Thursday, December 31, 2009

Once In A Blue Moon, It's New Year's Eve

A bit of an explanation first. I realized, upon reading this, that my mom is strange. You see, she has her own way of pronouncing some words--not a regional accent, just her. "Bicycle" is pronounced as if you just put "bi" in front of the word "cycle"; nobody does that. "Aren't" is pronounced with two syllables; nobody does that. And the phrase "once in a blue moon" has the accent on the word "blue", like "once in a BLUE moon". Again, nobody does that. But... the tag phrase to this verse came to me, unbidden, as such things do, and it was pronounced that way. So, no complaining about the meter; I already know.

As the calendar crawls toward the end of the year
And of course, as a brand new beginning draws near
I guess it’s just human to look to the past
At the things we have done; at the lot we’ve been cast,
At the friends we have gained, and the friends we have lost,
At the things we might change, had we just known the cost.
I’ll go quite a long time without thinking of you,
But, once in a blue moon, I do.

A year full of travel, of learning, of fun,
A year I’d have sworn had just only begun
Although it was tough, this was one of the best,
With the children all grown up and leaving the nest
They’re better than me, I’ll admit it with pride,
And I think I might burst, I’m so happy inside!
And my heart doesn’t feel like the thing it once was
But, once in a blue moon, it does.

It isn’t the same, but it never can be,
As time, and as life, moves too quickly for me,
The days—hell, the weeks—are a bit of a blur
And things are not ever the way that they were.
I guess I just mean that I want you to know
That I hope you are happy and well, even though
I may miss you much more than the law should allow,
Just once in a blue moon… like now.

Anyway, having suffered through that, you deserve something better. I first heard the following song sung by it's writer, singer-songwriter Patrick Alger, in a singer-songwriter charity event that became the album "Shelter". I still hear it in his voice first, and all others are imitators (oddly enough, although he sang "Once in a very blue moon" for the concert, he sings a different song on the album, which I bought specifically for that song. Worth it anyway.) The song is far more associated, though, with Nanci Griffith, for whom it is a signature song. Enjoy:

Thursday, December 24, 2009

The Digital Pack-Rat, Vol. 22

My apologies for no recent posts. As I was telling Podblack Cat recently, this is not necessarily a bad thing--I tend to write more when under great stress. The Cuttlekids are home from college, and I am a happy mollusk. But hey, we have plenty of stress, so stay tuned.

I know I am missing some, but here are a sampling of recent comments from Pharyngula:

Regarding Isabella Rosselini's "Green Porn" series... specifically, she was a squid:

The warm embrace of twenty eighteen arms
And Isabella's human charms
Are pure delight for Cuttlefish,
Although, of course, I'd make a wish
That she'd remove her squid disguise
Just her, beneath the sunny skies
No costume, just herself and me
As happy as two fish could be!

Ah, the wonderful past. So much better than the present, wasn't it?

Ancient Man was so much smarter
(Ancient woman played a part--her
Contribution, though gets edited, and loses quite a bit)
Than our modern Man Of Science,
Who is forced to put reliance
In the stuff we stole from Aliens, like microwaves and shit.
Yes, the Neolithic human
Wasn't always "doom-and-gloom", and
Had a better way of thinking than the average man today!
We depend on our computers
As our parents, friends, and tutors--
While we fiddle with technology, our brains dissolve away!

The most amusing billboards are not the atheists', but other Christian denominations:

Mary, Mary, quite contrary
What did you think of Joe?
Compared to God's, I think the odds
His measured up are low.

Mary, Mary, kept her cherry,
May God protect the lass;
To be like Her, good girls prefer
To take it up the ass.

Oh, yeah, the woman in the red jumpsuit tackled the Pope...

The war on Christmas grows in scope--
A woman just attacked the Pope!
While on his way to give the Mass
She knocked him on his papal ass--
He got right up and on his way
To speak to all, this Christmas day.
Although his world-view may be shit,
The geezer Pope can take a hit.

And Ray "Bananaman" Comfort stole some pages for "his" book:

A book which needs no introduction
Got one anyway.
Ray's writing had the sound of suction;
Now, he'll have to pay.
His first three pages did not quite
Appear like they belong--
They'll argue over copyright:
It's surely copywrong.

Prayer works--just ask your local Cardinal.

For pain relief, take true belief,
And call me in the morning.
But be aware, there's nothing there
(Consider this your warning)

Devoutly pray, three times a day,
Not waiting for an answer;
And, what the hell, says Cardinal Pell,
It might just cure your cancer.

Wanna choose a religion?

Spin the wheel,
Roll the dice,
Throw the dart--
Don't think twice!

Win or lose?
Beat the odds!
What the hell,
They're only gods.

A gene for belief? A gene for atheism?

Eureka! I've a Christian here, genetically engineered!
Identical, as far as we can probe--
It turned out much much easier by far than we had feared;
All it took was turning off the frontal lobe.

We've carefully examined, and we've searched for any flaw,
But it seems that nothing major's gone amiss;
A side effect elicited is wonderment and awe,
But the primary? That ignorance is bliss.

What evolution started, we can fiddle just a smidgin,
And improve a lot, with very little strain;
From an atheistic creature, we can generate religion!
All it takes is just removing half the brain!

Truly conscious beings live in the "now", you know.

"Now" is a wonderful word
Or at least, that's what I've heard.
Though dead men, or 'bots,
(Whom we say have no thoughts)
With no concept of time
Nor of reason, nor rhyme
Find a concept like "now" quite absurd.

"There is no now for the dead"
I have heard (or the similar) said
Though the newly deceased
Have not claimed that, at least
To my knowledge. The claim
Is most often, the same
Made by those who are living, instead

We generate circular claims
For our own philosophical aims,
But our own points of view
(Mine is me; yours is you
Which no other can see
(Yours is you; mine is me
Hasn't changed since the writing of James!

Oh, yeah... Congress shall recognize... an asshole says "Merry Christmas!"

Mister Brown, he went to town
To pass some laws for Jesus.
He doesn't care if what he does
Is likely not to please us.

He doesn't care if what he does
Might not stand up in court;
You tell him "Happy Holidays!"
"It's Christmas!" he'll retort.

Mister Brown will use his faith,
He gladly will explain.
Of course, we could have guessed as much:
He doesn't use his brain.

Merry Christmas To You.

It's already Christmas in Melbourne and Sydney,
And for just a few minutes, in Perth;
The planet is spinning, and soon will come Christmas
To this, the late side of the earth.

Merry Christmas to you, from your Cuttlefish friend,
To my readers and friends, far and near;
I wish you good health, and great joy, and true peace,
For this season, and all through the year.

Thursday, December 17, 2009

An Amusing Incident

Ok, before I get to the meat of this post, I need to remind you that my new book (volume 2) is out, and available at the link there (no, not the upper one, the lower one) at the right-tentacle side of the page. I also need to remind you that the pdf versions of both books are available for a price of "nothing at all"; that is, they are free, as my cephalopodmas gift to you. (It would be extremely tacky of me to remind you that the dead-tree versions are also available, and that if you wish to give them as cephalopodmas gifts to those for whom you have strong feelings of love or hate, you'd better order soon. Lulu has been incredibly fast, but you are as bad as I am, waiting this late before shopping!)

Ok, once you have taken a good look at those PDFs, or (much, much better) have read the actual dead-tree books, you are ready for this story. Once you have seen the reports of kinky preachers, foolish believers, and general tales of blasphemy (there is more than that... but there is a bit of that), you are ready.

Blake Stacey was ready. Blake has copies of my first book. Blake has probably read everything in both books, and still has the fortitude of character to give copies of the book as gifts. Blake is a god among men. (Blake also has a book out, and frankly, if you only have enough money for either mine or his, the smart money is on his. Seriously, click the link. Buy his book. Trust me.)

So anyway, Blake Stacey ... let me quote (with permission, of course) his email:
I ordered three copies of THE DIGITAL CUTTLEFISH, VOL. 2 from last week, and today a box from Lulu arrived in the mail. "Hooray!" thought I. "That was faster than I expected." I opened the box to find three copies of "Faith Journeys: Devotions for Spiritual Enrichment", by a certain Thomas R. Feller, Jr. I don't particularly know what to make of this. I think I'd be irritated, if it weren't so amusing.

I don't know if Mr. Feller and I got each other's orders, if this was a Lulu error or a FedEx error, or what, exactly. However, the mental image of three books of Cuttlefish verse arriving on the doorstep of Greenville, North Carolina's Landmark Baptist Church, addressed to the music director, fills me with what one might call unholy glee.

