The Insurance Scam

My insurance covers fractures
(Like most policies I’ve known)
Which is wasteful for the people
Who don’t have a broken bone

And it also covers polio’s
Expensive medications
Just in case it makes a comeback—
It’s been gone for generations

Why, my policy protects me
From the rarest stuff on earth
So I’m working on a cunning plan
To get my money’s worth:

From the corners of the planet
I’m collecting rare diseases—
I’ll have people send me samples
From wherever someone sneezes

Every parasite that troubles,
Each bacterium that lurks
Every virus, every prion,
I’m collecting up the works

And from government collections
From Atlanta to The Hague
I’ll grab cryogenic samples
Of each pestilence and plague

I will sample every toxin
That humanity has faced…
If I don’t, you see, insurance
Is at least a partial waste

And I want the proper value
For each dollar, for each dime…
If I live my whole life healthy
Then insurance is a crime.

Cuttlecap tip to Ed, this morning.

Worth Every Penny…

A confluence of things, today. You may or may not know this, but we here at FtB are testing a new paid-subscription, ad-free version for your reading pleasure. Apparently, the place looks much nicer without ads. Ads never bothered me, though, aside from the few places around where, say, my verses have been copied without my permission and show up on a page with multiple pop-up ads that can’t be easily dismissed. That, yeah, bothers me.

Which leads to the next thing–a New York Times opinion piece with the remarkable notion that writers, artists, photographers and the like ought to be paid for what they do. Even *gasp* on the internet!

Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge. I now contribute to some of the most prestigious online publications in the English-speaking world, for which I am paid the same amount as, if not less than, I was paid by my local alternative weekly when I sold my first piece of writing for print in 1989. More recently, I had the essay equivalent of a hit single — endlessly linked to, forwarded and reposted. A friend of mine joked, wistfully, “If you had a dime for every time someone posted that …” Calculating the theoretical sum of those dimes, it didn’t seem all that funny.

Reading through some of the comments on that piece, I realize I have it better than most. With my readership here, I am making big bucks–approximately one dollar per post. And I hope to have my second big collection of verses out in time for Cephalopodmas shopping, and that should sell, with luck, a few dozen copies. And that honestly puts me ahead of a lot of the commenters’ stories.

I don’t know if it will be approved, but I left the following comment myself (from a few years ago):

I’d shill for a shilling
But no one is willing
To pay for the things that I write.
I’d rant and I’d holler
For minimum dollar
But no one is offering, quite.
A couple of euros
To stuff in my bureau’s
Sufficient for verses like these;
Though some call it whoring,
I’m begging–imploring–
Come, sully my principles, please!
If someone would shell out,
I’d promise to sell out–
My standards, I’ll keep in my purse–
For now, though, I’m sighing
Cos no one is buying…
And all I can write is Free Verse.

Eating The Monkey Brains

No time for anything right now, but I had to share with you a wonderful piece of writing on the shutdown. Charles Pierce, writing for Esquire, pens “The Reign Of Morons Is Here“, and it is beautiful. First, the succinct summary of the situation:

In the year of our Lord 2010, the voters of the United States elected the worst Congress in the history of the Republic. There have been Congresses more dilatory. There have been Congresses more irresponsible, though not many of them. There have been lazier Congresses, more vicious Congresses, and Congresses less capable of seeing forests for trees. But there has never been in a single Congress — or, more precisely, in a single House of the Congress — a more lethal combination of political ambition, political stupidity, and political vainglory than exists in this one, which has arranged to shut down the federal government because it disapproves of a law passed by a previous Congress, signed by the president, and upheld by the Supreme Court, a law that does nothing more than extend the possibility of health insurance to the millions of Americans who do not presently have it, a law based on a proposal from a conservative think-tank and taken out on the test track in Massachusetts by a Republican governor who also happens to have been the party’s 2012 nominee for president of the United States. That is why the government of the United States is, in large measure, closed this morning.

Then the analysis (this paragraph closing with the most appropriate metaphor I’ve seen on the topic):

This is what they came to Washington to do — to break the government of the United States. It doesn’t matter any more whether they’re doing it out of pure crackpot ideology, or at the behest of the various sugar daddies that back their campaigns, or at the instigation of their party’s mouthbreathing base. It may be any one of those reasons. It may be all of them. The government of the United States, in the first three words of its founding charter, belongs to all of us, and these people have broken it deliberately. The true hell of it, though, is that you could see this coming down through the years, all the way from Ronald Reagan’s First Inaugural Address in which government “was” the problem, through Bill Clinton’s ameliorative nonsense about the era of big government being “over,” through the attempts to make a charlatan like Newt Gingrich into a scholar and an ambitious hack like Paul Ryan into a budget genius, and through all the endless attempts to find “common ground” and a “Third Way.” Ultimately, as we all wrapped ourselves in good intentions, a prion disease was eating away at the country’s higher functions. One of the ways you can acquire a prion disease is to eat right out of its skull the brains of an infected monkey. We are now seeing the country reeling and jabbering from the effects of the prion disease, but it was during the time of Reagan that the country ate the monkey brains.

