The Curse Of The Buried Jersey

You have probably already heard the story–but if not, here’s one article. (And this just in–there may actually be some good to come out of the story.)

The things we might call hanky-pankies
Think outside the box;
The latest chapter pits the Yankees
Up against the Sox.

The sort of things that I or you do
Never seem to hurt
But we would never stoop to voodoo
With a Red Sox shirt.

The news says Gino Castignoli
Wants the Yankees beat—
And so, a jersey, buried fully,
Underneath concrete!

But sadly, Gino spilled the beans
About what he had done
Which led to superstitious scenes
That I found rather fun!

You’d think they might have laughed it off
As I do, here, in verse—
But no, the Yankees (don’t you scoff!)
Don’t want to risk a curse!

The Red Sox know that curses work,
For decades, theirs had meant
Bill Buckner’s famous fielding quirk
Or runs by Bucky Dent.

But surely, in this day and age
We’re rational at last
The Yankees simply turn the page
And leave this in the past.

Umm….

In baseball, never bet against
The superstitious herd
The Yankee people then commenced
With actions quite absurd:

They found out where the jersey lay
And busted through a wall,
Through concrete floor, until—hooray!
There rose a cheering call.

The photos show them claim their prize
Still covered up with dirt.
Some fifty grand they spent—quite wise,
Cos… hey, they found… a shirt.

Crazy Like A Squid…

The Deep Sea News guys have alerted us all to a libelous bit of writing by Jeff Vrabel that further convinces me that humans are not to be trusted with ink.

When possible, I like to keep close tabs on the world of octopuses, for two reasons: 1. Everybody has their hobbies, mine just involves cephalopod mollusks and don’t you judge me, and 2. I often get the feeling that they’re plotting something.

It’s like a weird sixth sense/octopus whisperer sort of thing. Come on – you know you’ve had that feeling, when you’re at home alone on a rainy night, reading by the midnight light of a single lamp, when all of a sudden you’re alarmed by a subtle yet inescapable fear that there’s an octopus over your shoulder watching you. Yeah. So it’s best if a few of us are just keeping an eye on them, is what I’m saying.

The Deep Sea News guys sum it up in their title: “Cephalopods Are Nuts”.

*ahem*

We’re not nuts, we’re just vindictive
And if history’s predictive
You can trace the simple logic that should quake you to your core
Take a glance at any menu
Look for “calamari”, then you
Have a taste of what humanity thinks squid are destined for.
People order up their sushi
Without wondering just who she
Used to be before they sliced her up and threw her on some rice.
People think it doesn’t matter
That what’s now your Tako Platter
Was an octopus, intelligent and social and quite nice.
Even cuttlefish are fried up,
Sometimes smoked or merely dried up
And available for purchase just like any other snacks!
With our lives so torn asunder
I must say that it’s no wonder
Every now and then, some octopus or squid just sorta cracks.
So if you are going fishing
For a humboldt squid, start wishing
That the rest of us don’t see you as you’re reeling in our friends;
Cos for those who know the history
It comes as no great mystery—
You’ve eaten us for much too long; it’s time to make amends.

Yeah, that’s right–just like it says on the label–this cuttlefish is prepared!

A Hymn

Ok, I admit it: there is a soft spot in my hearts for hymns. Both the staid and conservative hymns of the congregation I left decades ago, and the blues-laced gospel hymns that, for instance, the Blues Brothers Movie celebrated. There is a joy to that music, a weight to those lyrics, that is just beautiful. Now, I do not feel the same way about “praise music”, mind you. Its lyrics are insipid, its faux-anthemic chord structures and melodies are artificial, saccharine, and so without substance as to make Kenny G sound like Charlie Parker. It is clearly not the topic of hymns that makes me enjoy them, but rather the realization, in music and poetry, of their vision. I have no problems, atheist that I am, enjoying hymns or christmas carols, or the architecture of a cathedral or the design of a stained glass window. Beauty is beauty.

And I feel absolutely no desire to promote the idea of “atheist hymns” or “scientific churches” to serve whatever purpose hymns and churches do for the theist community. If I needed those purposes served, I would not be who I am. If I want to listen to a hymn, I am fortunate to live in an age where I can just find an appropriate internet site and listen. No need to write my own.