Blake Stacey
Much as I am sorry that Blake Stacey got copies of "Faith Journeys", I have indulged myself in fantasizing Mr. Feller's (or, sometimes, his mother's) face, as he (she) opens the unexpected delivery and finds the "Eulogy for Gary Aldridge"...

Y'know... That verse was the very first that really got me noticed, and I wrote it before I started this blog (ok, technically, it was before I changed this blog over to what it currently is, but shaddup), so it never got any hits or immediate comments, and since I have no verse to go with this story (Blake's email is poetry itself!), I think I will reprise it. The Reverend Gary Aldridge had, sadly, gone to meet his maker, and no one was happy about that. Some, however, did have a bit of a tee-hee over the condition in which the good Pastor was found... wearing 2 wetsuits, bound with several (11?) ties, and with a dildo (properly covered with a condom) inserted... where I suppose you would expect it to be inserted, I suppose. Clearly, a sad occasion, approached only by Second City's "Funeral", the sad tale of a man who was suffocated, by getting his head caught in an economy size can of Van Camp's Pork & Beans.

Remember, go buy Blake's book. For cephalpodmas, squidmas, Xmas, christmas, or any other mas you have lounging about failing to contribute to the economy.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Real World vs. Bible

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

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

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

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

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


Inspired by, but totally not a copy of, this.
And yeah, it's all true. Which is the best part of all.

Getting The Ball Rolling

Just as a followup to yesterday's exceedingly cool octopus video, another exceedingly cool octopus video.

'Neath the waves, at the turn of the tide,
Where the sand gives you nowhere to hide
Savvy octopi* know
There's just one way to go--
Find a coconut shell; crawl inside!

*don't even start.

Monday, December 14, 2009

What The...?

Inkily, Slinkily,
Tool-using octopus
Armors its body with
Coconut shells;

Film has been shot of this
Gives me the mother of
All "What the Hell?"'s

Excellent coverage by the BBC here.
Dr Mark Norman, head of science at Museum Victoria, Melbourne, and one of the authors of the paper, said: "It is amazing watching them excavate one of these shells. They probe their arms down to loosen the mud, then they rotate them out."
After turning the shells so the open side faces upwards, the octopuses blow jets of mud out of the bowl before extending their arms around the shell - or if they have two halves, stacking them first, one inside the other - before stiffening their legs and tip-toeing away.
Dr Norman said: "I think it is amazing that those arms of pure muscle get turned into rigid rods so that they can run along a bit like a high-speed spider.
"It comes down to amazing dexterity and co-ordination of eight arms and several hundred suckers."

Sunday, December 13, 2009

The War (On Christmas) Comes Early (Cuttlefish Classic)

From the Cape of Good Hope to the Newfoundland islands,
The sands of Iran to the Panama isthmus;
From Outback Australia to Inverness Highlands
It’s time to take arms in the War Against Christmas!

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

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

I’ll cruelly and callously help out a stranger
Who’s down on his luck or has suffered some loss,
I won’t even speak of the babe in the manger
Whom God sent to Earth to get nailed to a cross;

When the winds of December conspire to freeze us
I’ll help collect sweaters and coats for the poor,
Neglecting to make any mention of Jesus,
Whose torture is really what Christmas is for.

My hatred of Christmas will focus my labors
On weaving an atheist fabric of lies—
For instance, I’m giving to all of my neighbors
Gift baskets, cookies, and fruitcakes and pies!

I’ll say “Merry Christmas!” I’ll say “Season’s Greetings!”
I’ll say “Happy Holidays—Joyous Noel!”
Intending of course, that with each of these meetings
The Truth About Christmas can just go to hell.

The truth is that Christmas is not about presents
It’s no time for songs, It’s not time to be nice
It’s not time for feasting on turkeys or pheasants—
It’s sin, and redemption by blood sacrifice.

No time to be jolly; no time to be merry
It’s time to be solemn, and grim, and devout!
The heathens might find it depressing or scary
But that is what Christmas is truly about.

Yes, Jesus is really the ultimate reason
And Christmas is really redemption and sin;
The war against Christmas is early this season—
For God’s sake, let’s hope that the atheists win!


I had recently linked to this one, so many have recently read it, but for the handful who get here by other means, I'm reposting. As most of us know (except, of course, the people who need to the most), the beginnings of Christmas in America (home of The War On Christmas, a wholly-owned subsidiary of Fox News) were not festive in the least. The Puritans had better, purer things to do on December 25th (for a couple of decades in the 1600's, Boston even had a law prohibiting the celebration of Christmas!); a Christmas holiday as we know it did not begin until the 1800's. Interestingly, celebrating Christmas (as opposed to observing it) spread with the notion of Santa, "The Night Before Christmas", and commercial connections to stores and products, not with the story of the birth of god's human sacrifice.

Those who wish a return to the traditional values of Christmas, away from the secularization, are welcome to stay inside, draw their curtains tight and stick their noses in their bibles. I will expect them to show up at work on the 25th (as, indeed, Congress did in 1789, the first Christmas under our constitution). Myself, I will gladly take the opportunity to celebrate with Cuttlefamily and friends. We will probably feast, and may even sing--such decadence would surely have been frowned upon, even fined, by the founders of our Christian Nation (TM).


Saturday, December 12, 2009

An Atheist Christmas (Cuttlefish Classic)

We’ll all open presents, and cook a big dinner,
And share in traditions we learned long ago
But Christmas is different for this humble sinner,
No “birth of the saviour”, just people we know.

It has nothing to do with a babe in a manger
Or kings being led by a star up above,
But rather in family, friend, and in stranger,
In kindnesses done for the people we love.

A spirit of hope, and a spirit of giving,
A promise of peace in a troubling day,
A chance to examine the way we are living--
The courage to say what we’ve wanted to say.

You don’t need to think there’s a god up above you
To want to be good to your fellows on Earth.
To give to your friends, and to tell them “I love you”
Has nothing to do with some son of god’s birth.

For love, and for giving, we say “tis the season”
For caring, for kindness, for sharing good cheer
But why limit ourselves? I mean, what is the reason?
Why can’t we be giving the rest of the year?

This Christmas, my wish for each sister and brother,
To you, and to everyone you may hold dear;
Remember, this Christmas, to love one another—
Not only this season, but all through the year!


So today, Cuttlefamily got our tree. Many changes since last year--it was nice to be able to take a dog along again, but of course that was a potent reminder of the last few (declining) years of our poor old pooch. The energy in a young dog is a wonderful thing, especially a dog that reeeeeeeeaaaaaaalllly likes snow. It was significantly below freezing, and I had misjudged the depth of the snow at the place where we went, so my shoes filled with snow as I broke through the crust every 5 or 6 steps or so. Friends from different areas of the world appear greatly amused that we not only have a real tree (as opposed to an artificial one), but that we cut our own. It is one of the wonderful rituals of the season and something the kids, now both in college, see as a quintessential part of life.

Anyway, it put me in a good, but very contemplative, mood, so I thought I'd repost some of my older Christmas verses, now that I have more people reading than in previous years. Happy holidays, all of you, or just happy moments.

Gotta go--time for the traditional untangling of wadded up strands of christmas lights.

Could A Comic Book Save Your Soul?

If you ask about science in science class
Could a comic book save your soul?
If you like to smoke a little grass
Could a comic book save your soul?
If you'd like to try to cast a spell,
If you've killed a man, and you're in a cell,
You're a breath away from a trip to Hell--
Could a comic book save your soul?

If you're Catholic, Muslim, Witch, or Jew
Could a comic book save your soul?
If there is no God, according to you
Could a comic book save your soul?
If you like to listen to Metal bands,
If you do your thinking with your glans,
If you don't do all that God demands
Could a comic book save your soul?

If you're curious while attending church
Could a comic book save your soul?
Are there pamphlets there, to help your search?
Could a comic book save your soul?
There's a little screed, by Jack T. Chick
It will make you laugh; it will make you sick,
But it just might make your brain go... *click*...
Could a comic book save your soul?

I remember these. I still find them, left in restaurants, or classrooms, or the library. I always take them; better me than their intended audience. As a kid, I must have seen some of the very first of these (the site says they have been produced for "over 40 years", but not how much over; I'd have been on the leading edge, anyway) in church, and remember seeing his version of Judgment--my life, on the big screen, with the whole earth's population privy to my deepest thoughts... which, at that early adolescent time, were impure.

Here's to ya, Jack. From one that got away.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

My Cephalopodmas Present To You

I should have done this long ago, but for the unfortunate fact that I am an idiot. Anyway, you have probably forgotten all about the two buttons over there to the right that lead to Lulu and to where you can buy my books. (Still sounds strange in the plural.) I have, as my present to you, just figured out that I can give you the downloadable version for free. So now, that is how both books are set (my apologies to those wonderful people who already paid for a download of Vol. 1. No such apologies are needed as yet for Vol. 2.), and I encourage you to click on over and grab yourself a copy of each. It will be slightly more convenient than printing out the entire blog, although the books don't contain any of my commentary--just the verse.