I’ve only highlighted 2 paragraphs–the whole thing is well worth the reading.

And now I have even less time… dammit.

The Unintentionally Worst Thing Heard About Grand Theft Auto V

So I was listening to NPR.

On NHPR’s “Word of Mouth”, a discussion of Grand Theft Auto… let’s see… it was The Bankable Legacy Of Grand Theft Auto; audio is available at the link. There was discussion of the economics, of the controversy, of misrepresentation of an adult game as a bad children’s game… honestly, I was mostly shopping, so I did not hear all of the program. I did hear one comment though, that went unremarked on the program, and I wanted to remark on it. At around the 8-minute mark, Jamin Warren, of Killscreen, a “video-game arts and culture company”, responds to the host’s (the excellent Virginia Prescott, I think) comment that one can, if she remembers correctly get points in this game for beating up prostitutes. His immediate response (my apologies if I transcribed it poorly–I think I got it, though):

(8:04) I think the important thing that is important to remember is that there are many things you can do in Grand Theft Auto; some of them, I think, are distasteful—well, I guess, a lot of them are at some level distasteful—but I don’t necessarily think that the violence in Grand Theft Auto against women–obviously it’s problematic at very, like at a very base level, but I think if you were to look at it in the landscape of broader media, it wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.

And yes, (as I understand it) you can, but are not required to, beat prostitutes in GTA V. I played an earlier version of the game, and never once treated it as anything but a driving simulator with some really bizarre racetracks. It was well designed without the added violence against women; my personal tastes would have it with playable female lead characters, and none of the violence, but my personal version would sell, like, twelve copies in total.

But that’s not the important thing. I suspect you caught the important thing, though. “It wouldn’t necessarily be anomalous.” The distasteful violence against women… yes, it’s there, but it’s everywhere, so that’s ok.

No, that’s not ok. That’s terribly depressing. When the poster child for symbolic violence against women can simply point to “the landscape of broader media” and say “we’re just following your example”, this is not a point in favor of the game, or of the broader media, or of much of anything.

Let’s beat up some women;
Let’s beat up some whores;
Let’s steal us some autos
And rob us some stores
Let’s tell everybody
It’s only a game…
Cos the rest of the media
Looks just the same.

Resistant Strains

The nasty microscopic bugs
We try to fight with special drugs
Consider penicillin just a problem to be solved
We dose ourselves at every cough
And kill a large percentage off
Forgetting that survivors mean the critters have evolved

And now, the CDC explains,
We’re dealing with resistant strains
And every day that passes brings us “closer to the cliff.”
But people are resistant, too,
To do the things we have to do
When drugs no longer work for us… there’s no more talk of “if”.

Time To Bring Back Public Whippings! (Or, Maybe, Not)

We’re pampering our prisoners
We’re treating them like guests
Instead of just ignoring them
We honor their requests

Free food, a bed, and exercise,
We cater to their needs
When what they’ve earned is punishment
It’s harshness that succeeds

No coddling them with training,
Cos they’ll never get a job
No need for education,
Cos a slob remains a slob

No TV time, no DVDs,
No books upon the shelves
These thugs want entertainment?
Let them work it out themselves

Let’s lock them in a tiny cell
And throw away the key
Unless it hurts, it really isn’t
Punishment, to me

We’ll show them, in the clearest terms,
What vengeance is about…
I wonder how they’ll thank us
When it’s time to let them out

You’ve probably all heard by now, Ariel Castro was found dead, having apparently hanged himself. As the poster child for horrible and criminal behavior, you’ll have to search a ways before you’ll find anyone mourning his death. Well, aside from those wishing he was still alive so that he could be dying more slowly; those voices are easy to hear.

And even at NPR, where accusations of liberal bias (in reporting and in commenting) are commonplace, the commenters are currently bemoaning the conditions of our prisons, arguing that they need to be harsher, more punishing, so that they do the job they were supposed to do and prevent crime rehabilitate offenders punish evildoers.

These commenters are wrong. You want the most successful prisons, in terms of low recidivism rates, low operating cost, and successful integration of inmates into society when their sentences are up? Let’s compare the US and Norway.