But I did anyway. It is all the fault of the Illinois legislature, and the million dollars being spent to restore or renovate that church. In all the furor over Representative Davis’s outburst, there were conversations here and there from people who either did or did not appreciate the architecture of that particular church. I swear I read one person saying that they would support the reconstruction of a church if it were secular. An odd concept to me, but whatever. Anyway, it all got me to thinking about these things, and the catch-phrase to my hymn showed up, in tune and with appropriate harmony.

The hymn can be sung either straight or gospel. Pipe organ for the first, combined piano and Hammond 3B for the second, and some singers who can shake the dust off the rafters. In the chorus, of course, the parenthetical parts are for the bass. As if I had to tell you that.

Oh, I still remember thinking that I had it figured out
I was certain of my theory, and I had no room for doubt
But my elegant predictions were in no way guaranteed
Now I’ll follow where the evidence may lead…

chorus:
I’m following the evidence; I’m following the clues
                              (Following, I’m following the clues)
By following the evidence, there’s no way I can lose
                              (Following, I’m following the clues)
A slow and steady journey, make sure and then proceed
And I’ll follow where the evidence may lead…

I obtained my random samples, and I carefully took note;
With appropriate controls in place, the chances were remote
That some artifact would kill my study’s chances to succeed—
Now I’ll follow where the evidence may lead…

chorus

When I finished up my paper, then I sent it for review;
I was following procedure—it’s the proper thing to do:
But my peer-reviewers pointed to some things that I must heed
Now I’ll follow where the evidence may lead…

(skip the chorus this time)

My study’s methodology, reviewer one opined,
Was flawed because a crucial part was not made double-blind
And my biased expectations were a problem, I concede
Now I’ll follow where the evidence may lead…

chorus

There were parts of my procedure that I had to run once more;
I was happy when the data showed the same thing as before.
With a miniscule revision, my reviewers all agreed,
Cos we followed where the evidence did lead

chorus

Now it’s published in the journal, but that is just the start
A community of scientists will pick it all apart
Through acceptance or dismissal, now science will proceed
For we follow where the evidence may lead.

“I Thought I Saw An Atheist” Revisited

Ok, this one is seriously depressing. PZ reports on the deplorable actions of Illinois State Rep Monique Davis (D-Chicago), shouting down (easily, since he was not talking) an atheist activist (Rob Sherman), whose offense was that he was testifying against the expenditure of a million dollars of the people’s money to preserve a particular Baptist Church. There is an audiofile of the exchange.

…I thought I saw an atheist, upon the witness stand
It couldn’t be! Not where I live! This is a Christian Land!
The Constitution guarantees my right to scream and shout;
As the Good Lord is my witness, I demanded “You! Get out!”

I thought I saw an atheist demand an equal voice;
I told him he could leave right now, and that could be his choice.
I said his view was dangerous–our children must not hear!
It goes against the Bible, which our government holds dear!

I thought I saw an atheist nod quietly, and sigh.
The odds were stacked against him, which no person can deny;
What happens when a person is denied his civil right?
I may have seen an atheist who’s now convinced to fight.

On Anonymity

I know that I noticed the posts earlier this week, for and against anonymity in blogging and other sorts of writing, but this has been a busy week out in that place where there are three dimensions and most people don’t speak in meter and rhyme. But a cuttlefish must certainly have something to say on this matter. And now that Zuska brings up the topic once more, I found myself commenting on Physioprof’s blog, and before I knew it…

The right to be a cuttlefish
And hide behind my ink
May not appeal to everyone
Despite what I may think.
But having anonymity
Is useful, you may note—
That’s why we pull the curtain closed
Before we cast our vote.
The bully likes a public vote,
Each person known by name,
If someone feels intimidated
Shame on them! For shame!
They ought to have the strength to stand
Behind the words they speak!
(That way the votes go to the strong,
And rarely to the weak.)
Behind the voting curtain, though,
The votes all weigh the same—
Unless there’s something wrong with that,
You need not know my name.

And so I stand on principle
For any nom de plume—
A right to be anonymous
Is one I will assume.
I do not judge the reasons
Why some like it out of sight;
For me it is enough to say
It is their perfect right.

Loretta Would Be Proud!

