What is a prayer?

I’ve heard a number of explanations: it’s a private conversation with the supernatural emperor of the universe, or possibly a moment of communion with all-that-is, or even just a quiet personal centering of the self. These are all lies. As we all know, prayer is actually an opportunity to posture publicly, promoting one’s own piety.

We have another example to illustrate the accuracy of my definition. Phoenix had a request from the Satanists to be allowed to give an opening prayer at council meetings, and the council struggled with their decision — whether to allow a Satanic prayer, which would cause a huge outcry from fanatical Christians; to prohibit certain faiths from participation, which would clearly violate the separation of church and state and lead to lawsuits; or to simply stop the prayer nonsense altogether, and instead have a moment of silence, in which individuals could freely have a private conversation with god, commune with all-that-is, center their self, or whatever.

Phoenix wisely went with the moment of silence idea. Seems smart to me; as an atheist, I wouldn’t object, and believers are still allowed to chat with god, commune, center, etc., if that’s what prayer is all about.

The majority of the council seem sensible and are willing. But others are willingly validating my theory that prayer is about loudly and publicly pronouncing the depth of their faith, and are melting down at the idea that they can’t get any more brownie points with the gods by babbling at others.

The objections have been emotional, loud and generally ignorant. Christians are pushing for their right to pray, but they don’t seem to understand the fact they can’t allow their prayers while banning others. The Phoenix council had an option of either allowing the alternate prayers, or banning them while facing a First Amendment-based lawsuit that is practically a guaranteed loss for them. They chose a third option of banning all prayer (the best option) completely. Now they are being threatened with even more lawsuits from Christians that want to insert religion into government – as long as it’s only Christian religion.

You can’t win with these people.

I will never accomplish anything this great


Julius Caesar is said to have wept at the tomb of Alexander the Great — “Do you think I have not just cause to weep, when I consider that Alexander at my age had conquered so many nations, and I have all this time done nothing that is memorable?,” he said. Well, now I have learned of the Lloyd’s Bank Turd, and I am disconsolate. 1200 years ago, Vikings had conquered the city of York in England, held it for a century, and left behind a clutter of buried debris, including old cesspits. In one of them, archaeologists excavated an amazing relic: a single massive bowel movement, left behind by some heroic citizen who passed it alone into a hole in the ground, where it rested in solitary glory and was somehow preserved for posterity.

So what do we know about the anonymous Viking who made the most famous deposit that Lloyds Bank is ever likely to see? His or her diet consisted largely of meat and grains, but not much in the way of fruits or vegetables, which may help explain why the sample is nine inches long and weighs half a pound. “Whoever passed it probably hadn’t ‘performed’ for a few days,” says student conservator Gill Snape. Considering the large number of fruit pits and vegetable seeds found at the site but not in this particular Viking’s stool, this was likely not the healthiest or the most regular person in the village.

Like a lot of Vikings, this one suffered from at least two types of intestinal parasites: The remains of hundreds of whipworm and maw-worm eggs were found in the stool. The presence of worms in the stool is indicative of the filthy conditions and poor hygiene in Viking settlements. Wells were dug too close to latrines, making the availability of clean, uncontaminated water a hit-or-miss (usually miss) proposition. The dirt floors of the Viking dwellings teemed with fly larvae (maggots) and mouse and rat droppings, with plenty of dog, pig, cow, and horse droppings just outside the door. It was virtually inevitable that residents of such settlements would be infested with intestinal parasites.

Not only do I fail to produce such impressive output in the first place, what I do excrete gets swirled around in a watery sewer system, demolished in a frothy slurry at a sewage treatment plant, and encouraged to degrade. What legacy will I leave to my descendants? I’m tempted to start digging many holes in my backyard and create a bank of excrement. I hope the neighbors don’t mind.

Oh, wait! I have a blog! Perhaps some fragment of it will survive the inevitable bit rot, get archived somewhere somewhat permanent, and someday get enshrined in a museum somewhere, for the enlightened people of the future to grimace over.

One can hope.

I’m going to have to renegotiate my contract

I’m a full time professor of biology, with a Ph.D. I put in long hours teaching 2 or 3 courses a semester for a middle class income.

Marco Rubio dabbled in teaching college, too. He’s got a law degree. He had a part-time teaching appointment — one course — and worked less than 10 hours a week. He got paid more than I do, $69,000. Any adjuncts out there getting by on a few thousand dollars per course? You might want to be pissed off.

There’s more. As is typical for Rubio, he shirked. He missed 30% of the classes. I teach a course 3 days a week — that would be like skipping one of those classes every week. I teach two of those courses this term.

And get this: he wasn’t the sole instructor. It was co-taught with another guy, who did all the prep work.

