The Natural State of the Featherless Biped

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.

This one has been kicking around my skull for a while. The first line (or two) came to me months ago, and I just liked the sound of it. “Featherless biped”, of course, refers to Plato’s proposed answer to the age-old (even at the time) question “what is man?” Of course, Diogenes famously answered Plato by presenting him with a plucked chicken, which just tells you that philosophers are a lot cooler than we give them credit for. I think many philosophical debates I have observed or taken part in would be much improved by the addition of game fowl.

But only recently did the rest of the poem assert itself. This was inspired, not by a post on pharyngula, but on the comments to a post. In particular, this comment thread, although in truth it could have been any of a number of different discussions I have witnessed over the past years. I noticed, as I have many times before, a number of comments (from a number of different perspectives) which, boiled down, made a point of labeling what they do as aberrant. Of course, this is nothing new–outgroup stereotyping seems part of the human condition. What I wanted to point out was that we often see ourselves as immune from the bizarre behavior we attribute to members of that other group, when by widening our lens just a bit, we can make a pretty decent case for functional similarities with behaviors we see as perfectly normal (i.e., the things we do).

To me, the great value in examining the strange habits of others is the practical benefit of better understanding ourselves. I mean, there is no effect of the phase of the moon on, say, childbirth. But a large portion of our population believes that there is, and a large portion of professional involved in childbirth as well (ob/gyn, midwives, etc.)! If we can understand why it is that people believe this, despite (or merely in the absence of) the evidence, this might tell us why we believe other things as well. If we can see why people will devote time, effort, and income to a cause we see as preposterous, perhaps it can tell us why (or part of why) we devote time, effort and income to our own causes.

Of course, first we have to see that we are not describing “believers” or “christians” or “muslims” or “scientists” or “creationists” or “evolutionary biologists” or “anonymous internet poets”… but a larger, more inclusive population. Featherless bipeds.

Easier said than done.

Friday Limericks: You wouldn’t like me when I’m angry

I’ve been making one hell of a list
Of the things that keep getting me pissed
I’ll remember them all
From the great to the small
And be mad if there’s any I’ve missed

Like, for instance, the country’s at war
And the president’s judgment is poor
There’s so much we could choose
To explore in the news,
But they lead with the Guv and the whore.

And I’m mad cos I watch my TV
When I know what it’s doing to me—
My blood pressure rises
As shows award prizes
For crap I would pay not to see.

And I’m angry at freakin’ Ben Stein
And that movie on Stupid Design
Cos if we’re created
It’s clear that God hated
Our asses—or maybe just mine.

So, hate is the topic today
Or dislike, or annoyance, dismay,
Hot and bothered vexation
Or mere irritation—
I’m sure you have something to say!

That’s right–the topic today is whatever annoys you. Irritates you. Bothers you. Steams your clams. Burns your beans. Gets your goat. Harshes your mellow. Pisses in your cornflakes. Frays your last nerve…

You get the point. Have at it!

(One thing that does not make me mad–I was very happy to see all the limericks last week! And I’d love to see more–I know I have lurkers here, not commenting; come on! Limericks are easy!)

“Hey Mikey, let’s go dig up some dragons!”

Hmm… PZ finds it sad, but I have a bit of a different reaction, to the Hallettestoneian Sea Zoria Dragons. The video (you can see it at either link) is one of the best examples of “do not make your video this way” that I have ever seen, but that is such a minor point. The video, and indeed the entire paleontological expedition, has the innocence of a child’s exploration of really cool rocks, before he or she gets told that there is a right way to do these things.

I fondly remember, from decades ago,
A boy mostly covered by dirt,
I would play with my friends in the forests or swamps,
Not stop until someone got hurt.
No video games and no organized sport,
We’d dig and explore in the field
Examine our treasures, excited to see
What each following foray might yield.
My brothers and I, upon one of these days,
Discovered a dinosaur find;
It was really just rocks, and of course we both knew,
Not a fossil of any real kind.
We invented a species; we found him a niche,
As a rock-eating, four-legged giant,
And dug up more pieces to fill in the blanks—
On rocks we were very reliant.
My mother taught high-school biology, so
She encouraged the way we explored,
And gave real information, which we could relate
To this dinosaur we so adored.
So now, when I look at Mike Hallett’s stone dragons
I’m more than a little bit jealous;
He’s doing what I did at seven years old
(And you have to admit, the man’s zealous);
He’s digging in dirt, and he’s making up stuff
About dragons from long, long ago,
Like a Peter Pan Paleontologist, maybe
He chose, for himself, not to grow.
Yes, maybe the man is a bit out of touch
And reality’s not his best friend,
But maybe he had the same fun as a kid
And just doesn’t want it to end.

