Atheist Holiday Cards, Part One

Yesterday morning, I picked up the newspaper, and it had the familiar red envelope we have come to expect this time of year, the mass-produced, signature-stamped, highly religious Christmas card from the guy who delivers our papers. We will likely get another from the other paper, and one or more from the postal carriers. Sometimes they are secular, but this one was very very religious.

So, being me, I wondered if I could write something equally treacly, but without citing bible verses. Just for fun.

As luck would have it, later yesterday PZ posted a couple of alternative seasonal cards–for Newtonmas and for Squidmas. They are quite good, actually. I took the opportunity to post the treacly thing I had written earlier that day.

To make a long story short (too late), this post you are reading now is the beginning of an experiment. At least one person (ggab) is planning on doing artwork and making holiday cards from some of my verses, and I thought I might open up the fun for anyone else who might want to join in. So here, and perhaps in some future posts, I will post a few card ideas and verses, and they are yours to work with. If you use them for your own cards, take them as my cephalopodmas gift to you. If you make and use enough to feel guilty about it, there is my tip jar over there to the right. If you go into business and make a bundle, I want a cut.

Anyway, I know that some cards have short verses, some have long, so I just started tooling around with some…


From our house to yours, in this holiday season,
We send out a message of warmth and good cheer—
There’s no greater meaning than love, as the reason
To say Merry Christmas, and Happy New Year.

Longer and really sappy:

The reason for Christmas is bigger than Jesus;
It’s bigger than even a God up above.
The reason we gather together this season
With friends and with family, simply, is love.

The stories they tell of a wonderful heaven,
The myth of a savior’s miraculous birth,
Are mere consolation for leaving behind
All the love we encounter in one life on earth.

More precious, more rare than the greatest of treasures
This life we are living—each one, we know, ends;
I wish you a love even greater than Christmas
And hope you will share it with family and friends.

Longer, with a verse for front and inside, and a bit more feisty:

As we battle our way through the line at the store
And think to ourselves “there has got to be more”
And wonder where “Christmas of long ago” went,
When the meaning of Christmas was what it first meant…

It was stolen by Christians from heathens, of course—
From Greeks and from Romans, from Celtics and Norse—
Why, Christmas is pagan, from yule-log to tree
To mistletoe waiting for you and for me

The meaning of Christmas—the good stuff, at least—
The ornaments, stockings, and “rare Who roast beast”
Has nothing to do with a Son of God’s birth
But rather the changing of seasons on Earth

The nights now grow shorter, the days will grow longer,
The rays of the sun (and our spirits) grow stronger!
So celebrate Solstice, rejoice in the season,
And love one another whatever the reason!

And a very ambitious one for a patient artist:
(front—very dark, with bathysphere, tethered, way down near the bottom, perhaps with lights illuminating a very small area around it)

We can’t trim a tree, there’s no room to hang holly
And a bathysphere doesn’t have halls we can deck
To celebrate Christmas down here seems pure folly
But we had an idea, and thought “what the heck?”

(inside, first)
Much better than ornaments, histioteuthis
Make beautiful tinsel, so that’s what we did
You’d think we hung lights, but the simpler truth is
You’re seeing the flash of the Firefly Squid.

With photophores flashing, they gather together
To send you our greetings from under the sea
It’s beautiful—but—I am wondering whether
The message is really from them or from me!

(Inside, folded—hundreds of histioteuthis [beautiful Jeweled Squid] and firefly squid, perhaps only a few actually in detail, most as not much more than dots, creating a giant “Merry Squidmas!” banner which dwarfs the bathysphere.) (if I had any Flash skills at all, this would work as an online card… if you have the interest, feel free!)

That’s all for now–oh, but there is this one from last year… and 2008 is the last year this one will work!

Now, if you’ll excuse me, the dog wants to go out…

“More fun than beer and pretzels”

Thanks to reader Ron Sullivan, I have my first review up on Lulu! So, since I am much too modest to adequately promote my own book, I will quote his review, and smile broadly to myself.

I got my copy of The Digital Cuttlefish, Vol.1 via snailmail on Monday, and I’m thrilled to have it. Delivery was a lot faster than the boilerplate on the order form would suggest, and the book itself looks great: sturdy binding, clean readable fonts and layout, striking simply-designed cover with the signature cuttlefish blog banner.

Good thing Lulu did such a good job, because the Cuttlefish’s verse deserves the best. This stuff is more fun than beer and pretzels. Joe and I have been reading it over-the-shoulder whenever it pops up on Pharyngula, and now we’re picking up the book at odd times and reading random bits aloud to each other when the mood strikes us.

