Halloween Horrors!

It’s almost time for Trick Or Treat,
And now I’m in a panic—
I’m doubting if my candy is
Sufficiently Satanic!
The needles, pins, and razor blades
(Which used to be tradition)
Are terribly old-fashioned now;
I need new ammunition!
The local Coven gave their curse
As every Coven should,
But will that really be enough
To drive away the Good?
The fundies warn us all about
The evil of this day—
How just by eating candy, we
Become the Devil’s prey!
But I wonder, as I always do,
As kids come to my door,
With all the curses I have cast,
Perhaps I should do more?
I’ve made a perfect pentagram
Of skittle, corn, and dud,
Then baptized all my candy in
A newborn infant’s blood.
While waiting for the mess to dry
I reveled with a goat—
Now every child’s candy sends
Some evil down their throat.

The last I’ve ever had such fun
I don’t remember when—
Too bad I’m not as scary as
The folks from CBN.

Yes, the folks at CBN (this is a google cache–apparently some things are too stupid even for CBN to leave on their site) helpfully write to warn us about the real Halloween.

Halloween is much more than a holiday filled with fun and tricks or treats. It is a time for the gathering of evil that masquerades behind the fictitious characters of Dracula, werewolves, mummies and witches on brooms. The truth is that these demons that have been presented as scary cartoons actually exist. I have prayed for witches who are addicted to drinking blood and howling at the moon.

While the lukewarm and ignorant think of these customs as “just harmless fun,” the vortexes of hell are releasing new assignments against souls. Witches take pride in laughing at the ignorance of natural men (those who ignore the spirit realm).

Decorating buildings with Halloween scenes, dressing up for parties, going door-to-door for candy, standing around bonfires and highlighting pumpkin patches are all acts rooted in entertaining familiar spirits. All these activities are demonic and have occult roots.

The word “occult” means “secret.” The danger of Halloween is not in the scary things we see but in the secret, wicked, cruel activities that go on behind the scenes. These activities include:

Sex with demons

Orgies between animals and humans

Animal and human sacrifices

Sacrificing babies to shed innocent blood

Rape and molestation of adults, children and babies

Revel nights

Conjuring of demons and casting of spells

Release of “time-released” curses against the innocent and the ignorant.

Another abomination that goes on behind the scenes of Halloween is necromancy, or communication with the dead. Séances and contacting spirit guides are very popular on Halloween, so there is a lot of darkness lurking in the air.

Damn, all I ever did was decorate the house and eat too much candy.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.


Anglican-Catholic Horizontal Transfer

It’s all over the news, it’s all over the blogs, it’s everywhere, you can’t swing a dead cat without hitting a discussion of the Pope’s recent invitation to Anglicans. A group of Anglican priests, upset at recent changes in their church (changes which slowly, glacially, tectonically, move the church from the bronze age into the early iron age), are considering the Pope’s invitation to return to mother church. I suspect that an even more conservative sect will soon be considering Oogg’s invitation to return to the trees.

You say your faith won’t let you hate?
Treat gay folks worse that you treat straight?
Be sexist? Or discriminate?
It’s time to start your search!
You want a group that’s really great,
That’s never seen as second-rate;
Where folks like you can all relate:
Come join the Catholic Church!

See, ever since your church began
When Henry lusted after Anne,
You’ve looked upon the Vatican
With envy, so it seems.
The Pope, you thought, was superman;
You’re secretly a papal fan:
Good news! Just shout that angl-I-CAN
Fulfill my Catholic dreams!

The offer that we now present
Is one way we can circumvent
Our numbers problem; your dissent
Adds members to our herd!
Of course, to open up our tent
Some ancient rules must now be bent,
But only by a small percent
We’ll modify God’s word.

So join the group that’s grand in scope;
That gives the world its greatest hope
That claims to have the One True Pope—
Your old ways, disavow.
One final thing, to help you cope
As on this brand-new path you grope:
In showers, never drop the soap—
Cos you’re a Catholic now.


Colossal Sea Monster!! O Noes!!

With powerful jaws, like steel girders in strength,
The biggest uncovered thus far,
At 2.4 meters of bone-crushing length
These jaws could bite clean through a car
With a gullet, we’re told, that could swallow a cow,
Next to this boy, T. rex is a kitten!
The biggest of fishes are Pliosaur chow—
When it bites you, you know you’ve been bitten!