Expelled: The Ballad

Come gather round people, I’ll sing you the tale
It’s bigger by far than a land-dwelling whale
Compared to it, stories from Shakespeare will pale
It’s glitter, and glamour, and glory,
More drama than all the last season of Maury

It all started out with a promising plan
With two different views of the journey of Man
And so nice and friendly was how it began
At the Crossroads with Dawkins and Myers
But the movie crew all were creationist liars

They enlisted the help of the actor Ben Stein
Who showed he could toe the creationist line
In a droning, annoying, monotonous whine
He ridicules notions of fitness
Ignoring the ban against bearing false witness

Now nobody knew what the final cut held
Though various leaks gave a hint that it smelled
Like someone’s abdominal gas was expelled
A film that was fighting for freedom
Apparently only the freedom to be dumb

For instance one segment that somebody saw
Molecular momement that just drops your jaw
Especially if you know your copyright law
Those molecules just kept on rollin’
Not caring if anyone knew they were stolen

So PZ decided to give it a view
To spare the annoyance for me and for you
And he signed up online like they asked him to do
With family and friend, he awaited
But his efforts to see it would end up frustrated

The producer saw Myers, and told him to stop
(Well, not by himself—through a theatre cop)
PZ acquiesced, and he went to a shop
Where he put the adventure to writing
And the people who read it all found it exciting

“But the funniest thing of the evening” he said
“Was that I had to leave, but my friend went ahead
This mild-mannered Englishman, calls me P-Zed
Despite all their squeakins and squawkins
The fools threw me out, but let in Richard Dawkins!”

The movie reviews are predictably bad
And Myers, who missed it, is secretly glad
And trust the producers to put out an ad
Defiantly claiming they’re winning
But nothing is heard but the sound of their spinning

Sally Kern Speaks Again

…I was hoping Ms. Kern would get a chance to speak publicly. It really is difficult to know whether a clip on YouTube has been taken out of context, or highly edited, or entirely too accurate. So it is nice when someone can show up to rebut or confirm statements that they made. Especially in the case of Sally Kern, where what she said was so vile.

Anyway, here she is, on local television in Oklahoma. The show is “Flash Point”, on Channel 4, Sunday mornings at 9:30. This show was last weekend–Easter Sunday. Sally is a guest in the first two segments, along with Pastor Scott Jones of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City. The pastor happens to be gay, which on the face of is suggests that Sally’s view of homosexuality and Christianity as being incompatible is… not a unanimous view. (It is worth watching.)

Seems that Sally said nothing wrong. Her analogies–Cancer, Terrorism, for instance–were poorly chosen. She only means to say that the homosexual lifestyle is deadly to the country, that if not eradicated it will grow and lead to the death of christianity and our country as we know it. But that, of course, is not hate speech.

I don’t know which would be more offensive–to have Sally say these things, knowing full well that they are hate speech, or (as seems to be the case) to have her utterly oblivious to the fact that an unfavorable comparison to cancer and terrorism might…just might…be seen as offensive.

Oklahoma’s Channel Four
Invited Sally Kern once more
To clarify her stated views,
Which everybody misconstrues.
And so, on Easter Sunday morn,
That target of such global scorn,
Ms. Kern sat down to set us straight
And speak to us of love, not hate.

The moderator, channel 4’s
Own Kevin Ogle set the course,
Reminding us that Sally’s speech,
Because of YouTube, now could reach
The far-flung corners of the world
Where anti-Sally flags unfurled.
He said that her remarks “enraged
The gay community”, then assuaged
Our fears by saying he would search
For common ground where we could perch.
(In truth it was not only gays
Who found a fault in Sally’s ways—
To frame it as he did was wrong,
But for the while, let’s play along.)

The panel guests this Easter were
Ms. Kern, and then across from her,
Scott Jones, an Oklahoma pastor;
Both held Christ as lord and master.
(Just one thing more, I think I may
Have left the bit where Scott is gay.
That might mean squat to me or you,
But Sally has a different view.)

