawn is too hazy
Or my brain has gone summertime lazy
We could blame his religion
Which tweaks things a smidgeon
But, really: just “partially crazy”?

Headline: Ex-FLDS member: Warren Jeffs "partially crazy"

In an "objection" lasting nearly an hour, Warren Jeffs, polygamist and alleged child molester, threatened his prosecutors with "sickness and death". He wasn't making a threat; he was simply delivering a message he got from God.

God Is Love, Right?

The Old Testament god of the bible was liable
To torture and kill you, as if at His whim;
His ardent believers were therefore a scare for
The heathens who dared have doubts about Him

The New Testament hoped to appease us with Jesus
Whose death on the cross was the end to our fear;
Now Christians are always, while living, forgiving
Unless we say something they don’t want to hear

Yesterday's "Headline Muse" referred to the American Atheists' WTC cross case. It's a story worth keeping an eye on, for those of us who love reading commentary. As is often the case, the worst of the comments are censored before we can read them... but this time, some have been archived, and serve as testimony to Christian Love. (The ones that remain range from supportive to vile, but fall short of death threats.)

Now, I've received death threats--against me, and against my family. But these have been from a solitary, troubled individual. He needs psychiatric help, and he knows it; the more he threatens, the more obvious his illness is. These WTC threats appear to be quite different. These are normal people*, perhaps buoyed by internet anonymity, perhaps assuming they are in the company of like-minded individuals. This is far more frightening than a pitiable, pathetic spammer.

Oh, but clearly this is an extreme minority position; the vast majority of Christians would be horrified by such comments. If you find some examples of religious leaders decrying these comments, be sure to let me know.

* as an aside, I wonder whether the names attached to the comments are their real names. Google+ appears to be on a bit of a crusade against pseudonyms--if these are real names, then certainly horrible language does not depend on anonymity; on the other hand, if these are not real names, then the crime of pseudonymous writers is simply that they chose a name that wasn't normal enough for Google.

Friday, July 29, 2011

Cuttlefish's Garden

I'd like to see
Ten types of bee
In the Cuttlefish's garden in the sun
See what I've found
Buzzing around
In the Cuttlefish's garden in the sun

Ok, enough of that.  So, these are onion flowers.  Each is about the size of a grapefruit (like grapefruit, some are larger and some are smaller) and made up of about a gazillion separate florets (very unlike a grapefruit).  I spent some time, the past couple of days, just watching them.  The amount of traffic these flowers get is remarkable; I counted at least 8 different species of bee or wasp, two species of butterfly, and some really fast things I could not identify, just on these onion flowers alone.  I have a really bad shot of 5 species on the flower at one time, but most are blurred with motion or focal plane.

So I thought I'd test my readers' insect identification skills--just hymenoptera today. I know some of the answers, but certainly not all! For now, the flower is your guide to insect size; if you need numbers or any other information I can give, just ask.


D (left) and E (right)


I, on Cilantro flowers
J, on Oregano flowers

Headline Muse, 7/29

At the site of a horrible loss,
The Memorial now holds a cross?
The community center
Was told “do not enter”—
Guess we know which religion is boss.

Four individuals, represented by American Atheists, are suing to either remove the Ground Zero Cross from the 9/11 memorial, or to force inclusion of non-Christian (including atheist) memorials of equal stature. As always, the fun reading is not in the article itself, but in the comments. I used to be astonished, now I am simply aware, that people have hugely varying ideas of what atheism is. And of what the First Amendment means. And, while it was important that a Muslim community center should not be built on 9/11 sacred ground because it would be special treatment for one religion, it is crucial (get it?) that the WTC cross remains, because it gave so many Christians comfort.

I am told that, as an atheist, my taking offense at the WTC cross shows that a) I am actually a believer, b) I am illogical, because I shouldn't care, since I don't believe, c) I am unamerican, since majority rules here, d) not really an atheist but an anti-theist, e) remarkably thin-skinned, f) pushing my beliefs onto other people (this last, without a trace of irony). In truth, I don't find crosses offensive; if I did, I'd have a rough go of it, since they are all around us.

I don't find this particular cross offensive, and think an argument can easily be made for its inclusion in the memorial--it is, after all, a huge part of the history of the aftermath of 9/11. The thing is, context matters. If this cross were, say, part of an exhibit demonstrating that religious extremism may have dire consequences, including 9/11 type events, it would be quite appropriate... but I suspect that many Christians would balk at equating their religion with [their perception of] Islam. If the WTC cross is venerated as a religious symbol, though, it is only proper (and constitutional) to demand equal treatment for other affected groups.

The 9/11 attacks were not an attack on Christianity. They were an attack on America, and were politically as well as religiously motivated. American Atheists is not going to make a lot of friends with this move (judging from the comment threads), but they are in the right. Context is everything; the cross can stay (and American Atheists agrees), if it is not exhibited in such a manner as to elevate one belief system over others.

But hey, this is Headline Muse--your comments don't have to be about this story, if you have your own headline limerick!

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Headline Muse

The requirements just get insaner,
Like a good triple twisting half-gainer
If you do a good dive,
You will surely survive—
If you don’t, then you’re “pulling a Boehner”.

(I'm trying out--subject to my time and other people's idiocy--a new occasional feature, kinda like Ed Brayton's "dumbass quote" and "badass quote" of the day. You are encouraged to add your own limericks in the comments. The rules are--look at the headlines of whatever news source you like, and write a limerick inspired by same. If your headline is local, small-town news, you might want to include a link, too.)

One Last Dance

When Johnny was little, he played with his friends
As the summertime slowly would pass
They’d swim in the rivers; they’d hide in the woods
And they’d frolic and dance in the grass, oh
They’d frolic and dance in the grass

But friendship is fickle in kids of this age
So he had the occasional fight
And names would be called, and fists would be thrown,
In a world that was pure black-and-white;
Johnny was smaller than some of the boys
And the target, sometimes, of abuse
He sometimes fought back, but too quickly he learned
That his struggles were never of use

When Johnny was little, he’d played with his friends
As the summertime slowly would pass
They’d swim in the rivers; they’d hide in the woods
And they’d frolic and dance in the grass, oh
They’d frolic and dance in the grass

Johnny was lonely, and Johnny was scared;
He knew he would never be cool
He knew all the names of the popular boys
Cos they’d all kicked his ass after school
They called him a faggot; they called him a queer
And nobody cared if it’s true
Cos the summers are long and the summers are hot
And the bad boys need something to do

When Johnny was little, he’d played with his friends
As the summertime slowly would pass
They’d swim in the rivers; they’d hide in the woods
And they’d frolic and dance in the grass, oh
They’d frolic and dance in the grass

Johnny told teachers, and parents and more
That the bullies were out of control
But the teachers were fond of the popular boys
So they told him they’d pray for his soul
He heard what they said, and he heard what they didn’t,
And knew they were not on his side
He wondered if, really, they worried at all,
And would they be sad if he died?

When Johnny was little, he’d played with his friends
As the summertime slowly would pass
They’d swim in the rivers; they’d hide in the woods
And they’d frolic and dance in the grass, oh
They’d frolic and dance in the grass

Johnny was tired of running and hiding
And wanted his troubles to end
Johnny might never have done what he did
If he only had talked with a friend
Instead, though, he talked with the school’s Parents’ League
(There were lies that they had to dispel)
They wanted the children to all know the truth—
That Johnny was going to Hell

They said he was sinful; they said he was wrong
They told him the things he must learn
They told him that God sends all sinners to Hell
They told him that that’s where he’d burn
When Johnny heard the things they said
He knew he had no chance
So Johnny got a length of rope
For one last, special dance

They told him they’d pray for the sake of his soul
They told him that, always, there’s hope;
But never again will he dance in the grass
Since he danced at the end of a rope, oh
Since he danced at the end of a rope.