If you like, then, you can just print out a copy of a particular verse to tape anonymously to someone's door, or stuff in the church mailbox, or try to pass off as your own. If you really like, you can then buy a copy for Uncle Sid or Cousin Mildred or that weird neighbor down the street, and (at least as of this writing) it will get to you in time for squidmas. And if you feel guilty, there is the tip jar, also over there to the right--but I expect no squid pro quo; the free downloads are indeed my gift to you.

Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to get back to grading...

To all of my readers, from me,
There's a present for under your tree
Just a PDF file
That might make you smile--
The important part is: it's for free!

(let me know if it isn't showing as free. It ought to be, but I never was good with computers, so if it could be screwed up, it likely is.)

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Atheism 6.2

I found the following drifting lazily down through an eddy in the time-space continuum...

In Atheism 6.2
The features that we add for you
Revise the changes we’d begun
In 5.5 through 6.1

In 5.5 through 5.7
Metaphors of hell and heaven
Were allowed, but pearly gates
Were strictly seen as 5.8’s

You must remember 5.9,
In which we said communion wine
Was for the first time “good to go”
(We took it back in 6.0.)

But frankly, wine was lots of fun,
So just as quickly, 6.1
Restored the wine, now 6.2
Allows us cheese and crackers, too.

But wine and crackers, even cheeses
Are not blood, nor flesh of Jesus,
(Once, of course, we called it true,
But that was version 4.2.)

Accomodationism maths
Makes some folks mad as psychopaths
They rant and rave like total jerks
And say “The beta version works!”

It has no bugs; it needs no mods,
It’s simply “no belief in gods”
But whiny people soon complained,
So changes soon were entertained

The purists say it came undone
As early on as 1.1
Which left believers free to claim
That “God” was “Nature’s other name”

Before you knew it, 1.3
Included “spirituality”
From there, by pieces, fits, and starts,
The later versions hit the charts

I wonder, what could be in store
For 6.3 and 6.4.
So pick your fave, and start a schism.
One thing it’s not… is atheism.

Context? Sure... PZ writes about Atheism 3.0... He terms it "Atheist, but...". I much prefer "Atheist and". Not "atheist and spiritual", that would be an example of an "atheist but". I prefer "Atheist and versemonger", or "atheist and dad" or "atheist and late for dinner". Not an atheism that has to be blended with religion or spirituality or anything else, but atheism that is perfectly well defined, now what else are you?

Monday, December 07, 2009

I Am The Bishop

I am the Bishop, the moral authority,
The good of my flock is my highest priority
Unless (or until) there’s a Shepherd accused,
And a lamb from my flock is among the abused.

I am the Bishop; to me they will come,
Both Shepherd and Sheep (because people are dumb)
I’m trusted to do what is just, what is right,
To head off a scandal, and keep things from sight.

I am the Bishop; the power is mine,
The law is of earth, but the issue’s divine
It’s morally righteous to hide the report,
And to fight and appeal when they take us to court.

I am the Bishop. The transcripts disclosed
I created a smokescreen when duly deposed;
I watched for my shepherds, and helped them escape
From those cruel allegations of beatings and rape.

I am the Bishop—Archbishop, New York;
I won’t admit shame, like in Dublin or Cork,
Here, cases are fewer, convictions are less—
It’s to me, not the cops, to whom Shepherds confess!

I am the Bishop, so I can forgive—
They’ll surely be punished, but not while they live.
The civil authorities think it’s a scam
But I am the Bishop; I don’t give a damn

I am the Bishop; I’ll sink straight to Hell,
With most of my Shepherds beside me, as well,
Where Satan’s the judge; no one grants an appeal…
But I am the Bishop. I know it’s not real.

A very depressing editorial in the New York Times today speaks of Bishop Egan, the moral authority who did his job protecting his abusive priests.
In the end it was not the power of repentance or compassion that compelled the Roman Catholic Diocese of Bridgeport, Conn., to release more than 12,000 pages of documents relating to lawsuits alleging decades of sexual abuse of children by its priests.

It was a court order.
That immoral, secular court stepped in when the Bishop's Christian conscience failed to motivate him.

The most moving portion compares Egan's [lack of] response to the clear message (to some, still inadequate, but that may simply be a reflection of the enormity of the sins involved) delivered in Ireland under similar circumstances:
Absent in those pages is a sense of understanding of the true scope of the tragedy. Compare Bishop Egan’s words with those of the archbishop of Dublin, Diarmuid Martin, who, after the release of a recent report detailing years of abuse and cover-ups in Ireland, said:

“The sexual abuse of a child is and always was a crime in civil law; it is and always was a crime in canon law; it is and always was grievously sinful. One of the most heartbreaking aspects of the report is that while church leaders — bishops and religious superiors — failed, almost every parent who came to the diocese to report abuse clearly understood the awfulness of what was involved.”

Bishop Egan, with institutional pride, looks at the relatively low rate of proven abuse cases as a sort of perverse accomplishment.

“It’s marvelous,” he said, “when you think of the hundreds and hundreds of priests and how very few have even been accused, and how very few have even come close to having anyone prove anything.”

Sunday, December 06, 2009

By Request...

Ok, this is not The Book, but there is no way that The Book (with actual chapters, illustrations, commentary and such) could possibly be ready in time for anyone to order it for Squidmas. I really wish it could be, but I am much too swamped with Real Life.

So this is The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol. 2, which is merely the stuff I have written (well, lots of it, anyway--I did not include literally everything) in the year since Vol. 1 came out. I put this one out (in a hurry) because of a couple of requests, so that people could give it to friends (or enemies, I suppose) for the holidays. It does have some of my very favorites in it, and I must admit it was great fun revisiting the year as I rushed to put this together. Volume 1 is still available, too, of course. If Lulu has a way of doing a package deal, I'd be glad to put one together and save you some money.

I wouldn't blame you a bit if you waited for the deluxe edition, but there is no way it will be out before the new year, and perhaps well into that.

Oh, yeah, it might help if I gave you a link:
Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

Heh... boy, do I know how to write an ad...

Friday, December 04, 2009

For H. M.

My day goes by in bits and pieces,
The crossword puzzle, conversations,
Doctors asking, running tests;
They seem to know me; I don’t know how.
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by as days do, I suppose,
I watch TV, play bingo, read…
Today the crossword is very easy!
I don’t remember when I moved here—
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day – I don’t recall yesterday—
A pleasant day, with pleasant friends,
I know my way through this house,
But I do not remember moving here,
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by in one-act plays
Old plots forgotten with the new,
I never know the actors’ names—
Each one is nice enough, it seems;
But who is that old man in the mirror?

Today, I’m feeling very tired;
I don’t know why—I’m much too young
To stiffly walk, to ache to move—
I must have worked hard yesterday.
I feel like that old man in the mirror.

As I write this, they are finishing up (just a couple more hours, perhaps!) the sectioning of the brain of H. M.. Henry Molaison, known to biology and psychology students everywhere as "H. M.", is perhaps the single most famous patient in history. Perhaps. He was studied for over half a century, from when he underwent psychosurgery in 1953 to alleviate epileptic convulsions, until his death last year. Henry had an extreme case of anterograde amnesia--the inability to form new episodic memories. He could learn new tasks, but would not know that he had learned them (his performance surprised himself!). He taught us, or allowed us to learn, more about how remembering works than we had ever suspected before. Abilities we thought as single were exposed as many parallel abilities, and not always the neat splits our introspective accounts may have predicted. (that may not be expressed well. It is late.)

His story has moved me more than I would have expected. I have written verse from the point of view of gods, but I cannot wrap my head around what Henry's life was like. I don't know that I would want to.

Anyway, if you follow the link above, you will see that they are looking for money. The goal is to make H.M.'s brain available to everybody--an atlas of the most studied brain in history. This is expensive. If you have any money left over after you have donated generously to my tip jar (fortunately, I am channeling H. M., and will not remember having written that), you should consider sponsoring some brain slides. And, just for practice, try imagining that you are living Henry's life. If you can get a handle on it, drop a note and let me know what it is like. I just can't do it.

The Digital Pack-Rat, volume 21

It is, as it always is this time of year, approaching the ragged end of the semester. I am inundated with grading, so it is time to collect the detritus of blog comments, assemble them together, and pretend to post. If I find the time, I may come back and actually add links, but not now!

Also, I know the last "pack rat" post was #19. So was the one before it, so this #21 is the proper number.

