The Spirit Of Spirit

Why do we care about poor little Spirit?
A robot is shutting down; why all the fuss?
My theory, assuming you might want to hear it—
It’s not just a bot: it’s a real part of us.

For over six years, I could wander a planet;
This rover named Spirit would act as my eyes!
Much more than suspected, back when they began it,
So, yes, I’ll be sad when the poor creature dies.

You say, “it’s a robot—it never was living!
It’s metal and silicon, lenses and gears!
Exploring the surface of Mars, unforgiving,
Controlled from a distance, for over six years!”

Of course, this is true. It’s a robot, just driving;
It just blindly does what it’s programmed to do.
But it does so where I have no hope of surviving,
And when it shuts down, then I’m blind on Mars, too.

I think it is good that the “death” of this rover
Is met with emotion—a tear, or a frown.
We all hit the off-switch, when our time is over…
I hope you’ll feel likewise when I power down.

Inspired by this post by The Astronomist, and of course the full cartoon at XKCD.

Running Barefoot

I don’t enjoy the way it feels
To run; I always bruise my heels.
But running (so I hear) appeals
To most of you, I know.
The thing I did not understand
Is, running, on the dirt or sand
Is better if I try to land
Not on my heel, but toe.

This “running” that I’ve often cursed
Is harmful, if you land heel first;
Initial impact is the worst—
Three times your weight, and Ouch!
I’m thinking now, it might be fun
To check this out, to take a run!
Just one thing keeps me from the sun—
I really love my couch!

It’s all over the news-I saw it last night on TV, today on the Beeb, and over at Laelaps (and I’m sure I’ll see more). In addition, Cuttleson just finished the book, and is a new convert.

Hey, I am a big fan of barefoot. My neighbors have caught me out getting the paper, having walked barefoot through the snow to get to the box; in summer, shoes are evil. So this is a nice finding–but I have to admit, I have seen a lifetime’s worth (or not quite yet) of ads for running shoes–enough to avoid an “I knew it all along!” response. I think the ads convinced me. But hey, new evidence, new conclusions, for couch potatoes as well as science.

Atheist Billboard Hypocrisy! (Or Not)

When they pass the plate on Sunday, and we put our money in,
They assure us that it lets the Church do good
So we dig a little deeper—being selfish is a sin—
And we donate like the Bible says we should.

Though we haven’t got much money, we still give as best we can,
Every Sunday morning, roughly ten o’clock
Now we see our small donations help a much, much bigger plan,
Cos we’ve got the biggest billboard on the block!

Every church around has got one, and there’s some with five or six
Praising Jesus and inviting folks to come
There are dozens in the city, and there’s more out in the sticks
And they must have cost a mighty godly sum!

When “Our Lady Of The Blessed Heart”, the local Catholic Church,
Put their new one by the highway overpass
We just couldn’t let it stand like that, with us left in the lurch;
Our humongous billboard really kicked their ass!

We’ve competed now for decades, with our steeples and our signs,
Till the megachurches left us in their dust;
And it might be steeple envy, if you read between the lines,
But there’s something now that fills us with disgust!

Yes, the godless heathen atheists, the lowest of the low,
Have a billboard that they want to put in town!
If they try it, though, I’m telling you (and really, I should know)
If they put it up, we’re gonna burn it down.

What a waste of their resources! Why, that money’s better spent
Housing homeless, feeding hungry, helping poor;
For a message on a billboard should be strictly heaven-sent—
That for all your problems, Jesus is the cure!


I got a comment (thanks, Mariano!) on the “Starving? Have a bible!” thread, linking to a hilarious article accusing atheists of hypocrisy with regard to our reaction to the Audio Bible story. Now, to be fair, the Audio Bible person (not Mariano) who commented assured us that they are not sending these bibles instead of relief items, but along with them, and by request of people in Haiti. Moreover, he or she is trying to get the future runs of the device to include a radio receiver, so that it will be of practical use in disaster areas. I maintain that, although the actions of Faith Comes By Hearing are good, and their intentions perfectly honorable (although they certainly don’t need my approval), the Audio Bible, as is, does nothing to alleviate the real problems in Haiti. (It does work to alleviate some illusory problems, though; problems that stem from their belief in the first place. It may comfort them when they feel they have been abandoned by god; a solution to a problem that never needed to exist.)

From Mariano’s article:

Certainly, atheists, being absolute materialists, do not see how human beings are anything but bio-organisms and require nothing but bio-organic fuel, housing, etc. Yet, the Christian view is holistic and thus, organizations such as Faith Comes By Hearing seek to provide both; food for the body and food for the soul.

