Super Bowl Sunday (With God On Our Side)

It’s Super Bowl Sunday again (well, tomorrow, as I write)! I must admit, I love the Super Bowl. Not because it is the SB, but because it is the last meaningful game before next season. My dad, when I was really young, was a football coach, so I watch football looking for all the fun interior line details that are never part of the televised commentary; football, like so many things, gets better the more you know about it.

What is irritating, though, is that God is always on the side of the winners (as PZ noted); it is such a great time to wear one’s religion on one’s sleeve. Of course, it also bothers me that even those among us who find that notion silly, the same after-the-fact reasoning is used to show that the team that had greater will to win, that wanted it more, that just refused to say die, is the one who took the trophy home. Nobody ever gives up the will to win, but then cruises to victory anyway.

Anyway, here’s the song of the day… with sincere apologies to Bob Dylan, and to pretty much everybody else, too.

Oh, the workouts are nothin’
And the wind sprints are less
We don’t even practice
We think that it’s best
Cos practice means nothing
I’m forced to confide—
But we’ll win big on Sunday
With God on our side

Oh the networks will show it
They’ll show it so well
How the righteous team won
And the evil team fell
Oh the righteous team won
But it’s not cos we tried
It’s Super Bowl Sunday
With God on our side

Oh, when I cross the goal line
I’ll raise my arm high
With one upraised finger
I’ll point to the sky
I’m sending a message
That can’t be denied
I just scored a touchdown
With God on my side

When it’s fourth down and inches
We’ll go for it all
It’s a quarterback keeper
But where is the ball
They’ll bring out the chain gang
And the refs will decide
First and ten to the team
With God on their side

And the fans in the stadium
Will cheer on their teams
And eat without stopping
Or that’s how it seems
And most of it’s salty
And all of it’s fried
They’ll eat it on Sunday
With God on their side

Oh, it won’t even matter
What’s the final score
The points aren’t important
That’s not what it’s for
This game’s about Jesus
We can all say with pride
We won big on Sunday
With God on our side

We gather each Sunday
We won’t miss a week
It’s more than just victory
It’s salvation we seek
It’s more than religion
It’s the reason Christ died
So we could play football
With God on our side

Nice Alpenhorn!

News Item–An influx of naked German hikers has led to the proposal of a Swiss ordinance which would mandate fines for nude hiking.

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

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

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


pic source: BBC

Walking The Walk

In the waning weeks of my poor old pooch’s life, the combination of age, infirmity, and cold weather meant that our walks were shorter, slower, and more frequent. She no longer bounded through the snow (hadn’t for a couple of winters now), and no longer strained at the leash, urging me to keep up. She walked slowly, and to tell the truth she walked oddly. I thought it a sign that her nervous system might be going—she had two separate gaits for her front legs and back legs, or at least part of the time she did. Her front legs took more steps over a given distance; her back legs took fewer, longer (and stiffer) steps. It was very odd to watch. And at first it was quite difficult to tell what was odd about it—it just looked… different.

Of course, I am no expert when it comes to the walking of dogs; it does interest me, though, that there certainly are people who are—that the gait of dogs has been studied at length for over a century. A walking dog, a walking horse, has a distinct set of motions and positions, and this sequence is easily available, well known, and, it appears, utterly ignored by the people who depict animals in art. What is more, it appears that this knowledge is even ignored by some groups you might expect (I certainly did) to take the time to get it right!

A team of researchers, led by Gábor Horváth of Eötvös University, examined hundreds of examples of museum mounts, veterinary anatomy books, and manufactured toy animals, and found that these examples corresponded to the correct mechanics of walking about 50% of the time. This explains why Cuttlekid’s toy horses fell over so easily.

Ok, cheap toy horses are one thing. Museum mounts? From the New York Times article:

The researchers found, for example, that a skeleton of a dog at a Finnish museum depicts the right hindleg in a rearward position while the right foreleg is lifted and moving forward. In a proper depiction the hindleg would be forward too, having moved before the foreleg.

Maybe the taxidermists had a dog like mine.

Maybe those are accurate mounts of the dinosaurs, and they died out because they walked funny.