Via PZ and others, a terribly sad story of Christian compassion, of anti-gay bullying, and the "Day of Truth" (at that link, you can see evolution at work--click on "", and you will be brought to the "day of dialogue" website). The "Parents Action League" (weren't they in The Incredibles?) had worked with local churches to provide t-shirts for the day.

Because of Despite the League's work, because of despite warning gays that they were bound for hell for their sinful lifestyle, it seems there has been an epidemic of teen suicide. Nine kids in two years, at present.

Oh, yes. This is in Michele Bachmann's district. You remember her--her husband lies about doing ex-gay therapy. Cos it's better to make people think they are ill, broken, or sinful, than to have them love the wrong person.

Oh--this poem is not about any one kid in particular. There were names that could easily have fit, but no way in hell am I going to do that to parents, siblings, friends, etc.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The Lion Sleeps Tonight

One year ago today my brother died.

At his hospital bedside, I sang to him--music, I thought, affects so much of the brain, perhaps this will get through. A familiar song, a catchy song, one he had sung so many times. Maybe he'll open his eyes and join in on the chorus.

He did not.

If we live on only in the memories and actions of others, he's doing better than most.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Should I Be Cross?

I can’t really blame you; the pain is yet growing,
With so many horrible losses
But somehow it seems that your privilege is showing—
You seem to have mis-placed your crosses.

One of the reasonably local papers around Cuttletown had a political cartoon today that irked me a bit. Here's a link--I won't show it here because, well, I'm cheap. Basically, the cartoon morphs the cross from the flag of Norway into the crosses at the graves of the victims.

It's a clever concept, but it reinforces the position of privilege held by Christians (despite claims of persecution) in the US. The crosses represent the victims (reminiscent of Justice Scalia's view that crosses are "the most common symbol of the resting place of the dead"), which is all well and good, except that
According to Inglehart et al. (2004), 31 percent of Norwegians do not believe in God. According to Bondeson (2003), 54 percent of Norwegians said that they did not believe in a "personal God." According to Greeley (2003), 41 percent of Norwegians do not believe in God, although only 10 percent self-identify as "atheist." According to Gustafsson and Pettersson (2000), 72 percent of Norwegians do not believe in a "personal God." According to Froese (2001), 45 percent of Norwegians are either atheist or agnostic.
(source: Phil Zuckerman's chapter, "Atheism: Contemporary Numbers and Patterns", in The Cambridge Companion to Atheism.)

Ah, but we do know with certainty that there was at least one Christian involved. The shooter. Yes, it appears his extremist political views, not his religion, was his motivation. I'm sure American cartoonists would make the same distinction for Muslim terrorists as well.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

My Marriage Is Gay Today

Half a lifetime ago
As chronologies go
I was married, in upstate New York
There were family, friends,
And some strange odds and ends
When we, husband and wife, popped the cork

But today it feels strange
As if something has changed
Though our vows are the same, to the letter
Because, as of today,
Why, “marriage is gay”
And equality’s oh so much better

When marriage was straight
And the church barred the gate
And kept part of humanity out
They tried to define
In society’s mind
What a marriage was wholly about

Though they struggled with words
Their whole view was absurd
And historically, simply untrue—
And sanctified bigots
Just opened their spigots
Letting sewage and prejudice spew

They poured this pollution
Into my institution;
My marriage was tarred by their brush
But—long story short—
I am glad to report
They are getting their long-deserved flush.

With this change in the laws
I feel better, because
I’m not part of a bigoted order
So today, let’s have fun
But there’s work to be done
Cos equality stops at the border.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Bless This Mess

Rochester's Officers
Got themselves blessed
For enforcing the laws;

Didn't much care that it's
Nobody likes the
Establishment clause.

The other day, PZ ran a photo of a Sheriff's vehicle with a "one nation under god" bumper sticker. I suppose the silver lining is, it was probably a decision made by an individual--the Sheriff or another--and not an official position.

In the Live Free or Die state, where they take constitutional protection of liberties seriously, it's a different story. The second annual blessing of the police force and its fleet, specifically.
Chaplain Ron Lachapelle carried out the service, in which he emphasized the importance of the department's ability to work as a team for the betterment of the community.
Lachapelle, it seems, was previously a police commissioner, a 30-year veteran. I would imagine that members of the force couldn't possible have felt pressure to go along with the magic spell-chanting. After all, they're probably all good christian boys, wouldn't you think?

Friday, July 22, 2011


When Jen "BlagHag" McReight wrote, asking if I'd help spread the word about her annual blogathon, I only had one question:

"Does McCreight rhyme with “right” or “wait”... Or something else?"

This Saturday, I think it might
Be quite a slog for Jen McReight
Throughout the day, throughout the night
She’ll write, write, write, through dark and light

What will she write? I cannot say;
You’ll have to wait and see that day
She’s doing good—this is her way—
And you can help, so go and pay!

So grab your wallet, or your purse
And find some funds to thus disburse
Remembering, it could be worse—
At least she doesn’t write in verse!

So, yeah, go help her smash her previous record!

Dog Almighty

The biggest Dog had always been
The biggest Dog He’d known
He always barked the loudest
And He gnawed the biggest bone
He’d been the highest jumper, too;
He’d been the deepest digger.
He’d always been the biggest Dog…
And then He met one bigger.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

A Brief History Of Religion

The gods have taken many guises;
Fathers, mothers, monsters, friends,
Tricksters bent on their surprises
Schemers bent on selfish ends
That’s how we’ve known ‘em.

We’ve done our best to try to please ,
To understand as best we could;
For eons we had bent our knees;
Then questioned gods, then boldly stood,
And now, outgrown ‘em.

Wednesday, July 20, 2011

Words, Words, Words

Each step we take; each word we speak;
Each course we chart; each trail we tread
Each tender phrase or sad refrain,
And each unspoken

Each path we take; each love we seek;
Each faulty start; each sunset sped;
Each wide-eyed gaze or cry of pain
And each heart broken

We cannot take a backward step
We cannot choose to not have seen
We cannot wish another chance
We cannot sigh what might have been

Another step might be more sure
Another word might hold more sway
Another end, this choice might bring,
And I might miss one.

A different word might sound more pure
A different step, a different way
A million ways to say one thing
And I chose this one.

Over at NPR,, an interesting bit on an argument at a poetry conference (I doubt I'll ever be invited to a poetry contest; they look down on those of us who rhyme), which Robert Krulwich introduces with a lovely bit of video. The topic under discussion is whether using words helps our planet or hurts.

One view (held by Yusef Komunyakaa) was that language distances us from experience; it names things as not-us, and allows--perhaps forces--us to separate ourselves from a world we would otherwise be imbedded in. We may harm the earth, then, without harming ourselves.

Another view (Mark Doty's) is that "the more we can name what we're seeing, the more language we have for it, the less likely we are to destroy it." Naming each plant in a meadow, each star in the sky, each organism in an ecosystem, makes it more known to us, and more missed if it is gone.

Krulwich states that "obviously both sides are right", but ultimately comes down in favor of words. I don't think it is so obvious. I think Komunyakaa's assumption is faulty; I think if we remove the words, we do not remove the distance, but rather remove the thought.

