Vials Labeled “Variola” Found. Could Have Been Worse.

Unless you are from Brazil, the scariest news today may have been the discovery of forgotten, unsecured, vials labeled “variola” (smallpox, to you and me) in an NIH lab.

Hey, at least it was labeled! I’ve been cleaning out my office these past weeks, and if that NIH lab had been anything like my office, the detritus of decades would still be present, but virtually none of it would have been labeled.

One small unlabeled vial
Sitting there, forgotten
One small unlabeled vial
Lurking in the lab
It might be dehydrated spores
Of a weaponized fungus
Just waiting for wars
It might be a virulent pox
An assistant mistakenly
Left in a box
It might be a deadly disease
That could devastate countries
As quick as you please
It might be a parasite fluke
Or an isotope ready
To power a nuke
It might be some chemical goo
That can turn your cheeks’ roses
To cyanide blue
It might be a germ that’s evolved
So an antibiotic’s
A problem that’s solved
It might be the ultimate cure
Unless we uncap it,
We can’t know for sure…
There’s little more frightening, no denial,
Than one small unknown, unlabeled vial

With sincere apologies to everyone’s favorite Uncle Shelby, who did all the heavy lifting.

On The Deeply Held Religious Beliefs Of Corporations

A local corporation is a member of my church
Though it never puts a dollar in the plate
I haven’t seen it in the pews, no matter how I search
Though it claims it’s more devout than me, of late
It reads its bible daily, and of course it watches Fox,
It’s offended by the liberal elite
It loves Scalia’s reasoning (“He thinks outside the box!”)
Saying personhood is not confined to meat

If the church’s wisdom dictates, say, that women be controlled
There’s a trick our local corporation learned:
Your insurance isn’t yours at all, despite what you’ve been told
Compensation isn’t something that you’ve earned
You must subjugate your wishes to the corporation’s will—
Your insurance is dependent on their whim
So it’s really up to Jesus which prescriptions you may fill,
Cos the corporation puts its faith in Him.

If it holds beliefs devoutly, while abstractly it exists
It’s protected by the constitution, too
And (all thanks to Hobby Lobby) the Supreme Court now insists
Its protections mean it’s even safe from you!
In a battle of religious rights, it’s kinda, sorta, funny—
Corporations have beliefs, by all reports!
They are just like you or me—except, of course, they have more money…
But, of course, that doesn’t matter to the courts.

Repeat After Me:

So you’ve got a new ambition—it’s to write a gospel song—
They will play it on the radio, and maybe sing along
But your knowledge of the bible isn’t really all that strong
If you’re thinking that’s a problem, I can tell you that you’re wrong!
You can write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Cos the trick is, you’ll repeat it several times!
You can write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Cos the trick is, you’ll repeat it several times!

Yes, you’ll write it with a single verse—not even one that rhymes,
Add some power chords and cymbals, and the feigned excitement climbs—
With your keyboard synthesizer you can make-believe it’s chimes
And repeat it, and repeat it, and repeat it many times
If it all gets too depressing, pick your chin up off the floor
And repeat the line you’ve written six times more!
If it all gets too depressing, pick your chin up off the floor
And repeat the line you’ve written six times more!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

You can throw in “hallelujah!”; you can throw in “blessed be!”
(Hey, with just those words, you’ve got a verse—or maybe two or three!)
And for extra points, be sure to use a random “thou” or “thee”
And you’re ready for the radio, as far as I can see.
You’ll be ready for the big time—Christian love and Christian fame
No one cares if all your verses are the same!
You’ll be ready for the big time—Christian love and Christian fame
No one cares if all your verses are the same!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

When you’re out of ammunition, take this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Yes you’re out of ammunition, so this little tip from me:
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!
Repetition, repetition, repetition, repetition
Repetition, repetition is the key!

As I said, I’ve been listening to Christian radio. I found it offensive–not because of my atheism, but because of my aesthetic commitment to proper rhyming verse. Again and again, song after song, lazy songwriting! Maybe one song in a dozen would start off with a passable verse, but as if the effort had exhausted the songwriter, the remainder of the song would be the repetition of one phrase (say, “he is mighty” or “blessed be” or “certum est, quia impossibile“–ok, that last one is my own, I cheated), and perhaps a repetition of the first (and thus, only) verse. The rest of the songs were repetitious pablum dressed up in power chords and saccharine synthesizer riffs.

