So He Carved A Pentagram Into His 6-Yr-Old Son’s Back…

12-12-12 is a holy day—
I’ll only be getting just one.
I think I shall mark it my own, special way…
By carving it into my son.

A pentagram, carved in my 6-year old’s back
Is a symbol he’ll carry for life!
And no, it’s not really some deadly attack
Like you’ll hear from my son, or my wife.

It’s a beautiful emblem—the history’s clear
For anyone willing to delve
Now my son will forever remember this year
And the holy day, 12-12-12!

Wait… what? According to Reuters

A Texas man told authorities he carved a pentagram into the back of his 6-year-old son “because it is a holy day” in reference to the numerical date of 12-12-12, police said.

It’s a short story–go read the whole thing (same link as above). I’ll wait.


Yeah, I didn’t make it up.

Y’know, 12-12 is a special day for me. Not because of any numerology, but because it’s Cuttleson’s birthday. He’s nearly half my age, and catching up fast!

But y’know… I have never had the urge to mark this special day–or any special day–by carving a design on his back with a box-cutter.

I am torn between setting several search tools to keep me up to date on this story, and never wanting to read another word about it ever again.

God, Neurology, And Bliss

A vision of God’s not the slightest bit odd
When your brain’s shutting down, argues Sacks
But you knew all along some would find his view wrong
And would write of the logic he lacks
We might not be deceived; perhaps God was perceived
When the cranial neurons misfired
That was already known. What these data have shown
Is… to see Him, no God is required.

Oliver Sacks writes today in The Atlantic–a highly accessible piece on the neurology of life-altering religious experiences. He notes the documented role of epileptic seizures, typically of the right temporal lobe, which may sometimes give rise to overwhelming feelings of bliss. Other brain activity, of course, may be involved in auditory and visual hallucinations. Essentially, the same areas of the brain that are involved in feeling bliss for mundane reasons are stimulated by seizure, in the absence of some awe-invoking stimulus to account for them, or the face-perceiving fusiform area is stimulated in the absence of an actual face to look at.

It’s a bit like running in place; same muscles involved as in running, but different context. In these cases, your brain is running in place. (It is worth noting that there are many different sorts of experiences that get lumped together into, say, “near death experience”, so it is not reasonable to expect the same physiological underpinnings should account for all of them.)

These experiences are incredibly vivid, and those who experience them are loathe to accept mere biological explanations–which Sacks also illustrates.

But to me, the better illustration came in the comments. To paraphrase a number of commenters… One need not have experienced such a seizure and its accompanying bliss in order to deny a naturalistic explanation. After all, the fact that we can see faces without a face being present does not disprove the existence of faces in the real world! Maybe some people who claim to experience God are only experiencing a seizure, but who knows how many are actually, really and truly, experiencing God’s love directly? It’s only Sacks’s materialistic world view that prevents him from seeing this possibility!

Of course, Sacks knows full well that his article, and all the evidence it cites, could not hope to disprove the ultimate unfalsifiable hypothesis, god.

But it does show that the claim of experiencing the touch of God, even if taken as one’s honest and truthful view, need not require any actual god. We have, now, at least two competing hypotheses which both account for a feeling of overwhelming bliss.

Only one of which requires violating naturalistic assumptions.

Clearly, They Were Rehearsing For Cephalopodmas

Chris Clarke, over at Pharyngula, gives us the “real story” (that is, the lamestream media cover-up) of a massive Humboldt squid stranding near Santa Cruz. He shows his hand, though, in his choice of headline. As someone privy to the inner circle of cephalopodian machinations, I am offering you the *real* story. (I am stunned to realize that this was written five years ago, which is a lifetime in blog-years.) I am, of course, swearing you all to secrecy.

It was Cephalopodmas, and all through the blogs
Not a writer was stirring—all sleeping like logs.
Each blogosphere-dweller, from Orac to PZ
Was all bundled up and just taking it easy.
Their prone, sleeping forms, that might well have been granite
Slept through the most wonderful tale on the planet!
For all ‘cross the globe, from the oceans and seas,
All the cephalopods, just as nice as you please,
Took a break from their lurking in kelps and in corals
To visit the houses of people with morals.
(Ironic, you think? If they hadn’t been sleeping,
The bloggers would be so much happier peeping,
And witnessing all of this marvelous night.
Well, now that I write of it… next year, they might.)