If you have not seen this story yet, I am really jealous; you really found a good hiding place! “It’s My Right To Have Kid, Pregnant Man Tells Oprah” “Man Is Six-Months Pregnant” And of course, predictable variations on right-wing sources, left-wing sources, GLBT sources… you name it.

Thomas Beattie is, indeed, a pregnant man. He is also a pregnant woman (especially if you read the right-wing sources). Biologically, he could not be pregnant otherwise.

I am perfectly content with his legal status as a man; it’s how he views himself, how his wife views him, and none of my damned business, or yours either unless you happen to be Thomas Beattie. And it says nothing about his legal and self-referent status to note that, yes, biologically he is still female. But that said, I am a bit disappointed with the spin (or is that “framing”?) that the majority of the news outlets appear to be giving it. A “pregnant man” is a wow of a headline. The more accurate story–that a transgendered man loves his wife enough to bear a child when she cannot–is not merely more accurate, but more detailed and less “wow”. Unlike a sound bite, it takes more than a few seconds to comprehend. So I guess the news outlets didn’t want to take that sort of risk.

I don’t know if it is what they wish for themselves, but my wish for them is a return to anonymity as quickly as possible after the child is born. A media circus is something I would not wish on any baby.

The news reports on Thomas Beattie note that he’s a man.
He’s bearded, and he’s married to a lovely woman, Nan.
They’re planning on a family—how wonderful that is!
Oh, yeah, there’s one more tiny thing: the pregnancy is his.
Not his as in paternity, the papers try to tutor us,
But his as in he’s carrying the baby in his uterus.

In Monty Python’s Life of Brian, a character named Stan
Demanded that we recognize the right of any man
If he wishes, to be female, and to call himself Loretta,
And defend this right, by force, as in a feud or a vendetta.
And Loretta says that every man—no ifs, no buts, no maybes—
Possesses rights including each man’s right to carry babies.

Loretta did not have a womb, to utilize her right—
This futility of struggle was a symbol of their plight;
Thomas Beattie, though, in contrast, does not share Loretta’s gloom—
He’s the man Loretta wants to be—a man who has a womb.
If tomatoes can be vegetables, and also still be fruits,
Then a man can have a baby, if the situation suits.

Just for fun…

The Natural State of the Featherless Biped

The natural state of the featherless biped
Is totally batshit insane,
From the folks who are “tetched”, to the mere “barking mad”
To the ones even Freud can’t explain.
Some talk to themselves, some talk to “the voices”
And others to “god, up above”
Some know there are bugs living under their skin,
And some (pity them) are in love.

A clear diagnosis is hard to obtain
When we’re characteristically odd.
Just look at behaviors most people call normal
Like talking and listening to god;
If you claimed you were talking to Satan himself
They would probably lock you away;
But instead, choose a different invisible friend
And the doctors all think you’re OK.

Some point to religious folks flocking like pigeons,
With atheists more solo fliers—
And say this to friends who have gathered together
With Dawkins, or Randi, or Myers.
Of course, there are differences, none could deny,
But a few similarities, too.
We follow our leaders, a true social species
As nature selects we should do.

When Dennett says memes can take over our heads,
Make us willing to die for some god;
I look at the hooligan soccer-fan riots–
Devotion no longer seems odd.
The vestments and hats of the Orthodox Church
Are a spectacle worthy of mention,
But some secular groups may be equally gaudy—
Just check out a Star Trek convention!

It’s good to examine abnormal behavior
(Whatever “abnormal” might mean)
Just remember, we’re usually seeing ourselves
In the things we’re surprised to have seen.
We like to point fingers at somebody else
For the troubles, today, that we face;
But don’t point at others; the problem is us—
We’re the batshit-insane human race.

This one has been kicking around my skull for a while. The first line (or two) came to me months ago, and I just liked the sound of it. “Featherless biped”, of course, refers to Plato’s proposed answer to the age-old (even at the time) question “what is man?” Of course, Diogenes famously answered Plato by presenting him with a plucked chicken, which just tells you that philosophers are a lot cooler than we give them credit for. I think many philosophical debates I have observed or taken part in would be much improved by the addition of game fowl.