Actually, the atheist view is holistic, if by “whole” you mean “all that is there, without making shit up.”

Now, what of atheistic hypocrisy?

The fact is that for at least the last couple of years atheists worldwide have been literally wasting hundreds upon hundreds of thousands upon thousands of dollars in donated money not in order to help anyone in need during times of recession, war, poverty, etc. but in order to purchase anti-theistic and pro-atheism bus ads and billboards in order to attempt to demonstrate just how clever they consider themselves to be.

Now, they suddenly anoint themselves the charity police, complain and condemn based, by the way, on relative-subjective-personal preference based “morality.”

Well, my dear atheists friends; first repent of your own astonishingly wasteful back-patting boasting and then, perhaps, eventually, get around to criticizing those who are feeding, housing the needy body and soul—those who have been doing it for millennia upon millennia by the way.

I’ve seen atheist billboards. None in person, mind you; only online. I’ve seen religious billboards. Hundreds. Online, on the road, on the hill, on the bus, in the paper… By Mariano’s logic, think how much money has been thus wasted, that could have been used to help those in need.

Mariano is right about one thing–the churches have been doing it for millennia. We disagree on precisely what they have been doing. I hope that Mariano himself is free of hypocrisy, and will perhaps join Sarah Silverman’s “Sell the Vatican: Feed the Poor” campaign.

Actually, it kind of sickens me to read the sort of thing Mariano has linked to. The church-going people I knew while growing up were the first to donate, the first to volunteer, and never gave a thought about who else was donating or why. It was their own business. Of course, I found out years later that at least one pillar of that religious community was himself an atheist; the church was simply the best way he could help.

The billboards are up because atheists are treated as second class citizens. It’s nice to see, for once, that we are considered good enough to actually hold to a higher standard than believers themselves.

On God And Haiti

“We stand here by the grace of God”
The quake survivors said,
And thanked Him they were not among
Two hundred thousand dead.
“What happened is the will of God”
But God receives no blame;
Survivors gather humbly, and
Sing praises to His name.
One wonders, in the aftermath,
If God is really there—
But which is worse: no God at all,
Or gods that do not care?

In a Saturday NYTimes op-ed, author James Wood ponders the various different invocations of God in the reactions to Haiti’s devastation, from Pat Robertson, to President Obama, to the Haitian survivors themselves.

[A] 27-year-old survivor, Mondésir Raymone, was quoted thus: “We have survived by the grace of God.” Bishop Éric Toussaint, standing near his damaged cathedral, said something similar: “Why give thanks to God? Because we are here. What happened is the will of God. We are in the hands of God now.” A survivor’s gratitude is combined with theological fatalism. This response is entirely understandable, uttered in a ruined landscape beyond the experience of most of us, and a likely source of pastoral comfort to the bishop’s desperate flock. But that should not obscure the fact that it is little more than a piece of helpless mystification, a contradictory cry of optimistic despair.

It is an interesting look at the use of God in such times.

For either God is punitive and interventionist (the Robertson view), or as capricious as nature and so absent as to be effectively nonexistent (the Obama view). Unfortunately, the Bible, which frequently uses God’s power over earth and seas as the sign of his majesty and intervening power, supports the first view; and the history of humanity’s lonely suffering decisively suggests the second.

Interesting, that either view still maintains a God. I wonder why it is that a god who either causes or allows such suffering is not consigned to history. My universe works just fine with no god at all.


In an update, I had a visit in the comments on the “Starving? Have a bible” thread. A representative of the company says he will bring the idea of including a radio receiver, to make the audio bible more useful in such disaster scenarios. I think there are contact details in the link to the company website from my older post, if anyone wants to deliver words of encouragement.

Accommodationism: A Parable

I wanted to learn how to play violin;
I also wanted to swim.
I queried the maestro, who told me flat out
My chances were frankly quite grim:
A musical instrument gets in the way
And they don’t perform well, wet;
And as for tone, some soggy notes
Are all you’re gonna get.

But one accommodationist
Was there to give me hope:
He said they were compatible,
And not to give up hope!
So I’m in the pool, most every day,
With violin in hand;
I practice my scales till my fingers prune up,
But I guess I don’t understand—

It just doesn’t sound like a violin sounds,
And it’s harder and harder to swim!
I’m starting to think that the maestro was right
And I’m wishing I’d listened to him!
There are times when two things simply don’t go together,
That’s the story I’ve come here to tell—
You can play a violin under the water;
You simply can’t play it too well.