Re: Uganda’s proposal to execute HIV-positive individuals, and impose life imprisonment sentences on gays.
It may seem cruel; it may seem strange,
These cold, barbaric tactics.
But think of all the souls thus saved
From using prophylactics!

We could be wrong; perhaps we purge
And yet the virus stays--
At least we're doing something, right?
And what the hell, they're gays.

Re: the Deep Rifts in atheism--
The thing about atheist creatures
Is, we're willing to challenge our teachers;
Don't call it a schism,
It's mere criticism:
These things, they're not bugs--these are features.

Re: a Godwinization of evolution…
Your misattribution claims mean evolution
As sole inspiration for Hitler;
What poor execution! Its small contribution
Could probably not have been littler!

Religion's pollution, and claimed persecution,
Contributed more, don't you know?
The right institution to grant absolution
And Hitler was ready to go!

Re: the eating of live cephalopods (!)
I'll admit there are meals that have certain appeals,
And some, I should say, that excite me.
But if any here wish a live cuttlefish dish...
Bite me.

Re: creationist logic and middle fingers—
Stupidity lingers; we see it in fingers,
Which clearly could not be descended from fins!
They're perfect, and Godly, and from this we oddly
Conclude that the myth of the goatherders wins!

And of course, the return of the son of the bride of… Wafergate.
Desecration of a cracker is uncivil disobedience
The son of god, remember, is the whole of its ingredients!
You tried to make a point, but with unsuitable expedience--
It was your right, but surely you were wrong!

The epitome of sacred, you reduced to mere profanity;
One wonders if you've kept the merest sliver of humanity!
You're clearly out of touch with any form of christianity,
As on the road to hell you trot along!

Our point of view is crystal-clear; our pithy editorial
Accuses you of crimes unseen since time long immemorial,
Perhaps the worst since humankind first ceased to be arboreal
Or since the first prokaryotic cell!

And so, Professor Myers, I will say with all sincerity
In case you choose to sin like this with any regularity,
I wish you strength and perseverance, boldness and temerity--
You'll need it, cos you're going straight to hell!

Monday, November 23, 2009

No God? No Problem!

I’ve got absolute truths by the dozens
They depend on the god that you cite
And, my brothers and sisters and cousins,
I have to decide which is right.

Each claims their morality’s better
They’re divinely inspired, you see;
So I’d follow their laws to the letter,
Except that they all disagree.

Whenever I look to the bible
To see how a person behaves
I can trust that the info’s reliable,
Like how I should punish my slaves.

I don’t wish to be petty or selfish
I just want to know I am right
Is it worse to be gay, or eat shellfish?
Both are wrong, in Leviticus’ sight.

Is it sinful to kill and eat cattle?
Well, the Hindus, of course, would agree
But then, kosher’s a whole different battle,
Although bacon tastes yummy to me!

I’ve got absolute truths if you want ‘em
Each according to different gods
Some keep them, and others will flaunt ‘em
But you’re breaking some rules, say the odds.

When religions make war over quarrels,
And they claim that their god is the source
Can a person have humanist morals?
Of Course!

Context: USA Today story (along with comment thread--you might want to join in!) about the new holiday ads by the humanists. Another round of "be good for goodness' sake!", which might as well be "your Virgin Mary wears army boots!", for the reaction it's getting.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Galileo! Galileo!

Galileo's middle finger. Appropriately.

The mystery no longer lingers:
Found, at last, two missing fingers.
They both belonged, as did one tooth,
To Galileo. That’s the truth.

The heretic had made a fuss
Supporting old Copernicus;
The Earth, he said, each year will run
An orbit 'round our yellow sun;

A statement, in The Church’s sight,
That could not possibly be right--
So Galileo swore he lied,
And nine years later, up and died.

Nine decades later, scientists
With strange things on their “must do” lists
Removed some fingers, teeth, and bones,
Then laid him back beneath the stones.

For years, his parts, though very old,
Were bartered, traded, bought and sold,
Until, in nineteen-hundred five,
Expected parts did not arrive.

The trading, then, went underground—
Until this year. Now, they’ve been found!
Next year, his fans may go and see ‘em
At Florence’s History of Science Museum.

The Beeb reports that... well, honestly, it's best in their words:
Two fingers and a tooth belonging to famed astronomer Galileo Galilei have been found more than 100 years after going missing, a museum in Italy says.

A collector bought the items, lost since 1905, at auction and gave them to Florence's History of Science Museum.
The museum said it had no doubt about the authenticity of the items.

Scientists cut the parts - plus another finger and a vertebrae - from Galileo's body in 1737, almost 100 years after he died.

So... in honor of Galileo (and inconsistent with the title of this post), a music video. I never quite got the "degrees of separation" bit--but I am friends with the sister (and her husband) of the author and performer of this particular "Galileo". (I'd embed it, but they have requested not to. Go. Click. It's a few years old, but it's worth it.)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

How Will Religion Evolve?

Religion is the perfect tool
To motivate the common fool;
So long as leaders crave its power,
The church delays its final hour.

Religion's purpose is control
(And not the saving of the soul);
No holy mind; no will divine,
But rather, keeping folks in line.

Religion, having once evolved,
Is just one way this problem's solved.
But having once found this solution,
It may not die through evolution.

It likely won't, to be succinct,
Just fade away and go extinct.
They'll be here till the world grows old:
Religion... and the common cold.

"How Will Religion Evolve?" asks the New York Times' TierneyLab Blog. The occasion is the publication of Nicholas Wade's "The Faith Instinct: How Religion Evolved and Why It Endures". Of course, there have been many treatments of the evolution of religion, whether as an adaptive behavior adding to the reproductive fitness of human beings, as the byproduct of other adaptive mechanisms, as a self-replicating meme evolving independently of ourselves... or as a true part of our environment to which we respond. The question the TierneyLab Blog raises is "what will religion evolve into?", which is a decent question to ask.

I figure (and I may be wrong--I just slapped this together between grading papers) that whatever religion might evolve into, evolution works with what it is given (from the past genetics and the present environment), so there are some limitations on what religion might evolve into. Just as humans are constrained by our tetrapod lineage and will never evolve supernumerary angel wings (batlike wings are unlikely, of course, but far more possible), the religous lineage also imposes constraints. We cannot roll evolution backwards, only forwards, so we must build on what religion is, not on what it could have been.

What religion is, is a way of controlling people. And a very successful one. Anything that can, without too much strain, lay claim to both the Sistine Chapel and the Jonestown Suicides, to the Parthenon and to the Crusades, to Sarah Palin and to Torquemada, has got to be good at controlling people. Hey, if you want to take credit for controlling in a good way, you gotta take the fall for controlling in a bad way. Evolution does not care; religion, as an evolving creature or behavior, does not care. It just (very successfully) controls.

Religion does what it does (control) very well. So does the common cold. Both "religion" and "the cold" are oversimplifications, one name for myriad creatures, but sharing a fuzzy but functional role. And while I may well wish the world were rid of both of them... like I said, evolution does not care.

PS. If any of you got an extra copy of the bananaman Origin of Species, I want one! Might even be persuaded to trade a copy of my silly book for it... (so long as no profit goes to Ray of Darkness)...

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Oh, Poor Stanley Fish!

Oh, pity petty Stanley Fish
Who isn’t treated as he’d wish;
Who wants the world to go his way
Complaining at each brief delay.

If retail workers choose to take
Their legally required break
And Stanley has to wait a bit
Professor Fish will throw a snit.

The poor, poor, privileged Stanley Fish
Starts steaming like a chafing dish
When operators are too bold
And ask to put the man on hold.

And Stanley Fish will take offense
(In fact, or maybe in pretense)
At error screens and menu trees
And other helpful things as these.

It must be nice to live a life
So calm, so cool, so free of strife;
Annoyances are viewed as crimes
And worth a column in The Times.

In his column in Monday's New York Times, Stanley Fish complains:
There is a class of utterances that, when encountered, produces irritation, distress and, in some cases, the desire to kill. You hear or read one of these and your heart sinks. Everyone will have his or her (non)favorites. Mine is a three-word announcement on the TV screen, “To Be Continued,” which says, “I know that you have become invested in this story and are eager to find out how it ends, but you’re going to have to wait for a few days or a week or a month or forever.” In the great order of things, it is only a minor inconvenience, but it is experienced as a deprivation; you were banking on something and now it has been taken away.
Stanley has a rough life. I can't think of the last time "To Be Continued" gave me the desire to kill.

