An Earth Day Verse

By chance of birth
We’re here on Earth,
More lucky than we know
With such a brain
As can explain
The way these things must go

That life began
Not with a man
Named Adam, and his Eve
But molecules
In tidal pools
That replicate and cleave

To replicate
It is their fate
And thus to reproduce
The Earth revolves
And life evolves
And all this, we deduce

Recycled star
Is what we are
With everything we see
This view of things
Amazement brings
At least, it does to me

Some future day
I know we may
Be swallowed by the sun
For what it’s worth
Protect the Earth–
We’ve only got the one.

(First posted on Earth Day 2008)

Is “The Walking Dead” All A Metaphor?

We struggle in vain to distinguish a Mass
From your typical Zombie behavior
As they guzzle down red by the bottle or glass
And delight in Filet of Our Savior.

Perhaps it’s a matter of what’s on the menu;
Your Catholic is more of a snacker,
But if you feel teeth on your shoulder, why, then you
Know zombies want more than a cracker.

When Jesus said “This is my blood that you drink,
And this is my body you eat”
Did something he knew of their tastes make him think
They were zombies, and lusting for meat?

Did the Catholic Church, from the time of Saint Peter,
Rejoice in the words that he said,
And at least once a week, become Zombie flesh-eater
And feast upon Jesus Undead?

I worry it’s some sort of slippery slope
Where they struggle ‘gainst gravity’s chains
And I wonder if Ratzinger got to be Pope
By eating the Cardinals’ brains.

Fun stuff, after the jump: [Read more…]

Two Books, Again

There was a man who had a book
Of Things Which He Believed;
He followed it religiously—
He would not be deceived.

The story in its pages was
The Truth that he adored—
The world outside its ancient script,
He faithfully ignored.

When someone found a falsehood
Or a small mistake inside it
(Or even some tremendous flaw)
He eagerly denied it.

The Truth was there inside his book
And never found outside
If something contradicted it
Why then, that something lied

And when he met another man
Who had another book,
He fell not to temptation—why,
He didn’t even look.

And, surely, there are other men
With other books in hand
Who walk, with views obstructed,
Here and there across the land

****

There was a man who had a book
(I find this quite exciting)
Who looked upon a tangled bank
And then… he started writing.

He wrote about the things he saw
And what he saw them do
And when he found mistakes he’d made
He wrote about them, too

He shared his book with other men
And women that he met—
They found the catch is bigger, when
You cast a wider net.

They shared their observations
So that everyone could read;
They worked as a community,
The better to succeed.

They found they saw much further,
And discovered so much more
When they stood upon the shoulders
Of the ones who’d gone before

It’s a book that keeps evolving,
Always growing, as we learn.
Many people help to write it:
Would you like to take a turn?

I had forgotten about this one, and was reminded while searching for a response to yet another claim that atheism leads to nihilism leads inexorably to suicide. The most passionate people I have known have been atheist scientists.

Heart In A Jar (More Science Valentines)

It’s made the news a couple of years ago–researchers at the University of Minnesota “created a beating heart in the laboratory“. Basically, they used the protein fiber matrix from one heart, stripped of muscle cells, as a scaffold upon which to grow a new heart, using a solution of cells from another rat. Since it is February, I return to the romantic view of the heart as the foundation of love, with a trio of little verses inspired by the heart in the jar. I can see it now… the picture above, on the front of the Hallmark card, with one of the following verses inside…
[Read more…]

What Do Women Want? (Another Biology Valentine)

Because it’s February, another from the old blog:

In this past Sunday’s [note–this is from late January 2009] 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.

A Scientific Valentine

…Because, despite everything I try, it remains February.

I write today of human love
Not as some gift from god above,
But scientific views thereof
From many different fields.
Each science may have different tools,
And so the scientific schools,
Although they may agree on rules,
Have very different yields.

The chemists say it’s chemistry;
Biologists, biology;
Astronomers say “Can’t you see?
It’s written in the stars!”
In physics there’s a certain view
Psychology can claim one too
(And one with naught at all to do
With Venus or with Mars)

I’ve read a scientist who writes
That mating pairs scale passion’s heights
To outmaneuver parasites—
That could, of course, be it.
I’ve also read, we may respond
To those to whom we’ve grown quite fond
Because a stable mating bond
Makes offspring much more fit.

They may (or may not) all connect,
As scientists may well expect.
If one of them is more correct
Then I am not aware
But I am yours, if you’ll be mine,
My scientific valentine,
Through random chance or will divine
I frankly do not care.

The Evolutionary Biology Valentine

This one made it to The Open Laboratory one year, but has yet to show up in a Hallmark card.

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.

Science Of Love (A Valentine)

It’s February, and I’m already getting searches for various sorts of scientific valentines. So as a public service, I’m gonna be re-posting several of my favorites from previous years. These are not anti-love or anti-science, but you could call them anti-reductionist. Love is not something that chemicals do, it’s something that we do.

When science examines romantic attraction
(In other words, love and affection)
It uses the methods that serve us so well
But hearts can’t survive a dissection.

We study, in science, by breaking up problems
And looking at pieces and bits
Assemble the puzzle to show the big picture—
Assuming each smaller piece fits!

In life, we see love as a powerful feeling
It’s typically shared (say, by two);
You wouldn’t find love by examining neurons
But that’s something science might do.

A chemical cocktail assaulting the cortex,
Anandamide flooding the brain
Endogenous opiates running amok
And you’re either in love, or insane

Neurochemistry surely is crucial, I know,
But something important is missing
I’ve never encountered a brain, on its own,
With an interest in hugging or kissing.

Your genes play a part, I’m reliably told
By geneticists (likely, they’d know)
Though environment, epigenetically, molds
How those characteristics might show.

My heartbeat will race at the thought of your face
And my stomach gets tied in a knot
My fingers may tremble; my brow may perspire,
And other parts start feeling hot.

But none of these pieces can claim to be love
They’re mere tiles, in a larger mosaic
This modern view separates love into pieces;
My view is a bit more archaic

When I tell you I love you, you know what I mean:
Not only with all of my heart
Not only my brain, as complex as it is,
But all of me—every last part.

Today Is Religious Freedom Day

…and for those of you named Peter Palumbo, this post is an illustration of why Freedom of Religion must also necessarily be Freedom from Religion.

The cross on the hill was a beautiful sight
On the days when the sky was most bluish;
It stood for the soldiers who gave up their lives
Well, except when the soldiers were Jewish.

The cross on the hill, it looked rugged and old
Though the city maintained it as newish;
The congressman said that it stood for the dead
Well, unless they were atheist, Muslim, or Jewish.

The cross on the hill was a secular thing—
That’s a lie, but it kinda sounds truish—
The judge said it symbolized service and loss
Well, except for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or the religions of the tribal nations who once owned the land the cross is on.

The cross on the hill is religious, of course
Said a Judge who rejected the woo-ish
And it can’t be a symbol for everyone there
If it doesn’t mean Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or, you know, the indans. Or even Christians who don’t want a symbol, or use a different cross from the Latin Cross, or (fades)


Image by Will Fresch–wikipedia commons