Starving? Have A Bible!

They were starving; they were homeless; they were dying; they were dead.
There were bodies to be buried; there were children to be fed.
There were broken heaps of rubble where the houses used to stand
There was utter devastation; there was chaos in the land.
There were frantic cries for rescue; there were howls of fear and pain
There were heroes risking life and limb, with much to lose or gain.
There were millions in donations—drinking water, food to cook—
And the most important gift of all… The Christian Holy Book.

While it cannot stave off hunger, and it cannot slake your thirst,
It’s the most important item, when your life is at its worst;
No, it cannot heal a broken bone; it cannot make you whole,
But a Bible, in your time of need, could save your mortal soul!
It’s the timeless sacred message from the Bearded Guy Upstairs,
And it speaks of His omnipotence, and tells you that He cares.
When your world is torn asunder, as your very country bleeds,
Who could doubt, the Holy Bible is the thing that Haiti needs?

It’s the latest, greatest model; it’s a solar powered job!
It can shout the Holy Scripture out, in Creole, to the mob
That has gathered there, expectant, in the hopes of some supplies—
When instead they hear the Word Of God, imagine their surprise!
We are sending them six hundred, and that takes a lot of space,
So we bumped some crates of water, and put Bibles in their place;
Planes will bring the Holy Bibles in, like manna from above…
Cos it’s Bibles, and not medicine, that shows True Christian Love.

News Item: “Earthquake survivors get solar-powered bibles

The Proclaimer, “a ministry tool like no other” (hey, I thought that was Pat Robertson’s title!) could have been a solar-powered radio (it also has a hand-crank dynamo backup), but instead of a radio which could tell Haitians where to go for food, water, or medicine, it has a microchip with Scriptures in Haitian Creole. The rechargeable battery could play the entire New Testament a thousand times or more. Some 600 are on their way to Haiti, where with any luck the batteries and solar panels will be scavenged for other uses.

Cuttlecap tip to PZ, of course.

The Digital Pack-Rat, vol. 23

Welcome, to a special blasphemy edition of the Digital Pack Rat, courtesy of troll/spam commenter “DM”. I was not going to include the second entry today, but since DM called this a “blasphemy blog”, I really have no choice. All credit, though, must go to DM–it is his spamming that leads directly to this blasphemy. If he wants to see more, he should keep spamming. If he really cares about his faith, he should shut his pie-hole. Oh, and for the rest of you–on the off chance that blasphemy offends you, you might want to click on through to some other page right about now. Fair warning.

So… the first verse is only a *little* blasphemous. It was a comment on “America’s Next Religion“, the game show proposed by PZ, in which the various faiths compete to become our National Religion.

Onward, Christian soldiers! Grab your cellphones! Make the call!
To make certain your religion is the favorite of them all!
The preliminary judging puts us clearly in the lead,
But your vote must still be counted to succeed!

Onward, Christian soldiers! It’s a one-nine-hundred line,
That will keep your lord and savior turning water into wine!
We know we’ve asked a lot before; it’s really kind of funny,
But your vote is what we need now, more than money!

Onward Christian soldiers! Vote as often as you can!
For the god who loved you so much that he turned into a man,
And got nailed upon a cross of wood (which you should not attempt)
Just to keep the right religion tax exempt!

Onward Christian soldiers! Stop your praying! Grab your phone!
Your God may be omnipotent, but can’t do this alone!
Yes, we told you faith moves mountains, but we’re asking you now, please–
God needs action now, so get up off your knees!

Onward Christian soldiers! Here’s a message from above:
We’re about to get our ass kicked by Muhammad’s boot of love!
All your praying is a waste of time; We really want to win!
Here’s a New Commandment: Praying is a sin!

Onward Christian… never mind, you haven’t got the stuff–
You must’ve thought that prayer alone would really be enough.
We lied, and you believed us. Guess we just deserved to lose.
Do we really have to suck up to Tom Cruise?

Ok… now the fun one. This one comments on an interesting find on, again reported by PZ. It seems they sell communion wafers, and in the “people who bought this item also bought these”, we see… Astroglide:

I hold it as a point of pride
To walk with Jesus by my side
With him alone I will abide
It was for me that Jesus died.

I walk with Jesus, every stride;
To him alone will I confide
The things I seek, He will provide
No need of mine will be denied.

