Too Good To Be True

This is Bob, from Widget Industries—I work in personnel—
I’m just checking up on references for one Ignatius Shell,
Who assures us, as his manager, you really knew him well
So I’m hoping you can help us out a bit.
Yes, I’m looking at his resume, and he looks like quite a catch
Since it seems he built your company, and pretty much from scratch
You’d have bit the dust without him, so we’re hoping he’s a match
His experience implies he’ll really fit.

Now, there’s something I remember… just a minute… here we are:
How he saved the boss’s son, who’d been run over by a car,
When he lifted up the vehicle, then gave him CPR,
And a method he’d developed by himself!
When the papers heard the story, how he lifted up that Ford
And they offered him a medal, a parade, and a reward,
He refused it—every penny—‘cept a photo he adored
Of the rescued kid—he keeps it on his shelf

Did he really lead the office in their summer softball games?
Cos it isn’t in his letter (he would never make such claims)
But his fellow workers wrote it (though they would not give their names)
And it seems like such an “Iggy” thing to do.
This is mostly a formality—there isn’t any doubt
Shell’s the sort of dream employee that you only read about
So we’re hoping you’ll confirm that he’s too good to do without
Cos he really seems too perfect to be true

Via CNN, a story that sounds too good to be true–a company that, for a fee, will lie about your past.

“We can replace a supervisor with a fictitious one, alter your work history, provide you with a positive employment reputation, and give you the glowing reference that you need,” Paladin’s website states.

Mind you, there is some question as to whether the story itself (let alone the enthusiastic recommendations) is true:

The Better Business Bureau of Minnesota said it had never heard of Paladin Deception Services and will be “keeping an eye on them going forward.” The company isn’t registered in the state of Minnesota. Green claims it is registered in China instead and he declined to share any tax forms to prove the company’s legitimacy. Meanwhile, Facebook pulled Paladin’s ads from its site in May because it deemed the company inappropriate and misleading.

I am reminded that a post-rapture pet-sitting service that seemed too good to be true… was in fact, too good to be true. So this service may or may not turn out to be real.

Meanwhile, it could be fun, coming up with bogus items for a resume. I know I get called only very rarely to check up on recommendations I write. Maybe I should start claiming that my students are even more remarkable than they are…

Privacy? Nevermore!

Once upon a conversation, I received a revelation—
Just a tiny aberration in the phone line could be heard
It was near too faint for hearing, all too quickly disappearing,
And it surely had me fearing they had listened to my word
But of course, there is no reason to be snooping for my word
Such a notion is absurd!

With the conversation ending, and my paranoia pending—
Was some listening ear attending? Had a wiretap occurred?
My suspicions were implying what I’d rather be denying;
That the government was spying, and the lines had all been blurred
There had formerly been limits, but those lines have all been blurred—
Ah, but surely that’s absurd!

Could my phone call now be quoted? My associations noted?
Are there data banks devoted, at the mercy of some nerd?
All the data they can hack up, with more copies just for backup
In some cave where servers stack up with the info there interred?
They will long outlast my body, which will rot when I’m interred
This is far beyond absurd!

In a time that seems chaotic, is my worrying neurotic?
Maybe spying’s patriotic—it’s what 9/11 spurred.
Sure, the citizens are frightened, but security is heightened
With the leaky borders tightened and some terrorists deterred
Why, the means are surely justified if terror is deterred
Or they’re not… cos it’s absurd.

Belief In Satan Leads To Terrible Things… In Priests.

It isn’t just God that believers believe in—
There are angels and demons as well;
But I don’t really think there’s a Devil at all
So I guess I’ll be heading for Hell

There’s a priest who believes that he’s figured us out;
Though his logic’s a little bit odd;
Not believing in Satan (he thinks) is the key
More than just not believing in God

Cos Satan’s a gateway, it seems, to belief
Or a gatekeeper, keeping folks in
Instead of ourselves, it’s the Devil to blame—
The personification of sin

But if there’s no Devil, no angels, no God,
No leprechauns, pixies, or elves,
No witches or wizards with magic to use
Then we’ll have to get by… by ourselves.

Yeah, so, this verse was just an excuse. The part of the story that amused me is what the verse covers–a curious bit of logic from a father Gabriele Amorth:

…one of the main causes of today’s atheism is that people don’t believe in the Devil any more. But Jesus said: ‘Who is not with me is with Satan.’ If you don’t believe in Satan, Satan has got you in his pocket.

So, yeah. Not believing in Satan is a gateway drug to not believing in God. Which, given how many times I’ve heard that atheists worship Satan by definition, kinda makes me think they aren’t reading the same playbook.

