A Charge To Keep… (yeah, that’s the ticket…)

This painting, I do not think I am understating, is important to President George W. Bush. He even took the painting’s title as the title of his autobiography: “A Charge To Keep”. And… it kinda looks like him. Don’t you think? The real story of the painting, though… well, it’s all right here.

A noble horseman leads a gallant charge–
Full gallop, up a steep and rocky trail
The group he leads is small; their courage large,
And heart and God ensure they will prevail.

This painting is a message to us all,
The very spirit of the Lone Star State,
That when our cause is just, we cannot fall–
Serve God, and you need never fear your fate!

Except…the painting here depicts a thief,
Who only narrowly escapes the noose;
The story may be Bush’s true belief,
But his interpretation is… well… loose.

A realistic painting, but at best
For Bush, a diagnostic Rorschach test

Hat tip to Pharyngula

WILSON!!!!!!

Researchers at the University of Chicago (also reported in the New York Times) have explored the tendency to anthropomorphize–how we, especially when lonely, attribute human characteristics to our pets, to inanimate objects, and even to Our Invisible Friend.

The researchers designed three experiments to test their expectations that lonely people are more likely to make up for their lack of social connection by creating humanlike connections with gadgets or pets, or to increase their belief in the supernatural.

In one experiment, the team found a correlation between how lonely people felt and their tendency to describe a gadget in terms of humanlike mental states.

In another experiment, the team made people feel lonely in the laboratory by asking them to write about a time when they felt lonely or isolated. Under those circumstances, they were more likely to believe in the supernatural, whether it be God, angels or miracles, than when they were not feeling lonely.

“If we made them feel lonely, they were also more likely to describe a pet, even if it wasn’t their own pet, as having humanlike mental states that were related to social connection, like being more thoughtful, considerate and compassionate,” Epley said.

The research further revealed that not just any negative emotional state produces this effect. “It’s something special about loneliness,” Epley said. Fear, for example, doesn’t increase reported belief in God, or how people describe their pets.

If loneliness depresses you,
Researchers say that what you’ll do
If no one’s there with whom to sup,
You’ll be inclined to make one up,
Conversing with a dog or cat,
Or maybe, in the lab, a rat.

When lonely, or in isolation
We use anthropomorphization,
Projecting human mental states
Like wants and needs, or loves and hates
On pets, or cars, or even God
(Explains a lot you might find odd!)

We do this when we feel alone
Or isolated, it is shown,
But not when we’re afraid or mad
And not when we are merely sad–
It’s isolation’s misery
That animates our company.

So Wilson, on the island beach
With human kind so out of reach
Became Chuck Noland’s only friend,
Through thick and thin, till (near) the end.
(In outtakes, we may yet discover,
Wilson also served as lover!)

But why a volleyball? The study
Says the reason for this buddy
Also works to give a god
A greater “humanlike” facade–
So why a ball? The truth, I feel,
Is: Unlike God, the ball was real.

So talking to a volleyball
Is not so crazy after all.

(Oh, and for the record, the application of their study to Wilson is their own idea, not mine.)

A Nautical Yarn…

Oh, my! I have found it! Ok, it’s not a knit brain or teratoma, but hey, I am not “the digital teratoma”, so I am happy as a cephalopod with a Mr. Potato Head to find this site, with patterns for knitting some of my favorite sea creatures! I am not affiliated with the site at all, but I hope I can send her a bit of extra business!

Had we but yarn enough, and time,
And knew to knit instead of rhyme,
We would sit down to purl and knit
The whole day through, and never quit;
A cute and cuddly cuttlefish
Or “Squid-a-licious”, if you wish
Two kinds of octopus, and more,
The cutest things beyond the shore!
A starfish and a brittle star;
A nudibranch (it’s so bizarre!)
A jellyfish, and seahorse, too
So many that I’d like to do
If only I knew how to knit
But I do not… so here I sit.

Dueling destinies

This past Friday, I found myself listening to NPR’s Talk of the Nation–Science Friday, and I was struck by a throw-away comment by one of the guests. The subject was the Messenger fly-by of the planet Mercury; a caller asked something about the effects of the sun’s expansion on the atmospheres of the planets. The expert noted that, although he was not an expert on stars, he knew that the sun would eventually expand to the point where it would likely engulf the inner planets. Of course, this would happen billions of years from now, so it is nothing to lose sleep over. It’s not as if the world is going to be transformed tonight into a lake of fire.

No, that view was on the other radio station.