He goes on to list other horrible crimes against humanity, like cashiers taking breaks, operators asking if they can put you on hold, and the horrible and insulting "Please listen carefully as our menu options have changed." Yeah, that last one is right up there with roadside bombs and amoebic dysentery, innit? I note also, with amusement, that Fish takes computer messages as being designed to tell him, personally, that he is an idiot, when in fact he is clearly more important than the people who are trying to do their jobs while dealing with a caller or customer whose idea of an appropriate response to "to be continued" is homicidal rage.
So there it is : a list of phrases that make you wince and say (if only to yourself), “Oh, no!”, because they derail expectation or because they offer condescension and prevarication in equal measure or because they accuse you of failures and weaknesses often before you’ve even had a chance to do anything.

I’m sure the list could be longer, and I invite you to add to it.
I did add to it. As of this writing, my comment is "awaiting moderation", despite roughly one hundred later comments all being posted without incident. My comment (submitted at 8:05):

“Let us pray”.

The next few minutes will rarely be devoted to speaking to god, but rather to chastising those gathered in hearing range, whether they wish to hear or not. All well and good; those people are there to hear, whereas god is busy helping a football team win or something. Still, if you are going to speak to the people, then admit you are speaking to the people, and don’t pretend to be praying. Better yet, use the time in productive activity.

And of course, the similarly useless

“Join me in a moment of silence”

In which a group of people gathered together, who could be using this time productively, intentionally choose to waste it, but to make themselves feel better about having done so.

Comments are now closed, after 424 people complained about trivia similar to Fish's selfish items, and one person writes "How albout (sic) all the religious ones? Have a blessed day. It is God's will. He won't give youmore (sic) than you can handle Blah, de blah, de blah."

I suppose my comment won't be approved, because it was not trivial enough. It's ok for Stanley to insult the service industry, but to suggest that prayer is an organized waste of time? Not in Stanley's world.

Monday, November 16, 2009


The experts all will have their say,
Examining each different way
The world we know will cease to be;
We know the world will end one day,
We each could be the last to see,
And though we know, of course, it may,
We each will hope “it can’t be me!”

A black hole made by evil CERN
A calendar about to turn,
With all the danger that portends;
An unknown planet, which we learn
Will kill our families and our friends;
Some few will watch the planet burn
And witness as our species ends.

We read, and weigh their sage advice:
The world will end in fire or ice
Or so, in rhyme, said Robert Frost.
How will it end? We roll the dice,
The game is over when we’ve lost;
Today, the players don’t think twice—
Their children will absorb the cost.

Disaster films and end-times tales
Are more concerned with ticket sales
Than teaching people how to care,
The work that such a job entails,
The damage that we must repair,
Before our fragile system fails
And all too soon… there’s no one there.

The saddest thing I have seen on this is that there are people who take this 2012 nonsense so seriously that they are contemplating suicide--or worse, suicide after killing their families.

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Time To Eat The Dog?

I bike to work; I do not drive;
My thermostat’s on “chilly”.
I compost; I recycle; I
Think wasting fuel is silly.
I have a backyard garden, where
I grow my corn and beans;
I can my own tomatoes, and
I patch my old, torn jeans.
I try to purchase locally
From stores that show they care,
And speak at local gatherings
To make us all aware.
I’m doing all I know to do;
I’m hedging all my bets…
But now, I hear the latest news:
It’s time to eat our pets.

Our pets have carbon footprints,
Just the same as you or me,
And Lassie has the impact of
A good-sized S.U.V.
The meat it takes to feed a pet
Should make you think a bit
And that’s before we mention all
The tons and tons of shit.
Our dogs, of course, reflect ourselves,
In how much we consume
It’s time for some reflection here,
Ere Fido meets his doom.
With lots of bigger targets here
Before I roast my bitch;
You want to save the planet?
Then it’s time to eat the rich.

Both the BBC and the Guardian (UK) report on the provocatively-titled "Time to eat the dog?", which takes an interesting new approach to analyzing our environmental impact.
Instead of measuring emissions of CO2, or CO2 equivalent, they calculate the literal footprint or "global hectare" (gha) - the amount of land it takes to support a given activity.

So they work out that constructing and driving the Land Cruiser for a year takes 0.41 gha.

Growing and manufacturing the 164kg of meat and 95kg of cereals a border collie or cocker spaniel eats every year takes about 0.84 gha.

A bigger dog such as a German shepherd consumes even more - its pawprint is more like 1.1 gha.

By their reckoning, that is more than the environmental footprint of the average Indian person, who uses just 0.8 gha of resources.

If you are a multiple dog owner you are in even more trouble. Two big dogs have a bigger carbon footprint than some British citizens.

According to the book the average resident of Cardiff requires just 1.89 gha.

The average American, by contrast, requires a whopping 9.5 gha.
Taking a closer look at that 0.84 gha figure for a border collie, New Scientist points out (in an editorial titled "Cute, fluffy, and horribly greedy"):
If that's troubling, there is an even more shocking comparison. In 2004, the average citizen of Vietnam had an ecological footprint of 0.76 hectares. For an Ethiopian, it was just 0.67 hectares. In a world where scarce resources are already hogged by the rich, can we really justify keeping pets that take more than some people?
As I have known for some time now, I am clearly part of the problem. We all are, in a global Tragedy of the Commons.

We need to become part of the solution. If using Fido or Fluffy gets people's attention, then the authors' unusual approach has done its job. Judging from the comments on various news articles, though, there is a significant population who won't quite get the point of the book.

Oh... for those who think the "Time to eat the dog?" people go too far, you might not want to click here.

UPDATE: Ah, it seems it was too bad to be true, or at least too bad to be accurate. Take a look here for a nice skeptical look at the analysis. (In a nutshell, the researchers underestimated the impact of SUVs, and overestimated the impact of dogs; the majority of pet food comes from "byproducts" of the production of food for humans, and cannot be meaningfully seen as competing for the same scarce resources. On the other hand, the Guardian article did focus on a trend of gourmet dog food, which does use the same cuts of meat that people eat. It is, admittedly, a small part of the market.)


Friday, November 13, 2009

The Impossible And Unnecessary Pursuit Of Perfection

"Have you noticed how much they look like orchids? Lovely!"
- "More From The Notebooks of Lazarus Long" --Robert Heinlein

“There is no such thing as perfect”, she said,
What she meant was Platonic Ideal;
That ancient Greek has made us seek
For things that are better than real.

All populations will vary, you know,
Even twins aren’t exactly the same
And that’s the appeal of the things that are real
Cos monotony sure is a shame

Perfection, to me, is a wonderful spectrum,
A rainbow of difference and change
The lows and the highs, every shape, every size,
My perfection is seen in a range

Bigger, or smaller, or thicker, or thinner
Darker or paler in hue
Yes, every complexion is part of perfection
Including, so perfectly, you.

But Plato’s perfection, a perfect ideal
Is the reason for this operation
But cutting some snips off of vaginal lips
Isn’t perfect, it’s just mutilation

When Barbie is viewed as a model for women
(Despite being merely a doll)
Being hairless and plastic, while patently drastic
Is seen as a goal for us all!

The body (your body) is perfect as is—
It’s a one-of-a-kind work of art!
The flesh of your quim isn’t something to trim—
I’d as soon take a knife to your heart!

Rejoice in the body you already have
Protect it and treat it with care;
Don’t ask which direction will lead to perfection:
My darling, you’re already there!

I've written before about some of the problems that arise from a pre-Darwinian view (in this case, a Platonic view) that finds some abstract entity "ideal", and variations (which, since the ideal is an abstract, must necessarily exist) as imperfections or flaws. The notion that "there's no such thing as perfect" is a necessary consequence of Plato's world view, but of course it will be the case when you define "perfect" as he does. In a population-centered view, there is no utility in an abstract ideal; a varying population is a necessary element to evolution, and to life. There is no perfect Luna Moth, for instance--or, just as usefully, we could say that any Luna Moth is perfect (or at least as entitled to use the term "perfect" as any other).

Every McDonald's hamburger is the same. Every hamburger I grill is different. Which more deserves the label of perfection? (and yes, on occasion one of my burgers may be worse than a McD's; I do have my off days.) Variety is not just the spice of life, it is the main dish. Things that do not vary are not alive (literally and metaphorically; I know someone who has eaten the exact same lunch for some 50 years--with regard to lunches, this person is long dead.)

So I was particularly disappointed to see this BBC report, a "new warning on perfect vaginas" (It's well worth a read, although I will not quote much here.) As soon as we speak of "a" perfect vagina, we are in Platonic territory and have defined the goal as out of reach. So women have been seeking some approximation of this perfection, and for some reason have decided that the perfect vagina is not that of a woman at all, but that of a prepubescent girl. Labioplasty is on the rise, and the story reports on a "'shocking' lack of information on the potential risks", as well as the dubious ethics of a procedure that seems preponderantly to be a response to culturally-created concerns about looking... well, like a woman instead of like a Barbie doll.