See, and I’m even a moderate fan of old-time gospel music and older, more serious, hymns. Done well, there can be beautiful music there. But, I suppose, done poorly takes much less time, and has to be that much more profitable.

Looking Under The Hood…

I just love statistics, and numbers, and such
Whether icy abstractions or warm to the touch
I’ve been told that, perhaps, I adore them too much—
That my feelings are more-or-less “weird”

Ok, “weird” I can see, but I have to confess
I’m put off by the too-imprecise “more or less”—
Is it greater, or smaller? And so, I obsess—
Which is pretty much just what they feared.

“Pretty much”? I shall have to do better than this!
My obsession compels me; there’s something amiss!
Like cars to the Germans or clocks to the Swiss
Are numbers to people like me

There’s too much to do, so I’ll finish up fast
“It’s the last verse”, I’ll say, so I’m strapped to the mast
I will want to write more, but that moment has passed
And—precisely—I’m now out to sea.

I won’t tell you what prompted this verse–I can’t; I don’t have time. I saw a comment, when I shouldn’t have been looking. I was (and am) grading; I have too much to do to be reading non-essential stuff, let alone writing.

But then, someone made a bad statistical argument. And it physically hurt to read.

It’s pretty much the same reaction that bad grammar or spelling gives me, except that it is rarer, so I have built up less immunity.

Anyway, I couldn’t get back to work until I addressed the situation. So… back to work. Right, then, as you were, move along, nothing to see here!

Or… do you have your own obsessions like this? Do you correct the grammar and/or spelling of signs? (I do) Do you physically feel it when you see a mathematical error? Do you turn the radio off (as I did yesterday) when someone starts reciting poetry that does not quite rhyme, or does not quite follow the appropriate meter?

Do you consider your obsession to be a blessing or a curse?

On Realizing That Corporations Are People Too… And That You’ve Fallen In Love With One.

My darling corporate entity
I’ve loved you from the start
One hundred ten percentity,
With more than just my heart
I told you what I meantity
In poetry and prose
You showed your discontentity
And that’s the way it goes.

My sweetheart business enterprise
I tried to win you back
I told you my intenterprise—
You told me what I lack
My capital I’d spenterprise
But you would not invest
My future’s in descenterprise—
My value is depressed.

My love, my all, my syndicate—
Forever and beyond!
I note, to my chagrindicate,
My word’s my only bond
I’d fight through thick and thindicate
To have you as my bride
I know I cannot windicate;
You know, at least, I tried

My darling corporate entity
I’ve loved you from the start
One hundred ten percentity,
With more than just my heart
I told you what I meantity
In poetry and prose
You showed your discontentity
And that’s the way it goes.

Yeah… put “loving you back” as another difference between the kind of people known as “corporations” and the kind of people known as “people”. “Going to jail” is another thing corporations can’t do. We’ll find out pretty soon whether “discrimination” is yet another.

Someone Is… On The Internet

An article on politics—
No if, no ands, no buts—
Will bring out Libertarians
Who’ll demonstrate they’re nuts
But also arch-conservatives
And liberals by the score
Who’ll engage in verbal fisticuffs
And all return for more.

An essay on religion—
Any angle you might choose—
An opinionated blog post
Or the fair and balanced news
Will find arguments aplenty
By extremists on both sides
(Oh, and everyone’s extremist)
As predictable as tides

A feminist perspective—
On whatever thing you want—
Will, like maggots on a rotting corpse,
Erupt in shouts of “cunt!”
Any argument transmogrified,
Distorted, shouted down;
The important thing is showing
Who’s the big dog in this town

A report about the climate,
Evolution, or vaccines,
Gun control, or education,
GM foods, or gay Marines—
In the comments, it’s a certainty,
As daytime follows night,
That opposing sides will gather there
And then begin to fight.

A picture of a kitten—
Or a puppy, or some ducks—
The comments start with “ooh!” and “squee!”
And then—“Obama sucks!”
Or a photo of a fetus
Or “nice pussy!” or some threat…
It’s depressing; it’s disturbing;
It’s annoying… it’s the ‘net.