I was driving along, with the radio tuned
To the lowermost end of the dial;
Through the static, two stations were both coming in
So I listened to both for a while.
First one, then the other, would drift into range
As the road, through the hills, wound around;
And I gradually noticed, the speakers on both
Were discussing the same common ground.
The topic today was the end of the world,
And both stations had stories to tell;
The first speaker told how the sun would expand
But the second was speaking of Hell.
The first station spoke of the Messenger mission
And NASA’s new triumph in space
With instruments measuring surface and core
And cameras detailing its face.
The craters and faults look a lot like our moon
But the temperature there can melt lead!
As the speaker continued, I found myself shocked
By the very next thing that he said:
He noted “of course, in a few billion years,
We know that the sun will expand,
And the Earth will be hotter than Mercury now—
We’ll be long gone by then, understand.”
Now, I know that our species is really quite young
When compared to the age of the Earth
And the odds of survival are frankly quite small,
So today is of infinite worth.
But to hear this astronomer matter-of-factly
Discuss how our planet would die
Was a sobering thing—even more so because
Of the evidence none could deny.
Now, the funny thing is that the alternate station
Was speaking of fire as well
And the punishment meeting each ignorant sinner
Eternally sentenced to Hell.
The end is not coming in billions of years
But when God calls us back to his side.
It could happen tomorrow, so live your life right
With the Bible alone as your guide.
Today’s not important; the whole of your life
Is just prelude to life after death
In Heaven or Hell, so your choice must be made–
It’s too late once you draw your last breath.
He was blatantly trying to frighten his listeners
But strangely, I wasn’t afraid.
A Bronze-age mythology doesn’t stand up
When there’s evidence there to be weighed.

It’s funny—the world-view that talks about Heaven
And promises souls will survive
Has to stoop to extortion and threats, like I heard
As I motored along on my drive.
The so-called “dispassionate world-view of science”
Has beauty, and greater appeal—
What’s more, in a contrast from mythical Hell
What is studied in science is real.
No threats of damnation, just projects like Messenger
Quietly getting it done—
Enjoy your Earth—only a few billion years
Till the whole thing’s engulfed by the Sun.

Matters Of The Heart (… in a jar)

It’s all over the news–researchers at the University of Minnesota have “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. Yeah. I know, all this talk about hearts is so romantic. So, in a bit of a reversal from my previous position, 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…

I’m new at this game,

And I don’t know your name,

But I love you, whoever you are;

My heart may be true

But it’s also brand new

I grew it myself, in a jar!

I can feel my heart grow,

So I love you, you know, 

And not like a cousin or brother;

I will give you my heart–

Every bit, every part;

If you break it, I’ll grow me another.

My heart is yours; it’s in a jar
That sits upon your shelf;
It’s happy being where you are
And not all by itself.
You asked me for a souvenir
To keep while we’re apart;
I thought a bit, and it was clear—
It had to be my heart.
And now, although my heart may soar,
It is no longer mine;
A message that forevermore
I’ll be your valentine.

A rat cadaver’s donor heart
Is stripped of every cell
The protein fiber matrix left
Looks like a ghostly shell;
This matrix, in a sterile flask,
Is bathed in rat-heart goo
With both adult and baby cells,
And starts to grow anew.
In only days, the growing heart
May beat, or merely twitch,
Then work, at roughly two percent…

Like yours, you heartless bitch.

What the…Huck?

In case you were the one who missed hearing this story, it turns out that presidential hopeful Mike Huckabee really truly actually for-real is a Man of God ™. Whether speaking from his heart, or in a bid to outflank his opponents and capture the fundamentalist vote, The Huckster announced to a Michigan crowd Monday that he wishes to change the United States Constitution, to bring it in line with “the word of the living god”. Really, he said that.

When you think about it, though, it is not all that radical. What were his other choices? I mean, you could bring it in line with the word of all the dead gods, but frankly I don’t see that garnering a lot of votes. Or you could choose to have a constitution that draws authority from “We the People”. As someone much more gifted with words than I am put it, it would be a government “of the people, by the people, and for the people.”

And who needs that?

There’s too much pollution in our constitution
As any good Christian can see;
Compare with the Bible, and anyone’s liable
To note that the two don’t agree.
And so, if we tell ‘em it’s just ink and vellum,
Not sacred like God’s Holy Word
The people might buy it, and let someone try it
Although it seems wholly absurd!
A nip and a tuck ‘d be just fine for Huckabee–
Really, I don’t like the odds–
He already said it; he’s ready to edit,
And substitute Man’s law with God’s.
This ludicrous scheming (I wish I were dreaming)
Must surely be nearing its end;
Voters, open your eyes, and say your goodbyes
To the Huckster’s invisible friend!

Verse originally posted as a comment on Pharyngula.

“The New Phone Book’s Here!!!”


In the movie “The Jerk”, Steve Martin’s character gets excited when the new phone books arrive: “I’m somebody now!” I kinda feel a little like that, today. There is a wonderful new book out, full of excellent writing on Academia, Life Sciences, Physical Sciences, Mathematics & Technology, Medicine & Health Sciences, Humanities and Social Sciences… oh, yeah, and my little poem.

Even though I thought The Ridger’s poem was better, mine is the one you can see in the preview; indeed, aside from the table of contents (which you should take a look at–this is an excellent collection!), my poem is the only bit of writing in the preview! A position of honor, indeed!

… and I had to choose to remain anonymous? So much for fame, glory, and fabulous riches!

Anyway, the book is available here–be sure to click the “preview this book” link and see what all is in this collection! If I ever run into anybody who has bought one, I will (given sufficient notice) sign it with a poem for them–and just for them.

And if you are looking for a poem in this post, that is also there in that link.

Keep an open mind!