But how can a creature that’s mainly pelagic
Accomplish all this? Is it hoax? Is it magic?
Of course, I could never achieve it alone
I had oceans of help—why, in every time zone
There were octopi, cuttlefish, nautilus too
And squid by the thousands who knew what do do.
From the deepest of depths, from the shallowest shoals,
From around the equator and close to the poles,
From every far corner of all seven seas
Came crawlers and swimmers, as quick as you please,
From cuttlefish cubby or octopus den,
To each lend a hand, or perhaps eight or ten.
The skies and the seas were both darker than soot;
No safe place for tentacle, feeler, or foot—
Was it safe for the journey? I had to think twice,
But a wise old molluscan proposed this advice:
“You know, you should hitch up some firefly squid”
So, not being stupid, that’s just what I did—
(In the darkest of depths, when I could not find any,
I used the much larger Taningia danae).
With a glow that left headlights in sad obsolescence
We lit our own way with our bioluminescence.
(And once (but just once) when we plain lost our bearings
We got back on track with the help of some herrings.
On Cephalopodmas, good nature prevails—
Even giant squid know they can trust the sperm whales—
And whether you’re predator, whether you’re prey,
You can take the day off. Hey, it’s only one day.)
And with luminous squidlings providing the light,
The Onycotuthidae took us to flight!
(It’s a myth that a reindeer can fly, as you know
But true that some squid can, as others can glow!)
So we flew, over trees, over hills, over mountains,
(Keeping moist by, sometimes, flying low over fountains)
We flew over deserts, with sagebrush and cactus;
Some day we’ll invade, so it’s really good practice.
And each place we flew, and the others we crawled,
We left little gifts, that surprised and enthralled
All the good boys and girls, and their parents and pets
(Why should some folks miss out on what other folks gets?)
An octopus, crawling up pipes from the sewers,
Might leave a small gift, say, a bottle of Dewars.
For those who do not have a liking for whiskey,
Perhaps lingerie (although nothing too risky);
If the oysters cooperate, maybe some pearls
For the fancy tongue-piercings of good boys and girls.
If we think we’ve been spotted, then quick as a wink,
We are gone—what remains is a black cloud of ink,
(But when it’s so dark you can’t see where you’re going
Then ink is no good—so a cloud that is glowing–
A trick taught by Heteroteuthis dispar)
So it shows where you were, when you no longer are,
And predators, peepers, or unwilling hosts
See nothing—or see what might well have been ghosts.
They know they’ve seen something, but what? They won’t swear.
By that time, of course, we are long gone from there.
You can see from the picture that, once, we were caught
By some kittehs, who said “U R not who we thot.”
But we gave the poor kittehs a soft little pat,
‘Cos we knew we were safe—who’d believe a dumb cat?
Then back to the oceans, for seafood and beer,
Saying Merry Cephalopodmas, and Happy New Year!

Vestigial Brains?

Strange. While following the trail back from the Bananaman song, I stumbled across a comment from over on Pharyngula in 2009 that I don’t think I have ever posted up on my own place (got busy writing Bananaman and forgot all about it):

If we load up the creationists and put them on the moon,
Then I bet a million dollars (if I had the cash) that soon,
Through the pressures of selection, and the metabolic cost,
Given twenty generations, that their brains have all been lost.
And like eyeless fish, or wingless birds, these brainless fools survive,
Thanks to natural selection, as the dumbest fucks alive.

God Is Not An Endangered Species

There’s freedom of religion, which we all acknowledge, but
While true freedom seems a rare thing… of religion, there’s a glut.

The New York Times today has an Op-Ed piece by Frank Bruni that is well worth reading, entitled “The God Glut”.

We have God on our dollars, God in our pledge of allegiance, God in our Congress. Last year, the House took the time to vote, 396 to 9, in favor of a resolution affirming “In God We Trust” as our national motto. How utterly needless, unless I missed some insurrectionist initiative to have that motto changed to “Buck Up, Beelzebub” or “Surrender Dorothy.”

We have God in our public schools, a few of which cling to creationism, and we have major presidential candidates — Rick Perry, Michele Bachmann, Rick Santorum — who use God in general and Christianity in particular as cornerstones of their campaigns. God’s initial absence from the Democratic Party platform last summer stirred more outrage among Americans than the slaughter in Syria will ever provoke.

