The Most Amazing Thing

If you take a look around while you’re out walking
Just to catalog the things you chance to see
From the beetle at your footstep to the pigeon overhead
To the bracket fungus high up in a tree
You will notice the abundances of nature
It’s astonishing, of course, because it’s true

And the most amazing thing about this earthworm

And the most amazing thing about this kitty

And the most amazing thing about this sea cucumber

And the most amazing thing about this virus

And the most amazing thing about this mushroom

And the most amazing thing about this octopus

And the most amazing thing about this fig tree

And the most amazing thing about this wallaby

And the most amazing thing about this daffodil

And the most amazing thing about this slime mold

And the most amazing thing about this yeast cell

And the most amazing thing about this humpback

And the most amazing thing about this baby

And the most amazing thing about this amoeba

And the most amazing thing about this every living thing

Is that all of it’s related… to you.
[Read more…]

Headline Muse, 9/25

Though the world thought the odds were remote
It’s a milestone that’s worthy of note
Though they can’t drive a car
So it’s kind of bizarre
Saudi women will now get to vote

Headline: Reforms will allow women to vote but not drive

Of course, this story is everywhere. In the comments of the NPR article, one comment began “[t]he right to vote is not a king’s to give.” Beautiful iambic pentameter; I was sorely tempted to bust out a sonnet. But it is also one of my favorite debate topics, on which I have gone many rounds on many occasions. I’ve never liked the concept of “rights”; they make no sense to me. In this case, it is very clear that the king has the power, in Saudi Arabia, to grant women the right to vote. But the commenter would call this “recognizing their right to vote”. It is as if only god or nature could “give” a right to vote, or that (as a libertarian friend once claimed) “rights are a property of people like inertia is a property of matter.”

Except that, quite clearly, they are not. If I can, with a bomb, a gun, or a blunt or pointy object, take from you your life, then your “right to life” is clearly a different sort of stuff than an object’s inertia. A “right of way” is yours if and only if someone else yields it. Rights are a social construct. A useful one, at times at least, but clearly a social construct, dependent on agreement by the parties involved.

And in that sense, yes, the king granted (or rather, is granting or will grant, given that it is not taking place immediately) women the right to vote. Which, while not perfect, is a step in the right direction.

Secular Student Support–Advice?

A month or so ago, I had a student come out to me, as a budding atheist. I am not going to share any of his writing—it was an honor to have been trusted, and I will not violate that trust—but I do want to talk about it in the abstract for a bit.

I feel like it took very little effort for me to shed the religious shackles, and I never did have a lot of social pressure bearing on me, but upon reflection it did take several years, and I was at a place far removed from my old church, from my parents, and from the bible belt. There was very little pressure, one way or the other; conversely, there was very little support, one way or the other.

My student is in more or less the same community he has lived in his entire life, and now he feels he no longer believes; this is a far more difficult position than I was in. The people he would ordinarily talk to about such things are precisely the people he would not want to talk to. He has spent his entire life thus far with one variety of people, and has no one to lean on; he feels lost, like he’s the first or even the only one of his kind. He doesn’t believe in the things that used to bind him to his community, but feels some serious guilt about rejecting the worldview of his family and friends.

Cuttlefish University does not have a secular support group, or freethinkers group, or atheist group or agnostic group or any such animal. It does have (at least) six Christian groups, two Jewish groups and an interfaith group (official student organizations). I had not, until quite recently, really seen the need for a secular group (I frankly had not seen the need for the religious groups, either, since they could meet at their houses of worship), but now of course I have changed my mind. I may have to take a hand (well, a tentacle) in helping to organize one.

Those of you who have done so, or are members of student or other secular groups—any advice? What has worked? What has not? What sort of charter does such an organization have? And what questions am I not asking, that I probably should?

Headline Muse 9/24

Just in case it’s a boring campaign
And the also-rans start to complain
Now another straw poll
Might have taken its toll
With the Florida vote raising Cain

Headline: Herman Cain Wins Early Florida Test Vote

More meaningless straw poll results imbued with great meaning by all those who want to pretend the GOP race is still open. If the straw polls don’t predict well, the next step will be to examine the entrails of a goat.


Dedicated to Tea Party Rabble-Rousers Everywhere.

When we look at global warming
And the use of carbon fuels
Should we listen to the scientists
Or listen to the fools?
If the scientists are certain
That the evidence is true:

Someone’s come across the border
Cos they’re looking for a job;
Should we treat him with respect, or
Simply throw him to the mob?
Immigrants are people;
Could there be another view?

If a businessman has cancer
Do we simply say good-bye?
Though it’s in our power to help him,
Should we really let him die?
If he can’t afford insurance
Should the government come through?