I thought I’d take an afternoon and visit the museum
I’d heard they had some new things, and I thought I’d like to see ‘em
One skeleton, a walking dog, was what I liked the best—
But its front was moving eastward, while its back was moving west!
The skeletons of dinosaurs were also really neat
Though something seemed a little wrong in where they put their feet
The tails looked right, the ribs were right, the spine, the head, the mouth—
But their front feet pointed northward, while their back feet pointed south!
I figured a museum ought to know which way is right,
So I walked a little differently when I went home that night
Now I’m flummoxed and I’m puzzled, and I feel like such a dork—
See, I’ve one foot in Seattle, and the other in New York.


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What Do Women Want? (A Valentine’s Day Poem)

In this past Sunday’s New York Times Magazine, Daniel Bergner reports on a number of modern sexologists who have set out to explore what Freud once termed the “dark continent” of female sexuality. This is no brief article, but a detailed picture of the research, motivations, and findings of a handful of leading researchers, centered on Meredith Chivers at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario. The article includes forays into other researchers’ work, so that we get a nice picture of the variety of approaches.

Some is familiar–the reports of the systematic differences between measures of arousal (when arousal is measured via genital plethysmographs, woman are seen to be much more strongly and easily aroused to a variety of stimuli than men are; when arousal is measured via self-report, women reported less arousal to some stimuli and more to others, than the plethysmograph readings would predict) I remember from some of the early research in reactions to pornography. Other research is less familiar to me (fMRI readings during orgasm, for instance). The history of this line of research is explored a bit–from Freudian psychoanalytic approaches to physiological studies, to the impact of AIDS on sex research, to the potential of a female Viagra.

I was saddened a bit, but not terribly surprised, by the reductionist views so many researchers were taking. It is understandable that one might focus on just one part of a phenomenon in order to bring scientific rigor and control, but sexual arousal is something that happens to whole organisms, to people, not merely to genitals, and not merely to “minds”. Bergner does tell us of the researchers’ attempts to extrapolate their findings back to whole people, and whole relationships, but to my thinking the Times Magazine article itself was the better “big picture”, with each researcher contributing a part of a mosaic. It is well worth the read (when you find the time); then, to thoroughly dash your best hopes for humanity to the dust, take a look at the comments. *sigh*

Anyway, there is sufficient grist in this article for any number of new Valentine’s Day verses. For today, the inspiration comes from Marta Meana, a professor at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas. In her research, one answer to the question “what do women want?” is “to be wanted”:

For women, “being desired is the orgasm,” Meana said somewhat metaphorically — it is, in her vision, at once the thing craved and the spark of craving [...] She recalled a patient whose lover was thoroughly empathetic and asked frequently during lovemaking, “ ‘Is this O.K.?’ Which was very unarousing to her. It was loving, but there was no oomph” — no urgency emanating from the man, no sign that his craving of the patient was beyond control.

I’ve got so much to say on this Valentine’s day
With you, Muse, my sole inspiration;
I’ll unburden my heart, pluck out Cupid’s dart
For my pen, and begin my notation:

I could train a white dove to deliver my love
In the form of a perfect red rose
Or else write in the sky, in great letters so high
That I guarantee everyone knows.
I could gather wild flowers, and listen for hours,
To whatever you have on your mind
I could gaze in your eyes with appreciative sighs,
Though they tell us, of course, love is blind.
For you, I could bake the world’s best chocolate cake
With a frosted “I love you” upon it,
Or for something with taste that won’t go to your waist
I could write a Shakespearean sonnet.
I could write you a tune, by the light of the moon,
Played on harpsichord, zither, and oboes,
Or choose some other fashion to show you my passion:
Let’s fuck like a pair of Bonobos.

Pareidolia 2

Ah, good old Fox News. The same network that so boldly covered the face of Jesus in the potato, now brings you Jesus in a tree. (video at the link)

I think that I shall never see
A scam like Jesus in a tree
A Christ in hardwood, there reposed,
Where someone’s house will be foreclosed.

The owners of the house are clear
A miracle is happening here—
A sign of something good to come
To folks who need a hefty sum.

These folks say they would never flip
For Christ in a potato chip;
A sandwich, too, would just be odd—
This tree, though, is an act of God.

And churches, now, will pass the plate
And funds will come before too late;
Cos only God could make a tree
A self-fulfilling prophecy.