“We had to prepare 28 new lectures for this new prep,” he said, noting that it usually takes him “3 to 4 hours to prepare a completely new lecture,” and that he’s actually taking time off of teaching next semester to prepare a few new courses for the year.

That’s about right — maybe even a bit on the low side. It’s a lot of work to put together a new course. Rubio didn’t have to do any of that.

And hey, look at this:

And though Rubio helped prepare the tests for the class, Moreno said during the deposition, “I didn’t let him do any of the grading,” joking that, “he’s still a politician, and I was afraid he was going to give everyone A’s!”

He. Didn’t. Have. To. Do. Any. Of. The. Grading. I would be so happy if I didn’t have to do any grading. That’s what I’m going to be booked up doing this weekend.

“How do we justify paying him as much as we do to teach one course?” asked Amy Paul-Ward, an associate professor in the Nicole Wertheim College of Nursing and Health Sciences, according to the FIU student paper. “I know there are qualified adjuncts in our school who we have trouble paying $3,000 to teach a course.”

And those adjuncts would be expected to prepare the content of the course, show up for every lecture, teach it by themselves, and do all the grading.

Hey, if I became a Republican would I get a raise and a reduction in work load? Maybe not as much as Rubio got — I wouldn’t want to be greedy — but it seems only fair.

UMM is hiring a biologist

You can read all the details, but the short version is that we’re looking to fill a full-time two-year position for someone to teach microbiology and molecular biology to undergraduates. You might not be enthused about a temporary position like this, but UMM is very highly regarded as a teaching institution, and if you’re looking to improve your prospects for biology teaching at the college level, our name will look really good on your CV…and we’re also committed to helping our hires improve their teaching skills.

Beware of snakes in your ovaries!

The Abolitionist Society of Fort Worth is one of those organizations that encourages the vicious goons who stand outside of Planned Parenthood, screaming and waving placards of photos of bloody embryos at women trying to get medical care. They are going to be distributing a pamphlet that is the graphical equivalent of their incoherent shouting, and here is one of the informative illustrations from it.


You’ll probably have to click to get a larger size, and even then it’s going to be a difficult read: who thought that a wall of small all-caps sans serif text would be readable? Probably the same people who thought their hate tactics were rational.

Hey, maybe those women aren’t going in for abortions, but to take advantage of Planned Parenthood’s ovarian snake removal services, did you ever think of that, huh?

(via Beth Presswood)

Baby steps, everyone

All right, there was another Democratic debate last night between Clinton and Sanders. Both of them revealed different strengths and weaknesses, and make no mistake, both of them have weaknesses. I think it’s because they’re both human beings, and not gods.

And now today I look out at all my friends, who are also all human beings, and I see their weaknesses exposed: it is not enough to favor one candidate, you have to divide them, so your favored person is the candidate of Heaven, and the other is Satan’s representative. Just stop it. Please. Here’s what I want you to do instead.

Vote your conscience in the primaries. It’s going to be between Sanders and Clinton, so just pick the one you like best. You can even write in a different candidate! It’s easy!

After the primaries, the party apparatus will be working to promote the winner, who will face off against the Republicans, who actually are the Evil Party. Maybe your favorite did not get the final nomination, but that’s the nature of politics, compromise. Hold your nose and vote for the non-Republican, whoever it is. It’s OK. You have to refocus and get a job done, and it is the nature of American politics that trying to stick with your ideal candidate who does not have the consensus of the party is futile, and can only aid the opposition.

But, you are saying, you are an idealist and want to see your philosophical and social utopia implemented in government now, and the official candidate falls short! This is true. But, I will point out, the president is one person, and has limited power to implement your goals while in office, and if your dreams are all so narrowly aimed at that one office, you’re never ever going to see them come true.

If your candidate isn’t the final nominee for president, vote for the nominee in the election anyway, and before the election, pay attention to that mob of rat-fucking assholes in congress. Are you for Bernie, but Hillary gets the nod? Work to get more progressive socialists into congress right now. Are you for Hillary, but somehow Bernie rides an unlikely populist wave to the White House? Buckle down and get more pragmatic women elected to represent you. Run for local office yourself! Don’t forget that there are also these midterm elections that always have reduced voter turnout.

I’m just saying that if your ideological position doesn’t get the White House, the best response is to then turn your passion to those other branches of government, congress and the courts. If your hero doesn’t snag the national office, get more heroes into state and local government.

Also, please, pay attention to the media. They want to see the spectacle of Bernie fanatics battling Hillary fanatics. They are intentionally feeding that antagonism, because they don’t want to see the electorate focused on fixing problems — fixing things never gets the goggle-eyed viewership of ongoing catastrophes. Don’t let yourself be used.