It is true that choosing one word over another will bend the ideas of the reader or listener; politics gives us "spin", psychology gives us "framing", and used car salesweasels give us "certified pre-owned vehicles". It is as if there is a huge possible landscape, and these word-smiths are trying to show us one small corner of it, by focusing their flashlight beam very closely. The rest of the world is black.

Komunyakaa's view, if I have it, is similar to that of the night hiker. A flashlight, for such an explorer, is a limiting tool. The world closes around you, and ends where the beam of light ends. Turn off the light, and in a few minutes the world is vast again, and if the stars are out then you can see much farther than you could possibly see by day.

But that's the wrong metaphor. I was once in Mammoth Cave when the guide turned off the lights. I could have stayed there for hours, but would never have been able to see my hand in front of my face. Words are the light we see by; without them, we don't get the night-time sky, we get the utter blindness of the cave.

Yes, each word may act as a focused beam. Fortunately, we have more than one word. In science (which, really, is where the debate about "helps our planet or hurts" can actually be answered, and not merely argued), we may have different schools of thought which use different operational definitions and different measurements for very similar concepts (I would say "the same concept", but either choice leads you on a particular path; now, of course, you have two views). A scientific community does not (especially at first) need to agree on one definition, but may explore several before finding one or more to be more useful. A verbal community, likewise, will toy around with words--many shades of meaning for one word, or a spectrum of words for one concept.

This is why I think everyone should write poetry. (Except for me; I should write verse.) Being forced, on a regular basis, to spend time searching for just the right word, rather than using the first one that comes to mind, has got to be good exercise for the brain. If we want to see the whole world (and more), we have to be willing to try different lights and different lenses, and not just search where it is easy, where somebody else already shines a light and says it is trustworthy, or has low mileage, or is fair and balanced.

Words can separate us from our world, but the remedy is more words, not fewer. And certainly not none.

Tuesday, July 19, 2011


"Dancing is the vertical expression of a horizontal desire"
(attributed to Robert Frost, George Bernard Shaw, and others)

Birds do it; Bees do it
Nematodes and water fleas do it

But if it’s all the same
I think it’s quite a shame
Cos dancing is more fun with two

Komodo chicks, without dicks, do it
Now we find Timema Sticks do it

But what a menace is
Cos dancing is more fun with two

To hold you close is such a treat
And when we let our gametes meet
That’s when I know you make my world complete
And life is sweet… life is sweet.

But if you find you have no need
You’re fine without a single seed
You’ve found a different way that you can breed
I must concede… indeed.

It’s been observed, boa snakes do it
Electric ants, for goodness sakes, do it

But if it’s all the same
I think it’s quite a shame
Cos dancing is more fun with two

Via the Beeb, a story of Timema stick insects and genetic research, a confirmation of perhaps a million years of asexual reproduction in this ancient species. This confirms that asexual reproduction is not just an emergency strategy, an artificially induced anomaly, or confined to social insects. Now comes the fun part; looking to see how this strategy has succeeded, while other species (including closely related stick insects) have found success in sexual reproduction. As the BBC story puts it,
The discovery could help researchers understand how life without sex is possible.
A line which I am so not going to touch.

Monday, July 18, 2011


A gecko walks up panes of glass
And even on the ceiling
But eating powdered gecko’s ass
I would not find appealing.

The ancient healers’ art, alas,
Needs gecko parts for healing
Among the superstitious class
With whom these folks are dealing.

Although I hear my views are crass,
I get a funny feeling
That watching where the dollars pass
Would likely be revealing.

And seeing how the funds amass…
It’s little more than stealing.

Ok, actually, it's quite a bit more than stealing. Stealing would be taking people's money for nothing. This is also lying, and killing lizards for no good reason.

NPR reports on a brisk, though illegal, trade in traditional gecko-based cures--significant enough that health officials in the Phillipines are actually issuing warnings. People are being told that gecko remedies can relieve asthma, or even AIDS.

I like geckos. Mind you, I would throw geckos under the bus if they actually did cure AIDS, for such time as it would take to identify the active compounds... but. There is no evidence that it does.

If any of my readers A)can read Chinese (Mandarin, I am assuming), and B) have PubMed access, please take a look at the NPR article--they link to a journal article that I would love to be able to read, but I am (alas!) American, and thus speak barely one language.

Oh, and I was going to post the picture of the gecko from the article, except that it is dead, dried, and mounted on heavy-duty paper clips. I prefer my geckos alive and eating bugs.

If traditional healers are to be respected, we must assume they are motivated by a desire to heal (thus the title), and not to profit without healing (they can profit while healing, of course). Healers who prefer getting paid to healing are known by other terms. If geckos can cure X, then let it be shown in trials, so that we can synthesize X as quickly as possible. If not, then dammit, true healers would look elsewhere. Those who foist snake gecko oil on their trusting patients are no healers. They are charlatans, and worse. They do not deserve respect.

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Bornean Rainbow

Why are there so many
Species endangered?
For decades, they haven’t been spied
Some may be hanging on
But others departed
Despite how the scientists tried

So we’d been told
And we mostly believed it
Hoping we’re wrong, but we’ll see
And sometimes it happens
And everyone’s happy—
The Bornean Rainbow and me

Who said amphibians
Could go into hiding
And why should we go and look?
Someone in Borneo
Had someone believe them
And somehow that’s all that it took

It’s so amazing—successful toad-gazing
Without knowing what we might see
But sometimes it happens
And everyone’s happy—
The Bornean Rainbow and me

All of us wishing it well
To lose it again would be tragic

Had it been half-extinct?
Because of our choices?
I think it’s more than a shame
Is this the warning-bell
We finally notice?
Or will we point fingers and blame?

I’ve watched it too many times to be hopeful—
The odds are, we never will see…
But sometimes it happens
And everyone’s happy—
The Bornean Rainbow and me

Via MSNBC's Cosmic Log, we hear that an endangered toad, not seen since 1924, has been rediscovered--and photographed for the first time! Check out the photos at the link; this is one beautiful toad, the Bornean Rainbow Toad (aka the Sambas Stream Toad), the second of the "top ten most wanted" missing toad species.

(oh, yeah, for those of you who are still wondering, the verse is a parody of Kermit The Frog's "Rainbow Connection")

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

R.I.P. Methuselah The Galapagos Tortoise

One person’s report is
“Galapagos tortoise
Is truly a creature of God”
It’s made, or created
By God, armor-plated,
With shell-shapes distinct, which was odd

Why God’s work might vary
Made ministers wary—
Perfection is what was expected!
But with close observation
Of type and location,
Particular trends were detected

The shells of some creatures
Have saddle-back features
Where cactus to forage grow taller
Where food’s near the ground
Different features are found
Like a domed shell that’s quite a bit smaller

What these features disclosed
Is what Darwin proposed—
That selection means shell shapes evolved!
Though a biblical search
Left the church in a lurch
Thanks to Darwin, the mystery’s solved!

A sad report, on a few levels; NPR's "The Two-Way" blog reports that a 130-year old tortoise, a favorite at a South Dakota zoo, has died. Even for tortoises, this critter was old; grandparents showed it to their grandchildren, and told them of seeing it themselves at that age (Methuselah the tortoise was a respectable 73 when he arrived at the zoo).

But that's not really why I'm writing. I'm writing because the very first comment at the NPR blog closes with "They are awesome creatures. A great God created them." Which, frankly, is amusing given the tortoise's role in providing Darwin with the evidence of evolution. Fifteen different subspecies of tortoise, each on a different island--my, what a capricious god must have created them! Oh, wait--the tortoises have saddle-shaped shells where the food grows higher, and round shells where it grows lower; perhaps characteristics vary, and those that offer an advantage are selected for by the environment!

