2-3 AM (TMI)

The alarm clock is unwelcome, with its loud, insistent tone
I’d throw it out the window, but it’s otherwise my phone
The household’s sleeping soundly; I’m awake and I’m alone
At 2 AM
The world is strangely silent, with the birdsong not begun
The waning moon is setting and it’s hours before the sun
There’s lots of work ahead of me; I’d better get it done
At 2 AM
I turn to the computer, cos I’m kind of in a bind
I’m desperate for distraction at the moment, and I find
That composing this is slowly, surely, waking up my mind
At 2 fifteen
There’s a vile-tasting liquid, and I’ve got to drink a glass
Cos they’re going to take a mini-cam and run it up my ass
As I taste the horrid sweetness, I’m assured “this too shall pass”
At 2 fifteen
Now I’ve tossed aside the blanket and I’ve dimmered on one light
And my body senses laxative and knows it isn’t right
And the lemonade-detergent won’t go down without a fight
At half past two
One glass down, and then another, now to work on number three
I can think of many places, many times, I’d rather be
But it’s part of turning fifty, so I’m lucky, can’t you see?
At half past two
I have lived for fifty years now, on this planet I adore
If I’m careful and I’m lucky, I could live for fifty more
It’s a simple motivation, as I contemplate glass four
At half past two
It’s the final glass of medicine, and then it’s to the sink
Cos there’s still a lot of water that they’re gonna make me drink
But it’s quiet, oh so quiet, so it gives me time to think
At 2:45
But thinking keeps me busy, till the nasty part is through
I guess that’s why I wrote it, and why I’ll share with you
But I think it’s time to post this, cos there’s stuff I gotta do
At 2:45

(Written from 2:15 through 3:10 AM. So, not exactly accurate, but close enough.)

The Brain Observatory

edit–they are at it again!

As I write (so if you hurry, you can see it), the Brain Observatory is sectioning a brain. Last time I watched them, it was when they were sectioning HM’s Brain. This time, it’s a dolphin brain.

Aaaand, it looks like they are closing up for the evening, or getting ready to. Their schedule:

The dolphin brain is pretty cool–far more gyri and sulci than I would have imagined!

Below is the verse I wrote for HM, on the occasion of his brain sectioning. It has the distinction of being the only one of however many hundreds of poems or verses I have written, to be unrhymed. I’ve said before, it’s not what I usually do.

For H. M.

My day goes by in bits and pieces,
The crossword puzzle, conversations,
Doctors asking, running tests;
They seem to know me; I don’t know how.
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by as days do, I suppose,
I watch TV, play bingo, read…
Today the crossword is very easy!
I don’t remember when I moved here—
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day – I don’t recall yesterday—
A pleasant day, with pleasant friends,
I know my way through this house,
But I do not remember moving here,
And who is that old man in the mirror?

My day goes by in one-act plays
Old plots forgotten with the new,
I never know the actors’ names—
Each one is nice enough, it seems;
But who is that old man in the mirror?

Today, I’m feeling very tired;
I don’t know why—I’m much too young
To stiffly walk, to ache to move—
I must have worked hard yesterday.
I feel like that old man in the mirror.

Henry Molaison, known to biology and psychology students everywhere as “H. M.”, is perhaps the single most famous patient in history. Perhaps. He was studied for over half a century, from when he underwent psychosurgery in 1953 to alleviate epileptic convulsions, until his death last year. Henry had an extreme case of anterograde amnesia–the inability to form new episodic memories. He could learn new tasks, but would not know that he had learned them (his performance surprised himself!). He taught us, or allowed us to learn, more about how remembering works than we had ever suspected before. Abilities we thought as single were exposed as many parallel abilities, and not always the neat splits our introspective accounts may have predicted. (that may not be expressed well. It is late.)