But you might have noticed the ellipsis at the beginning of that quote. Yup, I cut off something important, just a few words, but the devil (heh) is in the details, as always. See, the beginning of that sentence goes “The Pope’s exorcism is a splendid sign because…” Amorth is making the claim that the pope actually performed an exorcism (there is a video of the encounter at the link). Francis was giving blessings after a pentecost mass, and can be seen laying hands on the head of a boy in a wheelchair.

So…. kid in a wheelchair. Obviously time for prayer. Cos A) the kid might be possessed, rather than, say, suffer from epilepsy, or B) even if that’s not the case, his condition is likely a punishment from God for some sinful nature. Either way, the kid needs prayer. And yes, epilepsy and demonic possession go hand in hand. Here, from the point of view of someone with epilepsy… and here, from a slightly different perspective.

But the problem is not ignorance among priests, eager to have a practical purpose in life–no, the problem is too many possessed people. Not medical conditions, not stigmatization, not misunderstanding, not marginalization, not some mundane problem like that, that people need to do the work of fixing… no, it’s 2013–clearly the cause is demons in your soul. Priests need the proper education! Not in science, medicine, skepticism, and inclusiveness, but in casting out demons.

What could go wrong?

We’re Number One! (Wait, That’s A Bad Thing…)

Shockingly, rockingly,
Scientist monitors
Looked at the bullet we’d
Hoped we had ducked

Argue no longer for
Periodicity—
Carbon’s new record means
Humans are fucked.

Yup. Carbon Dioxide levels in the atmosphere are higher they have been in the history of humankind. The highest in over six thousand three million years. The New York Times reports:

The best available evidence suggests the amount of the gas in the air has not been this high for at least three million years, before humans evolved, and scientists believe the rise portends large changes in the climate and the level of the sea.

“It symbolizes that so far we have failed miserably in tackling this problem,” said Pieter P. Tans, who runs the monitoring program at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration that reported the new reading.

While some groups have short-term economic reasons for denying reality, the truth is…

Carbon dioxide rises and falls on a seasonal cycle and the level will dip below 400 this summer, as leaf growth in the Northern Hemisphere pulls about 10 billion tons of carbon out of the air. But experts say that will be a brief reprieve — the moment is approaching when no measurement of the ambient air anywhere on earth, in any season, will produce a reading below 400.

“It feels like the inevitable march toward disaster,” said Maureen E. Raymo, a Columbia University earth scientist.

Or as I put it above… humans are fucked. Read the article… and not for nothing, this month is bike-to-work month.

Where The Hell Are The Bees?

The forsythia bloomed at the edge of the yard
An explosion of yellow and gold;
An abundance of nectar—but where were the bees?
Disappearing… or so I’ve been told.

So, yeah, the first few lawn-mowings of spring used to be a harrowing affair. My yard has a border of forsythia on one side, which used to be inundated with bees when it bloomed. The past few years, I can mow with impunity; I stop and scan the flowers, knowing there should be bees there! But they aren’t there. My redbuds used to attract a variety of bees and wasps; we’ll find out in a few days, maybe a week, when the buds open.

Today was the first day I saw any substantial numbers of Hymenoptera at all–some wasps, some hornets, and an astonishing number of bumblebees (or maybe carpenter bees, or probably both), far more interested in one another than in me as I made my way through them with gardening gear.

My apple trees are getting ready to blossom–they are young, so this is only the third year of flowers, and last year’s late frost meant that I had a total of one apple make it to maturity. It was then partially eaten by a worm, which was then thoroughly eaten by a bird. I found the half-apple on the ground. And yes, dammit, I ate it. It was superb.

But I digress. My apple trees are getting ready to blossom, and I have never hoped for bees so much as right now. Mind you, I’ve never had to–my heirloom tomatoes had plenty of bees in past years. So… Where the hell are the bees?

What we have lost in bees, we appear to be making up in reasons why we have fewer bees. I have always wanted to keep a hive (Cuttlefamily does not agree, and currently outvote me). I hope they last long enough that I will be able to.

For both our sakes. And so much more.

The Dinosaur Told Me…

The dinosaur told me “be careful”
The dinosaur told me “beware”
The dinosaur told me “it’s happened before,
And the universe just doesn’t care”

The dinosaur told me “Extinction
Is the safest, conservative bet”
The dinosaur told me “don’t think you’re immune
Just because it has not happened yet.”

The dinosaur gave me a warning
She told me to share it with you
It won’t be an asteroid this time around—
We’ll be killed by the things that we do

The dinosaur pointed to history
And biology books on the shelves
The dinosaur told me what’s different this time
Is, we’re doing it all by ourselves

The dinosaur told me “be careful”
The dinosaur told me “it’s true”
The dinosaur said, “it’s a fight to the death,
And the enemy this time… is you.”

Dinosaur
(click to embiggen, a bit.)