But of course, those are horrible measures of prisoner effectiveness if the real goal of a prison is to assign moral responsibility and punish wicked people. (Or to make money.) I have asked audiences which hypothetical they would choose, a simple procedure that would make certain a criminal would never commit a crime again, and would instead be a productive member of society, or a procedure that would punish that criminal harshly, with no effect on future behavior. A strong majority go for the punishment. (BTW, a strong case can be made that this is a holdover from religious thinking during the Reformation–the blossoming of the prescientific notion of freely chosen, morally culpable behavior. We can’t prevent it, cos it’s freely chosen, but we can and should punish the morally responsible actor, regardless of whether that punishment decreases crime.)

And with Ariel Castro as the poster child, there will be no one, or very few, arguing that our prisons are already too harsh for society’s good, that an overhaul of the system would be hugely beneficial (especially for non-privileged groups). Differential arrests, convictions, and sentences by race? No time for that, there’s a monster in Cleveland who deserves harsher punishment! We would rather punish after the fact than make our streets safer before. We would rather pay for prisons than schools and scholarships. We would rather blame a handful of criminals after the fact, than our own failure to improve society beforehand.

It’s so much easier.

National Dog Day

So, yeah, I only found out a bit ago from Mano that it is National Dog Day* here. Knowing that I have written quite a lot about dogs, I thought I’d do the lazy thing and see what sort of dog verse (doggerel?) I could dig up. I’ve written quite a few doggy things, from celebrations of rolling in garbage, to wedding weirdness, to religious metaphors, to sirius serious science… and a verse that is taught in schools in India. (And there is so much more–I keep forgetting how damned much I have written over the years–and a non-trivial percentage of it is actually pretty good.) And then I saw this one. And I cried. And kept crying for quite a bit. So, for National Dog Day, the saddest verse I have ever written.

I hope we did what’s best for you
I know, at least, we tried.
I took you to the doctor
And I stayed there at your side;
I talked with you for one last time
Then held you as you died.
I kissed your head, and said good-bye
And cried
And cried
And cried.

Yeah, well… happy National Dog Day.

* I was supposed to post pictures of my dogs, apparently. Problem is, the cuttledogs are weaponized cuteness, and the internets couldn’t take it.

How Could Anyone Disagree?

I have grown quite accustomed
To freethinking sorts
So I’m used to the things that we say
The atheist angle
On latest reports
Or our spin on the news of the day;
A breadth of opinion
(It’s quite a broad mix)
And a thorough review of the laws
With proper attention
To article six
And of course, the establishment clause
When political figures
(The folks we’ve elected)
Are shown to be pandering fools
And it’s clear they don’t care
That all rights are protected
When Christian majority rules
…And I think to myself,
“It’s so blatant; so clear;
How could any clear mind disagree?”
But a couple of clicks
And reality’s here:
It’s depressing and grim. Look and see.

So, yeah. You’ve likely seen coverage of the struggle for atheist chaplains around the atheist blogosphere. I’ve written about it a number of times, as have others on FtB and Patheos, and on unaffiliated atheist and legal blogs. It has also been covered, a bit less well, by the major media outlets–the comments there are fascinating, because they are so broad; you see people who argue with their hearts or their tribes first, those who don’t care what the law is, but what is right (this goes for people on both sides of the issue), and people who really know their constitutional law (and a small minority who know their right-wing talking points version of constitutional law; these are easily identified by their cries of “separation of church and state is not found in the constitution!” and “it’s freedom OF religion, not freedom FROM religion!”).

Even the Blaze, clearly opposed to atheist chaplains, has a handful of commenters who doggedly argue that true patriots and constitutional conservatives must accept that the government has no right to side with religion on this issue, that the constitution is clear–no religious test, and no establishment of religion.

My reading habits kept me in this bubble–I guess I thought that, maybe, Fox News or the Blaze were as concentrated populations of social conservatives as you might get. I was wrong. This is why I use an aggregator–to expose me to stuff I would not seek out on my own. Whereas the atheist blogosphere was admiring the courage of the young man who confronted Representative Burgess at an event in Texas, the good people at The Right Scoop title their story “GOP Rep. smacks down atheist college student who thinks the Army should have secular chaplains“. Ok, it’s not actually a story, but just the video you have probably already seen. These folks got it via the Blaze. But the story is not the important part–the comments are. I don’t know whether these people delete comments that disagree… but there aren’t any. It takes a lot to make the Blaze look reasonable, but these folks do it.

I know how easy it is to fall into the echo chamber trap–to read and watch only the sources that you agree with, and that support your views. Thing is, if you don’t subject your views to scrutiny, how do you know how they hold up against the real world? It is, at least in theory, every bit as easy for me to hear only what I want to, as it is for the Right Scoop commenters to stay in their echo chamber (the sites linked in their sidebar are a further demonstration). But it’s not good for your thinking.

