Jumping The Gun

The first reports are always hazy;
No one knows what happened yet.
But, look for facts? I’m much too lazy!
Pure assumption’s what you’ll get.

Liberals know the dude’s a ‘bagger,
Fond of Sarah Palin’s list;
Right-wing thought: must be a fag, or
Mexican, or atheist.

Fingers pointing, pointing wildly
See the accusations fly!
Premature, to put it mildly—
Far too soon to answer “why?”

Social ties or vague psychosis—
Everyone’s an expert now;
Always, though, the diagnosis
Fits their older views, somehow.

Rorschach tests are termed “projective”,
Aimed to read inside our heads—
I’d suggest, for that objective
Simply look at comment threads.

I’ve said it before, I’ll likely say it again: I love comment threads.

But… damn.

Moments after the AZ shootings, not knowing that anything had happened, I brought up a couple of my favorite news sites, and was immediately drawn into a black hole of stereotyping and confirmation bias. Liberals knew it was a conservative, conservatives knew it was a liberal; there were people willing to bet (I saw amounts from 20 to 1000 dollars) that the shooter was Mexican (before the reports came out that he was white), gay (after those reports), a tea-partier, an atheist, and so on. When the list of his “favorite books” came out, it only served to reinforce these preconceived notions.

I also saw comments from people who were actually cheering the event. I’d write about them, but I can’t find the words.

Oh, and this is particularly sobering–a timeline of similar rhetoric and events.

Star Stuff Contemplating Star Stuff

“We are star stuff contemplating star stuff.”
Carl Sagan

Star light, star bright,
Ten billion years ago,
I need to ask a question
Cos I really want to know:

The carbon in our bodies came
From ancient stars’ collapse;
I’ve heard it from a poet
Or a physicist, perhaps

But is it true, as some have said
(I can’t believe it, quite),
That different stars made atoms
For my left hand and my right?

Or could it be, my love and I
Were once the self-same star,
Together for eternity
In time and space, so far?

Something I have wondered for years–probably from about six seconds after I first heard about how heavier elements were formed–is, how was (is) the matter from exploding stars distributed? Space is, as Douglas Adams noted, big. “[V]astly, hugely, mind-bogglingly big.” If a star goes supernova, how widely would its heavier elements be distributed? Would the majority of the “star stuff” coalesce into just a relative handful of relatively local gravity sinks, or could we expect a relatively small amount in any one relatively local area (and yes, I thought about each of those relatives; it’s my version of Drake’s equation).

Lawrence Krauss, in his wonderful “A Universe From Nothing” talk, gives one answer:

Every atom in your body came from a star that exploded. And, the atoms in your left hand probably came from a different star than your right hand. It really is the most poetic thing I know about physics: You are all stardust. You couldn’t be here if stars hadn’t exploded, because the elements – the carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, iron, all the things that matter for evolution and for life – weren’t created at the beginning of time. They were created in the nuclear furnaces of stars, and the only way for them to get into your body is if those stars were kind enough to explode. So, forget Jesus. The stars died so that you could be here today.

On the other hand, Tony Piro’s “Calamities of Nature” claims “we’re all born from the death of the same star”

(Click to see the whole thing.)
Anyway, I want to know. And here’s the beautiful thing. Once upon a time, we would have made up some answer, something that made us feel good, or superior, or something that allowed the teller to pretend to know more than he or she did. Something that probably started “once upon a time”. Or “in the beginning…”. But now, we can actually answer the question. It doesn’t matter which I think is cooler, or more romantic, or more commonsensical. There is a right answer, and if there aren’t people who know it right now, there is a methodology that allows us to eventually get there.

Assuming our own star doesn’t blow up first.

Anyway, I’ve got great commenters here, and I’m hoping one of you knows, or knows someone who knows. How many stars died to make me? Are my right and left hands from different stars (seems impossible to me, given that they came from the same food and air I’ve been taking in over my lifetime, so I suspect Krauss was using a bit of poetic license, actually meaning that our entire bodies are composed from the remains of many stars–but how many?)?

I want to know.

Open Lab 2010!

Jason Goldman has just announced the finalists for The Open Laboratory 2010; two of my verses (A Scientific Valentine and To A Rat…) made the cut! This year, there were a total of 50 articles and 6 poems that made the cut–oddly, every one who made the list for a poem actually made the list twice–Kevin Zelnio and Andrew Thaler are each included for an article as well as a poem, and two of Elissa Malcolm’s remarkable month of science-based news sonnets were included. With such competition, I was not expecting to be included this year, but I am very happy to be in their company.

The volume is not yet published, but stay tuned. For those of you hungry for pages to turn, I remind you that over there to your right is a button that will take you where you can purchase my own Cuttlefish Omnibus. Which, I can now say, includes a total of five verses which were or will be included in The Open Laboratory over the past 4 volumes.