God’s wishes are cited in efforts to deny abortions to raped women and civil marriages to same-sex couples. In our country God doesn’t merely have a place at the table. He or She is the host of the prayer-heavy dinner party.

That’s just a meaty bit out of the middle; the whole essay is powerful. None of it will come as any surprise to long time FtB readers–perhaps the surprise is that it is in the New York Times.

Well worth reading; well worth sharing.

Equality Stops At The Border

I’ve been following, as best as an ignorant mollusk can, the analysis of the recent decisions by the Supreme Court to take on a couple of cases on same-sex marriage. Ed has done a great job dissecting the choice, and today the New York Times has a really useful sidebar on it. What I can’t wrap my head around, though, is that there appears to be a very real chance that same-sex marriage will be the law of the land… only in part of the land.

I just can’t see it happening. It’s just too… “a house divided against itself” springs to mind. So an encore, today, just because of the last line. I wrote this when New York passed SSM (which made me happy, cos I was married in NY). [Read more…]

Billy Joel Takes On Ray Comfort

Ed tells us of Ray Comfort’s new series, in which he takes on prominent atheists. My title is a nod to Ed’s “Ray Comfort takes on Billy Joel”. The following was written a few years ago at the old place (click through for context), but it seems appropriate now.

It’s an afternoon post on Pharyngula,
The regular crowd shuffles in
There’s a pretty good chance that some troll will come dance
And remind us we’re living in sin

He’ll say “Darwin is worshipped by Atheists”
He’s not really sure what that means
But he knows that you’ll find that the world was designed,
That designers made all of our genes

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

PZ is the host and proprietor,
So you know that there’s pretty good odds
You’ll see shocking opinions, both his and his minions’
And probably cephalopods

He says look at that beautiful octopus
And this shot of a sensuous squid
Though he won’t claim a fetish for things that are wettish
You wouldn’t be shocked if he did

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

Now Ray is a young-earth creationist
Who never had time for a life
And he wonders if maybe, he might have a baby,
If he could evolve him a wife.

And the Minions are arguing politics
As the Mollies are howling for beer
It’s a strange sort of virtual community
But it doesn’t get better than here

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

It’s a pretty good post for Pharyngula
It’s got science, and politics too
Cos there isn’t much quite like an internet fight
If you’ve got nothing better to do.

And the internet reeks of stupidity
And the blogosphere’s chock-full of dumb,
And I stare at my screen, and ask “what do they mean?”,
And then drink till my feelings are numb.

La la la, de de da
La la, de de da da da
Tell us a lie, you’re Bananaman,
Tell us a lie, or two
Cos we’re all in the mood for a belly-laugh
And you’ve got us laughing at you!

A One-Way Wall?

A door that doesn’t open?
Why, that’s not a door at all.
A door that doesn’t open
Is a wall.

If you want to pass right through it
Well, that’s not what walls are for.
If you want to pass right through it
Use a door.

It’s a wall of separation
That the founding fathers planned.
It’s a wall of separation

If we have to stay on our side
And we cannot bother you—
If we have to stay on our side
So must you.

When the law applies to both of us
And neither side can gain…
When the law applies to both of us…
You complain.

Over at The Blaze (don’t judge me!), a story of a Pennsylvania community’s response to the FFRA’s complaint about a City Hall nativity scene.

They are going to put the nativity scene on a truck, and park it outside City Hall. (Which, so long as the truck has to obey the traffic (and other) laws, and is not given special parking privileges, is fine by me. If it’s a city-owned truck, we might have to talk.)

But that’s not the fun part. The fun part, as always, is the comment thread. It is astonishing how poorly The Blaze’s real American Patriot types grasp the law. Anti-atheist, of course, but also antisemitic, anti-wiccan, and pro-majority. It’s the sound of privilege and ignorance, best buddies.

The first amendment, you know, was intended to protect churches from government intrusion. (agreed!) Not to prevent the majority religion from expressing itself in the public square, with the backing of the government. (um… no.) Fortunately, The Blaze’s commenters know better than decades of supreme court decisions (well, they must, because they disagree with these decisions, and they must be right). So, go learn from these sages.

Or better yet, don’t.