Valentine’s Day Is Almost Here!

Only a few more days until it will be too late to pretend you did anything other than panic at the last minute and elbow three other people out of the way to get the last remaining Hallmark Valentine–the one with a family-friendly cute double-entendre featuring a cartoon dog and the fingerprints of the thousand previous shoppers who decided against purchasing it.

So as a public service, I am offering a few more Heart-In-A-Jar poems, for those people who are not content to give their hearts away only as a figure of speech. If I had the skill, I would mock up some cards for you to print out, but that is not what this cuttlefish knows how to do with ink. So, the next best thing. I am giving anyone the permission to use these poems as they wish–they can even take credit for them, so long as A) they know they are lying and B) they send me a line or so about how it went. If you actually put in the effort to create an illustrated card, then A) good on you! and B) send me a line or a link or whatever so I can see it too!

The previous three heart-in-a-jar poems (and the original news story that explains them) were posted here. And of course, if your fancy is bred not in the heart but in the head, here is a brain-based love poem you can also use.

So, have fun!

I give you my heart on this Valentine’s Day
In a jar you can keep on your shelf,
With your books and your papers, in cluttered array,
Or a prominent place by itself.
It is really my heart—deep within every cell
Are the strands of my own DNA;
I could have just given you chocolates, but, well,
My message is clearer this way:
I love you much more than a card, or some flowers,
Or trinkets you see in the stores;
So it’s off to the lab for a few hundred hours,
And my heart—if you’ll take it—is yours.

My love for you was different from the start;
A love like this, the world has never seen–
Not only will I offer you my heart,
But also kidneys, pancreas, and spleen.
You need a thyroid gland? Just say the word.
Quite gladly I’d deliver you my liver;
In giving and receiving, I have heard,
It’s always best to choose to be the giver.
I’d surely die for you, but better still,
I’d much prefer to live with you, in love;
To share your world with you would be my will
And not to gaze down on you from above.
I offer you my heart, but be aware:
You’ll have to wait until I grow a spare.

I gave you my heart, as a sign of my love
And I thought that you’d keep it from harm.
But you put it to work, in a flask in your lab
And I find, to my growing alarm,
That you’re growing another, and more after that,
In a regular cardiac farm!
But then, when I saw them, in sterilized jars
Neatly ordered, in columns and rows,
I thought that, perhaps for the first time in history
Anyone looking now knows
And can see, with the placement of every new heart,
How much greater my love for you grows.

Captain Ahab… er, Myers, and the Whale

I was thinking…  just reflecting on history… and it came to me, that the high seas of long ago were the routes of communication, of commerce, of social discourse–they were the internet of the past.  Or, rather, the internet is the high seas of the present.  The following is a sea shanty, a tale best told with a concertina and a hornpipe, and a fiddle if you are lucky.  It relates a legend told here, here, here, and here.

There’s some that call him Pee Zed,
And for others he’s Pee Zee
There’s some that call him “Doctor”
But that don’t sit right with me
There’s some that call him “Evil”
And I’m here to tell the tale
Of the dreaded Captain Myers
And the hunting of the whale.

The legends tell, in whispered tones,
Of a man as dense a lead,
“Immune to any argument”
Or so the stories said;
They called him “Dr. Simmons”
And they warned against the fate:
“If you’re sensitive to ignorance,
Don’t meet him in debate.”

But dauntless Captain Myers
Is the bravest of them all;
When destiny was on the line
He boldly took the call.
Though Jesus said you should not cast
Your pearls in front of swine,
The duel was “Evolution
And Intelligent Design.”

It would not be with pistols, and
They would not simply fence;
The duel that they’d agreed upon
Relied on evidence.
Each man would list the reasons
Which support his point of view;
Then each assails the other’s list,
If parts are… less than true.

But then, before the steps were marched,
And battle was begun,
The wriggly Geoffrey Simmons
Thought he’d have a little fun:
“A change of topic, that’s the trick”
The little slime-eel oozed,
“Prepare for this; debate on that,
PZ will get confused!”

Although he’d be within his rights
Refusing to debate,
The fearless Captain Myers
Sauntered out to meet his fate.
He knew his weapon’s brutal strength;
He knew its aim was true
Against the truth, well-argued,
There is nothing one can do.

The debate began in earnest
As the wily Geoff resolved
To explain that science can’t explain
How whales have (not) evolved;
There was, of course, no evidence
Supporting this position,
But ignorance would not prevent
This claim from repetition.

(When challenged by the evidence,
He doesn’t change his view;
His claim remains, unwavering—
That’s how he knows it’s true!
But meanwhile, Charles Darwin’s were
Evolving all along—
They change to fit the evidence;
That’s how Geoff knows they’re wrong!)

But Captain Myers’ rapier wit
And knowledge of his field
Were sharper than his razor, and
Much deadlier to wield;
He listed off some fossil finds—
Cetacean missing links—
And asked the baffled medico
Just what (or if) he thinks

A weaker man than Myers
Might have piddled in his shoes,
For the Great White Whale named Simmons
Simply calcified his views:
“My ignorance is solid rock
Upon which I will stand;
To bow before the evidence
Is only sinking sand!”

But even Dr. Simmons,
With his blinders on too tight,
Could see that if he stuck to whales
He’d surely lose the fight.
It wasn’t brave or daring;
It was more or less insane
But the M.D. made a topic change
To talk about… the brain!

(Forgive me, gentle reader
If I do not tell that story—
My stomach isn’t strong enough;
The tale is rather gory.
Suffice to say, his argument
Should hope to rest in peace;
By stroke of fate, the brain is Myers’
Field of expertise!)