It's bad enough when platonic thinking misleads people about atheism and religion. But far worse is the notion that it is powerful enough to lead people to voluntarily (no, worse--to pay for it) have someone take a scalpel to their genitals (!!) in order to transform them from unique into assembly-line monotony.

Of course, the article presents others who call the surgeries safe and a simple way to address self-image problems. Mind you, these others are on the receiving end of the £3,000 paid for the operation, and have no incentive to complain about Plato.

And, not that it matters, but there are just sooooo many other titles I could have chosen for this post, which would have guaranteed hundreds of clicks on a daily basis for years to come... ok, all of them from people looking for a particular sort of porn, but still.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Time For Another Poll

Because it has been a while since my last one.

Feel free to explain your vote, if you can.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

Come The Rapture, Who Feeds The Dog?

The day the rapture sweeps the land,
And plucks up true believers,
Among those heathens Left Behind
Are Labrador Retrievers

No Saint Bernard will make the trip
Nor Cockapoo, nor Hound;
The Lord may be my shepherd,
But my Shepherd stays aground.

No Poodles, Pugs, or Pekingese;
No ifs or ands or buts—
The rapture takes God’s faithful,
But it doesn’t take the mutts.

Believers who are worried for
The welfare of their pets
Are offered, now, an answer
If they’d like to place their bets.

“Eternal Earthbound Pets” exists
To serve those Left Behind;
It’s rapture pet insurance, if
Believers are inclined.

Of course, not all believers think
Their pets will all be lost;
Their pets may go to Heaven, too
(Thus saving them the cost)

And Fido sits beside them, cos
In Heaven, all is well;
Together, they can laugh and spit
At sufferers in Hell.

From The Union Leader (Manchester, NH) comes the last pet-sitting service you will ever need. Well, assuming that you are going to heaven. If you're with me, plan on needing to buy kibble for a long, long time.
As those Christians who believe in the Rapture get taken up into eternity, the pet-lovers among them will have one less thing to worry about if a Langdon atheist has anything to say about it.

Bart Centre, 61, a retired vice president of an international retail firm and current co-owner of Eternal Earthbound Pets, is offering a $110 post-Rapture pet care service. The way Centre sees it, he makes a little money in his retirement, and should Jesus Christ return and the Rapture occur, those snatched up into heaven will have their pets cared for, he said.
Of course, to me, the most interesting thing was the reaction from the editor for Rapture Ready:
One Christian who is having a bit of a chuckle over it is Terry James, general editor for the popular Christian Web site Rapture Ready based out of Arkansas.

"He's giving somebody the business," James said. "It's a scam. . . . Anyone who would take that offer seriously, well, how would you even follow up?"

James said what is true is that Christians who believe in the Rapture do wonder about what will happen to their pets. So many, that James wrote a pamphlet about it. He said though pets will be left behind, if the people in Heaven decide that they miss their pets, they can decide to have them brought up later. He acknowledged that sounded a little screwy, but, he said, it's what he believes.

"I find it kind of amusing to tell you the truth," he said of Centre's business venture. "I don't begrudge him and I don't hate him for it. And if anyone is actually foolish enough to buy the service and don't think to follow up, well, then they are foolish."
Leaving aside the irony of a biblical literalist making up non-biblical pamphlets telling feel-good stories about pets in heaven, and leaving aside the irony of someone with his beliefs calling any other beliefs foolish, there is a further, less evident (or maybe that's the H1N1 talking) irony.

I have, in arguments with Rapture Ready believers and their ilk (not using my Cuttlefish handle), been told that they are happy I am going to hell, and that they will greatly enjoy looking down from heaven and watching me suffer in a lake of fire. I have been told that they will laugh, and if they are feeling particularly charitable, they will spit on me, just to watch me welcome this relief from the searing heat. Seriously.

And these people (or, most probably, others who share portions of their world view) are going to miss their dogs in heaven? Terry James makes up a story about bringing up Fido later, but gee, it's too bad about grandma. If you love her, maybe you can convince more of your heavenly friends to spit on her.

(edited to add: predictably, the commentary on the story is every bit as interesting as the story itself, which will surprise no one familiar with the Union [mis]Leader.)

Cuttlecap tip to commenter Laurie on Pharyngula.


Sunday, November 08, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Natural State Of The Featherless Biped

Image: Michael McRae

The natural state of the featherless biped
Is totally batshit insane,
From the folks who are “tetched”, to the mere “barking mad”
To the ones even Freud can’t explain.
Some talk to themselves, some talk to “the voices”
And others to “god, up above”
Some know there are bugs living under their skin,
And some (pity them) are in love.

A clear diagnosis is hard to obtain
When we’re characteristically odd.
Just look at behaviors most people call normal
Like talking and listening to god;
If you claimed you were talking to Satan himself
They would probably lock you away;
But instead, choose a different invisible friend
And the doctors all think you’re OK.

Some point to religious folks flocking like pigeons,
With atheists more solo fliers—
And say this to friends who have gathered together
With Dawkins, or Randi, or Myers.
Of course, there are differences, none could deny,
But a few similarities, too.
We follow our leaders, a true social species
As nature selects we should do.

When Dennett says memes can take over our heads,
Make us willing to die for some god;
I look at the hooligan soccer-fan riots--
Devotion no longer seems odd.
The vestments and hats of the Orthodox Church
Are a spectacle worthy of mention,
But some secular groups may be equally gaudy—
Just check out a Star Trek convention!

It’s good to examine abnormal behavior
(Whatever “abnormal” might mean)
Just remember, we’re usually seeing ourselves
In the things we’re surprised to have seen.
We like to point fingers at somebody else
For the troubles, today, that we face;
But don’t point at others; the problem is us—
We’re the batshit-insane human race.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This is a fairly early verse--from about a year and a half ago--so it ought to be new to quite a few of you.

Cuttlefish Classic: Creationist Museums

Image: Michael McRae

I took a walk through time and space—
Through several million years—
I found that some things never change,
Or that’s how it appears.
Stupidity’s a constant
(Hey, I call ‘em as I see ‘em);
I noted Man’s is not the sole
Creationist Museum.
Seems everywhere I looked around
In present or in past,
I found museums touting God—
And all of them half-assed.
I guess I shouldn’t be surprised
Or find them each defective;
Each species must be Number One
When seen from their perspective.

The early primates said:

God created Lemurs, and
The world was truly blest;
“Descent of Man” is apropos—
He’s clearly second best.
The perfect form’s arboreous,
As anyone can tell
When apes descended from the trees
Things really went to Hell.

The early tetrapods said:

Acanthostaga sits supreme
As God’s most perfect beast;
To get from them to humankind
Just go from best to least.
Look inside our holy books
And find revealed—the Flood;
God’s favorite creatures, thus, must live
In water and in mud.

The early chordates said:

God created Amphioxus,
Perfectly designed.
Mutations and deformities,
And now we have Mankind.
With notochord, pharyngeal slits,
Their form is most divine
Then vertebrates just messed it up
And now they have a spine.

The prokaryotes said:

The truly blest bacterium
God’s chosen form of life
With billions of them in the gut
Of Adam and his wife.
The heaven-blessed prokaryote
Is God’s Most Perfect Form,
And mammals are just one more way
To keep us nice and warm.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one is from nearly 2 full years ago, back when about a dozen people were reading here. On top of that, it was not linked to from any of the more popular sites I comment on, so the odds are very good that the majority of you have not seen it. Nothing new in it--the Aesop's fable of the painting makes the same point, as does Haldane's "fondness for beetles" comment. Human creationist museums must necessarily show the god we created in our image; I cannot imagine that if bacteria had their own creationist museums, they would take a decidedly different perspective.

Saturday, November 07, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: Help Me, Estro-Blaster!

Image: Michael McRae

There is something in the waters
That can turn my sons to daughters?
I’m so happy that this flyer came to tell me of this fact!
Every smoothie that we’ve blendered
Means they’re halfway to transgendered!
Every second now is precious—it is time for us to act!

Time to panic, and I’m thinking
That the water I’ve been drinking
Is a chemical castration, and a feminazi plan!
I drink water like Niagara
As I wash down my Viagra;
Now I see why it’s not working, and I’m still a little man.