Electronic copies and Cuttlefish’s blog are great, but having the actual book to wave at holy-rollers and random passers-by is priceless. Now we’re trying to decide who else we know deserves a copy.

I’m happy as a very happy Cuttlefish with a very good reason to be happy…

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The Morning After Thanksgiving At The Cuttlefish House

Last night, as I slept, very unlike a log,
Our garbage-can served as a feast for the dog.
I awoke to a smell which I sadly knew meant
That she’d taken a dump on my room’s heating vent
(She’s a very old dog, very grey in the jowls,
And losing all conscious control of her bowels)
As the temperature dropped, and the furnace went “voom”
The aroma of dog shit enveloped the room,
And I realized, while cleaning up after the beast,
This was likely the work of her Thanksgiving feast.

In a month, the old girl will be fifteen years old;
She can no longer run; she is too often cold;
She is nearly stone deaf, growing gradually blind,
And her stiffening joints have been… other than kind.
For so many years, she’s been such a good friend
But on mornings like this, yes, we’re nearing the end,
And to thank her for all of the years that have passed
I just clean up her mess (and I clean it up fast).
It’s a strange little rite that I go through each dawn,
But too soon both the smell and the dog will be gone.

An Atheist’s Thanksgiving II: This Time It’s Personal

I have so many people to thank this Thanksgiving–including you, if you are reading this (which you are). If you recognize yourself in the following verses, you are quite right. That’s you. If you don’t recognize yourself, don’t worry–none of it is made up; that verse just happens to be about someone else. One verse actually fits two different sets of people at two different times (once in Sofia, once in NYC); so it is, clearly, about both. The “building which once housed petroleum tanks” is not just there for the rhyme–it was in the Gazi district of Athens, where old industrial buildings have been reclaimed into galleries, nightclubs, and fashionable places to meet.

It is quite heavy on thanking the people who helped me to go, and helped me while I went, on my trip this past summer. I have said it before, but I literally could not have gone without the readers of this blog who pitched in and tucked money in my tip jar. This was the biggest thing that has happened in my life in some time, so yeah, this year’s verse is weighted a bit toward that wonderful adventure. It also lacks a proper final verse. I could make up something about how that is supposed to indicate that there are hundreds more to thank, but the truth is I couldn’t think of one.

The whole family is under one roof right now, for the first time since the end of Summer. Time is simultaneously so fast and so slow these days; I think I will sign off now, and go enjoy some of it. Happy Thanksgiving to all of you who celebrate it, and to those who don’t, thanks… just because.

I will gather today with some people I love
I’ll thank them instead of some something above
The place where we gather will not have a steeple
And though some of the people might think that it’s odd
I won’t thank some invisible god
Some invisible fictional god

To J____ in Bulgaria, and to D____ in Greece
And to many more—always the numbers increase—
After this, I know travel’s exciting, not scary
So Greeks and Bulgarians, Aussies and Yanks
Are the people to whom I give thanks
And I will, to my dying day, thanks…

I give thanks to my colleagues—there’s so much I owe,
I couldn’t have done it without them, I know
And my travel companions I’ve come to adore
And I know there are more, but I’m drawing a blank
There’s so many more people to thank.
I have hundreds of people to thank

I give thanks to the people who came to my aid
I am still overwhelmed by the difference you made
To G____, who help me to navigate dangers
And generous strangers who reached to their banks
Now they’re friends, and they’re whom I give thanks
With tears in my eyes, I give thanks

I give thanks to my readers, the near and the far,
The new ones and old ones—you know who you are—
There are only a few whom I’ve met face to face
Though I’m still in the basement of internet ranks
It’s my readers to whom I give thanks
Yes, you get your personal thanks

I give thanks to my good friends like K___ and like M____
And the wonderful night that I shared just with them
Though we all knew the sunrise would come without warning
Till three in the morning we talked and we drank
You are two of the people I thank
Two wonderful people I thank

To V___ who’s the reason I went on my trip
And who almost, so tragically, slipped through my grip
We went out for a drink, where I stared like a dunce,
In a building which once housed petroleum tanks
She’s the woman to whom I give thanks
More than anyone else, she gets thanks

Another Atheist Christmas Song (not mine)

Nothing from me right now–getting ready for classes one last time before Thanksgiving. I have so many people to give thanks to, too. With any luck, I will have time to properly do so. For now, though, a little more evidence that the Bill O’Reilly’s of the world, with their images of an atheist war on christmas, are living in a fantasy world, a nightmare of their own creation. This beautiful song is written and performed by Tim Minchin, a skeptic, an atheist, an Australian, a musician, a comic, a genius, a husband, a father, an all-around wonderful person… not necessarily in that order. I suspect it captures the feeling of Christmas for a lot of people.