There are arguments claims in their comments that are quite simply counterfactual, flimsy straw-people that would disintegrate in the slightest breeze… so that community invests quite a bit of effort in hermetically sealing their views. (And yes, I have seen similarly poor arguments on our side–but as a general rule, we also have people who really seem to enjoy tearing apart fallacies and skewering straw-men, even when they agree with the writers.)

Anyway, sorry for rambling–as Pascal said, I lacked the time to make it short. Classes start soon, and I must prioritize other things than this blog. Your take-away? Don’t just read the stuff you already agree with… or you’ll end up as ignorant as The Right Scoop.

Ah, So *That’s* Where The Fat Went!

A rack of ribs; a leg of lamb;
A turkey roast; a marbled ham;
The fat? We’d gladly eat it!
The drippings from the roasting pan
We use for gravy, quite by plan—
For flavor, you can’t beat it.

But now, our culture’s seen a change
And eating fat is more than strange
When folks are on a diet
Though sugar may be worse by far
Fat gets the blame, so people are
Reluctant, now, to try it

In vain attempts to be more svelte,
The fat we hate, we simply melt
And pour it down the sink
Where does it go? It goes “away”
And more than that, we cannot say
Because we do not think.

The fat collected as we cook?
It’s down the drain, without a look;
Our thoughts end with our meals
But in the sewers, fat gets cold;
Beneath our streets, we now are told
It naturally congeals

A city’s worth of melted lard
Starts cooling down and turning hard
We know what comes of that:
Stalagmites of a lipid sort,
And one, we hear by last report,
That’s fifteen tonnes of fat

Of course, there’s much that we can do
To help prevent these bergs of goo,
The sewer gods explain:
It’s time for people to begin
When cutting fat, to toss it in
The bin, not down the drain!

A Thames Water press release has a very practical warning, illustrated by an extraordinary discovery. The warning? Don’t pour melted fat down your drain (they make this plea each year during the holiday season, I hear, when so many families simultaneously dump the fat from a roast turkey, ham, or yak, down the drain), because it will congeal and clog your pipes.

The discovery? A fifteen ton tonne “fatberg” (pic at the link–worth seeing):

“Given we’ve got the biggest sewers and this is the biggest fatberg we’ve encountered, we reckon it has to be the biggest such berg in British history.
“The sewer was almost completely clogged with over 15 tonnes of fat. If we hadn’t discovered it in time, raw sewage could have started spurting out of manholes across the whole of Kingston.
“It was so big it damaged the sewer and repairs will take up to six weeks.

Nearby residents were unable to flush their toilets, and the investigation led to the fatberg’s discovery.

Remind me, next Thanksgiving, to thank the people whose job it is to go down into the sewers in such cases of emergency. 15 tons of rancid fat is, frankly, nasty, but when the system is working perfectly these people are going down into the sewers to check on a city’s worth of waste.

So consider this a public service announcement: Next time you cut the fat from your dinner, dispose of it in the trash, not down the drain. Or do what I do, and cook with it, eat it eagerly, and enjoy it immensely.

(Cuttlecap tip to Ed Yong, via twitter.)


Three hundred sixty nine. That’s the current number, as of when I got caught up with the present, a moment or two ago. I mentioned, last post, that I’m gathering up my verses in preparation for another book. This 369 verses represents the quick-and-dirty sort–anything that I just hated didn’t make the cut; muse of the week limericks did not make the cut, stuff that was clearly crap, that anyone in their right mind would have binned and been done with, but which I posted because that’s what I do, did not make the cut.

In other words, the easy bit is done.

The last volume (still available, up there in the “cuttlestuff” tab) held some 244 verses (342 pages); I expect that the next volume will be slimmer. Which means I expect to be cutting the current crop by at least a third. Which will be difficult, but maybe in the opposite direction than you might think: It is exceedingly easy for me to say “oh, that one is horrible”. If I held to the standards of my staunchest inner critic, I could easily cut the verses down to a nice round number… the roundest of numbers, in fact. It is in defiance of that inner critic that I publish the “clearly crap”… but that critic did have a point. The nature of this blog requires that my inner critic be kept in irons most of the time, exercised only rarely and briefly. This editing will be difficult, in determining which ones to keep, not which to cull.

And so the tug-of-war begins. At present, I have no idea what the final book will look like. What categories? With or without commentary? Art? (I have an idea for the cover, though, which is a big step.) Or even a title. And I especially don’t have a target date. I keep intending to have something ready for Cephalopodmas season, but that hasn’t happened in years. But… who knows?

Wish me luck?