So, NPR commenter, you get an irony award. Not redeemable for cash, but you may wear it proudly.

Is There "Ex-Liar" Therapy?

To heal yourself from being gay
The clinic’s here—so call today
We’ll blame your mom, and pray and pray;
It’s therapy, the Bachmann way.

Of course, when asked, we’ll just deny
We care if folks are gay or bi;
There is one simple reason why:
A Bachmann cannot help but lie.

So it turns out that Marcus Bachmann's clinic does, after all, practice "ex-gay" therapy, which is far more religious than psychological. The full story is here at Truth Wins Out; a brief synopsis can be read here at Dispatches.

Tuesday, July 05, 2011

Hey, You! Hang Up The Car Keys!

It’s six in the morning, the start of your day,
But you’re all out of coffee, and just want a cup
It’s a ten-minute walk to the nearest café—
Oh, quit fucking whining, and just suck it up

You’ve got errands to run; you’ve got places to go
We’ve heard the excuses; we’ve heard all the talk
The store isn’t far—just a mile or so
So hang up the car keys and just fucking walk!

You’ve got classes this morning—that’s two towns away
The drive is annoying; the parking’s a fuss
The answer is simple, I really must say:
Leave the car in the driveway and take the damn bus!

You’ll be taking the car, and you always complain
The buses aren’t perfectly synched to your classes
Now cars will be backed up for miles, on Main,
So your peers can collectively sit on your asses

It’s not like I’m asking you too fucking much,
Like to live in a house that’s as dark as a tomb
Making way around furniture purely by touch—
Just turn off the light when you leave the damn room

There are so many things you could do, but you don’t,
That could cut your expenses, conserve you some power
They’re easy to think of, so how come you won’t?
Do you shut off your brain in your long fucking shower?

This isn’t too much to be asked, for fuck’s sake;
There are hundreds, or thousands, of things we can do
If you can’t look around and see changes to make
Then the world’s got a problem, and the problem is you.

Sharon, at Casaubon's Book, might just as well have waved a red flag at a bull, or red meat in front of a hungry dog. Fortunately, she already did it the hard way, with the repeated final rhyme, so I could just write this one.

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Atheist For A Month

It’s good, sometimes, to see the world
Through someone else’s eyes;
To take another’s point of view
And try it on for size.

Be Muslim for a month,” perhaps,
Be Sufi, or be Sikh;
Try walking in their footsteps—
You could start for just a week.

You could try to be a Muslim
Or a Christian, or a Jew
But I’d like to see more people
Trying atheism, too.

Just try it for a month, or two,
Or maybe for a year—
Pretend there’s no use praying
Cos there’s no one there to hear

Pretend there is no god above
To save us from ourselves
Pretend there are no holy books—
Just leave them on the shelves

Pretend there is no heaven
And pretend there is no Hell;
Pretend we only get one life,
And try to live it well

And maybe, if you try it out,
You’ll like the you you find
Not member of a single tribe
But all of humankind

And maybe if enough of us
Can wear each other’s skins
We’ll understand our differences...
And everybody wins.

Via the Beeb (same link as above), an interesting piece on walking a mile (well, a month) in someone else's shoes. In this case, it's a bit like church camp, except that it is in Turkey, and the church is a mosque, and participants basically live life as temporary Muslims.

Given the ignorance about other faiths, and the animosity toward Muslims in particular, I think the "Muslim for a month" idea has some serious potential for good. Yes, it could be a worthless exercise, but it can't possibly be as futile as simply praying for peace.

Of course, after the 2006 University of Minnesota study, I personally think we could use this concept on a group that is distrusted even more than Muslims. Atheists are distrusted; atheists are misunderstood; atheists are demonized.

But it would be so easy to try to be an atheist for a month. You wouldn't even have to leave home. Wouldn't need to fly to Turkey, or to Israel, or Rome, or anywhere. I think (if memory serves) that Julia Sweeney's atheism began this way--just as a brief experiment, that proved successful.

It's actually easier than not being an atheist. No rituals, no hymns, no call-and-response, no nothing. Well, you do have to do one thing. You do have to think.

For yourself.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Pluralistic Ignorance

When the whole debate began, it
Was one people, on one planet,
Looking up into the night-time at the stars
Whether proximal or distal
Whether fiery gas or crystal
All they knew beyond a doubt was, it was ours
There were greater lights and lesser,
They were beautiful, but yes Sir,
It was evident they all belonged to us
Both the lesser and the greater
And of course, the stars’ creator,
Who’d decided we were worthy of the fuss.

Then it changed; the observation
Of a moving constellation
Showed a different sort of neighbor in the night
There’s a planet that’s between us
And the sun—we call it Venus,
And another planet, Mars, as well in flight.
Now our neighborhood’s gone plural
More suburbanite than rural
So we contemplate the details of God’s plan:
Did He give these planets Jesus?
Are they only there to please us?
Either way, we know His favorite is Man.

Tip of the cuttlecap to PZ, here.

(and no, this isn't technically an instance of pluralistic ignorance; that's when everyone in a group thinks that every other member of the group understands something, and each individual doesn't want to look like a fool admitting to being the only one who doesn't get it... Happens all the time. No, this is a rumination on the ignorance of pluralism.)

Thursday, June 30, 2011

Terrapin Runway

Fertile-ly, turtle-ly
Diamondback Terrapins
Took to the runways, in
Order to mate;

Flights were delayed, due to
Love conquers all, so they
Just had to wait

It's happened before, and it happened again yesterday; around 150 turtles (terrapins, really) halted landings at one JFK runway. This year, the JFK turtles are even on Twitter.

But really, I just posted this so I could quote one of my favorite Ogden Nash poems, "The Turtle" (actually, I have heard that Nash's estate has had a great deal of trouble with people stealing his work and posting it without permission, so I'll just let you follow the link. It's very brief--4 lines--and charming, if you don't already know).

And yes, the title of this post is a Grateful Dead reference.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Jury Duty

I cannot help but think it odd
To swear an oath “so help me god”

Yeah, well... I've been on jury duty this month. Found someone not guilty, and decided on a load of compensation for an accident. It was, overall, a very worthwhile, though extremely frustrating experience. Trying to get 12 people to agree on X, where the two opposing sides had suggested values of X ranging by over an order of magnitude. Long, boring story.

At the end, though (indeed, after we delivered our decision, before we were dismissed, while we were talking), I found at least 2 other jurors (only 4-5 of us were talking in this group) who, like me, raised their right hand but remained silent during the "do you swear or affirm yadda yadda yadda so help you god?" rigamarole. One of the others in this small conversational group had never considered the oath as discriminatory--I couldn't tell for certain, but it seemed to me that he was quite sympathetic.

I guess I'm not quite used to the idea of a significant number of godless around. Here, at least a quarter of the jury was (no idea about others, other than one christian minister).

Maybe I'm projecting, but it seemed like each of us was glad to find the other two. I know I was; it felt like they were as well.

Maybe there are more of us than we imagine; if we just show ourselves, we may already be in good company.

Monday, June 27, 2011

It's All So Simple, Really

My problem wouldn’t go away
No matter what I’d do or say
No matter what I’d think or wish
My problem still stayed problem-ish
And so I looked for expert thought
To ask advice on what I ought…
I saw a doctor on TV
Who said he had advice for me:

“Remember, as you walk along:
You might be right—you might be wrong.
You’ll find two sides from which to choose
Each side could win—why must one lose?
There is no right and wrong, you know;
It’s only thinking makes it so
So close your eyes—just shut them tight—
And all your choices will be right!