She had the chance to make amends,
But rather, Sally Kern defends
Her homophobic comments. Great.
At least, she claims, it is not hate.
And there she may be right, you see—
It may be plain stupidity.
Her ignorance of science might
Explain why she’s convinced she’s right.

Polite and calm was Pastor Jones,
He asked of Kern, in even tones,
If it was hate, or maybe humor,
Saying gays were like a tumor.
“Oh, no, no, no!” came Sally’s answer;
“I don’t mean gays are really cancer—
Just that we must stop their spread,
Or if we don’t, we’ll end up dead–
See, cancer in your little toe
Can travel to your brain, you know.”
So gays are not true mutant cells,
According to what Sally tells,
She only meant that, to grow old,
The spread of gays must be controlled.
There’s no hate there she can discern,
Just metaphor from Sally Kern.

Her choice of words, the pastor urged,
Showed she thought gays ought be purged;
Compared to cancer? Terrorists?
These words are hateful, he insists,
The words she chose are worse than vile
But Sally Kern is in denial.
She says that isn’t what she meant,
Those weren’t the feelings that she sent.
She loves the gays as much as you—
Just hates the evil things they do.
When gays join in democracy
Where moral people used to be
It hurts the nation, we must learn
From moralists like Sally Kern.

It’s nice that Sally Kern can speak;
We’d only thus far had a peek
At her beliefs, but now we see
She says the same things on TV.
She does not try to hide her views,
So next time, voters, when you choose,
Recall the words that Sally said,
And wonder what is in her head—
It could be hatred, but you see,
It could just be stupidity.

I hope the latter. Folks can learn.
And that’s my wish for Sally Kern.

T. M. I. (too much information)

…No, not the wonderful song by Roy Zimmerman, just letting you know that you might want to stop now, if you don’t like hearing about… well…

Oh, by the way, (Yes, this is by way of giving you enough time to change your mind–just don’t blame me, ok?) Roy Zimmerman’s new newsletter just came out; I’d copy it all here, but why don’t you just go to royzimmerman.com and look around for a bit? You won’t regret it. I have autographed copies of just about everything. Except the latest, I think. Roy is one of my idols (yes, I have a list–don’t you?).

Anyway, you now have officially had enough time to think “hmm, maybe he is serious about this too much information stuff…”, so at this point I am no longer responsible.

I had surgery last week. Yup. Wednesday. Been on painkillers since then, and what with the Myers vs Expelled stuff, I had my biggest hit day on this blog, for something written pretty much with just the reptilian part of my brain, because the rest was being used either feeling pain or watching the room decide which way to spin. And what does a cuttlefish do when bleeding, in pain and on oxycodone? Verse, of course.

Painfully, strainfully,
Digital Cuttlefish
Wishes his poetry
Showed some more class;

Sadly, effects of a
Hemorrhoidectomy
Limit his thoughts to his
Pain in the ass.

Yup, that’s a double-dactyl. They are fun. What is not fun, though, is the first bowel movement after a hemorh.. haeme.. after they cut part of your ass off. I thought I was fine–and I was, for the first couple of days. Took until Saturday for me to finally need to go… Now I know why they give opium derivatives. Ouch. ow ow ow ow ow ow owwwww….

Woozily, bruisily,
Suffering Sepia
Forces down fluids and
Tries not to strain;

Mutters his thanks to the
Pharmacological
Chemist-magicians who
Manage his pain.

I actually did thank the pharmacological industry. I mean, I know there are people in my position (prone, currently) who thank god for their drugs; I figure if you are gonna give credit for the drugs, ya gotta give blame for the piles in the first place, and then it just gets silly. So, no.

But I did have a great experience with the hospital people. My surgeon rocks–I’d say she kicks ass, but that metaphor is a bit lost on me at present. My nurses were great. I think, having read The Head Nurse’s blog, that they were in fact the A team; lots of confidence, good humor, helping one another. The nurse who put in my IV was hilarious. Watching her, I said “looks like you’ve done this before”; without missing a beat, she replied “no, but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express last night.”

Anyway, time for bed. Whether I want to or not–oxycodone has that effect this late at night.

Sleepily, weepily,
Slumber is beckoning
Time to give thanks, cos it
Could have been worse—

Not to some deity,
Omnibenevolent;
I’ll give my thanks to each
Doctor and Nurse!

Good night, all.