For millions and millions of years, it’s been dead,
But it’s back for a visit, it seems—
Please excuse me—I’m going to go hide in my bed,
And hope we don’t meet in my dreams!

The Beeb reports on a gorgeous fossil skull, ten years in the collecting (as the cliff it was imbedded in slowly eroded), of an immense oceanic carnivore, a Pliosaur (with video… which I cannot, apparently, link directly, but which is very cool and worth visiting!).

The pleiosaur expert says a few things which get your attention–this creature could have bitten a small car in half, for instance, which I think probably explains the lack of automobiles in the fossil record. He says that Pliosaur could have swallowed T. rex in one gulp… which I suspect was hyperbole, but just in case, I’m planning on never swimming in the ocean again.


Finding Little Albert

“Little Albert” was a baby, nearly ninety years ago,
And a healthy, mild-mannered one, at that,
His demeanor was the reason he was chosen for the task
Of developing a phobia to rat

John B. Watson was the founder of Behaviorism, and
Was, by all accounts, a bastard through and through.
When presented with a baby, unemotional and strong,
John B. Watson knew exactly what to do.

In conditioning a phobia, one stimulus (a rat)
Had been demonstrated neutral to the kid.
Watson paired it with a scary noise, to see if he could make
Little Albert become phobic… which he did.

It was Watson’s final paper as an academic type,
Then a scandalous affair, and he resigned.
But the mystery that lingered was, what happened to the child?
He was difficult for anyone to find.

Did his phobia continue through a long and fearful life?
Was he traumatized, emotionally scarred?
Did he spend his childhood too afraid to even leave his house,
On the chance that there were rabbits in his yard?

A professor of psychology at Appalachian State
Set his students on the trail of “Albert B.”
So they sifted through the records and uncovered names and dates,
But the answer wasn’t waiting there to see.

They discovered information, though, that narrowed down the search;
Through the census and a search of family trees—
To a woman named Arvilla as the mother of a son
Little Douglas—“Albert B.” was just a tease.

While forensics can’t conclusively confirm that it was he,
There are many similarities involved
It’s statistically unlikely that coincidence is all,
So the authors say the mystery is solved!

Did he live in fear of furry things? Or maybe only rats?
Was his phobia an easy thing to fix?
All the rumors are just rumors, and assuredly are false—
For the boy died at the tender age of six.

Though his tale will live forever, it’s a shame he died so young;
Long before he could have recognized his fame;
On the other hand, consider… such a story, such a tale…
And for ninety years, with someone else’s name.

In this month’s American Psychologist, an article on a mystery of history–the identity of “Little Albert”. Mind Hacks has a summary, for those who prefer their summaries in prose. (Mind Hacks does not mention the blatant typo in paragraph 2 of the pdf; I can only hope that the pdf is a mutation of the original–the word “withouth” does not deserve coining.)

For those of you unfamiliar with Little Albert at all:

Cuttlecap tip to Kylie at Podblack!


Blue Roses: A Halloween Poem

The BBC reports on a genetic breakthrough, of sorts. Japanese whisky distiller Suntory, along with Australian biotech firm Florigene, have succeeded (you can be the judge as to how well) in developing a blue rose. Blue roses, it appears, have been long sought, and are nearly mythological in status–a symbol of mystery, of impossible things, of hope against unattainable love.

Or not.

Horticultural purists find the genetic manipulation to be … cheating, I suppose. As for me, I choose my roses by smell, not by color. I am far more interested in the possibility of trying 12 or 18 year aged Japanese single malt whisky. I guess maybe their gambit is paying off.

In honor of the blue rose, and because we are getting close to Halloween:

Blue Roses: A Halloween Poem

My love has roses in her cheeks—
This always has been true.
Last week, she tumbled down the stairs;
Those roses now are blue.

Her ivory teeth, her ruby lips,
Her blush of rosy red;
Each aspect’s hue now changed, because
She landed on her head.

I loved to lay my head upon
The pillow of her breast;
A cooler pillow now that she’s
Eternally at rest.

Geneticists have conjured up
The first true-blue blue rose
I’ll have to buy one for my love,
To sweeten her repose.