Some say that two and two are four;
I don’t believe that any more—
It might be five, or six, or three,
They’re all the same (at least, to me).
Don’t close your mind! Go on! Ask why
The answer can’t be e or pi!
Of course it could! And so, it might!
It could be wrong; it could be right!”

I slowly turned and walked away
And thought on what he had to say;
I knew my odds were awfully slim
(Of course, that’s why I looked to him)
I realized, to my great delight
He’s either wrong, or else he’s right!
A simple fifty-fifty shot
Is better than I ever thought!

So now, when playing cards or dice
I never have to worry twice—
The odds I’d get the card I got?
I’d either get it or I’d not!
The trick to feeling really wise
Is simply to dichotomize:
This little trick is really nifty:
Everything is fifty-fifty!

And now, when faced with tricky choices,
Hordes of disagreeing voices,
Climate change, or vaccination,
Ayurvedic medication
Follow science? Follow gods?
I now know how to play the odds—
To find which side is best to join…
I close my eyes and flip a coin.

Technically, this post was inspired by reading some of PZ's give-and-take on Twitter with Deepak Chopra's followers. Science and magic, after all, are both possibilities, and there's no reason to think that either of them is more right than the other.

I've known people who reason like that. You probably do, too. Someone who will buy a lottery ticket, thinking that their odds are pretty decent--either it will win, or it won't, so there's a fifty-fifty shot. Or that there is a 50-50 chance the Large Hadron Collider will destroy the universe.

This is why courses in statistics and probability should be mandatory. And early. And repeated.

After all, sometimes it's not something trivial like the destruction of the universe. Sometimes it's something important, like vaccinating your child.

Sunday, June 26, 2011

Brave Little Emma

Brave little Emma, a child of God
Was at the museum one day
She listened politely, but found it quite odd
That they said what she heard them to say
Brave little Emma, she took them to task—
It was more than another might dare—
She knew in her heart just the question to ask
“Were you there?” Emma asked; “were you there?”

She remembered the question, our brave little Emma;
She’d learned it at home, during school
Museum guides, hearing it, faced a dilemma:
Should they lie? Should they look like a fool?
If they told her the truth, why, of course they weren’t present
But admitting it doesn’t seem fair
So they awkwardly pause—it’s distinctly unpleasant—
“Were you there?” Emma asked; “were you there?”

They had rocks that were nearly four billion years old
Or, at least, that was what the guide claimed
They were merely repeating some lies they’d been told
Emma’s question would leave them ashamed.
Don’t they know it is written, “a child shall lead them”?
They shouldn’t have been unaware!
There are truths in the Bible, if only they’d heed them—
“Were you there?” Emma asked; “were you there?”

Our brave little Emma, perhaps, could have learned
How they knew all the things that they said
Imagine that Emma, instead, was concerned
Asking “how do you know it?” instead!
There is wonder, and knowledge, and people to share it
You can learn quite a lot, if you care
But listen! Or else you’re no more than a parrot:
“Were you there?” Emma asked; “were you there?”

I hope that young Emma, that brave little girl
Will ask questions that let her mind grow
In museums, or church, she could give it a whirl,
Asking everyone, “How do you know?”
She will open her eyes to the world all around
And be willing and eager to share:
“Were you there on the day a new Emma was found?
“Were you there?” she will ask; “were you there?”

Context, of course, here and here.

Good News On The Diabetes Front!

One of the more mysterious things doctors have ever seen
Is the spleen.
Throughout history
The function of the spleen has been shrouded in mystery.
The literature tells
It is known to filter blood, and remove dysfunctional red blood cells
It releases platelets and neutrophils when you bleed
And is a source of stem cells, in times of need
It can produce new red blood cells, like the marrow
But its function is not that narrow
Today, we see excellent news from drug trials (phase one)
For people with Type 1 Diabetes, which is not fun.
Mass General is testing the Calmette-Guerin vaccination
In a new situation;
It has been used to prevent tuberculosis and in the treatment of bladder cancer
But now there are questions about diabetes for which it might be the answer
The first trials show it is safe to use
Which is good news
And it has been shown to reverse type 1 diabetes in mice
Which is very nice
Even if you don’t happen to be a mouse
Which, as it happens, is the case for all the diabetics in this house.
So now, Phase II trials are beginning
And, though it is too early to really say that we are winning
I think I can reasonably say
It’s a good day.

According to their press release, the Phase I trials showed no ill effects of Calmette-Guerin vaccination on individuals with type 1 diabetes. This is not really unexpected; the C-G vaccine is already in use for TB and for bladder cancer, so it has had to pass such tests before. The big news is both in the past and in the future. In the past, this vaccine has allowed mice with type 1 diabetes to reverse the course of their disease. Studies have shown that the vaccine stimulates splenic stem cells to produce pancreatic islet cells; the stem cells essentially mimic their function in embryogenesis. In the future, the therapeutic potential for these stem cells is promising--not just for type 1 diabetics, but hey, right now that's the application that's got me smiling.

I'd try to explain the process a bit more, but it is not my area, so I'll defer to any of my readers who have the expertise--or if you see that someone else has written about it, let me know!

Friday, June 24, 2011

New York State Of Bliss

(I have the New York Senate live stream up on another window, and this song insinuated itself on my brain. I'm posting it before the vote--NY, you'd better do the right thing, or this post won't make any sense!)

Some folks want the right to bake
Just a wedding cake for a wedding night
Groom and groom standing side by side
Or a bride and bride
As they wait for the notice
And their newly wedded kiss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

I’ve seen all of the politics
Of the little tricks and the grand debate
Been watching the senate in the Empire state
Had my own expectations
But I never hoped for this
I’m in a New York state of bliss

It was so different, living day by day
Out of luck, and the bigots bring the blues
But now I see a little give and take
In The New York Times, The Daily News

It comes down to reality
And it’s fine with me, ‘cause it’s simply right
Now the votes are in; it begins tonight
There’s a remnant of history
I am never going to miss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

It was so different, living day by day
Out of luck, and the bigots bring the blues
But now I see a little give and take
In The New York Times, The Daily News

It comes down to reality
And it’s fine with me, ‘cause it’s simply right
Now the votes are in; it begins tonight
There’s a remnant of history
I am never going to miss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

I’m just watching the live stream
And I’m waiting for the kiss
I’m in a New York state of bliss

(With apologies to Billy Joel.)

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Animal Rights, And Wrongs

I don’t believe in testing drugs
On poms or poodles, pits or pugs;
Those scientists are merely thugs
To do the things they do.

I feel, in no uncertain terms,
Protective of the slugs and worms;
In fact, the new resistant germs
Deserve protection too.

I cherish every living thing
Despite diseases they might bring
To life—all life—I fiercely cling
And each gets equal weight

And so of course, I think it best
To halt this sort of horrid test
(I’ve got my health—as for the rest,
Well, that’s the hand of fate)

Bacteria are living, too
And thus deserving, in my view
Of shielding from the folks, like you,
Who say they merit killin’

So I’ll stand up as one who fights
For every living being’s rights
Next up, I’ve got to set my sights
On banning penicillin.

Inspired by the comments on this thread. The above verse is, of course, a strawman; this comment has a much more nuanced view, which I endorse. Of course, given Cuttleson's diabetes, I have an interest in animal testing, and my priorities are clear.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Strange Bedfellows

When Christians thought Mormons were Others, not Brothers,
Their prophets were false, their religion a cult.
Books would portray them as awful unlawful,
And violent riots would sometimes result

Now, the Republicans gather to blather,
To pound on their pulpits, to goad and incite;
But Mormons are, strangely and oddly, now godly,
When allied against the true, atheist blight.

