Saying Goodbye To Poetry Month

By my reckoning, there are still just under 5 hours left (or 6, 7, 8, 9, or 11, depending on your time zone) in National Poetry Month. If you haven’t properly celebrated, you don’t have much time left.

As a public service, then, I give you a push-button that sends you to the best collection of cephalopod-authored verse to be found anywhere. I’d say “operators are standing by”, but I suspect they are all computers, and thus not standing at all.

Support independent publishing: Buy this book on Lulu.

That’s it, right there.

The Predictable Comment

What a pointless waste of money!
What a frightful waste of time!
This is lame, disgusting drivel
And it isn’t worth a dime!
What a waste of a reporter
When this clearly isn’t news!
Your priorities are foolish—
Give us something we can use!
This misguided bit of effort,
Lacking substance, style, or taste,
And my time it took to read it
Are an utter, total waste!
That’s ten minutes of my lifetime
That I’ll never, now, get back,
Spent deciphering the writing
Of a clueless, brainless hack!
All this focusing on nothing
When there’s suffering and pain—
What’s the point in what you’ve written?
How does anybody gain?
You should give your unearned paycheck
To a charity, this week,
So someone else can benefit
From something, when you speak.
Editorial discretion
Means the choice was yours to make
But your choices are deplorable
This time, for goodness’ sake!
You must have though it worthy—
I, of course, must disagree
And even brain-dead idiots
Would surely side with me!

My time is very valuable;
You’ve wasted it, you know.
Without a trace of irony
I write to tell you so.

NPR can’t win. At least, it seems so in their comments. As I’ve written before, I like it when NPR airs something I dislike; if I only listened to stuff I already know, or already agree with, I might as well not listen at all. But there are those in the comment threads–for nearly every story, it seems–who have taken it upon themselves to act as the arbiters of what is and is not worthwhile. In the midst of dozens of supportive comments, someone will show up, complaining that no one wants or needs to hear anything about [whatever the story was about]. If it’s a “human interest” story (or, frankly, a story about any issue but the commenter’s pet issue) it is a waste of time, and evidence that NPR is out of touch, a waste of taxpayers’ money, and clearly biased toward/away from any given political view.

Today’s example brought out the “this is news?” crew, the “this is art?” crew, and even the “this is vandalism?” crew. The topic? People who knit or crochet stuff and put it on public statues. I saw some of this in Austin a few months ago, but apparently it is world-wide. I’m all for it–which means I clearly don’t care about the homeless, or about what is news, or what is art, or what is graffiti, or… and I clearly have too much time on my hands, if I am reading comments on such a story. Or writing, well, everything I write.

It’s not limited to NPR, of course, but I find it most amusing there. There are even regular commenters, who post several times a day, simply to complain that NPR is a waste of their time.

And they say irony is dead.

Anxiety By A Length

I’ve broken bones
Had kidney stones
And thrown up from the pain
Been badly burned
And so, I learned
The hurt, in time, will wane

A migraine’s curse
And even worse—
A devilish variety
All these, and more
I’d try, before
Revisiting anxiety.

I’ve seen several reports on this story, and find it tremendously moving. Tom Durkin, for over a decade the voice of the Kentucky Derby (some 30 Triple Crown races to his credit), has made an extraordinarily difficult business decision, and (I hope and expect) a very rewarding personal one. He has retired from calling the Derby, due to utterly debilitating anxiety. Read the link–if you are unfamiliar with anxiety, this story is an eye-opener. If you are familiar, you’ll recognize the tune.

I’ve been there, to some extent–enough to wish him well, and to understand how a job you love can simultaneously be a job that overwhelms. Compared to Durkin, though, I’ve been lucky. Only a few serious episodes, and (eventually) a pharmaceutical that helped. But, damn. Anxiety absolutely can be worse than broken bones. I’ve had both. To me, there is no question that he made the right call.


They text or tweet, they poke or wink
They live their lives online
They post or like or blog or link
And, virtually, they’re fine.

With laptops, tablets, phones or more
It’s pure online enmeshment
Now Pepsi gives a chance to pour
A “Random Act of Refreshment”

With Social Vending, you can send
A drink to quench the thirst
Of real-life, human, meatspace friends…

You’ll have to make some, first.