Blue roses at her bedside, and
Blue roses in her cheeks;
Eternal love, transcending death
The message it bespeaks

Beside her grave, I planted
Roses red, for love so true;
But every spring, the roses bloom
A deathly shade of blue.

Is this her way of telling me
She knows how much I loved her?
Or else, perhaps, a message that
She’s angry that I shoved her.


Arizona Update: Three Dead, Thanks To James Arthur Ray

The participants are speaking, telling what occurred that day,
Sharing stories of their puzzlement and grief;
But the dissonance believers feel, is giving Mr. Ray
The impenetrable armor of belief.

How could people die for nothing? How could all this be a scam?
All my money, all my effort, all my pain?
When a Faithful True Believer is the heart of what I am,
Then a sacrifice must always lead to gain.

While the victims fell unconscious, Mr. Ray stood at the door,
Telling people they were going to have to wait—
It’s a difficult experience, but that is what it’s for,
And the attitude you take will choose your fate.

So the blame fell on the victims, and their weakness was the cause,
I’ll survive it if I only just believe—
And I’ll praise the New Age guru, cos he pointed out our flaws,
As the victims’ friends and families now grieve.

The New York Times has a followup article on the deadly Sedona sweat lodge ceremony run by Oprah’s darling James Arthur Ray. I had written on this earlier, and I hate to say that my analysis was pretty damned close–victims are being blamed, Ray is being lauded, excuses are being made.

It must be a horrible thing, to know that you paid a lot of money, went through a lot of trouble and pain, to be lied to and endangered by a cult leader. So, of course, that can’t be what happened. The article should be used as the new textbook example for cognitive dissonance. It sounds like it was just horrendous:

Midway through a two-hour sweat lodge ceremony intended to be a rebirthing experience, participants say, some people began to fall desperately ill from the heat, even as their leader, James Arthur Ray, a nationally known New Age guru, urged them to press on.

Investigators looking over a sweat lodge at a retreat center near Sedona, Ariz. Three people died after an event there this month.

“There were people throwing up everywhere,” said Dr. Beverley Bunn, 43, an orthodontist from Texas, who said she struggled to remain conscious in the sweat lodge, a makeshift structure covered with blankets and plastic and heated with fiery rocks.

Dr. Bunn said Mr. Ray told the more than 50 people jammed into the small structure — people who had just completed a 36-hour “vision quest” in which they fasted alone in the desert — that vomiting “was good for you, that you are purging what your body doesn’t want, what it doesn’t need.” But by the end of the ordeal on Oct. 8, emergency crews had taken 21 people to hospitals. Three have since died.

Mr. Ray has been accused of standing by the exit, intimidating people who wished to leave:

Mr. Ray, who is based in Carlsbad, Calif., did not respond to requests for comment. At a public seminar in Denver on Tuesday, he was interrupted by two men who shouted, “Tell them the truth!” and: “You control people! You stood in front of the door and refused to let people leave.”

The men were escorted from the meeting, and people burst into applause for Mr. Ray. “I, too, want answers and am cooperating with authorities,” he said. He asked for a moment of silent prayer for those who had died.

Read that again. The applause was for Mr. Ray. Not for the two man standing up to him. Leon Festinger was right. But, of course, it gets worse:

The deaths have not shaken all of Mr. Ray’s supporters. “He sets up the stage for people to change their lives — he gives you the tools,” said Meredith Ann Murray, a real estate agent in Bellingham, Wash. She attended a 2007 Spiritual Warrior retreat, where she spent three hours in a sweat lodge. Mr. Ray let people come and go as they pleased, she said. Ms. Murray said she had had a “huge breakthrough” in the sweat lodge that helped her overcome claustrophobia.

She also described a game — enacted again at the retreat this month — in which Mr. Ray wears white robes and plays God, ordering some participants to commit mock suicide.

Mr. Ray, I’d like you to meet Jim Jones; Jim Jones, this is Mr. Ray. I think you two will have a lot to talk about.

The Times article saves the biggest slap in the face for last:

Dr. Bunn and others said that by the end of the final round in the sweat lodge, at least three people were unconscious. Mr. Ray’s employees, called the Dream Team, threw water on people as they emerged from the structure, which was about 24 feet wide and 4 1/2 feet tall.