NPR's Double Take 'Toons today got me thinking. If Romney or Huntsman either stand a ghost of a chance in the Republican primaries, among the people they have to thank are the vocal and visible atheists.

The cartoons (available at the link) illustrate a sea-change in religion and politics. The first shows the traditional prejudices against Mormons by evangelical christian Republicans; this prejudice has existed nearly as long as Mormons have. The second shows a very real reason that this established anti-Mormon prejudice is largely fading. Mind you, it doesn't explicitly make that connection, but I want to.

When the Mormon church was young, the religious landscape did not really have to contend with atheists. Sure, we existed, but we were invisible. Religious groups fought against one another, and you were identified by your particular religion--no one was "a believer", they were catholics, lutherans, episcopalians, yadda yadda yadda.

The rise of atheism, though, changed this landscape. It has only been with the recognition of a "non-believer" group (not monolithic by any means, but certainly qualitatively different from any believing group) that there could be a meaningful "believer" group (again, nowhere near monolithic, but sharing a characteristic that was once assumed to be universal).

Mormons were seen as a non-christian cult; some christians still view them this way. But now, thanks in no small part to atheists, Mormons are one of many varieties of christianity, which is one of many varieties of religious belief. And as such, they are (or may be) seen as fit to be elected to public office.

Because they are not atheists.

And that is the new religious landscape.

Monday, June 20, 2011

Almost Heaven

County Rt. 1
Is not very fun;
It's bumpy, and narrow, and curving.
It's missing its shoulders,
Has potholes and boulders,
And driving it's frankly unnerving.
Traversing its length
Takes all of your strength;
It will measure the courage that's in ya--
I have crawled to its end
And I can't recommend
The destroy-your-car state, West Virginia.

My apologies for a few days of radio silence; I was on the road. Lots of driving, lots of bad weather to drive in, more than a few tears (I visited my brother's grave), and no internet from Thursday morning till late last night. So this post has nothing to do with anything major in the world, but serves as a warning to anyone thinking of driving in West Virginia.

Don't. Just... don't.

Go the other way. If you have to, make sure you have a car that is easy to lift.

I'm just sayin'.

Wednesday, June 15, 2011


I have just been informed that my books are now available through the iBookstore, for downloading to your iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch (none of which I own, so you'll have to let me know how it looks). I'll put up a button over on the sidebar, but for right now, you can follow this link.

Please share the link with anyone you think might be interested, or any you think might be really annoyed and have recently pissed you off.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Speaking Of Naked...

Via "Wait, wait, don't tell me" and their news quiz (June 13th's in particular, but I can't seem to link to just that), I find TIME's article on naked hiking in Germany, and on Switzerland's Supreme Court challenge of their no-nude-hiking laws.

I remember those laws; I wrote about them at the time (amusing pic at the link):

The Swiss have said “Enough! Enough!”
We’ll have no hiking in the buff!
See, German hikers gave them fits
By showing off their naughty bits—
A practice which the Swiss construed
As lewd, indecent, crude and rude.

So now, if Germans wish to slough
Their clothing there, the going’s rough.
No innies, outies, bums, or tits;
The Germans now must use their wits
If suddenly, they’re in the mood
To go out rambling in the nude.

If someone tried to call the bluff,
And hike in full display of stuff
The Swiss police alertly sits
To meet them with an all-out blitz--
A picture which, I must conclude,
Leaves naked hikers rightly screwed.

I particularly like the way it's all the same rhymes. Not as easy as it looks.

Dance Naked At My Funeral

Dance naked at my funeral! Because
You can; because you are alive to dance!
Dance naked—never mind the laws—
The cops might care; you’ll have to take that chance!

Dance beside the fresh-turned earth—my grave—
With nothing on but bright blue sky, or clouds
If the sky is mourning my loss. Misbehave!
Dance naked! You have no need of shrouds!

Dance, naked, around my silent stone;
If I were there, and living, I’d dance too!
But no, my music’s stopped; my dance is done
Dance for me! That’s all I ask of you!

Dance naked—mourn in movement, in the buff;
For now, forget… you’ll join me soon enough.

Via our friends at the Good Funeral Guide, an article on some recent arrests in Zimbabwe, of people who caused a disturbance by dancing naked at a funeral "in the full glare of mourners".

In one case, four were arrested; in another, 15 were arrested for naked dancing (or scantily clad dancing) at another funeral:
Officer commanding police in Mutare Urban District, Chief Superintendent Winston Muzah, confirmed the arrests.

"We cannot have a situation whereby people strip naked at funerals. That is taboo and criminal. As police, we do not condone such acts and we are on the alert for any repeat of such behaviour. We will take stern action against anyone found on the wrong side of the law," he said.
It kind of made me wonder about the motivation. Was this a celebration? Were these people crashing funerals they were not part of? The article, while disapproving, is short on details of motivation:
Of late, funerals and burials in the high-density suburbs have degenerated into platforms of nudity in which mourners indulge in all sorts of misdemeanor.
Again, but why?

The more I thought about it, the more I thought... I want people dancing naked at my funeral. It is a time (or may be) when you feel most strongly the impermanence of life--so what better time to celebrate the delicate absurdity of it all?

Monday, June 13, 2011

Beat(less) Poem

image: Texas Heart Institute

There’s a little pump that’s sorta
Attached to my aorta
It plays a major part
But I knew I needed somepin’
For my blood to keep on pumpin’
Like an artificial heart

I knew it was worth tryin’
Cos otherwise I’m dyin’
I needed to restart
Though my blood races quicker
There’s no ticking in my ticker
It’s an artificial heart

For life, I’d face the knife
I know just what to do

You want to try a little something new?

Without a beat? Still sweet!

I can keep the reaper waitin’
My blood is circulatin’
I’m feelin’ mighty smart
Though my pulse won’t be stirrin’
I will hear the gentle whirrin’
Of my artificial heart

Via NPR, a story to warm all three of my cuttlefish hearts--new directions and progress in plumbing! Circulatory plumbing, that is--a new artificial heart, using centrifugal pumps rather than attempting to replicate a beating heart. No pulse--complete flatline--but blood circulates, and I am assured that this is what blood is supposed to do.

As always, the comments are fun; already, the poor poets and songwriters are being pitied. So I thought I'd be the first to jump in and write a bit of non-beat poetry.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Four Wheels Good--Two Wheels Bad!

When on a bike, I take great pains
To stay inside the cycle lanes
There may be unexpected stops
But still, it beats the traffic cops.

Actually, the cycle lanes in and around Cuttletown are getting better, but they have been thin, poorly marked, and ignored by drivers. As cycle lanes often are. So when I saw the story of a cyclist, ticketed for riding in a vehicular lane, there wasn't much chance of me siding with the cop. Cars frequently use the bike lane when they need a bit of breathing room--and who can blame them? Much nicer to ding the paint on a bike than to face a truck nose to nose.

But come on--give the same consideration to a bike that needs to travel a car lane!

In theory, bikes and cars both are vehicles, subject to the same laws, and with equal claim to the road. In practice, some vehicles are more equal than others.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Clover The Turtle

Clover the turtle, with no back legs,
Can’t dig a hole to lay her eggs
But when she arrives on the Florida sands
Biologists lend some helping hands
She lays her eggs, they’re covered over,
Then slowly, off again goes Clover.