My heart, of course, I open wide
And let my Jesus come inside;
Jesus wept. And me, I cried:
That’s why we bought the Astroglide.

Lastly, to keep people thinking about giving, a comment on the umbrella organization for non-believers to give aid to Haiti (and, I hope, a continuing project when it is needed):

I probably would holler
If you stole from me a dollar,
But a dollar isn’t really all that much.
I could maybe buy a cola
Or a handful of granola;
Maybe tuck it in a g-string, but I couldn’t buy a touch.

I’d be angry for a minute, maybe two
But a dollar might be life or death for you.

And you know I’d shout aplenty
If I went and lost a twenty
That’s a pizza, and a six of decent beer
Or the cover at a nightclub
Where I’d go, or where I might, bub,
If it wasn’t so annoying, so I mostly just stay here.

I’d be pissed off for a day, or two or three
But that twenty bucks might save your family.

I’d be sure my anger thundered
If some asshole stole a hundred
Cos a hundred is a major chunk of dough!
And I’m sure that I would feel it
If some wanker were to steal it
But a hundred means much more to you, as anyone would know.

And a hundred less would hardly break my neck
In perspective, guess it’s time to write a check.

My Dinner With Roger

It has been a little while since I last saw an attempted internet meme—your favorite five this or that; your first posts of each month, or the photo out your front window—and I thought I’d try my hand. Besides, if it works, I get to read a whole lot of wonderful writing, on a topic well worth writing about.

The rules:
First, read Roger Ebert’s amazing, moving essay “Nil By Mouth”. Take your time. Have tissues on hand. (To, er, whet your appetite, Ebert’s essay is about what he does and does not miss, now that he is unable to eat, drink, or speak. It is eloquent and beautiful, and will change your life forever. I’d quote the last paragraph here, but that would spoil your pleasure.)
Second, take some time to think. You’re gonna want that. You’re gonna need that. You’re gonna enjoy that.
Third, write. What was the best dinner (or two, or three, or… I have chosen to write about one, because iambic pentameter gets old fast) you ever had, by the criteria inspired by your reading of Roger Ebert. You do not have to follow my example (you especially should not bother writing in rhyme, unless you share that particular disorder with me).
Fourth, tag some others with the meme. Who? Your dinner party, that’s who. If these blog posts are dinners with friends, who are you inviting? One person? Several?

I had entirely too many meals to choose from, but one kept coming to mind again and again, so here it is. Every bit of it is true; all I did was write it down. I could have gone into much more detail, but then we’d be in epic poem territory, and I kinda wanted to get it posted this year.

The cook leaned up against the no-smoking sign,
Lit one cigarette from another, and gave us a look.
It was late, near closing; his friends were leaving to find
A party somewhere, and couldn’t wait for the cook.
We were four Americans; the cook must have guessed
We were better entertainment. He turned, re-lit the grill,
And asked us what we wanted. “What’s your best?”
So, burgers it was—but no run-of-the-mill
Ground beef; we could choose chicken or pork,
With mayonnaise, fried egg, and yellow cheese
For condiments, and french fries to eat with a fork.
“To drink?” “Four large diet cokes, if you please.”
We sat, the four of us, and ate, and drank, and talked.
The cook looked on, amused by us, no doubt;
Once strangers, now our group of friends had walked
Through Greece and Bulgaria together, and were just about
To say goodbye, perhaps for good. We knew
Each other, loved each other, and this perfect night
Was ours. We ate our meals and looked back through
The past five weeks. I complained that the flight
Back home was coming all too soon for me.
We would have stayed there talking through the night
If we could have; the cook’s face said we should go.
We left—so very happy, so very sad.
Sure, it probably was the company, but I know…
That was the best damn cheeseburger I ever had.

(This is the place. If you are ever in Sofia, Bulgaria, there are scores of better places to eat. Unless you are with friends, and have walked the whole town looking for just the right place for a pork burger with mayo, yellow cheese, and fried egg, on a soft white roll. In which case, this is the very best place on earth. It’s on Shipka street, about a block from the University.)

Now, the really tough part. My dinner party. I am going to start small, so as not to deplete the blogospheric resources too much. My reasons for choosing each are my own, and I will not share them, other than to say that I chose individuals, without much care as to how they combine. I do think having these people around my table would make for a wonderful evening (for me, at least). I am very grateful to each of them for the privilege,, according to Ebert’s criterion, of having dined at their tables so many times already. In no particular order…

Greta Christina (Greta Christina’s Blog)
Cath (VWXYNot?)
SC (Salty Current)
Bronwen Scott (Snail’s Eye View)
The Ridger (The Greenbelt)
Martin Rundvist (Aardvarchaeology)

And hey, if you are not at the table, but like the idea, consider yourself invited! Write your own, and invite your own people to your table! Oh, and link back here so I can read it!

