“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.


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…

Kick off your Sunday shoes, Missouri!

Afarensis reports on life imitating art imitating life. It’s Footloose, but in St. Charles, Mo. “The proposal would ban indecent, profane or obscene language, songs, entertainment and literature at bars.”

So if Kenny Loggins wants to cut the soundtrack to Kevin Bacon’s “Footloose 2: The Documentary”, I scribbled down a few lines for him…

It’s the limit! It’s the end!
From now on it’s “What a friend
We have in Jeeeeeeeesus!”
It’s a blizzard, not a flurry,
Cos the people of Missouri
Say Hell freeeeeeezes!

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Grow a backbone, you amoeba
Or you’ll nevermore hear Reba
Cos St. Charles is making you sick
And the Devil loves rock music
And hellfiiiiiiiire

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Hurry, scurry, time to worry, no more sinning in Missouri
Onward Christian soldiers, now advaaaaance!
Shakin’, quakin’, god-forsaken, send the call for Kevin Bacon
Maybe he can teach the kids to daaaance!

And what’s more, the city’s thinking
Let’s ban table-dancing, drinking,
Yes, and sweeeeeaaaaaring
We can see throughout these verses,
And the famines, plagues, and curses
That God’s caaaaaaaaaring

I’ll take everything to God in prayer,
And hope to hell that God is there
From what to sing, to what to wear
Let God decide, cos I don’t caaaaaaaare…

Hurry, scurry, time to worry, no more sinning in Missouri
Onward Christian soldiers, now advaaaaance!
Shakin’, quakin’, god-forsaken, send the call for Kevin Bacon
Maybe he can teach the kids to daaaance!
Six degrees from maybe our last chaaaance…

Juxtapositions (I just love that word)

Shelley, at Retrospectacle, once again has captured my attention. Plague week continues, of course, but another post will not be denied attention–how often do you get the chance to watch an egg-sized cyst, full of tapeworm larvae, being removed from a 16-year-old girl’s brain?

Yeah, I know, cool!

Cool…because the girl lives, and makes a full recovery. Because she lives in this century, rather than in a century when people saw the plague as God’s wrath, treatable by prayer, bleeding, herbs, mercury, or lucky charms.

You can complain about modern health care all you like. I take a bit of a wider view. It has saved my life on more than one occasion, has saved my son… There are old cemetaries in this area that are practically littered with infant and child graves, many where the child had not lived long enough to be named. Follow the link. Watch this huge cyst being removed from this girl’s brain. Be grateful to medicine, science, education… you live in a very good time to be alive.

A golf-ball sized hydatid cyst
Is not the sort of thing I’d list
As one I’d like to try.
Indeed, I’d rather think it marvy
Not to host so many larvae–
I’m not that kind of guy.

In juxtaposing these two posts
Where humans serve unwilling hosts
To tapeworms or bacilli,
And treatment may be surgery
Or bleeding, charms, or mercury,
You make my spine go chilly.

I won’t say much, but I concede
That in the past, I’ve had the need
To seek a doctor’s care;
I’m fine, of course, but even so,
I think: It’s not that long ago
My “treatment” would be prayer.

This girl here in your video
(My daughter’s age, I’ll have you know)
Is lucky as can be–
To live in this, the present day
Where science, not the church, holds sway
I hope that you’ll agree.

For her, and for my daughter’s sake
I’d like to take this chance to make
A science-based reply;
For researchers, for doctors, nurses,
Not for priests, or prayer, or curses
The stakes are much too high.

Oh, rats!

From the fleas of rats and mouses
To a plague a’ both your houses,
If we can’t blame sheep or horses, then we gotta blame the Jews
When we found a small bacillus,
Not a god, had tried to kill us
It’s the sort of information anyone can surely use!
If you wish Yersinia pestis
Not to kill you, our request is
That you clean the fleas from bedding, and the rats from in your larder
But if you’re afraid of science
And you’d rather put reliance
In the methods of the church, then their advice is: Just pray harder!

Shelley at Retrospectacle has begun a week-long series that I am very much looking forward to–that’s right, it’s Plague Week!!

I have always been fascinated by The Plague; no matter how I have tried, I don’t think I can wrap my head around what life must have been like during such horrible events. I hope that the avian flu does not give us the chance to find out.

Danger! Warning!

When bloggers write, with laptops, seated,
Bits of them get overheated—
Sitting in their rooms, retreated
To their hidden cloisters.
If I should hear “Well done! Well done!”
I hope they mean my writing’s fun
And not some cruel and heartless pun
About my mountain oysters.

The writers putting out these blogs,
Like robots built with well-oiled cogs,
Or samurai, or feral dogs,
Eviscerate their fools—
But now, it seems they face a danger,
Not from any foe or stranger,
Simply from a heat exchanger
Near their family jewels.

Though Yossi Vardi starts to warn
It’s not time, yet, to be forlorn
(Though if your kids are not yet born
You’re one unlucky putz.)
It is, however, time to plan,
And if you are a hopeful man,
To buy and use a cooling fan.
Oh, yes… and shave your nuts.

Thanks to Greg Laden.

It’s A Miracle!