Via CNN, a story of Clover the leatherback turtle. Her hind flippers have been bitten off by sharks, but with a little help from her human friends, she still lays several nests of eggs each year (seven this year).

It's really a sweet story--especially on a news day dominated by scandalous politics. There's only so much muck I can wade through. On the other hand, take a look at the comments following the story. Even here, commenters are chastising those who deny god's powers--how else would a turtle know how deep to dig?


Thursday, June 09, 2011

"Two Crustaceans On The Moon..."

A guest post of sorts today! Reader Azita shares a song she wrote, and which I absolutely love. There is something special about the cross-pollination between art and science; Azita is a biology student, and so this song takes a unique perspective. It is "Lobster Love", and I've attached the lyrics below--but watch and listen first!

The lyrics:
Wouldn't it be nice you and me
Two lobsters in the sea
Holding claws on the beach
Wouldn't it be nice if we had time
To watch the world go by
Watch day turn into night
As the stars begin to shine
Under starlight you are mine

I know that I only met you once but I never needed anyone else
I'm not saying this is love but I never needed anyone else

If we could I'd like to ride in a balloon
Fly as high as we could
Two crustaceans on the moon
We could do all the things we dreamed we'd do
Have anemones for tea
And a conch shell made for two
And we'd have to make some room
For the little lobsters too

I know that I only met you once but I never needed anyone else
I'm not saying this is love but I never needed anyone else

You make my heart beat faster, just listen
Faster than it should with my single circulatory system
I always knew I wanted you in my picture
If I had a spine you'd make it shiver
Believe me, I'm your biggest fan
I care for you as deeply as an arthropod can
When I'm with you, we have a lot of fun
You see right through my protective exoskeleton

I know that I only met you once but I never needed anyone else
I'm not saying this is love but I never needed anyone else

There is just so much to love about this ("if I had a spine you'd make it shiver"), and I thank Azita from the bottoms of all three of my Cuttlefish hearts, and encourage all of you to follow her example, and be creative and wonderful.

Wednesday, June 08, 2011

Just Because

So I was looking through the comments at USA Today's "Faith & Reason" blog--you know how much I love reading comments. In particular, this one brought out a predictable sort because a religion blog was criticizing the tone of a science blogger. Commenters claimed there was no solid proof for evolution, and that no scientists were present at the Big Bang so it's only a theory... and that if they want hard evidence, then they should look to the words of Jesus Christ.

It brought to mind a verse from just over 3 years ago, so I dredged it back up. Long time readers will recognize it, but I have quite a few more eyes on the page since then.

I’ve examined evolution, and I think I understand
Though the evidence is shaky, still I think the theory’s grand
But it’s only just a theory, so it’s only just a start
And an open-minded person should try picking it apart.
No belief without a reason! Give me proof of what you claim!
And the more I look, the more I see the evidence is lame!
When considering a tangled bank, I choose to see God’s Laws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

Charles Darwin drew a picture of an ever-branching tree
From the earliest of creatures all the way to you and me
Other limbs produced the fishes, beetles, lizards, monkeys, ants,
Paramecia, bacteria, creationists and plants;
He supported it with evidence of every kind he could
Which I’ve critically examined, as a thinking person should;
Now I know that he’s mistaken in the picture that he draws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

If you analyze it critically, as science says we must
You’ll find laws of physics broken, so the theory is a bust:
The second thermo-something law is busted into pieces
By the fact that evolution means that entropy decreases!
And random changes couldn’t make the creatures that we find,
So the evidence is clear, that we cannot be un-designed!
With castles out of playing-cards and armies made of straws
There’s the reason I believe it: Just because.

Now, with Darwin and his evolution clearly in the tank
There is only one alternative, if I am to be frank;
That’s the theory found in Genesis, the Holy Word of God,
And with natural selection out, creation gets the nod.
But we can’t be disrespectful to our deeply held belief,
So our critical examination, this time, must be brief
There’s no clothing on this emperor, not even filmy gauze—
But the reason I believe it? Just because.

Sure, the logic may be iffy, and the evidence is slim—
Who created the creator? And then, who created him?
Why the Genesis creation? Why not something else instead?
Can we guarantee the story is exactly what God said?
Is it literal or metaphor, or maybe outright fiction?
What’s the proper course of action when we find a contradiction?
I’m ignoring any nagging doubt within me where it gnaws
And the reason I believe it? Just because.

If I’m right, I go to heaven, which I’d really like to do
But I’ll go to hell for sure if I suspect that it’s untrue
It’s a simple little wager, there’s no reason to think twice:
You get punished if you’re naughty, you get presents if you’re nice
From the guy who watches all of us, from there behind his beard
(And who cares if it’s millennia since last time he appeared?)
And so, even if it’s really just a grown-up’s Santa Claus
Well, the reason I believe it? Just because.

Tuesday, June 07, 2011

The Much-Revered Sarah Palin

Listen my children, and then discuss
The stupidity found in the Palin bus
At the end of May, and beginning of June,
A visit we can’t forget too soon
That the media types force-fed to us.

She said to supporters gathered there
In folksy phrases, full of charm,
“You patriots are all aware
That Paul Revere, he gave that alarm
By ringin’ that bell, and shootin’ that gun,
That red-blooded patriots weren’t gonna run
He was ready to ride to keep us free
And tell them all ‘don’t tread on me’
So, one if by land, and two if by sea”

Reporters there were heard to say
They hadn’t learned it quite that way
As writers, some were English-lit-ish
And questioned if he’d warned the British
Who were, of course, the enemy,
Invading us—by land or sea—
So Sarah missed a thing or three
Her more important task that night
Was “make the news”, not “get it right.”

Meanwhile, her teabag friend Michele
While touring in the Granite State
A fortnight sooner to this date
(Well, give or take a day or two)
Was misconstruing facts as well
Her “shot heard round the world” was great
New Hampshire, though, was heard to boo.

The Concord where the shot was fired
“Heard round the world,” you may recall
Was not New Hampshire’s town at all,
Thus not the one where she was mired.
It seems there may be no Repubs
Who haven’t uttered stupid flubs
Their grasp, it seems, of history
Is battered, bruised, and blistery,
And why they’re on the public stage
In this enlightened day and age
Is more or less a mystery

Reader Kathie has alerted me (and so, I alert you) to a bit of versical fun at the Washington Post. You are invited to submit your own poems, honoring those there great patriot types, Paul Revere and Sarah Palin.

For a while, I considered writing a verse the length of the original. Then, I slapped myself in the forehead and scolded myself for contemplating such a waste of time. But hey, maybe I'll add on to what I have here. When I'm all caught up with more important things, like alphabetizing my socks.

I'm Just A Tweet

Boy: Woof! There sure are a lot of people talking about this new scandal! I wonder what started it all!

Oh, I’m just a tweet
A congressional tweet
Just a photo that he’d like to delete
Well, if he’d stopped for a moment
Or considered just a minute
And thought “what would happen
If the whole world saw what’s in it?”
Now he wishes I would go away
And he hopes and prays that I will
But today I am still just a tweet

Boy: Gee, Tweet, that’s an awful lot of commotion over one picture!

Tweet: Well, I’m not just a tweet—I’m a lewd tweet by a Democratic member of Congress! I’m like a gift from the gods to the media, and especially to the right-wing pundits on Fox News! I started out small, but here’s the thing; any attempt to make me go away just makes me bigger! And any attempt to make me bigger, also makes me bigger!