Oh, yeah, Tim’s website. His merchandise might make a wonderful christmas gift for someone… Come to think of it, so might my book….

The War (on Christmas) Comes Early

From the Cape of Good Hope to the Newfoundland islands,
The sands of Iran to the Panama isthmus;
From Outback Australia to Inverness Highlands
It’s time to take arms in the War Against Christmas!

My weapons are mistletoe, Christmas trees, holly,
A yule-log, and caroling out in the snow;
Sleigh-rides and snowball-fights, eggnog and Jolly
Old Santa Claus, laughing his loud “Ho! Ho! Ho!”

We’ll make them forget all the Truth of the season—
The sacrifice planned by a god up above—
And have them believing some bastardized reason
Like giving, or kindness, or caring or love!

I’ll cruelly and callously help out a stranger
Who’s down on his luck or has suffered some loss,
I won’t even speak of the babe in the manger
Whom God sent to Earth to get nailed to a cross;

When the winds of December conspire to freeze us
I’ll help collect sweaters and coats for the poor,
Neglecting to make any mention of Jesus,
Whose torture is really what Christmas is for.

My hatred of Christmas will focus my labors
On weaving an atheist fabric of lies—
For instance, I’m giving to all of my neighbors
Gift baskets, cookies, and fruitcakes and pies!

I’ll say “Merry Christmas!” I’ll say “Season’s Greetings!”
I’ll say “Happy Holidays—Joyous Noel!”
Intending of course, that with each of these meetings
The Truth About Christmas can just go to hell.

The truth is that Christmas is not about presents
It’s no time for songs, It’s not time to be nice
It’s not time for feasting on turkeys or pheasants—
It’s sin, and redemption by blood sacrifice.

No time to be jolly; no time to be merry
It’s time to be solemn, and grim, and devout!
The heathens might find it depressing or scary
But that is what Christmas is truly about.

Yes, Jesus is really the ultimate reason
And Christmas is really redemption and sin;
The war against Christmas is early this season—
For God’s sake, let’s hope that the atheists win!

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The Atheist As Scapegoat

Leviticus 16 instructs us on how to properly atone for our sins… it involves two goats and a bull, and specific rituals for sprinkling blood. Trust me. It also describes the role of one of those two goats, known as the scapegoat; this goat basically gets all of our sins cast upon it, then is chased out of town into the wilderness. Et Voila! Sin-free town, God’s happy, the people are happy, everything is good again… kinda sucks to be either the goat or the bull, but someone has to pay.

Today, the scapegoat serves a similar function–we blame all our mess on the scapegoat, and vilify it and hope to run it out of town. We are much more civilized now, though; we no longer use a real goat. Now, we blame the atheists.

Seriously. The Wall Street Journal’s Daniel Henninger blames the atheists for the economic situation.

It has been my view that the steady secularizing and insistent effort at dereligioning America has been dangerous. That danger flashed red in the fall into subprime personal behavior by borrowers and bankers, who after all are just people. Northerners and atheists who vilify Southern evangelicals are throwing out nurturers of useful virtue with the bathwater of obnoxious political opinions.

Can’t blame him, really. Actually analyzing the situation would be difficult. Blaming people like me is so much easier.

Financial instability
On this year’s global scale
Can’t possibly be understood
In every last detail
By educated modern types
From Harvard Business School
With economic data points
And science as their tool.

The modern world’s a scary place
With bankruptcies and such;
The thoughtful man suggests it needs
A bronze-age mystic’s touch.
The Wall Street Journal’s Henninger
Just makes me want to laugh:
Let’s fix the economic mess–
Just sacrifice a calf!

The atheist—a bogeyman
And whipping-boy du jour,
The one who dares to say that work,
Not prayer, must be the cure—
The atheist must take the blame
So take them by the throat,
Lay all our sins upon their heads
Then sacrifice that goat!

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The Digital Pack-Rat, volume 7

From the upcoming Cuttlefish Xmas Songbook (in my dreams):

And so this is Christmas
So back to the war–
It’s time to remember
What Christmas is for
An so this is Christmas
Let’s make a big fuss
Cos Christmas is only
For people like us.

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Unless you are godless
Unless you are queer.