(When I saw this story on the TV tonight, I looked for it immediately. It amuses me greatly to report that I had to narrow the search to the last 24 hours, because I found so many previous links to people finding Jesus in their trees. Here, for instance. Or here. Or here.

Good-Bye, Old Friend

I hope we did what’s best for you
I know, at least, we tried.
I took you to the doctor
And I stayed there at your side;
I talked with you for one last time
Then held you as you died.
I kissed your head, and said good-bye
And cried
And cried
And cried.

I’m still crying.  Dogs are fur-covered unconditional love; it should hurt when you say good-bye.
I was going to post a picture, but I can’t bring myself to do it.
Good-bye, old friend.

edit–regular readers may recall that I last wrote of her this past Thanksgiving.

Bananaman! (the song)

Ok, so, over on Pharyngula, PZ reported on Ray Comfort’s latest folly. Ray–who will go waaaay down in history for the creationist argument by banana–has a new site out. The comment thread called him “bananaman” (ok, no great stretch, as PZ’s title called him “the banana man”), which immediately activated whatever part of my brain it is that does this sort of stuff.

Anyway, my comment over there did not relieve the pressure sufficiently; I had to write the following. My apologies to Billy Joel, and to pretty much everybody else. Except Ray Comfort.

It’s an afternoon post on Pharyngula,
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s a pretty good chance that some troll will come dance
And remind us we’re living in sin

He’ll say “Darwin is worshipped by Atheists”
He’s not really sure what that means
But he knows that you’ll find that the world was designed,
That designers made all of our genes

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

PZ is the host and proprietor,
So you know that there’s pretty good odds
You’ll see shocking opinions, both his and his minions’
And probably cephalopods

He says look at that beautiful octopus
And this shot of a sensuous squid
Though he won’t claim a fetish for things that are wettish
You wouldn’t be shocked if he did

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

Now Ray is a young-earth creationist
Who never had time for a life
And he wonders if maybe, he might have a baby,
If he could evolve him a wife.

And the Minions are arguing politics
As the Mollies are howling for beer
It’s a strange sort of virtual community
But it doesn’t get better than here

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

It’s a pretty good post for Pharyngula
It’s got science, and politics too
Cos there isn’t much quite like an internet fight
If you’ve got nothing better to do.

And the internet reeks of stupidity
And the blogosphere’s chock-full of dumb,
And I stare at my screen, and ask “what do they mean?”,
And then drink till my feelings are numb.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da

Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

The Perfect Cuttlefish Meal… or perhaps not

(Updated–additional verse and pics as of 9AM East Coast US time)

Blake Stacey sends me the latest news from PLoS, an article on “Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins”. Very cool… except… the prey they are handling are cuttlefish! That’s right, the full title is “Preparing the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal: Complex Prey Handling by Dolphins“. A bit of a shock to the hearts, I must say. Imagine if I had sent this page to him!

It is a fascinating article, though; I recommend it to any students of zoology, marine biology, behavioral learning, or just anyone who likes really cool stories about cuttlefish being killed, beaten, maimed, and eaten. (It’s ok, these cuttlefish had just finished mating, and were just scooting off to die quietly somewhere.)

For those who don’t like reading journal articles, I have translated it into Cuttlefish:

A dolphin may wish
For a cuttlefish dish
In the waters with old Davy Jones;
See, they find cuttlefishes
Are truly delicious
Except for the cuttlefish bones.
They also may think
That the cuttlefish ink
Is unpleasant, or nasty, or mean;
We infer this because
In a Gulf in South Oz
They’ve developed a dolphin cuisine!

Many dolphin techniques
Are employed, as it seeks
To find breakfast, or supper, or lunch
They are clearly no fools—
They can even use tools—
Hunting solo, or else in a bunch.
Some behaviors are thought
To be modeled or taught,
While some may be coded genetically;
The picture is muddy,
So researchers study,
And gather their data frenetically.

These bottlenose feed
Where the cuttlefish breed—
Tens of thousands all gathered to mate;
After spawning, they’re weak,
So the bottlenose seek
Them (of course, out of hunger, not hate).
The process, as planned,
Takes place in the sand,
So from cover the cuttles are flushed—
A vertical pose
Puts the bottlenose nose
So one thrust, and the cuttle is crushed.