Oh, I’m just a tweet
A congressional tweet
And he’s wishing that he’d been more discreet
Well it’s a long, long way
From initially denying
To a full press conference
With confessionals and crying
Now the media have come to play
They are sensing prey they can kill
So today, they are still on the tweet

Boy: Listen to the media talk! Is all that discussion and debate about you?

Tweet: Oh, it’s not debate; that would require more rationality. This is blood lust, and it’s only mostly about me. Some of it is about old grudges and insults, and I’m just a proxy issue. If they didn’t puff me up with importance, my story might die.

Boy: Die?

Tweet: Well, the news cycle is a stern taskmaster. But it looks like Fox News is going to run with me! Now the rest of the networks, papers, and websites have to choose whether they want me.

Boy: If they do, what happens?

Tweet: I’ll be the only thing on every media outlet until the next scandal hits!

Boy: Oh no!

Tweet: Oh yes!

I’m just a tweet
A congressional tweet
And the media are howling for meat
So now I’m stuck in the headlines
As a useful distraction
Diverting attention
From every other action
I’m the dirty laundry on display
Leading folks astray is my skill
So today I am still just a tweet

Boy: You mean there are other stories in the news, that people won’t see because they are focusing on you?

Tweet: Yes, that’s called the Modern Attention Span. The media believe you can only pay attention to one thing at a time, so that’s what they give you.

Boy: Wow, I guess it’s not easy to get out of the public eye when so many people have reason for you to stay, is it?

Tweet: No!

But how I hope and I pray that I will,
But today I am still just that tweet

News Anchor: Look! Sarah Palin said something stupid!

Tweet: Oh yes!!

Monday, June 06, 2011

Weiners In Public

The members of the media
Were moved, it seems, to tears;
They hadn’t seen such honesty
In far too many years
The congressman spoke openly
And did not try to hide;
He did not say “mistakes were made”
But rather, said “I lied”
He’d hurt his wife and family;
He’d hurt some friends he’d met
(Though they’d never met in person,
Merely on the internet)
His sin was, frankly, private,
And the public was not hurt;
He simply was a man who’d found
He rather liked to flirt.

The members of the media
Decided it was right
To keep his private troubles
From a harsh and public light;
They thought he’d had his punishment
Just facing them today
They thanked him for his troubles, and
They turned and walked away.

As virtually every news source in the world is reporting, Rep. Weiner has confessed. He did a bit of cyber-foolery, and lied about it.

I don't recall Weiner as having been a moralizer, so I can't easily laugh at him. He is in a world of hurt with his wife, but this is a big nothing, as scandals go. The measured response by the media should be... to leave it be.

So, how many weeks/months/years do you think they will actually drag it out?

Saturday, June 04, 2011

How To Get An IPad

Won’t you listen to my story
Cos it won’t take very long
It’s a tale about a Chinese boy,
Whose name was Little Zheng

Just a boy like any other
And he liked the latest stuff
But it costs a lot of money
And he didn’t have enough

So he thought about his problem
But he didn’t have a clue
Till he saw a notice posted
And he knew what he must do

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

Little Zheng, he called the number
And they told him where to go
But he had to keep it secret—
It’s illegal, don’t you know

But he really needed money
Cos an iPad costs a lot
And a kidney was the only
Thing of value that he’s got

So he signed away his organ
And he vanquished any doubt
And they gassed him up, and laid him down
And cut the sucker out

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

It’s a gory little story
But this isn’t where it ends
See, he got a lot of stitches
But he couldn’t show his friends

He devised a bit of fiction
But it wouldn’t get him far
And his mother got suspicious
So he had so show his scar

Now his story’s hit the big time
So I’ll make this guarantee
That this tale of Little Zheng’s is
Not the last one that we’ll see

If you’re feeling some frustration with your current situation
Here’s a little operation, if your conscience will allow
It’s a serious incision, but it’s done with great precision
It’s the rational decision if you want your money now

Yup, Xiao Zheng allegedly sold his kidney to buy an iPad and an iPod, the BBC reports. Video at the link. The cynic in me suspects that this story (mother's shame and all) will result in a boom of kidneys available for rich people, and a new iPad market among teenagers.

Friday, June 03, 2011

Happy Donut Day!

Let us raise our voice in chorus
For that deep-fried, doughy torus
Though it’s not the best thing for us
It’s a super special treat

Found in bakeries or delis,
Dipped in sugars, filled with jellies,
We can stuff them in our bellies
Just as fast as we can eat

And it's Donuts, Donuts, Donuts, and Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!
So let's all go out and go nuts, saying Happy Donut Day!

Surely, nothing could be duller
Than a day without a cruller
In that toasted-almond color
So you know it's cooked just right

I love fritters and berliners
Some say Boston Cremes are winners
Cider donuts for beginners
So you're hooked at just one bite!

And it's Donuts, Donuts, Donuts, and Hooray, Hooray, Hooray!
So let's all go out and go nuts, saying Happy Donut Day!

In the US, the first Friday in June is, as you all know, National Doughnut Day (or National Donut Day). Rumor has it that both Krispy Kreme and Dunkin' Donuts are handing out free donuts (or doughnuts) today. I don't know; I'm on a diet. Besides, the best donut in the known universe (as determined by me, but objectively true nonetheless) is no longer being made. It was the apple fritter (don't complain that it is not technically a donut--it is the perfection that every donut would want to be if were able to choose) made by a small bakery one town over from Cuttletown. I lived next door to that bakery 27 years ago, and never tired of those fritters. We moved away, and when I went back to visit over a decade later, they had discontinued their fritters! Customers just weren't buying deep-fried pastries, so they got rid of the equipment (gasp!) and the recipe (horror!).

So, you can have your National Donut Day (or National Doughnut Day); for me, it is a day of mourning, for what was, for its time in the universe, the best possible argument for Platonic Ideals.

Thursday, June 02, 2011


God is not dead; God never lived.
There was no God to begin with.
No Eden’s fall, no Hell at all,
No matter who you sin with.

There is no reason, is no plan,
And purpose, what we make it.
No god above—but merely love
For all who don’t forsake it

Ok, so quite some time ago I posted something about a "Socrates Exchange" program I had happened upon on the radio. For no particular reason, I was looking through past posts, clicked a link, and found the upcoming Socrates Exchange... rather annoying. "Is life ultimately meaningless?" is the question, but that doesn't begin to tell the story. The real question is, if there is no god, is life meaningless? If there is no ultimate purpose, is life meaningless? And the odd thing is, those questions are assumed to be identical!

Most of the comments, thus far, suggest (reasonably) that purpose is what we make it. There are one or two that say God gives life purpose, and that the "if there is no god" clause is just silly. Ok, they don't use that phrase.

What would be our purpose, if there was a god? I'd really like to know. How would it make our lives meaningful, if our purpose was to suck up to a deity? Might be nice for him/her/it/them, of course--might give h/h/i/t a purpose, much like stamp collecting gives a collector purpose--but what does that say about our own purpose?

If god gives us purpose, are we the equivalent of beany babies to a collector? More active, perhaps. Pawns? No, far less powerful. Goldfish?

I don't think the Socrates Exchange people have really thought this through. True purpose must be our own, and cannot be god's. It can only be determined by us--a false "ultimate purpose" (you may insert any god's wishes here) is nothing but fantasy. Real purposes, our own purposes--learning about ourselves and our universe; making our world a better place; collecting all the beany babies--are, no matter how trivial, superior to god's purposes in one very important way.

They are real.

(BTW, the actual program does not start for about a week, so if you have comments to add to their site, you could go a long way toward polishing the image of atheists/skeptics/humanists/cuttlefishists (or just plain humans) and our view of the world as it actually is.)