And so this is Christmas
For people like me
For Christian believers
Good people, you see
And so Happy Christmas
It’s so black and white
Don’t say “Season’s Greetings”
‘less you’re ready to fight

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Unless you are godless
Unless you are queer.

And so this is Christmas
So back to the war–
It’s time to remember
What Christmas is for
An so this is Christmas
Let’s make a big fuss
Cos Christmas is only
For people like us.

A very merry Christmas
And a happy New Year
Unless you are godless
Unless you are queer.

War is over when we win it
War is over then

And another nice Cephalopodmas-themed song, but for PZ’s Molly nomination thread:

Oh by gosh, by golly
It’s time to nominate for Molly
Make it easy, for poor old PZ
To put up an active post

Oh by gosh by jingle
Go nom a bunch, or just a single
Find some writing that’s real exciting
The one who moved you the most

Then comes doc Myers
Crowning the one who wins
Who among us desires
To be the person he pins?

Oh by gosh by golly
It’s time to nominate for Molly
C’mon, you masses, get off your asses
And nominate a name or two
So that they can… feel better… than you!

[musical interlude, as Cuttlefish runs to avoid inevitable pelting with rotten fruit]

Then comes doc Myers
Crowning the one who wins
Who among us desires
To be the person he pins?

Oh by gosh by golly
It’s time to nominate for Molly
C’mon, you masses, get off your asses
And nominate a name or two
So that they can… feel better… than you!

A verse I’d rather not have written, for reasons explained here:

I dunno who Donohue thinks he is fooling
His Haggard expression is easily read
He feigns apoplectic, all red-faced and drooling
But clearly he’s curious–you know, in bed.

He’s sorta like Eric, a textbook example
Of passion displaced from its natural goal
He huffs and he puffs, but the data are ample–
He wonders what loving is like, on the (w)hole

The “emergence of consciousness” (note that the phrase presupposes an ontological stance different from the stuff from which it emerges, and thus begs the monism/dualism question, muddies the waters we are peering into, and makes investigation more difficult) is the new creationism. If we can somehow prove dualism true (oh, I dunno, maybe by asking extraordinarily poorly phrased questions, then demanding exhaustively specific answers to those questions, and in the absence of such answers claim that this particular bit of ignorance must prove dualism true), perhaps that leaves a little wiggle-room for god himself to “emerge” from the gaps. This was my scribbling on the matter:

At the center of this issue is a three-pound mass of tissue
That can contemplate infinity, or love, or space and time!
In addition to these features, this mass sits in social creatures
That communicate these contemplations (sometimes, yes, in rhyme).
Just how consciousness emerges from sensations, acts, and urges
Is a complicated question, yes, but hopeless? Not a bit!
But what doesn’t help the matter is this silly dualist chatter–
See, it doesn’t count as science if you merely make up shit.

A leftover from the end of the campaign trail, as each side strove to be more godly than the other:

Just how do these people get loose?
Their attendants can have no excuse!
So, for this year’s election
I’ve got my protection–
Burnt offerings given to Zeus!

They’ve got Jesus, but I’ve got Apollo,
And a Pantheon ready to follow!
(could they be so delirious
To think that I’m serious?
There’s nothing, it seems, they won’t swallow!)

They’ve got Jesus Himself as their backer
To protect against any attacker–
But so weak is their Lord
They consider Him gored
By a rusty nail stuck through a cracker!

I guess I was in a bit of a mood-even more cynical than usual–when the post on NASA showed up:

Those scientist types, with their heads in the stars
With their dreams of the moon or a mission to mars–
Don’t they realize what government spending is for?
Not science, or progress… but going to war!

Those scientist types, with their frets about cost,
With their dreams shot to hell if a robot is lost–
Don’t they realize that people are cheap as tin foil?
We spend them by thousands while fighting for oil!

My take on the extraordinarily high level of intellectual rigor defending various people’s reasons for believing in a god…

I didn’t know what I believed
I thought perhaps I was deceived
By Satan, but I felt relieved
To see through the façade.

I opened up the Holy Book
At random, to a page and took
A skeptical and doubting look
But there, of course, was God!

That’s all there was; I took a chance
And gave the Holy Book a glance
Then saw the Truth and took my stance
Because I’m not naïve:

You think perhaps I misconstrue?
You think my thoughts have gone askew?
They couldn’t print it if not true–
And that’s why I believe!

Throat In A Jar?