I wonder sometimes, why it is that the people who tell me to “keep an open mind” have theirs utterly closed to the possibility that they might be wrong. An open mind, of course, is willing to follow the available evidence, even if it disagrees with one’s assumptions. An open mind is not one that keeps an issue open after every bit of information says “case closed.” But of course, as I have heard it most frequently, “keep an open mind” is used as a synonym for “agree with me!”

An open window can be a good thing, but a window which cannot be closed is just a hole in your wall. There are times when it is ok to shut the window. You can always open it up again if the evidence says you should.

Anyway, today’s verse:

They told me “keep an open mind,
And you will see—the world’s designed,
And everything that’s in it.
The folks who say mutation’s random?
Open-minded folks can’t stand ‘em
Even for a minute!
You see the touch of God each day
In every strand of DNA
Unless your mind is closed;
When looking at genetic blueprints
Clearly, there are You-Know-Who-prints
For those so predisposed.”

I told them “really, no offense…
I’ll need to see some evidence.”

They told me “keep an open mind,
And never heed the double blind
Experiments of science;
The open-minded person knows
You cannot trust what science shows—
The truth is in defiance!
It’s science that is always changing;
Scientists keep rearranging—
How could it be true?
So put your trust in common thought,
Which needs no facts at all—well, not
In my considered view.”

I told them “that’s a lame pretense…
I’m waiting for your evidence.”

They told me “keep an open mind
While we stick pins in your behind
To fix your aching head;
We’ve got to re-align your back—
Don’t be alarmed to hear a crack
Or have some herbs instead!
Now take a draught of this solution,
Infinite in its dilution,
(That’s what makes it strong!)
So many cures that fit your Karma,
Hard to see just how Big Pharma
Always gets it wrong.”

I told them “you may not commence
Until you show me evidence!”

They told me “keep an open mind—
Our brainwaves, if they’re all combined,
Can lead to lasting peace;
And simply wishing hard enough
Brings health and love and other stuff,
They’ve known since Ancient Greece!
The figure of the Oracle
Was not just allegorical—
It works! Just take a look!
The truth is, if you wish and pray,
It might just happen, come some day—
And Oprah likes the book!”

I told them “here are my two cents—
Please wish and pray for evidence.”

They told me “keep an open mind;
Though in this lifetime you’re confined
Within your mortal part,
In death you find a pure release
And living on in love and peace,
The you inside your heart,
You’ll leave behind this thin façade
To gaze upon the face of God
If, meekly, you submit;
Each death, each illness is God’s will
You can’t reach Heaven’s gate until
The mortal world you quit.”

I told them “such a moral sense!
If only you had evidence!”

She told me “keep an open mind,
And while our bodies are entwined
Our energies commingle.
Don’t roll your eyes, I do implore;
I speak, of course, in metaphor–
And by the way, I’m single.”
From one to ten? She’s my eleven;
Better than some made-up heaven,
Wondrously mundane!
And best of all, I think you’ll find,
Much better than an “open mind”
She keeps a working brain.

Awwww….

As Disney and Pixar have so often told us,
The ultimate goal of a toy
Is to live in the sweet, unconditional love
Of a cute-as-a-bug girl or boy

But the truth is, the love of a boy or a girl,
Though I’m sure that it must have its charms,
Could never compete with the story of Louis–
Who hugs with all eight of his arms!

BBC story here.

A giant Pacific octopus living in a Cornish aquarium has formed an unlikely bond with a child’s plastic toy.
Louis regularly plays with the Mr Potato Head figure which was given to him as part of an enrichment project at Newquay’s Blue Reef Aquarium.

Dirty Bird! Dirty Bird!

Flags to bulls, debates to pundits, quackery to Orac… some things just elicit reflexive responses. GrrlScientist was looking for songs about birds, and a comment led to… this.

I apologize in advance. (yes, it does have a tune.)

We met on the day of the backyard bird count,
and I thought her exceedingly pleasant
With lovely long legs, like a heron’s mount,
and the breast of a succulent pheasant;
I will nevermore grouse, like a lark I will sing,
at the wonderful evening to follow—
Now she calls me her snowcock, the pretty young thing,
and I call her my sweet red-rumped swallow!

I just thought, on a lark,
We could walk in the dark
Just my raven-haired beauty and me
If my heart doesn’t quail
As we stand at the rail
This old coot has a desperate plea:
By the light of the moon
I’m a bit of a loon
And half out of the mind that I’m in–
So I’m asking, would you be
My blue-footed booby
And join me in cardinal sin…

I said “My name’s Jay”; she replied “Call me Phoebe”,
And craned, with the grace of a swan;
I saw a great tit, thought “How lucky could we be?”
And our list, once we kissed, now was on!
We ducked out the back, oh so rapid and swift—
With her pace, why, I barely could match ‘er—
Now she calls me woodpecker, which gives me a lift,
And I call her my dear oystercatcher!

I just thought, on a lark,
We could walk in the dark
Just my raven-haired beauty and me
If my heart doesn’t quail
As we stand at the rail
This old coot has a desperate plea:
By the light of the moon
I’m a bit of a loon
And half out of the mind that I’m in–
So I’m asking, would you be
My blue-footed booby
And join me in cardinal sin…