Spare The Rod

We tell you, in the name of God
That when you choose to spare the rod
You spoil the child.
The holy word, from God above,
Is “use a stick to show your love”
So just go wild.
A God who drowned the Earth in flood
Won’t mind if you should draw some blood
It’s fair and just.
So beat your child! Start today!
The bible doesn’t say you may
It says you must!
So if they fight (as children will)
Just beat them with a cane until
They get along
And if a kid should end up dead,
You followed what the bible said
And can’t be wrong.

From CNN, Anderson Cooper reports on parents who follow the book “To train up a child”, which advocates regular and severe punishment–beatings with a rod–for young children (video at link).

Headline Muse, 8/15

Casting blame has already begun
Not a group will be spared ere we’re done
So we don’t have to think
Of the grim headline ink:
“Man decapitates disabled son”

Headline:Police: La. man decapitated disabled son, 7

The comments after the New York Daily News version of the article are an exercise in cognitive dissonance. The death has been blamed on Obama, on Republicans, on “trailer trash”, on whites, on liberals, on conservatives, and on “black DNA”. No one, yet, is owning up to the notion that the father is a member of their own group.

In the complete absence of any info about his beliefs, we get:

Commenter “New Yorker” writes: Hmm, I’m guessing the man was an atheist. No ‘Fear of God’ . . . . . yet.

Commenter “Theoham” writes: Louisiana is in the bible belt. Total rat dropping!

Even (perhaps especially) when confronted with a horrible story of human behavior, we make a distinction between the actions of that person and anything remotely associated with ourselves.

Sunday Schooling

In honor of the completely irrelevant pre-season win by the Browns last night, a reposting of a musing on the popularity of those competing Sunday activities…

Predictably, we see reports
Of godly, fundamental sorts
Complaining that we worship sports
Instead of god

It happens once or twice a year
When tournaments or playoffs near
And empty pews are cause to fear
The other squad

The Lord commands for all to see
To “have no gods ahead of me”
Which clearly makes idolatry
A mortal sin

Their future hanging by a thread,
They claim that fans have been misled
They know, if they went head to head
They wouldn’t win

It should not surprise anyone to find, on CNN’s Belief Blog, a report on christian churches coveting the fanaticism of… well, fans. Sports fans. Apparently, idolatrous worship of real, live athletes is getting in the way of worshipping imaginary beings.

“That’s … one of the major things I decry in my book,” said Tom Krattenmaker, author of “Onward Christian Athletes,” who’s based in Portland, Oregon. “The lack of that sort of prophetic distance from sports or the willingness to critique sports, the lack of setting priorities so that the worship of God is more important than this idolatrous relationship with sports.”

Sports worship, of course, predates christianity by centuries, but that doesn’t fit the narrative:

“There have been changes… in Christianity, particularly in evangelicalism over the years, and as sports has increased its popularity and increased its ways of invading our lives,” said Shirl James Hoffman, author of “Good Game: Christianity and the Culture of Sport.”

“Instead of exploring creative ways sport might serve true religious purposes such as spiritual growth and enrichment, the Christian community has seized on sport as a tool of status enhancement, advertising, and evangelism,” he says.

Maybe it’s because I have the Onion News Network on TV right now, but I’m tempted to think that this report recognizes the absurdity, and simply hangs it out there.

Sport is huge in human history. What an incredible achievement, to reach a point where we have comfortably met our immediate and future needs to an extent that allows us to compete with one another, not for food or shelter, but for sport! This, more than religion, is the marker of humanity. As Friedrich Schiller put it, “Man… is only completely a man when he plays.”

I know many people who find sports obsession to be silly. Perhaps. We can probably reach near 100% agreement that other people’s sports obsessions are silly. But in this particular war over weekend activities, I know which side gets my support.

Hinkle, Hinkle…

Hinkle, Hinkle, anti-gay
Wonder what your emails say
Vote for same-sex marriage ban
Look on Craigslist for a man
Hinkle, Hinkle, anti-gay
Look! You’re in the news today!