Pepsi (you may remember them from ScienceBlogs) have announced a Social Vending Machine. When I say “a” SVM, I mean there is only one, at present. Right now, it’s at the trade show for the National Automatic Merchandising Association in Chicago. So it’s not social with other vending machines, at least yet. But users will eventually be able to access such machines from social networks, and use them as part of a different sort of network itself.

At the Union protests in Wisconsin, people from around the world were able to order pizzas from a local shop to be delivered to protesters. The SVM would let you do the same sort of thing, on a different scale. You could Buy a Mountain Dew for your son or daughter at school, have Warcraft losers buy a round for the winners, or whatever.

Oddly enough, I think my favorite use would be the sarcastic gift. Long, long ago, when the internet was in diapers, a BBS site I knew had an area dedicated to HACAASASTFU (Have A Coke And A Smile And Shut The Fuck Up). I propose that a SVM be installed in, say, Sally Kern’s office, so that when she opens her yap, she can input carbonated sugar-water instead of spewing filth.

Here’s to you, Sally. HACAASASTFU.

(yes, I know the machine is Pepsi, and the old jingle is coke. Neither is single malt, so it’s all sugar water to me.)

The Man Behind The Curtain

Real medicines that pass a test
Have evidence that they are best
In journals on the shelf
Such data, sadly, alt-med lacks
And so it must depend on quacks—
It can’t defend itself!

When Oprah said, “we need a guy
To stare the camera down, and lie”
The doctor took the call—
How brave of him to take a stance
Defending things that work by chance
And often, not at all!

He played the old familiar songs:
“A million users can’t be wrong”
“Old wisdom is the best”
There was one tune he could not hear—
These panaceas disappear
In double-blinded tests!

A real effect won’t run and hide
And fade away, should you decide
To measure it precisely
A real effect, that lasts and lingers,
Won’t require you cross your fingers
And ask it very nicely

Alternatives, it seems, are shy
Although no theory tells us why
They don’t show up in studies
Practitioners take different tacks
And thus, because they have no facts
Rely upon their buddies

The “medicine” on Oz’s show
Is so much less than science knows
Of that you may be certain
Should you encounter Dr. Oz
Remember what I say, and pause—
And look behind the curtain!

The story of Steve Novella’s appearance on Dr. Oz’s show is chronicled at Novella’s own site, and at Orac’s, in much more and better detail than I could possibly muster.

I do hope Oz visits SBM or the SGU (read Novella’s link for what those are); I’d love for someone on the alt-med to tell me why and how it could possibly be that an effect is patently obvious for a patient, equally obvious to an alt-med practitioner, and simultaneously far too subtle to be detected by scientific means. What theory explains an effect that actively hides from empirical investigation? The “fade effect” and the “shyness effect” both label this phenomenon, but neither explains it (on the other hand, simple regression to the mean and placebo effects leave little or nothing left to explain).

The Ballad Of The Birthers

So Barack Hussein Obama
With his Papa and his Mama
Were in Kenya to experience the miracle of birth
And the bouncing baby’s bounce meant
Time to send a fake announcement
To a paper in Hawaii, on the other side of Earth

Cos the birthers know that when ya
Have a baby born in Kenya
Why, his options there are limited–not much he might achieve–
And it’s quite a common caper
Calling up a foreign paper
After all, we know that journalists are easy to deceive!

They can’t prove he’s not Hawaiian
But it’s not for lack of tryin’
As investigators scurry for the tiniest of clues
With The Donald’s cash behind ’em
There’s no reason to remind ’em
And no feather-brained conspiracy republicans can’t use

‘Mongst the birthers, it is fabled
That his DNA is labeled
“Made in Kenya” and a microscope would set the record straight
He could set a good example
If he offered up a sample
But he’ll likely be unreasonable and make the birthers wait

Not to call them prejudicial
But the process is official:
If it says that he’s American, that document’s a lie.
Every birther clearly knows it
So there must be one that shows it
And with diligent persistence, they will find it by and by

Why on earth would CNN feel the need to run an investigation at this point? Any sane human being already knows, and at least one of the insane human beings “takes the president at his word” (trying to have it both ways). Who could possibly remain unconvinced? Who could possibly be so dense?

Oh. 47% of Republicans, nationwide.

The Rough Draft

You’re proud of yourself and the way that you write
In a world full of darkness, you show us the light
I would see it myself, if I weren’t so uptight
I’m the victim, it seems, of my breeding
You’re the wave of the future; I’m stuck without sight
But I’d rather you’d just done the reading.