The events have left Dr. Bunn distraught and angry. Dr. Bunn said that as she was crawling out of the tent, weak from exhaustion, she found Ms. Brown, her roommate at Angel Valley, not moving. “I think Kirby was barely gasping her last breaths, and that’s what I was hearing as I got out of the tent.”

On a conference call Mr. Ray held last week for sweat lodge participants, Dr. Bunn was shocked to hear one recount the comments of a self-described “channeler” who visited Angel Valley after the retreat. Claiming to have communicated with the dead, the channeler said they had left their bodies in the sweat lodge and chosen not to come back because “they were having so much fun.”

Dr. Bunn had a less charitable view: “They couldn’t re-enter their bodies because they were dead.”

“The Secret” is all about blaming the victims. But damn…

Embedded video from CNN Video


For Dr. Pal

I’m cutting corners where I can;
It’s good to be so frugal!
I’m cutting out my doctor, and
Replacing him with Google!

That mole that keeps on growing?
I’m convinced it’s fungal rust!
(If I can’t trust Wikipaedia,
Who else, then, can I trust?

My doctor says such fungi
Are a problem… but for plants.
He’s stuck in Western Medicine,
Won’t give my view a chance!)

My Neighbor swears by St. John’s Wort,
My mom, by chicken soup–
And eBay has a listing for
Some pure organic goop–

I’m going to cure that silly mole
Through different ways of knowing;
Ignore the fact that, as I act,
The damned thing keeps on growing.

It’s harder to ignore it now,
And keep it out of sight;
But god I hate that doctor, cos
He’s so convinced he’s right!

I’m going to try some reiki, and
Some therapeutic touch;
It’s just as good as doctors, and
It doesn’t cost as much!

Ok, it’s been a month or two–
I guess it didn’t work.
It’s time to suck it up and see
The doctor (what a jerk!).

I TOLD YOU SO! I did! I did!
My fears have all come true!
The doctor saw the mole and said
There’s nothing he can do.

(In truth, he added “at this point”,
And placed the blame on me–
Which shows that I was right, to hate
The worthless S.O.B.)

Context–for the record, I really like Dr. Pal, and appreciate his honest blogging, his passion and occasional exasperation, and the care he so obviously shows for his community. Check out his “donors choose” posts, and help make a meaningful difference!

A Milestone Of Sorts

One Hundred, now number my followers;
I’m not really sure what that means.
I think those are people who follow my posts
On electric computing machines.

One Hundred, who read silly verses
On science, religion, and more;
They each clicked a link that said “follow this blog”,
Though I’m not really sure what it’s for.

One Hundred is twice more than fifty;
At least, that’s what I understand.
And more might be better—if that is the case,
Then a thousand would really be grand!

One Hundred delightful companions!
One Hundred intelligent folks!
One Hundred to argue, critique, or just comment,
Or laugh at my miserable jokes.

One Hundred! One Hundred and counting!
I hope that the growth never ends!
Today I invite you, encourage, incite you,
To share all the fun with your friends*!

*or enemies, depending on which verses you choose to focus on.

So, yeah, I looked over there to the right and I see that, as of recently (today? yesterday? before?), I officially have 100 followers! That’s gotta be a good thing, right? (Seriously, is it a good thing? I assume it is, but I have no idea what it means. I am not internet savvy, nor computer savvy, nor all that happy with a pocket calculator. I write these things on a coal-fired difference engine, which represents a major step up from my previous waterwheel powered device.)

Thank you, all of you. I don’t quite know why, but I thank you, because it’s a nice round number and I am easily impressed by stuff like that. Friday is my second blogoversary, and I would never have guessed two years ago that my blog would still exist now, let alone have more followers than ever before (and we are on course for the biggest month in terms of visitors and pageviews in all that time)! So anyway, thanks, and feel free to pick your favorite verses and send links to your friends, cos as cool as 100 is, I have heard that they make even bigger numbers! (oh, no! He’s a follower addict!)


Which Is Witch?

An extremely sad story today from the BBC, although with a better ending than hundreds of other such stories.

Five women were paraded naked, beaten and forced to eat human excrement by villagers after being branded as witches in India’s Jharkhand state.

Local police said the victims were Muslim widows who had been labelled as witches by a local cleric.

As may be expected, at least two theories are offered to explain the violence–the religious superstition itself, or as a cover for economic motive:

Hundreds of people, mostly women, have been killed in India because their neighbours thought they were witches.