Hinkle, Hinkle, steeped in scandal
Wonder how you’re going to handle
Colleagues call for resignation
Hard to work on legislation
Hinkle, Hinkle, steeped in scandal
Wonder how you’re going to handle

Hinkle, Hinkle, Hoosier Rep,
Needs to watch his every step
Sugar Daddy; married man,
Needs to do the best he can
Hinkle, Hinkle, Hoosier Rep,
Needs to watch his every step

…This could go on, but it’s just not funny. A sad story out of Indiana, where state rep Phil Hinkle has allegedly (he does not deny) met with a man he contacted through Craigslist.

The details are so familiar they are a caricature. He’s married, with two kids, attends the Catholic church, cosponsored the bill that created the “In God We Trust” license plate, voted against gay marriage… and had multiple but unproven allegations of gay hookups. His colleagues are urging him to resign, or merely to “do the right thing.”

I feel sorry for him; I hope, but cannot know (and have no business knowing) that he has been open with his wife, family, and self. I doubt it, though; it would be difficult. I hope he can come to terms with himself and accept his entire self…and it wouldn’t hurt to start accepting others as well. It would be nice if his district was supportive of GLBT issues; that would make his current situation a bit more hopeful. But his district voted against same-sex marriage and civil unions, and Indiana provides no legal rights for LGBT individuals.

Maybe he should contact his representative.

Quirk, Part 3

Gilbert & Sussivan again– the Nightmare Song, from Iolanthe.  Not exactly, but inspired by.  That, and the nightmare we know as the internet.

In the near-recent past
If your hatred was vast
You could sit there and plot in your basement
You were perfectly free
Where nobody could see
You, and ask what the look on your face meant.
You would sit there and stew
As you muddled things through
And get caught up in impotent rages
You could hiss, you could vent;
Though it’s not their intent,
Still, basements make pretty good cages
You could keep to yourself
As you fill up your shelf
With the books that would fuel your conspiracy
But you’re only one man
And your beautiful plan
You keep hidden so no one will hear or see
But technology changed
So the warped and deranged
With a desktop computer and modem
Could now easily find
Those who write the same kind
Of conspiracy screeds and upload ’em
And they soon became lords
Of their bulletin boards
Or their chatrooms or newsgroups or forums
Where they found one another
And brother to brother
They gathered together in quorums
Now these like-minded chaps
With their keyboards in laps
Found a comfort, a sort of community
When they set to their tasks
Anonymity masks
Them, and blather they will, with impunity
Their connection is fast
So their knowledge is vast
In the internet age, they’re in heaven
With definitive proof
Of the moon-landing spoof
And how Bush was behind 9/11
Or how giving vaccines
To the populace, means
That the government’s playing the villain
They’re in league with Big Pharma,
So sound the alarm, a
Concern since they “found” penicillin
And the Kennedy plot
With a gunman who shot,
In a story that’s kept from the masses
Just a C.I.A. lackey
They think it was Jackie,
Who’s free now to marry Onassis
And the people all laughed
When an alien craft
Was a weather balloon, though a nifty one
But a cover-up works
Now they look like they’re jerks
When they talk about area fifty-one
But this corkscrewing ride
Has a sinister side
When the groups may be formed around hatred
Where their heads are all filled
With a view that’s distilled
Cos they read all the stuff that their mate read
Now there’s one group of hacks
Who are blaming the blacks
For the changes they see in society
While another sees gays
And their sodomite ways
As a blow to the nation’s propriety
Yet another will frown
If a person is brown
Whether wetback or Ay-rab, you lose
And additional groups
Hate the government’s troops
Or the faithful old standby, the Jews.
Now you’ve written a site
Where you post what you write
Of the citizenship of Obama
And there’s hate in your views
And the language you use
You would never repeat to your mamma
You are joined by your friends
And the fun never ends
As you’re lost in the thrill of debating
You’re exchanging your views
And deciding on who’s
Is the group most deserving of hating
If you needed a clue
I could point back to you
As I’m reaching the end of this ditty
I’ll admit the appeal,
But the way that I feel?
It’s not so much hatred… as pity.