But only recently did the rest of the poem assert itself. This was inspired, not by a post on pharyngula, but on the comments to a post. In particular, this comment thread, although in truth it could have been any of a number of different discussions I have witnessed over the past years. I noticed, as I have many times before, a number of comments (from a number of different perspectives) which, boiled down, made a point of labeling what they do as aberrant. Of course, this is nothing new–outgroup stereotyping seems part of the human condition. What I wanted to point out was that we often see ourselves as immune from the bizarre behavior we attribute to members of that other group, when by widening our lens just a bit, we can make a pretty decent case for functional similarities with behaviors we see as perfectly normal (i.e., the things we do).

To me, the great value in examining the strange habits of others is the practical benefit of better understanding ourselves. I mean, there is no effect of the phase of the moon on, say, childbirth. But a large portion of our population believes that there is, and a large portion of professional involved in childbirth as well (ob/gyn, midwives, etc.)! If we can understand why it is that people believe this, despite (or merely in the absence of) the evidence, this might tell us why we believe other things as well. If we can see why people will devote time, effort, and income to a cause we see as preposterous, perhaps it can tell us why (or part of why) we devote time, effort and income to our own causes.

Of course, first we have to see that we are not describing “believers” or “christians” or “muslims” or “scientists” or “creationists” or “evolutionary biologists” or “anonymous internet poets”… but a larger, more inclusive population. Featherless bipeds.

Easier said than done.

“Hey Mikey, let’s go dig up some dragons!”

Hmm… PZ finds it sad, but I have a bit of a different reaction, to the Hallettestoneian Sea Zoria Dragons. The video (you can see it at either link) is one of the best examples of “do not make your video this way” that I have ever seen, but that is such a minor point. The video, and indeed the entire paleontological expedition, has the innocence of a child’s exploration of really cool rocks, before he or she gets told that there is a right way to do these things.

I fondly remember, from decades ago,
A boy mostly covered by dirt,
I would play with my friends in the forests or swamps,
Not stop until someone got hurt.
No video games and no organized sport,
We’d dig and explore in the field
Examine our treasures, excited to see
What each following foray might yield.
My brothers and I, upon one of these days,
Discovered a dinosaur find;
It was really just rocks, and of course we both knew,
Not a fossil of any real kind.
We invented a species; we found him a niche,
As a rock-eating, four-legged giant,
And dug up more pieces to fill in the blanks—
On rocks we were very reliant.
My mother taught high-school biology, so
She encouraged the way we explored,
And gave real information, which we could relate
To this dinosaur we so adored.
So now, when I look at Mike Hallett’s stone dragons
I’m more than a little bit jealous;
He’s doing what I did at seven years old
(And you have to admit, the man’s zealous);
He’s digging in dirt, and he’s making up stuff
About dragons from long, long ago,
Like a Peter Pan Paleontologist, maybe
He chose, for himself, not to grow.
Yes, maybe the man is a bit out of touch
And reality’s not his best friend,
But maybe he had the same fun as a kid
And just doesn’t want it to end.

Sally Kern Speaks Again

…I was hoping Ms. Kern would get a chance to speak publicly. It really is difficult to know whether a clip on YouTube has been taken out of context, or highly edited, or entirely too accurate. So it is nice when someone can show up to rebut or confirm statements that they made. Especially in the case of Sally Kern, where what she said was so vile.

Anyway, here she is, on local television in Oklahoma. The show is “Flash Point”, on Channel 4, Sunday mornings at 9:30. This show was last weekend–Easter Sunday. Sally is a guest in the first two segments, along with Pastor Scott Jones of the Cathedral of Hope in Oklahoma City. The pastor happens to be gay, which on the face of is suggests that Sally’s view of homosexuality and Christianity as being incompatible is… not a unanimous view. (It is worth watching.)

Seems that Sally said nothing wrong. Her analogies–Cancer, Terrorism, for instance–were poorly chosen. She only means to say that the homosexual lifestyle is deadly to the country, that if not eradicated it will grow and lead to the death of christianity and our country as we know it. But that, of course, is not hate speech.

I don’t know which would be more offensive–to have Sally say these things, knowing full well that they are hate speech, or (as seems to be the case) to have her utterly oblivious to the fact that an unfavorable comparison to cancer and terrorism might…just might…be seen as offensive.

Oklahoma’s Channel Four
Invited Sally Kern once more
To clarify her stated views,
Which everybody misconstrues.
And so, on Easter Sunday morn,
That target of such global scorn,
Ms. Kern sat down to set us straight
And speak to us of love, not hate.