Edited to add: More and more, I hate the notion of choosing just a few people to send this to. I have already though of a couple dozen people I wish I had “invited” to my table, and I have no doubt I will think of many more before bedtime. So. If you have read this far, you are officially tagged, and asked (politely) to write up your own Ebert Dinner. To keep with meme tradition (is that metamemology?), I will keep my dinner choices, but I have just called up the Intarweb Virtual Caterers and ordered a tent that can fit all of you. You are invited.

Don’t thank me. Thank Roger Ebert.

καλή όρεξη!

Raising The Dead!

A man is crumpled by a car;
He’s lying dead, and there you are–
Don’t waste your time with CPR,
Just bow your head and pray.
No need to call for EMTs;
The Holy Bible guarantees
Just fall down praying on your knees
The proper Christian way.

From prairie plains to shining shores
The hospitals will close their doors;
The pow’r of life and death is yours
If only you believe.
No more a need for any meds,
Or research messing up our heads,
Since raising people from the dead’s
So easy to achieve.

It’s really quite a simple game:
Just find a corpse, and then proclaim
“Rise up! Rise up, in Jesus’ name!”
And that’s what it will do.
But if by chance he will not stand;
The corpse won’t do as you command,
The fall-back is already planned:
We put the blame on you.

Over on Pharyngula, PZ has posted a video of a man who claims to have raised the dead. Says it’s not that hard to do, really. In the comments to that post, there are a number of commenters who doubt the man’s sincerity. I wish I could. I really do.

But, the thing is, I have known people who honestly believed that prayer could raise the dead. Despite the fact that it did not work for their son, my friend. So, of course, it demonstrated that their faith was insufficient.

I hear there are groups that are actively praying for the victims of the Haitian earthquake. I hope that praying was the second thing they did, after donating. I remember my own church, decades ago, donating far more money than they feasibly could, to the victims of a tornado-struck town. Churches can be a tremendous vehicle for good in a situation like this; they are an organized group of people with a structure in place that can be put to this use. Of course, so can clubs, sports teams, schools, and even internet communities. There is little or nothing that a church can do that these other groups cannot. On the other hand, they could easily do less, if they choose to pray instead of work.

Mocking Pat Robertson (A Guest Post by Dr. Adequate)

There is, or ought to be, a close-knit community, a guild if you will, of pseudonymous internet poets. As I have said before, I am friends with a number of them who do what I do better than I do it (I, however, make up for quality with quantity). One of our proud fraternity has recently lost his internet home, but not his penchant for skewering fools with a pen much mightier than Excalibur itself. (I note, now, that Podblack has also posted this verse. Only fair–it was she who introduced him to me.)

What Podblack does not have, though, is his very own introduction. I do. Ladies, Gentlemen, Virtual Entities, I give you the inimitable Dr. Adequate:

You will, of course, have seen Pat Robertson’s latest bit of crazy, and those who know me know that I can’t see a fish in a barrel without getting an itchy trigger finger and a strong craving for bouillabaisse.

I therefore give you this little ditty, which I call …

Unmysterious Ways

Jehovah, as I understand,
holds all creation in his hand:
the Bible leaves no doubt.
And yet he always intervenes
with great economy of means,
and takes the easy route —

sends droughts to nations that defy
his will (and which are hot and dry);
to prove his power is great, he
judiciously supports this boast
by flooding regions on the coast
and causing quakes in Haiti.

For God, it seems, has got a chronic
dislike of anything tectonic
as Pat Robertson’s revealed,
and he’ll pour his wrath and hate on
folks who don’t live on a craton
on a continental shield.

For petty sins like genocide
and torture, he lets those abide
and wisely stays his hand;
but saves his deadliest assaults
for those who have tectonic faults —
that’s one thing he can’t stand.

The wage of sin is death, it’s written:
and yet I somehow stay unsmitten
by earthquake or tsunami:
for God forgives the rather large sins
of those who shun tectonic margins,
and chooses not to harm me.

And so, as far as I am able
I stick to regions that are stable
and thus avoid my sentence.
This clever little dodge, I call
most geo-theo-logical …
and more fun than repentance.