Time to buy some Estro-Blaster
And to hope the mail comes faster—
‘Cos I’m worried that perhaps it may already be too late:
I’m not thinking with my penis,
I’ve abandoned Mars for Venus—
And I find I’m moody, ‘bout a week before I menstruate.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse was my reaction to the snake-oil merchants at Estro-Blaster, who prey on fears of demasculinization (if that is a word) amidst news stories of trace amounts of estrogen found in drinking water. Whether or not something works, it would seem you can sell it better by promising to make manly men more manly. In a related matter, one of my most-read posts is my "ballad of smilin' Bob", with the subtitle "the biggest dicks of all". All of my other most-read posts are associated with one or two days of popularity, but Smilin' Bob gets a few hits almost every day... each by someone googling for "biggest dicks" or some variant.


Cuttlefish Classic: I Am Charles Darwin

Image: Michael McRae

I am Charles Darwin—ninety-nine point nine percent
There’s a little variation that I don’t share with the gent
But we share a common blueprint, which is kinda what he meant
When he came to the conclusion that we’re all of shared descent

I am Charles Darwin—what I mean is, I am Man
I’m a billion trillion accidents instead of One Big Plan
Just a step or two from chimpanzee or from orangutan
Maybe more than distant cousins, but you recognize the clan

I am Charles Darwin—I can’t help it; it’s my genes
We’re mutation and selection, see, when no one intervenes
Like a god with claimed omnipotence, or alien machines
None better and none worse than us, is really what it means

I am Charles Darwin—I was never Eden-cursed
I am just another animal, I’m neither best nor worst
From primordial beginnings, look how widely I’ve dispersed
Such a beautiful idea…Charles Darwin saw it first.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

UPDATE!! I have been sent a rendition of this verse in song! A very nice ballad, with ukulele accompaniment, which you can hear here--just look to the player on the right of the page. As of this writing, it is the song on the bottom, but it looks like he has a bunch of original music there which I intend to listen to as soon as I am done writing this.

What's New?

What's new?

The flu.

And you?

Friday, November 06, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Evolutionary Biology Valentine's Day Poem

Image: Michael McRae

In sociobiology,
Why I love you and you love me—
Which anyone can plainly see—
Is mostly in our genes.
No, not the ones you buy in stores,
But what a scientist explores--
I like the way you look in yours,
And you know what that means.

What subtly-coded stimulus
Takes you and me, and makes us “us
And makes us feel ‘twas ever thus?
The list of suspects narrows.
No longer are we all a-shiver
From some Cupid with a quiver
Out of which he might deliver
Fusillades of Eros.

Nor Dopamine, nor Serotonin
Tell us why our hearts are moanin’
Though they serve to help us hone in
On–not why, but how;
The parasympathetic blush,
Adrenaline to bring a rush,
Are how, not why, I’ve got a crush
On you, my darling, now.

But if old Charles Darwin’s right,
The reason that the merest sight
Of you will always give delight
Is…reproductive fitness.
Throughout our species’ family tree,
Producing proper progeny
Is what determined you and me
And Darwin was the witness.

Is thinking that you’re oh so sweet
And how you’ll make my life complete
Some trick to make our gametes meet?
It seems it may be so.
I feel the way I feel today
Because some bit of DNA
Sees your genetics on display
And wants to say “hello.”

But think of this, for what it’s worth:
Millennia before my birth
That DNA had roamed the earth,
In residents thereof;
The neat thing is, it’s really true,
The feeling that I have for you
Although, of course, it feels brand-new
Is truly ageless love.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one has been reprinted in last year's "The Open Laboratory", and gets tons of hits every February, for some reason. Sadly, it has not yet shown up in the Hallmark aisle at the local drugstore.

Cuttlefish Classic: The Ballad Of Sally Kern

Image: Michael McRae

A legislator, Sally Kern,
Was simply voicing her concern,
But Sally Kern was unaware,
Or if she knew, she did not care,
That someone had a microphone
So Sally Kern was not alone.
“Oh, I’m not anti-gay” said Sally,
To the fifty-person rally;
“But there are things you have to learn”
And who will teach us? Sally Kern.
Sally Kern, she knows the answer—
Knows how gays are like a cancer,
Knows they’re worse than terrorists
If Sally Kern can keep the lists.
So Sally Kern must raise her voice
Against unhealthy lifestyle choice;
The cost of life against God’s Word
Is clear, the people gathered heard:
Disease and death, and then you burn
In Hell, or so says Sally Kern.
Then Sally Kern, in pure effrontery,
Tells us gays will harm our country:
If we embrace these sinful ways,
Says Sally Kern, allowing gays
To join the City Council ranks
Or work in schools, or stores, or banks,
Our country would be tempting fate,
And all too soon would be too late.
Now, such a stance may seem too stern
But heed the words of Sally Kern;
If we let gays live right among us,
Soon, like mold, or creeping fungus,
Even straights will be infected—
Sally Kern wants us protected.
The path to safety is God’s Grace:
We must protect the human race.
Sally Kern just wants us purer…
Right. Ein Volk, ein Reich, ein Fuhrer.

Special bonus: The Modest Agnostic's youtube version of this verse!

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse is one of my favorites for its seussian qualities, its hyperbole, and its godwinesque last line. This is one of those verses that pretty much came out in real time and in final form, and I really didn't know what the last line would be until I got to the second to last. And The Modest Agnostic reads it so well! Much better than my own voice would be.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Cuttlefish Classics: I Thought I Saw An Atheist

Image: Michael McRae

I thought I saw an atheist, once, walking down the street.
I checked for horns, I checked for tail, I checked for cloven feet;
Began to tremble frightfully—my heart was in my throat—
Then sighed in happy recognition, for ‘twas but a goat.

I thought I saw an atheist, down near a swollen stream
With scaly skin, and blood so cold, I couldn’t breathe to scream!
I looked into his bulging eyes, and prayed “God, grant my wish”
Then laughed in my embarrassment—it only was a fish.

I thought I saw an atheist, with fur and pointed claws,
And wicked teeth for chewing up Judeo-Christian laws,
I ran, and tripped, and fell to earth, then hid behind a log—
It caught me, though, and licked my face—of course, it was a dog.

I thought I saw an atheist, though cleverly disguised
Not giant and reptilian, but human, normal sized,
It looked to be engaging in productive, useful labor;
But no, this was no atheist—this person was my neighbor!

I thought I saw an atheist; in fact, I saw a few!
My neighbor, and the grocer, and the cop, and maybe you!
I even found some in the church, right there beneath the steeple;
It turns out, to my great surprise… that atheists are people.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This verse is one of my favorites, and such a versatile structure! It was revisited twice (so far), first in a case of a Chicago state representative shouting down an atheist at a public meeting, as if atheists were somewhere below flatworms on her scale of respect:

...I thought I saw an atheist, upon the witness stand
It couldn't be! Not where I live! This is a Christian Land!
The Constitution guarantees my right to scream and shout;
As the Good Lord is my witness, I demanded "You! Get out!"

I thought I saw an atheist demand an equal voice;
I told him he could leave right now, and that could be his choice.
I said his view was dangerous--our children must not hear!
It goes against the Bible, which our government holds dear!

I thought I saw an atheist nod quietly, and sigh.
The odds were stacked against him, which no person can deny;
What happens when a person is denied his civil right?
I may have seen an atheist who's now convinced to fight.

And then once more, when Liddy Dole's senatorial campaign tried to gain votes by accusing her opponent of cozying up to ... of all things... atheists!

I thought I saw an atheist
Approach a voting booth—
Her voice was shrill, her eyes were wide
Her manner quite uncouth;
She tried to force her views on us
And exercise control—
I looked again—I’m wrong once more
Why, this was Liddy Dole.

I thought I saw an atheist
Discriminate and hate;
Deride a weak minority
Because the hour’s late—
To try to stir the masses
She’s been losing in the polls;
I looked again, and listened well—
Those words were Liddy Dole’s

I thought I saw an atheist,
So “radical” and “vile”
Wage war against America--
A villain with a smile
Promoting hate, promoting fear
For petty, selfish gain—
I looked again, and clearly saw
The Liddy Dole campaign

I thought I saw an atheist
Stand up and say “no more!”
I will not be your scapegoat
Like so many times before!
Americans, stand up as Christian
Muslim, Jew, and Pagan,
Or atheist, or anything,
And cast your vote for Hagan!

Cuttlefish Classic: Oh, Wait...

Image: Michael McRae

My God is pretty self-assured, and quite convinced He’s right.
He made me in His image, so He’s green-eyed, blond, and white;
And He’s very, very wrathful with the folks who disagree;
He’ll hold a grudge for centuries—Oh, wait—that might be me.

He’s insecure enough to want to hear how much you love Him
And He never will forgive you if there’s someone else above Him;
He’ll jealously react to any threat to His domain
By smiting all His enemies—Oh, wait—that’s me again.

He’ll make the world a better place for those who think like Him
For those in opposition, well, the situation’s grim;
He’ll call jihad, or else crusade—some form of Holy War
Because He knows He’s always right—Oh, wait—that’s me once more.