Friday Limericks: Front Page Muse

The first installment of what I hope will become a regular feature–The Friday Limerick Post! In your comments, please add your own limericks! (sorry it is up a bit late–the power was out here this morning)

The topic this week: Front Page Muse. Whatever your local paper has on its front page, from soup to nuts, from sports to weather, from alpha to omega, those are the topics from which you get to choose! I’ll start us off with this article, on the front page of the New York Times, about parents who are refusing to vaccinate their children, and the very serious increased risk to those children and to other children (because of the benefits of “herd immunity”, which requires a substantial percentage of the population to be vaccinated) brought about by the misguided ignorance of these parents. It is worth reading the article… Meanwhile…

Although hundreds of thousands will die
From the measles, some parents deny
A life-saving vaccine,
Not because they are mean,
But because they have swallowed a lie.

Vaccinations are such a success
That diseases are noticed much less
So we start to relax,
And the anti-vax quacks
Take the chance to make science regress!

Though they don’t have one fact on their side,
At this point, it’s a matter of pride—
They can’t say they were wrong;
Their belief is so strong
And insanity won’t be denied.

Rule number one: Have fun!
Rule number two: Unless it contradicts rule number one, write a limerick, and maybe even link to your local newspaper so we can see where you are commenting from!
Rule number three: Lurking without posting limericks will be tolerated, but if we catch you we get to tickle you with an ostrich feather. So why not try a limerick?

The Trojan Myers

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

Of course, inspired by these events on Pharyngula, and probably all over the web by now…

***update***

Since I am now being linked to by Brian at Laelaps, I figure I’ll add the following bonus material…

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

Dicyemid mesozoa are not cute at all.

So P-Zed was getting all moon-eyed and silver-tongued over parasites. Parasites that live in the kidneys of cephalopods, getting their nutrients from urine, much like Sally Kern. Anyway, his love letter to these beasties is a wonderful example of the passion that scientists have for their work. Uncovering the mysteries of the natural world does not take the beauty out of it; rather, knowledge enhances our appreciation for everything in the real world. In the words of Douglas Adams (who said nearly everything better than nearly anyone else did), “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”  If you are one of those rare readers here who do not already read Pharyngula, I seriously recommend following the above link to see that principle in action.

But as a cuttlefish, I was a bit miffed. “Oooh, aren’t they lovely!” “What an elegant illustration of evolution at work!” “Much more lovely than mere puppy dogs!” Hmph. Think of the cephalopods! Won’t somebody, please, think of the cephalopods?

So that’s what I was sensing! As discomfort was commencing,
Inflammation in my kidneys as I swam in the abyss
Was where parasites were feeding, and (in both their ways) were breeding,
And now Myers, metaphorically, joins in to take the piss.
A biologist, his duty is to rhapsodize their beauty
But a little sensitivity is all a ‘pod can ask!
Yes, I get that it’s exciting–I can see that in his writing–
Guess I only wish he didn’t take such pleasure in the task.
“O dicyemid mesozoan”, while inside my pain is growin’
“Let me count the ways I love you”, like this parasite is heaven
Then the dude proceeds in counting, while my agony is mounting,
And he doesn’t stop until he’s all the way to fucking seven!

Oh, for those who wonder about these things–this one was one of the verses that might as well have been self-writing. Less than 15 minutes, and it came out in final form. I love it when that happens.

Limerick/War

Ok, I wasn’t going to post this, but what the heck… Pharyngula’s nice light fluffy topic of the morning is, sorta, whether war is part of the nature of humankind, and whether we can conceivably put an end to it.

Well you ask “What’s the purpose of war–
All the bombs, and the bullets, and gore?”
Though we all know it’s wrong
We’ve been at it so long
We’ve forgotten just what it is for.

One answer that’s there on the table,
Though I’m fully aware that it’s fable:
As descendents of Cain
We make war, in the main,
Just because we can’t stop–we’re not Abel.

Or, perhaps, it is all in our genes,
Although no one knows quite what that means
Is the dominant trait
Disposition to hate,
Or a fondness for noisy machines?

Are we programmed for war in our head?
Is it just that we’re easily led?
I think we should strive
To find out, while alive,
Cos it’s surely too late once we’re dead.

Can we change predilection for fighting
For something else, just as exciting?
The next border dispute,
Try an alternate route–
Say, competitive limerick writing!

Any comments not in limerick form will, of course, be deleted!!!