He is not just yet eaten—
No, first, he is beaten,
Till the ink-sac inside him is burst
Then he’s beaten some more,
And it’s clear what it’s for,
Until most of the ink is dispersed.
Then the succulent morsel
Is flipped on his dorsal
And scraped on the sand till he splits,
And the cuttlefish bone
Is released on its own,
And up to the surface it flits.

Without ink, bone, or soul,
They are gobbled up whole,
With no cuttlebone left to be chewed
And this far off the coast
There’s no Emily Post
So there’s no reason not to be rude!
And that’s how it looks
When these bottlenose cooks
Make “the Perfect Cuttlefish Meal”;
But they didn’t ask me—
From my vantage, you see,
Such a dinner lacks any appeal.

I’d invite me a mermaid
To a place just for her, made
Of corals and seashells and pearls
Just me and my cutie,
My undersea beauty,
And around us the ocean unfurls
All the sights of the ocean
Are no matching potion
For the magic that’s there in her eyes…
Yes, if it were my wish,
The best Cuttlefish dish?
A delectable Mermaid Surprise!


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A comment and a parable

A commenter, named MrPete
Left a message he thought was quite neat
In a very old post;
I’ll reply, as your host:
Pete’s neat feat is, at best, incomplete.

Verse aside… MrPete replied to a post from early last year, so I thought I’d be fair and address his comment where people can see it, rather than in the murky depths of the past. You may, if you wish, click the link for context, but most of it is fairly self-explanatory.

Here’s something not from the choir :)

Welcome, MrPete; I hope you find the pews comfortable.

“Going to church” is meaningless. “Church” is a community, a set of people in relationship. How do you “go to” a relationship?

I’ll avoid the snarky 2-inch putt response to your first sentence, and simply note that if you replace “going to church” with “being part of a self-identified religious communal relationship”, the verse no longer rhymes. But oddly enough, the meaning remains the same. “Going to church” is, for children, the physical act of being dragged out of bed on a Sunday morning and taken to the place where the adults act like pod people (your experience may vary, but that was my first memory of church, from behind the soundproof window where we children were able to watch the services). For older children and adolescents, “going to church” may be the process of becoming part of or choosing to reject a community, or even a personal emotional experience. “Going to church” is also a quick and handy heuristic for determining “us” vs. “them”; just last night on the news, a Republican analyst was speaking about morality on the BBC, and used the phrase “good, churchgoing Americans” in this last, divisive manner.

Picking apart a verse because a very rich phrase, which has multiple and layered meanings, may have been inaccurate if you choose only the literal interpretation, is easy to do, and utterly meaningless.

“License” to be moral, or approved as moral, is also meaningless. “Moral” is simply a code of conduct.

The challenge isn’t in sometimes following the code.

The challenge is in always following the code — in word, deed, and thought. And not watering down the code just ‘cuz it’s hard to follow.

Which code? Seriously, of the thousands of interpretations of religious morality, which code do you always follow? Are they all moral? In which case, following a particular code vs. another is irrelevant. Are some immoral? In which case, how do you know which? Do you eat shellfish? Covet your neighbor’s ass? Seethe a kid in its mother’s milk? Cut your beard? Are any of these important?

If something is moral because your god says it is, and you believed that your god told you to drown your children, would that then be moral? If so, I would argue that religious morality is a license to be evil. If not, I would argue that you have a sense of morality that is independent from your religious moral code… just as atheists do.

God is far more about an achingly awesome love relationship than about harps and brimstone.

Mom loved me more than a friend, and in a whole different way.

My spouse loves me more than mom did, in a whole different way.

God loves me more than any of them, in a whole different way.

How do you know your spouse, and your mom, love you? I would hope that they would occasionally show you, and not just tell you. If, for instance, your mom beat you, but always told you it was for your own good, does that count as a “whole different way”? If your spouse demands obedience, gifts, and praise, in return for letting you keep part of your own paycheck, does that count as a “whole different way”?

You know they love you because of their actions, actions that you can plainly see, which you do not have to simply take on their word. They do not have to steal the credit from other people’s actions (my sister shared her dessert with me—thanks be to Mom! I found a twenty dollar bill in a snowbank today, praise my spouse!).

One-sided loves are often aching and awesome. Abusive relationships are accompanied by a panoply of hormonal and neurological cascades, not to mention the highly effective variable ratio schedule of reinforcement. This does not make them better; it just makes them “a whole different way”.