I was going to link the article that inspired this particular verse, but it frankly doesn’t deserve singling out. And I don’t mean that in a positive way–it does deserve being seen as shameful… but so do countless others that could just as easily have inspired today’s verse… and, to some extent, did, I guess. I am sure you’ve had the experience (unless you have taken the very good advice of NEVER READ THE COMMENTS!!!!) of reading some innocuous piece of reporting, or some blog post (whether a report on breaking news, new science, or what the writer did last night or found in their shoes this morning), and there in the comments, a non-sequitor (or at best, tangential) comment linking the writing to the commenter’s particular grudge–Obama, usually, or atheists or christians or muslims or libertarians or gays or blacks or trans or women or mentally ill or republican or democrat or jews or nazis or activists of all sorts… it will depend on who are the naturally occurring flora and fauna at that particular site. If your experience is with completely different accusations, all that means is that you read different sites than I do.

It almost doesn’t matter what the original writing was about; the real action is in the comments. People who say this is a post-racial society… don’t read the comments. People who say this is a post-feminist society… don’t read the comments. People who say the real victims today are conservative white Christian males… don’t read the comments. Reading the comments is like turning on the lights in a filthy room–you see things you really wish you had not.

I think I’ll go shower now.

I suppose this is related.

Bleargh.

I don’t feel sick
I don’t feel tired
I don’t feel hot
I don’t feel cold
I don’t feel sad
I don’t feel happy
I don’t feel nothin’
I just feel old

I don’t usually feel all of my years. I look at pictures of people my age, and think they look considerably older than I do. I have friends who started going gray in their twenties, and I am just barely beginning, in my fifties. I got carded buying wine just last year.

But today, I feel every one of my years, and a good many of someone else’s as well–so if you feel extra young today, I would be happy to return your years to you.

If this is what normal aging is gonna be like, I’m having none of it. Starting tomorrow, I’m getting younger.

Upskirting The Law

It might be bad; it might be wrong;
An upskirt shot that shows a thong
But perverts told us all along
There is no law against it

Now Massachusetts’ highest court
From justice fell extremely short;
Compassion, in today’s report?
The courts had not dispensed it

Since lawyers live by splitting hairs
The clothing that a woman wears
In subway cars or café chairs
Defines her as “not nude”

So perverts, then, can snap away
The upskirt photo won the day
And, all too late, lawmakers say
The laws will be reviewed.

We have a freedom fetish in our culture. I don’t think even Michael Robertson‘s own lawyer would argue that what he is doing is good, or right, or admirable. But, since a judge has ruled that there is no specific law that is being violated here, Robertson’s loathsome behavior is–not good, not right, not admirable… and not illegal. Because the women he did not ask to take upskirt photos of were actually wearing clothes (thus, it seems to me, signaling to the world that they were not in the subway to serve as someone’s masturbatory models, but were in fact commuting to or from work), they were thus not “nude or partially nude” (in which case, he’d have been violating Massachusetts’ “Peeping Tom” law).

The law always is reactive–it took a while to catch up to video technology, and to the internet… We can’t prescribe particular behaviors, because that infringes on freedom. We have to allow anything and everything that is not specifically prohibited. As such, it is the lot of some people to suffer indignities that are not against the law, until their case inspires new law… too late for these people.

Did I say “people”? Sorry, I meant “women”.

July 21, 1978

Ok, first thing, before I forget: What, in your thinking, is the best thing you have ever seen on television? Ever?

I am no Platonist, so I will not hold you to any choice you make. To my thinking, I could ask you this question a dozen times and get at least a handful of answers that are all true. I could ask you in different contexts, and if you didn’t change your answer with context I’d have to worry about you.

I probably have at least a score of “best moment on TV ever, of all time” nominees, and any choice of just one among this population would be forced, artificial, and false at times, while true at others. Carol Burnett’s entrance in the “Gone With The Wind” skit, her dress made of curtains, “I saw it in the window and I just couldn’t resist it”. Walter Cronkite crying. The first time I heard Kermitt the Frog singing “It’s not easy being green”. I didn’t get to see the Beatles, or the moon landing, so those aren’t in my list.

Anyway.

One show has made that list countless times. I may have only seen it once, and it may be very different from how I remember it. It was the Tonight Show, with Johnny Carson, July 21, 1978. The musical guests were Dave Brubeck and sons, which I don’t actually remember, but which actually makes the 90 minute show even better than I do remember. And here’s the meat of my post–I have not been able to locate any video of that show, and I really really *really* want to see it again.