But even as his ears and tail
Were nailed to Myers’ wall,
The doc declared his victory
(If only brains were gall!)
To hear him speak, you’d say he won
A brave and valiant fight;
(We’ve seen this once before, with
Monty Python’s brave Black Knight!)

It’s just another story, now,
It’s just another tale,
PZ as Captain Ahab—
Dr. Simmons as The Whale.
It’s not that Geoffrey’s intellect
Is mythic in proportion,
But rather, his ability
To live with such distortion

There’s some that call him Pee Zed,
And for others he’s Pee Zee
There’s some that call him “Doctor”
But that don’t sit right with me
There’s some that call him “Evil”
And I’m here to tell the tale
Of the dreaded Captain Myers
And the hunting of the whale.

I Want To Go To Greece!!

ScienceDaily reports on a new discovery (actually unearthed last summer) that adds detail to the beginnings of Greek culture:

ScienceDaily (Jan. 28, 2008) —The Greek traveler, Pausanias, living in the second century, CE, would probably recognize the spectacular site of the Sanctuary of Zeus at Mt. Lykaion, and particularly the altar of Zeus. At 4,500 feet above sea level, atop the altar provides a breathtaking, panoramic vista of Arcadia.

“On the highest point of the mountain is a mound of earth, forming an altar of Zeus Lykaios, and from it most of the Peloponnesos can be seen,” wrote Pausanias, in his famous, well-respected multi-volume Description of Greece. “Before the altar on the east stand two pillars, on which there were of old gilded eagles. On this altar they sacrifice in secret to Lykaion Zeus. I was reluctant to pry into the details of the sacrifice; let them be as they are and were from the beginning.”

What would surprise Pausanias—as it is surprising archaeologists—is how early that “beginning” actually may be. New pottery evidence from excavations by the Greek-American, interdisciplinary team of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project indicates that the ash altar—a cone of earth located atop the southern peak of Mt Lykaion where dedications were made in antiquity— was in use as early as 5,000 years ago—at least 1,000 years before the early Greeks began to worship the god Zeus.

Now… I am an American. I live in one of the older areas of the country, having moved here from a considerably younger area. Back in my old state, I used to be impressed by 100-yr-old buildings, which were few and far between. Now, just a few miles from me I can see cemetery headstones from the 1600′s, still-functional buildings from the 1700′s, and hundred-year-old houses are fairly common. I am having trouble wrapping my head around the concept of a structure in use 5 thousand years ago. Thousand. And I know that this site, old as it is, represents just under a tenth of the lifespan of our species.

Anyway, back to the report:

“Mt. Lykaion, Arcadia is known from ancient literature as one of the mythological birthplaces of Zeus, the other being on Crete,” noted Dr.Romano. David Gilman Romano is Senior Research Scientist at the University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology and a co-director of the Mt. Lykaion Excavation and Survey Project.

“The fact that the ash altar to Zeus includes early material dating back to 3000 BCE suggests that the tradition of devotion to some divinity on that spot is very ancient. The altar is long standing and may in fact pre-date the introduction of Zeus in the Greek world. We don’t yet know how the altar was first used, and whether it was used in connection with natural phenomena such as wind, rain, light or earthquakes, possibly to worship some kind of divinity male or female or a personification representing forces of nature.”

Actually, in a way, I find this report comforting. As much as I am boggled by the time spans involved, I can see that any concerns about mortality (and frankly, I am not that concerned about dying–I just want to focus on getting everything I can out of living first) are not mine alone. Even the gods, it seems, don’t live forever.

In Arcadia, Greece, high atop Mount Lykaion,
The weather is rough, but the view is quite nice;
It’s not a location for children to play on,
But rather, an altar for burnt sacrifice.
Mythologists tell us, before written history
Lykaion was seen as the birthplace of Zeus.
Archaeologists now have uncovered a mystery—
Clues, which have thus far been used to deduce
That a culture was here that predated the Greeks
And which worshipped, not Zeus, but an earlier god.
That god is forgotten, and now only speaks
Through the fragments of artifacts under the sod.
The earliest pieces are pottery shards
That date back to 3000 years BCE.
Which pushes the date back that history regards
As the date the beginning’s beginnings must be.
High atop “Wolf Mountain’s” rocky side
A culture’s history comes into view;
Where one god was born, another died—
Reminding us: gods are mortal too.

(also–New York Times article in today’s paper.)

Vaccination Fixation

Oh, pity poor Orac! He’s feeling the love of the anti-vax folks, who apparently think he is a stupid-head. So this one, like it or not, is for you, Orac.

It’s obvious that ignorance combined with desperation
And deliberate distortion mixed with misinterpretation
Not to mention giant leaps of overstressed imagination
May result in opposition to a helpful vaccination.

The Mercury Militia calls for more investigation
Till the government reveals what must be missing information;
A disinterested observer soon would see the explanation:
Anti-vaxxers, as a rule, misunderstand the situation.

The evidence is crystal-clear; I have no hesitation—
Quite the opposite, in point of fact, I have an obligation
To preserve the herd immunity throughout the population
For the sake of both my children and their children’s generation.

But the anti-vaxxers have a beef with modern medication;
I suspect that they’re the people who protested fluoridation
And who’d never take a pill when they could use an incantation
Or a regimen of regular colonic irrigation.

It is possible these whackos have an honest motivation,
Ah, but ignorance is toxic when in such a concentration,
And the Mercury Militia have attained a reputation:
They’ve developed an immunity to science education.

Though the latest of the studies you can find in publication
Once again, despite the protest, shows a lack of correlation—
And by rights should be the harbinger of end of disputation—
I suspect the odds are better we’ll see porcine levitation.

That conclusion, I imagine, may elicit some frustration,
And a straining reminiscent of a mental constipation,
But allow me now to offer you this meager compensation—
That at least this little verse of mine has reached its termination.