Experts say superstitious beliefs are behind some of these attacks, but there are occasions when people – especially widows – are targeted for their land and property.

Just as we so often call an animal dangerous, when we are a greater threat to them than they are to us, it is clear that in this village, wickedness was less a characteristic of the witches than of the accusers.

And so, in a bit of role reversal, a bit of MacBeth:

First villager:
Thrice the local clerics call’d

Second villager:
Thrice and once the mad mob thronged

Third villager:
Cameras on! ‘Tis time, ‘tis time.

First Villager:
Round about the village go
Take the five and drive them so.
Rend their clothes and strip them bare
Beat them in the village square
Know the bible must forgive:
“Suffer not a witch to live.”

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second villager:
Muslim widows, old or rich,
Labeled by the clerics: “Witch!”
Helpless women, now we see,
Targeted for property.
Hundreds watch, and some join in
To stone a witch, it is no sin—
Treat them to a sacrament
Of filthy human excrement.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Third villager:
Stunted morals, blunted hearts,
Faith, its tyranny imparts,
Son and daughter, father, mother,
Join as one to fight The Other,
Holy scripture, clerics’ will,
Economic needs fulfill.
Superstition, prejudice,
Religion leads to things like this—
Mere accusation will suffice;
Five women, now, serve sacrifice.
The village now will cast their blame
And thus preserve their own good name.

Double, double, toil and trouble;
Fire burn and cauldron bubble.

Second Villager:
Cool it while the cameras roll;
When they leave we’ll take our toll.

Video, for those who wish.

Oh, the really sad thing? From the BBC website:


One Fish, Two Fish

One fish
Two fish
Crew fish
Wonder who fish?
Yellow-blue fish!
Little fish, as bright as lights
Who love to munch on parasites!
Some are yellow; some are blue
Some very few, some other hue
Why are they colored just like this?
Go ask an ichthyologist!
Some are happy; some may gripe
The nice one has a vivid stripe!
From here to there, from there to here,
There’s fishes in our hydrosphere!
Here are some who like to learn
They love to learn for food they earn
Oh me! Oh my!
Oh my! Oh me!
What funny things live in the sea!
Some have two fins, and some have four
Some have eight legs, and some have more!
Where did they come from?
Ooze or slime?
They’ve co-evolved for a long, long time
We see them live
We see them die
Beneath the sea
Beneath the sky
Too many times
We say good-bye
Each one unique; each one distinct
Sometimes we’re why
They go extinct.

The New York Times has a really nice article about learning in fish, with both laboratory and reef studies examining different aspects of a single larger question, but with an irritating, very basic mistake that happens to be one of my pet peeves.

On the reef, the article reports on two different teams out of the University of Queensland, one looking at the effect of the cleaner wrasse (reefs without cleaner wrasses had about 5 times as many parasites as those with cleaners), and the other examining the role of color and pattern in the recognition of cleaner wrasses (color and stripe are both important, in case you wondered). In the lab, the ability of fish to recognize and differentially respond to visual stimuli was examined by yet more of those busy Queenslanders; damselfish demonstrated they could learn to recognize various patterns (in one experiment) and colors (in another) in both two and three dimensional targets.

Remarkably, the fish also learned when the food reward was delayed and delivered far from the stimulus. The damselfish exhibited what is called anticipatory behavior, in that they would tap the image and then swim quickly to the other end of their tank in anticipation of their food reward. This response is much like Pavlov’s dogs who learned to anticipate food at the sound of a bell.

No, it’s not. Not like Pavlov’s dogs, that is. The task the fish were presented with was clearly an operant chamber–a Skinner box (or Skinner tank, as it were)–the elegant device B. F. Skinner invented in order to examine operant behavior. Not respondent behavior, which is what Pavlov looked at.

In an otherwise excellent article (including a description of the procedure clear enough to easily see this error), does one sentence really make such a difference?

Well… yes. I don’t know whether the mistake is the fault of the reporter or of the research team; sadly, either is possible. Behaviorism has been subject to steady misrepresentation for decades. It’s as if the creationists got to control what the majority of Americans knew about evolution… Like that could ever happen.

And this one is so incredibly easy, too.


Like, oh… Dr. Seuss.