The same methodology used to produce
The remarkable “heart in a jar
Has created a trachea, almost from scratch,
And it looks like it’s working, so far!
The organ was made from the stem cells extracted
From marrow they drew from her hip,
And a collagen shell from a donor cadaver
Whose windpipe was one they could snip.
The trachea, treated with antibiotics
And stripped of its cellular coat
Was a scaffold to seed with her stem cells, to grow
A replacement for part of her throat!
So far it appears her recovery’s perfect,
The part’s recognized as her own;
What remarkable news! No concern of rejection—
It matches… because it’s home-grown!

Wow! This is just so incredibly cool! NPR’s “All Things Considered” reports on a trachea transplant success story with a twist–the new trachea was constructed using the recipient’s own stem cells!

Doctors in Spain have implanted a new windpipe into a woman whose airway was badly damaged by tuberculosis.

The pioneering operation used a section of windpipe engineered in a laboratory with adult human stem cells, according to Dr. Paolo Macchiarini, of the Barcelona’s University Hospital Clinic.

The stem cells were extracted from her bone marrow, cultured, and treated with chemicals to induce them to develop into cartilage, fat, and other tissues.

As the cells were growing in England, scientists began work on an even more crucial step — fashioning a kind of scaffolding out of tissue on which the new cells could grow.

They started with a trachea — a portion of the windpipe — taken from a 51-year-old man who had recently died.

The donor’s trachea was rinsed with antibiotics and most of the cells were removed with various detergents and enzymes, a process that took several weeks.

What was left was the shell of the trachea, essentially made up of fibrous collagen.

Yup, pretty much the same process as the heart-in-a-jar.

Over a period of four days, they applied nutrients and chemicals to promote the growth of new layers of tissues, which were composed of the same kinds of cells normally found in the trachea.

The airway was kept in a special container and rotated continuously to ensure even growth.

On June 18, Castillo underwent surgery in Barcelona to have a portion of her airway removed — specifically, the left bronchus.

Surgeons took the newly created windpipe and trimmed it to the proper size and fit it into place near the point where the trachea divides to supply both lungs.

The operation was in June, the report is out in today’s issue of The Lancet. So far, all is going well, without the need for anti-rejection drugs, because the body is recognizing that these are her own cells! That’s her picture at the top of the post–I bet it wasn’t hard coaxing a smile!

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Limerick Contest!!!! (not mine….)

First, the contest (not mine), then the limericks, then a silly story.

The contest is here–and here, I suppose, if you want to see the competition. A limerick contest! Better than that–a Darwin Limerick Contest! With prizes and everything! (see links for details, but it is pretty simple–Darwin-themed limericks.)

I have seen what my readers can do; I will be sorely disappointed if we do not capture 1st, 2nd, and 3rd! Well, not disappointed, but frankly, surprised. And that’s not saying anything about the competition–I just know you folks are that good.

Anyway, here are the ones I am about to submit, just to prime the pump:

While still a young man, Darwin went
On a trip—and the curious gent,
From the fractions of inches
Twixt beaks of his finches
Inferred there was common descent!

It’s a fact that I cannot escape;
I share habits, genetics, and shape
Though the fact makes me blush
Darwin showed it’s not mush—
I’m convinced that my cousin’s an ape!

The gorillas are angry with me
And the chimps are as steamed as can be
No ifs, ands or buts,
The apes don’t want nuts
On their branch of the family tree

My lackeys, my staff and my minions
Are all of them proudly Darwinians
You see, they compete
For their pay (and to eat!),
Sharing only their fittest opinions!

Yes, I know that the key’s reproduction
And I know of the body’s construction
But as Darwin’s my witness
I’ll give up some fitness
Because I so dearly love suction!

The object of all my affection
Just told me I failed her inspection!
So I guess that this means
It’s the end for my genes—
There’s a downside to natural selection!

Oh, yes, the story… the last two limerick contests I entered. Second to last, I won’t tell you what it was, but I will admit, shamefacedly, that it was my goal to win the top three places. So I entered a bunch of limericks, under three different names. Yes, I was first, second, and third. My prize (a mug), though, when it arrived, had a sticker on it warning me that the glaze contained heavy metals, and that it was recognized as toxic by the State of California. Most recently, though, I entered Greta Christina’s contest, just under one identity. I won that, too, but just (just!) first place. But the prize…. !!! Much better than a toxic mug–Greta Christina’s wonderful erotic comic anthology (I’d give it a fabulous review here, but you’d be surprised how difficult it is to write that sort of thing in verse!–just go buy one!)! So, I could be all superstitious and say it works better not to enter as several people… or I could just be lazy and say it is easier to be one… or I could just say it is much more fun to have all of my readers join in!