Man survives after God pushes him off a skyscraper…

“If we can talk about medical miracles, this certainly qualifies,” said Herbert Pardes, president and chief executive officer of New York-Presbyterian Hospital, during a news conference.

Moreno, whose brother Edgar died in the Dec. 7 accident, broke at least 10 bones, including multiple ribs, his right arm, vertebrae and both legs after the 500-foot fall from an apartment building on East 66th Street following an apparent malfunction of the scaffolding. Edgar Moreno, 30, also of Linden, struck a fence and was killed instantly. Neither man was wearing a safety harness.

I always found it rather odd
When people think to credit God;
The doctors helped, at least a bit,
The rescue workers didn’t quit,
The strangers there, who saw him fall
And made the first responder call
So many people did so much
But still we see His Holy Touch–
You see, it seems the signs are there
That show this man has seen God’s care:
The shattered ankle, broken shin
The shards of bone that pierce through skin
The massive bleeding in his gut–
Yes, every fracture, every cut–
This is the way that God Above
Displays His omnipresent Love.
And just in case He’s still denied
Remember, this man’s brother died.
Such agony makes Man aware
Of just how precious is God’s care
And when Humanity forgets,
God has a way to hedge his bets:
He’ll find a patsy, just some guy,
Like this Moreno, way up high–
When disbelievers start to scoff
God simply pushes this guy off;
With bleeding, pain, and broken bone,
God shows us that we’re not alone,
With just a little Godly shove,
He gets a chance to prove His Love.

Of course, Orac got there first.

Of Trees, and Life, and Fun

Clicking in through a post at The Loom, I was led to a wonderfully inspirational site, the Interactive Tree Of Life! For some people, a site like this puts them immediately in mind of Darwin. Others, Linnaeus. Others, Gould. Others, others.

Not me.

Me, I see a site like this and immediately think of Ogden Nash. Naturally.

Nash wrote classic little verses inspired by various animals. Here, for instance, is a site that presents the Nash classics “The Octopus”, “The Panther”, “Centipede”, “The Firefly”, “Ant”, “The Cow”, “The Turtle”, and several others (although, if memory serves, “The Eel” as presented on this site is incomplete). They are wonderful little pieces, unmistakably and marvelously Ogden Nash.

One notes, however, that they are limited to animals. The Tree Of Life site reminds us of just how narrow a focus that really is. So, as I said, I look at that interactive site and wonder what Ogden Nash would have thought of it. I make no pretensions about coming even close to Nash, but I thought I’d take a stab at a few. Each of these is represented on the site by a number and a picture, with links to source articles for information.

My point is not that this is any sort of high art–rather, my point is that the stereotype of the expansive vision of the artist, and the narrow focus of the scientist… are stereotypes, not reality. The tree of life is awe-inspiring, all the more so because it is not a fiction, but well-documented reality.

Oh, yeah, the verses…

Escherichia coli 562; Shigella flexneri 623

Escherichia coli and Shigella flexneri
Are technically different—but really, not very.

Porphyromonas gingivalis 837

Porphyromonas gingivalis,
To tell the honest truth,
Attacks the oral cavity—
The gum, and bone, and tooth;
I did not heed my mother’s word—
She warned me (quote: “Forsooth!”)
But I chose not to brush or floss,
And now my thmile ith looth.

Pyrococcus furiosus 2261

Remember the movie “Some Like It Hot”
With Marilyn, Tony, and Jack?
This archaebacterium’s like that a lot
(But it doesn’t have Marilyn’s rack).
But in sea-water heated to 100 C
It can still make a go at mitosis—
With habits like this, this creature must be
Pyrococcus furiosus.

Oryza sativa 4530

Oryza sativa (the Latin for “rice”)
Is genetically simple, which really is nice;
The genome for corn is some five times as big
And for wheat, roughly forty times larger—you dig?
But rice is a staple for billions, you know,
And the template for much of the grain that we grow.
So we study Oryza, my favorite crop,
To find out the genes behind “snap, crackle, pop!”

Drosophila melanogaster 7227

Geneticists love this little guy—
In my kitchen, he’s a disaster;
We both agree, the dude is fly:
Drosophila melanogaster!

Gallus gallus 9031

Nine-oh-three-one, or Gallus gallus
Comes as quite a shock:
The picture shows (no, not a phallus)
One fantastic cock!

Rattus norvegicus 10116

Rattus norvegicus, Norway Rat,
Is cute as a bug, and that is that.

Cryptosporidium hominis 237895

O Cryptosporidium hominis!
It’s never good to see ya—
For countless anno dominis
You’ve brought us diarrhea!

Wigglesworthia brevipalpis 36870

Wigglesworthia brevipalpis (How I love that name!)
Isn’t as cute as kittens, but it has a claim to fame—
It lives symbiotically, in the gut of the blood-sucking tsetse fly
(You’d think D.I. would eat this up, but they don’t even want to try.)
The tsetse fly carries trypanosomes, which kill both man and cattle;
Without ol’ Wiggly, the flies are sterile, and that is half the battle.
The genome project could help in this, but just you keep in mind,
There is nothing we can do if it’s intelligently designed.