He’s handsome, bearded, steely-eyed, deep-voiced and somewhat haughty
So wonderful, his naughty bits are never seen as naughty
But perfectly proportioned, grand and firm and never shrinking,
A miracle of awesomeness—Oh, wait—that’s wishful thinking.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one was from May of 08--I remember it as being earlier than that, but such are memories. It was inspired by a poll in England, in which a majority of respondents apparently believe that god is, indeed, male. Likely white and bearded, too. It's like the Sistine Chapel is a giant Polaroid shot.

We really like our gods to be made in our own image, don't we?

Wednesday, November 04, 2009

Cuttlefish Classic: The Octopus Gods

Image: Michael McRae

Oh, the cephalopods have their Octopus Gods,
With tentacles stronger than steel,
Who have taken down ships with their powerful grips
And made many a sailor a meal.

They win wrestling matches with submarine hatches
Like popping a tin of sardines
Then it’s horrible cries, and tears in the eyes
Of the witnessing Merchant Marines.

Survivers are few, but they swear it is true—
“The monster, it started to throttle us!”
You can vividly note, from the scar on his throat
He survived the attack on the Nautilus.

These powerful deities loves spontaneity,
Thus, are well-loved by their followers
Who all serve as one, having octopus fun
Whether tiny, or submarine-swallowers

When I tell you (no lie) that the octopus eye
Is superior even to Man’s
It’s clear that this creature’s the centerpiece feature
In a sinister deity’s plans

They’ll take down a shark, like a walk in the park—
You’ve seen it on YouTube, I know
And to get to their goal they can squeeze through a hole,
Up the drain, in your tub, to your toe!

So guzzle your Folger’s—these octopus soldiers
Are coming for you while you sleep!
These eight-legged beauties will all do their duties;
Invisible devils, they creep.

So the next time you think, “could one hide in my sink?
Or my bathtub, or even my toilet?”
As a Cuttlefish, I would be seen as a spy
If I told you (besides, that would spoil it).

If you find an appeal in an octopus meal—
Say, for sushi you’ve got a real itch—
The cephalopods have their Octopus Gods
And I’m telling you, payback’s a bitch.

As I said before, I'm re-posting some of my favorites (and yours, if you let me know which ones) during this kinda sorta Fall Fundraiser Drive (tip jar over there on the right).

This one is from my very first month of posting here, when I averaged under 50 readers a day, so it may be new to you. Enjoy!

In Which It All Hits The Fan At Once

My laptop computer is giving me fits;
It will randomly fade into black.
It looks like it simply is "going to sleep"--
With a difference: I can't get it back!

My car has a problem they can't diagnose,
And it's rapidly starting to die;
The gauges don't work, and the power is weak,
And my grease-monkey doesn't know why.

My bike needs new shifters, new gears, and a chain,
The socks I am wearing have holes
With two kids in college, and spouse out of work
It is difficult meeting my goals.

But I'm healthy, I'm happy, and looking around
I can see, many more have it worse--
I don't think I'd trade places with anyone else...
I'll just sit here, complaining in verse.

Ok... every word of that is true, but this is not meant to be a pity-inducing post; I am very much aware that a great many people (including, I would assume, some of my readers) are in far worse shape than I am. Last time I actively asked for money, I had a specific and immediate need, and my readers showed a generosity so far beyond any real-life people [read: my damned department] that it was my readers who made the single most amazing experience of my last 5 years (maybe more; I am being conservative) possible. I am not in such straits this time, and I am not trying to guilt-trip anyone.

But I am going to gently ask for money. No hard-sell, though; I am not threatening to stop posting (I am much too obsessive--if nobody donates a cent, I'll still be here); I have no pressing problems (other than what is in the verse above, which could probably describe a great many lives, and is no great hardship); I have no claim of charitable need-based donating. If, though, you read and enjoy this site, please consider clicking the tip jar over there on the right. It's the time of year when I start figuring out cephalopodmas spending, and right now my budget is zero. (Which, I will be the first to admit, puts me way ahead of a staggeringly large number of people whose budget is negative.)

For the next few days, I will be posting some "best of" re-posts. This is for two reasons. One--I have a lot of grading I need to get to, and a laptop to bring in for repair, and a car to set fire to, and a bike to fix, and socks to darn. Two--according to google analytics, the vast majority of people who visit here don't look at the older posts, and I really like some of them! So if you have a favorite you'd like me to repost, just let me know in the comments here or in email, and I'll surely get to it!

Tuesday, November 03, 2009

Vote No On 1!

If you have friends or relatives in Maine
Who are sane
Or whom you can convince to do what is clearly right for us all
Give them a call.
Whether they are mobsters
Or stereotypical caricatures in slickers and sou'westers fishing for lobsters
Whether they are calm or jittery
Whether they live as far north as Madawaska, or as far south as Kittery
Today is the day, for every woman and every man
To do what they can
To promote
The vote.

Seriously... I know I have a few readers in Maine. I am fairly certain they are already going to vote. Anyone else, take a minute or two and search through your email address book; if you have friends or family in Maine, take an additional minute to make sure they are not going to sit this one out. If they won't vote for themselves, maybe they'll vote on your behalf. Vote No On One.

If your friend happens to be a member of one of the churches opposing gay marriage, simply remind them that there are churches today that already approve of gay marriage, and that their vote could set a precedent for control of church policy by the state. It is in their own best interest not to set that precedent. Vote No On One.

If your friend decides to argue with you, call them up. Let them rant and rave as long as they want to... preferably until just after polls close.

Vote No On One.

I'm Cuttlefish, and I approved this message.

Monday, November 02, 2009

The Bells! (Arizona Courts Side With Neighbors, Silence Church)


Hear the churches with the bells
Recorded bells!
What a load of excrement their melody fortells!
How they started up one morning
As the neighbors tried to sleep!
With an utter lack of warning
And no beauty there adorning—
A recording! Clearly cheap!
Crying, “Hear, hear, hear!”
To the folks who live too near
To the audio recoding that malevolently wells
From the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the Christ the King Cathedral and its bells.


Hear the neighbors’ busy bells—
Telephone bells!
Hear the litigation their cacophony foretells!
Though the effort was a waste,
Hear them speak to their distaste,
To the Bishop of the church
And to the cops;
As for quietude they search,
Though the heavenly loudspeaker on its perch
Never stops!
At annoyance it excels!
Nearly causing epileptic seizing spells!
How it swells!
How it smells
Like dead Fish! It compels
The neighbors to hotels,
From the staying there and playing
Of the bells, bells, bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
From the taping, no escaping from the bells!


Hear the loud, disgruntled bells—
Bishop’s bells!
What a tale of persecution, Here where Jesus dwells!
In the sermons every week
An exemption’s what they seek!
Special treatment for their acts
For the facts are not the facts
In this case!
In a clamorous appealing to the mercy of the court
In a mad expostulation, even prayer as last resort!
Digging lower, lower, lower,
Though it’s louder than a mower,
And the senses it’s assaulting,
More annoying than exalting
To the neighbors they have to face!
Oh, the bells, bells, bells!
What a tale the Bishop tells
Of despair!
Hear him brattle, bleat, and roar
Till his vocal cords are sore!
As he’s breathing in the sacrilegious air!
Yet the congregation’s ears
Filled with twanging
And with clanging
Will ignore the neighbor’s fears!
Yes, the congregation stays
With the jangling
And the wrangling,
And no mercy it displays,
For the begging and the pleading of the neighbors to the bells
Of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
To the painful and disdainful Christian bells!


Hear the judgment of the bells—
Judicial bells!
With the judgment of a Solomon, their legal might compels!
The opinion of the court
Now, the Bishop’s will, will thwart,
With legitimate authority to bear!
In every case they see
They require you and me
To be fair
And the people—ah, the people—
Like the Bishop with his steeple—
See him there!
See him twisting and denying
With his sanctified hot air
Parsing words that border lying
They are neither true nor holy
They lie partially or fully
All to fools!
And his church it is that tolls,
His recording, there, that rolls
Annoyance from the bells!
And the Bishop fairly swells
From the pride of ringing bells!
At the pulpit, now he yells;
Wasting time, time, time
Now convicted of a crime
For the ringing of the bells
Of the bells—
Wasting time, time time
Now convicted of a crime
For the tolling of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells—
For recordings of his bells,
Wasting time, time, time,
And the bells, bells, bells,
Which he sullied with his crime,
In the playing of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells—
For the blasting of the bells,
Of the bells, bells, bells, bells,
Bells, bells, bells—
For the playing of the tape-recorded bells.

With humble and sincere apologies to Edgar Allan Poe.