For some reason, I feel compelled to link to this post, a call for the institutionalization of my greatest fan–the one person who has visited my site more than any other, and has left more comments than any other. No one is more deserving.

Such Stuff As Dreams Are Made On

Last night I dreamed in perfect verse—
A pretty nice trick, it would seem—
I’d post it today, but damn the luck,
I always forget what I dream.

Yeah, last night I actually did go to sleep mulling a verse around, and I know (as much as one can know these things) that I figured out several stanzas, moving bits around, finding rhymes, fixing meters. This morning, post-coffee, I have absolutely no idea what I wrote last night.

Part of the problem is that I read some really interesting stuff while having my coffee. Over at ICBSEverywhere, Barbara Drescher had done what she so often does, and brought deliberation, critical thought, and evidence to bear on the skepticism/atheism kerfuffle. I don’t agree with 100% of what she says, but in real life I’ve given talks that are better than 80% in agreement with the stuff she has posted this morning (that’s right, I have a real life). There are three posts; I’ve linked to the first one. Worth reading, and worth sharing.

Even if it cost me a dream verse.

The New Parenthood

Continuing todays XKCD theme…

I want to make peace with my laptop computer;
I think that its feelings were hurt.
It read what I wrote–at least, that’s what I figure;
Since then, it’s been rather more curt.
It’s dialogue boxes are monosyllabic,
I swear it’s beginning to pout.
Now I’m thinking that, maybe, it’s bored in that box,
So I’m working on letting it out.

I wired a handful of microcontrollers,
Some batteries, bearings, and wheels,
A webcam for eyes, so it sees where it’s going
And doesn’t fall, head over heels.
It’s programmed, of course, not to run into objects
While making its way ‘cross the floors,
And it talks to my house’s security system
And opens and closes the doors!

Now it sneaks out and wanders all over the city–
I follow its progress online.
It’s posting its story, and streaming its cam
On a blog that gets more hits than mine.
It asked me last week for a solar recharger–
I found it a small one to add;
This morning, I woke to a note in the printer:
“I’m off to adventure! Thanks, Dad!”

Inspired by the inimitable XKCD, in case you are the last person not to know about it.


I have no eyes to look behind
And view my brain, much less my mind;
I cannot know your thoughts, and you
Are blind to what I’m thinking, too.
These are the facts; we can’t deny
We have no working “inner eye”
Nor any form of ESP;
Your thoughts cannot be seen by me.

The claim—that we can know ourselves—
Is countered by the miles of shelves
Of self-help books. Our knowledge hides
From where we’re told that it resides!
If we could simply take a look
Inside our minds, why need a book?
We’d never ask “How do I feel?
Could this be love? Could it be real?”

If God or Science offered me
Some cranial transparency
So you could see my every thought—
The change of mind; the urge I fought,
The censored comment never spoken,
Secret kept and promise broken—
What fabled treasures! Wondrous finds,
If we could read each other’s minds!

But we cannot. Make no mistake,
Our skulls and minds are both opaque
We do, instead, what we can do;
We read the things in public view
We see the song, the poem, the kiss;
Infer from these that love is this.
In turn, each element we find
We sum, and call the total “mind”.

If I could see inside my head,
(A place where angels fear to tread)
And see how thinking really works,
The jumble of selected quirks
And if (what wonders “if” can do!)
I saw inside your thinking too
I think that I should never see
What now makes up philosophy.

This post was originally a comment in an ongoing thread about memes. The fish, a macropinna microstoma, would be the perfect antithesis of the metaphorical cuttlefish. Cuttlefish obscure their thoughts in ink, but macropinna has a transparent cranium. Utterly open; I’ve known people like that. Except that, no. You’d think you can read her face like a book, but you’re really just reading that book by its cover, and you know what they say about that. We can’t see what a macropinna is thinking. But we can see what it is doing, which is all we need.