The moderator, channel 4’s
Own Kevin Ogle set the course,
Reminding us that Sally’s speech,
Because of YouTube, now could reach
The far-flung corners of the world
Where anti-Sally flags unfurled.
He said that her remarks “enraged
The gay community”, then assuaged
Our fears by saying he would search
For common ground where we could perch.
(In truth it was not only gays
Who found a fault in Sally’s ways—
To frame it as he did was wrong,
But for the while, let’s play along.)

The panel guests this Easter were
Ms. Kern, and then across from her,
Scott Jones, an Oklahoma pastor;
Both held Christ as lord and master.
(Just one thing more, I think I may
Have left the bit where Scott is gay.
That might mean squat to me or you,
But Sally has a different view.)

She had the chance to make amends,
But rather, Sally Kern defends
Her homophobic comments. Great.
At least, she claims, it is not hate.
And there she may be right, you see—
It may be plain stupidity.
Her ignorance of science might
Explain why she’s convinced she’s right.

Polite and calm was Pastor Jones,
He asked of Kern, in even tones,
If it was hate, or maybe humor,
Saying gays were like a tumor.
“Oh, no, no, no!” came Sally’s answer;
“I don’t mean gays are really cancer—
Just that we must stop their spread,
Or if we don’t, we’ll end up dead–
See, cancer in your little toe
Can travel to your brain, you know.”
So gays are not true mutant cells,
According to what Sally tells,
She only meant that, to grow old,
The spread of gays must be controlled.
There’s no hate there she can discern,
Just metaphor from Sally Kern.

Her choice of words, the pastor urged,
Showed she thought gays ought be purged;
Compared to cancer? Terrorists?
These words are hateful, he insists,
The words she chose are worse than vile
But Sally Kern is in denial.
She says that isn’t what she meant,
Those weren’t the feelings that she sent.
She loves the gays as much as you—
Just hates the evil things they do.
When gays join in democracy
Where moral people used to be
It hurts the nation, we must learn
From moralists like Sally Kern.

It’s nice that Sally Kern can speak;
We’d only thus far had a peek
At her beliefs, but now we see
She says the same things on TV.
She does not try to hide her views,
So next time, voters, when you choose,
Recall the words that Sally said,
And wonder what is in her head—
It could be hatred, but you see,
It could just be stupidity.

I hope the latter. Folks can learn.
And that’s my wish for Sally Kern.

Dicyemid mesozoa are not cute at all.

So P-Zed was getting all moon-eyed and silver-tongued over parasites. Parasites that live in the kidneys of cephalopods, getting their nutrients from urine, much like Sally Kern. Anyway, his love letter to these beasties is a wonderful example of the passion that scientists have for their work. Uncovering the mysteries of the natural world does not take the beauty out of it; rather, knowledge enhances our appreciation for everything in the real world. In the words of Douglas Adams (who said nearly everything better than nearly anyone else did), “I’d take the awe of understanding over the awe of ignorance any day.”  If you are one of those rare readers here who do not already read Pharyngula, I seriously recommend following the above link to see that principle in action.

But as a cuttlefish, I was a bit miffed. “Oooh, aren’t they lovely!” “What an elegant illustration of evolution at work!” “Much more lovely than mere puppy dogs!” Hmph. Think of the cephalopods! Won’t somebody, please, think of the cephalopods?

So that’s what I was sensing! As discomfort was commencing,
Inflammation in my kidneys as I swam in the abyss
Was where parasites were feeding, and (in both their ways) were breeding,
And now Myers, metaphorically, joins in to take the piss.
A biologist, his duty is to rhapsodize their beauty
But a little sensitivity is all a ‘pod can ask!
Yes, I get that it’s exciting–I can see that in his writing–
Guess I only wish he didn’t take such pleasure in the task.
“O dicyemid mesozoan”, while inside my pain is growin’
“Let me count the ways I love you”, like this parasite is heaven
Then the dude proceeds in counting, while my agony is mounting,
And he doesn’t stop until he’s all the way to fucking seven!

Oh, for those who wonder about these things–this one was one of the verses that might as well have been self-writing. Less than 15 minutes, and it came out in final form. I love it when that happens.