Terrapin Runway

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

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

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

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

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

Jury Duty

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

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

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

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

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

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

It’s All So Simple, Really

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Brave Little Emma

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

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

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

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

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

Context, of course, here and here.

Good News On The Diabetes Front!

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

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

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

New York State Of Bliss

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

(With apologies to Billy Joel.)

Animal Rights, And Wrongs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Strange Bedfellows

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Because they are not atheists.

And that is the new religious landscape.

Almost Heaven

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

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

Don’t. Just… don’t.

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

I’m just sayin’.


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

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