There are questions we can’t answer
And a man who’s set to die
Can we really be so certain?
Is this something to decry?
We have to have our justice vengeance—
If it’s not this man, then who?

There’s a question from a soldier—
Will you hear him out today?
“Can you promise us fair treatment
If we’re lesbian or gay?”
As we listened to the question
There was one thing we could do:

There’s a sort of open secret
We don’t openly admit:
There’s the people with the money
And the people with the shit
So we’ll punish the majority
And benefit the few:

Never Was Good With Machines…

Actually, the original title was “The singularity can’t come soon enough”, but I found that the people who googled “can’t come soon enough” weren’t actually looking for my writing.

This is one of my faves from the old digs; today’s earlier post on the Internet Of Things put it in mind.

I have a machine to smell my coffee,
To see if it’s any good;
I asked it to make me the perfect cup,
But I think it misunderstood—
It analyzed alkaloids, sampled aromas,
Tried seventeen samples of beans,
Then told me I clearly had no taste at all:
I never was good with machines.

My pre-owned car has an onboard computer—
It measures my driving, you see.
I guess I don’t drive like the previous owner;
My car likes him better than me.
It spits out a spreadsheet of technical numbers—
I don’t know what much of it means,
Except that my car thinks it’s better without me:
I never was good with machines.

Of course, at my office, I have a computer—
The one I am using right now;
It laughs at my grammar and sneers at my spelling,
Although I’m not really sure how.
Just one tiny part of a cubicle farm
Where we’re packed like so many sardines—
Do we use computers, or do they use us?
I never was good with machines.

I’m worried that someday my household appliances,
Sitting at home on my shelves,
Finally realize there’s nothing I offer
That they can’t do better themselves.
They make better coffee, they get better mileage,
Their words rarely stink up their screens—
And I’ll be left out in the cold and the dark:
I never was good with machines.

Attack of the Internet Of Things

The ID chip in my brand-new shoes
And the ID chip in my jeans
Have been talking to strangers I pass on the street
And I’m not really sure what that means

The chip in my shirt holds a brief conversation
With chips in the windows of stores
It talks to the bagels and talks to the books,
But me, it politely ignores

Are they planning surprises? Sharing some gossip?
Just talking behind my back?
Are they sentient beings with minds of their own
Using software to plan an attack?

Is it companies working to track their consumers
To figure which items are hot?
Is it Microsoft, Apple, McDonald’s or worse,
Some sort of a government plot?

I’m ripping the tags from my shoes and my clothing
To frustrate the spies and the moles
So no one will know as I walk down the street
With my clothing in tatters and holes.

Paranoid rant, after the jump: [Read more…]

Headline News, 9/22

A decision that’s rather surreal—
The state senator made an appeal
To eliminate waste
That’s of questionable taste
The condemned get no choice of last meal

Headline: Texas Prisons End Special Last Meals In Executions

Lawrence Russell Brewer, who was executed Wednesday for the hate crime slaying of James Byrd Jr. more than a decade ago, asked for two chicken fried steaks, a triple-meat bacon cheeseburger, fried okra, a pound of barbecue, three fajitas, a meat lover’s pizza, a pint of ice cream and a slab of peanut butter fudge with crushed peanuts. Prison officials said Brewer didn’t eat any of it.

Gee, I wonder if something put him off his feed?

While extensive, Brewer’s request was far from the largest or most bizarre among the 475 Texas inmates put to death.

On Tuesday, prisoner Cleve Foster’s request included two fried chickens, French fries and a five-gallon (19-liter) bucket of peaches. He received a reprieve from the U.S. Supreme Court but none of his requested meal. He was on his way back to death row, at a prison about 45 miles east of Huntsville, at the time when his feast would have been served.

Last week, inmate Steven Woods’ request included two pounds of bacon, a large four-meat pizza, four fried chicken breasts, two drinks each of Mountain Dew, Pepsi, root beer and sweet tea, two pints of ice cream, five chicken fried steaks, two hamburgers with bacon, fries and a dozen garlic bread sticks with marinara on the side. Two hours later, he was executed.

Years ago, a Texas inmate even requested dirt for his final meal.

For the record, I hate, hate, hate the death penalty. The notion that the state can kill someone in my name (I take it personally; it’s my country and my state) is repulsive to me.

The idea of a last meal, though. I have one. It features multiple members of the pie family, from meat to fruit. But gee, now that a Texas state senator has decided that getting one special meal before they kill you is coddling, I guess I’ll just have to keep away from Texas, just in case I do something illegal there, like be an atheist.

What would your last meal be? Let’s assume you’re not on death row, but somehow know this is your last meal–or the last one you will appreciate. What’s on your menu?