You’ll have to accept that I’m not over-awed
The conclusions you reach are at minimum, broad
Though I know you expected us all to applaud
Your example was somewhat misleading
Your mechanics are poor and your premise is flawed
And I’d rather you’d just do the reading

There was never a doubt that the writing’s your own
I could tell by the multiple “studies have shown”
Though the authors themselves were remaining unknown
There are rules you’d be better off heeding
You say that to edit would cut you to the bone
It would help if you’d just do the reading.

When I point out a problem, you sit and you stew
And insist that it doesn’t apply, quite, to you
And the logical squirming that then will ensue
Is an error that’s termed “special pleading”
Since we covered this stuff way back in week two
I really wish you’d done the reading.

What I’m trying to do is to make you aware
That the paper you’ve written’s beyond all repair
It’s reduced me to sobbing and tearing my hair
Which I tell folks is merely receding
For the sake of your future, I think that it’s fair
To insist that you do the reading

Actually, I’m fairly happy with the drafts I’ve seen thus far. But I’ve come to expect a certain number that vex me… so I’ve hidden all sharp objects and padded the forehead-accessible areas of my desk.

If I Won A Million Dollars…

“Science and faith are completely compatible”
This statement should never offend—
And the truth is, we know
It will always be so
Just as long as we see,
When the two disagree,
That religion’s the one that must bend.

The vertebrate eye is a kind of a miracle
Which science and faith both explain
An empirical quest
Is the method that’s best
When we see it evolved
There’s a mystery solved
With the sacred reduced to profane

Some questions and problems had lingered for centuries
For instance, the age of the Earth
They’d add up the ages
On biblical pages
Or measure instead
Decay ratios of lead
And only one view shows its worth

Some say that religion and science are one;
And some say that’s rubbish and lies
If you watch what you say
There’s a way it can pay:
Be a spiritual type
Garner headlines and hype—
It’ll win you the Templeton prize!

So yeah. Martin Rees, Templeton Prize winner, has a million reasons to tell atheists to shut up and play nice.

The Hipster Entomologist

A hipster entomologist, with Polaroid in hand
Chose to catalog the insects of the nation
He was hopelessly devoted to the tool of Edwin Land
For its clarity and color saturation

He had honed his craft for decades; he had quite an expert’s eye
Every shot he took, his genius shone within it
And he didn’t need a darkroom, to develop by and by—
Thanks to Polaroid, he’d only wait a minute

He shot bumblebees and beetles; he shot mantises and ants
He found character in portraits of a weevil
And he wouldn’t touch an SLR if given half a chance
Cos they’re square—and to a hipster, that’s just evil

Alex Wild, on his amazing Myrmecos blog, tries out the new polaroid app. Cos he’s just that hip. He also laments, on twitter,

What does it say about insect science that this morning’s post is the only google hit for “hipster entomologist”?

I couldn’t just let that stand.

In Marlowe’s Kitchen

Come live with me and be my love
And just as loaves of bread will prove,
Our lives, each other’s lives will leaven,
Rising thus, become our heaven

We will sit on kitchen chairs
Discuss our hopes, our fears, our cares,
The things that fill our daily lives
Midst cups and bowls, and spoons and knives

And I will make thee fragrant bread
To please your stomach and your head
With herbs and spices so sublime
No better way to use our thyme

An apron dusted o’er with flour
Discarded, as we wait an hour
Our time determined by the yeast
So on each other’s words we feast

A feast of words, then tongues and lips
Of saffron-yellowed fingertips
If your kiss tastes of garlic-clove
Come live with me and be my love

The kitchen I describe in verse
Is center of my universe
If you would share my kitchen stove
Then live with me and be my love

Over at the Smithsonian’s site, there is a nice story, Food From the Age of Shakespeare. You know how I feel about both food and Shakespeare, so it’s as if I had a custom article just for me. And since today is Shakespeare’s birthday, it’s all the better.

Today’s verse, though, is not Shakespeare; today’s verse is from a bit of fun I had some years ago, trading Marlowe (and other) parodies with a dear friend. I particularly like the use of the synonyms “prove”, “leaven”, and “rise” in the first stanza. Sometimes these things just happen.

It is raining, cold, and miserable here today in Cuttletown; it would be a wonderful day to bake bread. That, and watch the new Doctor Who.