The Ballad Of The Cross

The cross on the hill was a beautiful sight
On the days when the sky was most bluish;
It stood for the soldiers who gave up their lives
Well, except when the soldiers were Jewish.

The cross on the hill, it looked rugged and old
Though the city maintained it as newish;
The congressman said that it stood for the dead
Well, unless they were atheist, Muslim, or Jewish.

The cross on the hill was a secular thing—
That’s a lie, but it kinda sounds truish—
The judge said it symbolized service and loss
Well, except for the Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or the religions of the tribal nations who once owned the land the cross is on.

The cross on the hill is religious, of course
Said a Judge who rejected the woo-ish
And it can’t be a symbol for everyone there
If it doesn’t mean Buddhists, the Hindus, the Pagans, the Jains, the Confucians, the Shinto, the Sikh, the Druids, the Wiccans, Baha’i, Hare Krishna, Zoroastrian, Scientologists, atheists, Muslim or Jewish. Or, you know, the indans. Or even Christians who don’t want a symbol, or use a different cross from the Latin Cross, or (fades)

Image by Will Fresch–wikipedia commons

Another Chance To Be Wrong

Some True Believers fear the worst;
They say all sinners, Eden-cursed
Have only till May twenty-first.

Though earnestly these groups have beckoned,
I think it’s not as they have reckoned:
We’ll still be here the twenty-second.

Since well before Leon Festinger made a name for himself with When Prophecy Fails, end-of-days cultists have been busily proving themselves fools. So, why would a Cuttlefish even mention yet another misguided attempt at prophecy?

It’s not the prophet. It’s the profit.

I am, selflessly, making my donations button available to any True Believers who wish to demonstrate their limitless faith by divesting themselves of all their worldly goods. For those whose faith is not quite at 100%, I will even agree to refund you a portion of your donation after May 22nd (the portion is up to you–if you are only 10% faithful, you could get 90% back; 50% faithful, 50% back, and so on). Of course, god is watching (as far as you know), so be honest about your faith!

For the rest of us faithless bunch, I join with many others in hoping some news organization puts a camera on some of these people in late May. The ultimate reality show–“Confronting Reality”–in which the gradual realization that one has been an idiot is captured for the entertainment of others.

Cuttledamus’s Predictions For 2011

The New Year’s rolled around once more—
As hopeful as can be—
And so I took some quiet time
To brew a cup of tea
It wasn’t for the calming drink
Oh, no, I wanted more:
I had to read the leaves to see
What this year has in store.

This year, to find my fortune,
Reading tea-leafs is the way!
Why trust in Nostradamus
When you could have had Earl Grey?
But with the sort of clarity
Enlightenment achieves,
When I looked into my teacup
All I saw were… soggy leaves.

I had to try a second time—
Perhaps it’s in the stars!
Some interactive influence
With Jupiter or Mars.
Positions of the planets,
I believed with all my heart,
Would tell me of the coming year,
And so I made my chart.

Astrologers had told me,
“As above, so too below”
But as I worked the numbers
It was clear, I didn’t know—
Our lives do not depend
On distant balls of rock or gas;
Some ancient fortune-teller
Pulled the whole thing from his ass.

The third time is a charm, they say,
And so, to test that quote,
I thought I’d read some entrails
So I sacrificed a goat.
I’d heard it said, with skill and care,
My future could be seen
In length of small intestine
And position of the spleen.

I dumped out all its viscera—
Its liver, lungs, and heart,
Esophagus to rectum, and
I wondered where to start
Consulting with the ancient charts
I thought I might be nuts;
The only thing I really saw
Were lots of smelly guts.

I thought I might try augury,
But found it for the birds
My Ouija Board was useless,
And it spelled out nonsense words
My tarot deck, a waste of time,
And so, of course, was prayer;
No use to talk to heaven
When there is no heaven there.

A Cheiromancer told me
She could read it in my hand
When she asked me for some money
I began to understand
So… no more reading crystals,
Smoke, or fire, or cookie crumbs—
For Two Thousand And Eleven
Take the future as it comes!

Beginnings Of Religion


Religion began as a means of control,
And a Grand Explanation, perhaps;
From the simplest of spirits to greatest of gods
We’re just trying to fill in the gaps.

Why does the sun rise? Why does it rain?
Why is there death, and disease?
Religion began, cos we didn’t know how
To find answers to questions like these.

Where base superstition and ignorance thrives
Knowledge brings power and perks,
And when good information is scarce to be found,
Then making up bullshit still works.

So, do what I tell you God tells me to tell you—
Obey me, each woman and man!
Don’t question my word—now, that’s rule number one—
And that’s how religion began.

Cuttlecap tip to PZed.