I think your rant is more against an organization than against becoming one who accepts God’s love and as a result tries to be more like him.

Again, which god are you trying to be more like? Have you been practicing your smiting?

I have been called immoral simply for being an atheist. Presumably, the people who made this accusation accept their god’s love and as a result try to be more like him. Will you accept them as your peers? As your community? Will you reject them as not true Scotsmen—er, believers? I have no need of their standards; frankly, neither do they. Nothing of how they act has been made better by their beliefs. Nothing.

[Yes, we can argue over pain and suffering etc etc etc. But it's really just a bigger picture version of why mom made you do your homework and eat your peas... and why the whole bus suffered when Billy poured glue on Sally's seat...and why your big brother whupped the bully who broke your glasses :) ] :)

Oh, please. Is this a special pleading, a “god works in mysterious ways” answer to the problem of punishment? I refer you to above—if something is moral only because your god says it is, then infanticide could be moral. If you require something other than your god’s decree, your god is superfluous.

Your examples all focus on punishment or the threat of punishment. Is that your bottom-line reason for morality? Be good, or god will punish you to teach you that you are supposed to be good? I would hope that your mom explained why you had to do your homework, or eat your peas; if she simply said “because I said so” she is doing her child an injustice. If the whole bus suffered, I hope the school system has a good lawyer, and that the argument can be made as to why this was in the best interest of all the children, or somebody is going to pay. And I was the big brother, and never had to whup a bully.

[Edit--I just removed several smiley emoticons that I had inadvertently pasted into MrPete's comment. I do not wish to misrepresent him. 10:47 eastern US time.]

A Parable:

Your mom loves you… as such, she wants you safe. But she’s not terribly good at explaining her motives, and indeed her actions focus on trivial matters at times and ignore larger dangers. She wants you to stay inside, because it is a dangerous world out there (it’s a place where who knows what things you might learn!), so she tells you about the neighbor’s dog, which is always hanging around your yard looking for someone to bite. It’s a mean, vicious dog—Tommy across the street got bit, and had to get stitches and everything, and now he can’t come out of his house, which is why you don’t know him.

Funny thing… you’ve never actually seen this dog, and you do occasionally see kids playing on the sidewalk… But your mom loves you—she tells you so—so of course the dog has to exist. So you stay safe inside your house. Fresh air is over-rated. Meeting kids, learning stuff, over-rated. You might fall and skin your knee. Mom knows best.

You get to be school-aged, and Mom decides to home-school you, because it is so much safer in the house. Besides, there is the dog to think about. Horrible to consider, with those nast
y sharp teeth. Poor Tommy. And Billy, too, and Sally down the street. She got bit so bad she is going to be in pain for the rest of her life! You’ve never met these kids, or seen or heard the dog, but you have to believe your mom—not just some of the time, when it’s easy. Don’t water it down cos it’s hard to follow.

Years go by; whenever you express doubt, your mother tells of another kid who had his ear bitten off, and reminds you how much she loves you and how much she has sacrificed to keep you safe. Hers is an unconditional love—just ask her. Don’t ask her to explain, mind you, just to once again assert that she is doing what she does because she loves you, and you don’t have to question that.

Of course, if I could, I’d like to get a message to you. You are shut up in that house, so it might be difficult to actually talk to you. Maybe I should put a message on the side of a bus that drives past your window:

“There probably is no dog. Now stop worrying and enjoy your life.”

If a tree falls…

Ok, so… I just posted this as a comment on Pharyngula, but I like it enough to repost it here.

“When a tree falls in the forest,
There is sound”, the people chorused,
But a pressure wave is simply not identical with sound.
I’m not making the suggestion
That it’s not a stupid question
But this answer is as dumb as any other that’s around.
It’s less “answer” than “illusion”;
It’s assuming its conclusion,
So it’s true by definition, but the definition’s wrong!
Is the stimulus sensation?
An erroneous conflation
Of the pressure and perception–leave them both where they belong!
This ignores the useful labor
Both of Fechner and of Weber
Who invented psychophysics to explore the problem right
Now their sig-detection theory
Might make researchers grow weary
But it works to study taste and touch, and sound and smell and sight!

Besides, Danae rocks…