The first guest was Richard Pryor. At this point in his career, he had made the switch to a rather … bluer sort of comedy. He was known (at least, I knew him, as a midwestern white kid) as a raunchy, dirty comic. Johnny Carson must have (and clearly did) know better. As I recall it, Pryor was hilarious, without coming close to overstepping any boundaries. I know now, the man was a genius; then, I was surprised.

The second guest was conservative journalist Dorothy Fuldheim. Well known in Cleveland, somewhat less well known nationally, she was the voice of the establishment. It is only in hindsight that I suspect Johnny Carson (and/or his staff) knew exactly what he (they) was (were) doing.

The expectation (yes, to me, as a high school kid) was that Pryor would either leave before Fuldheim was introduced, or that he would stay silent, or that he would explode. Frankly, the first two options were suckers bets; the assumption was that Pryor would unleash his formidable chops on this poor woman–swearing, cursing, blaspheming–until his fans were ashamed, and hers were vindicated in their views of those liberal black people.

And (as memory goes)… Richard Pryor was as polite as could possibly be. Fuldheim made outrageous claims about the absence of poverty, the absence of racism, the absence of pretty much anything bad in the perfect USA… and Pryor interjected “excuse me, ma’am…”, pointing out inequity, hunger, bias, and more. Fuldheim tried to brush him aside, but his politeness (so unexpected, so perfect) made her look like a monster.

It was… perfect.

I watched it, live. With my dad. I was in high school; he would have been in his late 40′s. I was astonished. So was he. I don’t know that he had heard of Pryor before; it didn’t matter. He knew Fuldheim. He knew Carson. I think this was the first time I saw my dad completely blown away by the same thing that blew me away. It was amazing.

And, near as I can tell, it doesn’t exist. I mean… *everything* has an afterlife on the web. But I have not been able to find this. I have found other people looking for this. But I have not found this.

It is entirely possible (likely, even) that my recollection is at serious odds with the actual video of the show. But damn, if that is the case, I want to know!

So… two things.

1) can we maybe find this tape? Anyone? Anyone know anyone know anyone?

2) What is the best thing you have ever seen on TV? Ever? Cos if it’s better than this, I *really* want to see it!

No verse today–this thing is eating away at my brain enough, I don’t need to feed it rhyme.

Also… no, I won’t tell you what brought on this post.

Ken Ham Clearly Doesn’t Believe (I Hope)

So I was just out walking the cuttledogs, and it occurred to me that the whole notion of a Noah’s Ark Theme Park showed either an incredible lack of belief on the part of the planners, or a psychopathic lack of empathy.

I mean, it’s a theme park. Think Disney. But it’s built around the greatest (by percentage, at least, if not in real numbers) genocide in history (assuming, for the time being, that the planners actually believe the Noah story). Men, women, children, toddlers, babies… dogs, cats, horses, cows… bunnies, slow lorises, baby hedgehogs… all of them, bloated, stinking corpses. Family fun for everyone! (seriously, click the link–this is what the flood ride would be, were it true to the bible)

One simply cannot have a realistic picture of what the flood allegedly entailed, and believe it appropriate for a family theme park. Ham either does not believe, or lacks any shred of empathy whatsoever.

It gets worse. Remember, the ark was the centerpiece of the park, but was by no means the whole thing. There would be rides. Remember, one of the rides (I shit you not) was (again, think Disney, but on acid) a “Ten Plagues Of Egypt” theme ride! Family fun, with blisters and boils, locusts and lice, blood and death! (Again, click the link for one of my favorites–no one who believed the story would ever suggest it as a theme park ride!)

Imagine a much smaller genocide, with a much smaller fraction of the world’s population put to slaughter. Can you imagine a family-friendly Holocaust theme park? Hop on the trains, kiddies? It sickened me to write that last sentence, and yet I wrote the verses at the two links above–what’s the difference?

The difference is, I believe (I was going to write “I know”, but I’ll settle for the weaker “I believe”) that the bible’s account is false. It’s fiction. It didn’t happen. There were no real victims (well… belief in “the curse of Ham” was not victimless), so I can write about bloated bodies and plagues of locusts. It’s simple–I don’t believe. The only ones who could treat such a genocide lightly are those who don’t believe. Those for whom the flood, and the ten plagues, are nothing more than a chance to fleece those who do believe.

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.

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I do wonder, though, who would invest, and who would want such a thing built. Is everyone so mercenary? Are there any true believers who think the Ark Park is appropriate? And why?