Today was a good day for dinosaurs. (Note–I am a big fan of Dana Hunter’s “Unidentified Flying Dinosaur” series.) Today, while watching an American Kestrel, I was completely blown away when the tiny kestrel, skittish in the presence of my camera, nearly flew right into the talons of a huge Osprey (I was reminded of fighter planes escorting bombers–the relative size of these two is astonishing). I saw five different species of ducks–mergansers, mallards, buffleheads, ring-necked ducks, and the first gorgeous wood ducks of the season (got good pics of all, too! Yes, I am obsessive, why do you ask?). And a beautiful prairie warbler, quite the tease, very keenly aware of where my camera was pointed, and pointedly staying one step ahead (well, mostly… I got a couple of nice shots of him as well).

And all of them are dinosaurs. Isn’t that just astonishing?

The dino in the pic above is one of my all time favorites, a black-crowned night heron. The first one I ever saw, I saw in Greece, at Lake Kerkini. This one, I saw… well, lemme ‘splain.

I was getting my oil changed (well, the oil in my car), at an auto-service chain that will go unnamed for now, attached to a big-box store that will also go unnamed for now, that had apparently built on cheap land that had once been swamp. Or wetlands, if you want to be a tree-hugger. While my car was up on hydraulic lifts, I walked the perimeter of the parking lot; this shot was taken from the parking lot of a big-box store.

Isn’t it wonderful, what a zoom lens and cropping can do?

What you don’t see (mostly) is the horrendous treatment of the heron’s home. Discarded automobile tires–at least 8 that I saw. Bottles and cans too numerous to count–mostly soda, but quite a bit more, including antifreeze and oil bottles. Insulated coffee mugs. Wheels from shopping carts. Hundreds of newspaper flyers–no idea what was in the ink they used. An entire single-serving coffee machine, in pieces. Plastic bags by the score. Insulated foam containers. Not to mention, the runoff from the parking lot itself ran directly into the wetlands area, not into a storm sewer–all the crap that leaks from cars on a regular basis was flowing right into that pond. I’m certain I’m leaving out as much as I’m including.

The red deally next to the heron? Near as I can tell, a plastic bread rack.

I’ll be writing to the owner of the big box store, and asking for responsible action. Failing that, I have plenty of pictures, and the addresses of the local papers.

We’ve used dinosaurs before, to warn us. The canary in a coal mine is a dinosaur warning system; we’ve seen the stomachs of starving albatrosses distended with plastics. Dinosaurs know extinction. Will we listen?

Writing For The New York Times Isn’t Rocket Science

He made a mean lasagna
And was quite a dad indeed,
But what really made him stand apart
Was how he wrote a lede—

Now, there’s some that lede with puzzles,
And there’s me, that ledes with rhymes
But cheap clichés won’t work
At the respected New York Times

His devotion to his family
Was really quite exciting—
It certainly deserved a place
Ahead of, say, his writing.

He might have written brilliance
In agreement or defiance—
His cooking gets the lede, cos writing
Isn’t rocket science.

….

She changed the world; she truly lived
A pioneering life…
A rocket engineer, but first—
A mother and a wife.

This afternoon, my twitter feed blew up. The obituary of Yvonne Brill, pioneering rocket scientist, a woman who accomplished astonishing things while overcoming the prejudices of her time… led with this:

She made a mean beef stroganoff, followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

Not with her engineering accomplishments, which won her the National Medal of Technology and Innovation (presented to her by president Obama). Not with the propulsion system she invented, which became the industry standard.

Mrs. Brill’s development of a more efficient rocket thruster to keep orbiting satellites in place allowed satellites to carry less fuel and more equipment and to stay in space longer. The thrusters have the delicate task of maneuvering a weightless satellite that can tip the scales at up to 5,000 pounds on Earth.

Mrs. Brill contributed to the propulsion systems of Tiros, the first weather satellite; Nova, a series of rocket designs that were used in American moon missions; the Atmosphere Explorer, the first upper-atmosphere satellite; and the Mars Observer, which in 1992 almost entered a Mars orbit before losing communication with Earth.

From 1981 to 1983, Mrs. Brill worked for NASA developing the rocket motor for the space shuttle. In a statement after Mrs. Brill’s death, Michael Griffin, president of the American Institute of Aeronautics and Astronautics, praised her as “a pioneering spirit” who coupled “a clear vision of what the future of an entire area of systems should be with the ingenuity and genius necessary to make that vision a reality.”

Beef Stroganoff came first.

All the discrimination she overcame? Yeah, I’d have said she was just the exception to the rule… except that maybe she isn’t excepted after all.

********

Update! It seems even the New York Times cares about social media. The first paragraph has mysteriously changed… now, it reads:

She was a brilliant rocket scientist who followed her husband from job to job and took eight years off from work to raise three children. “The world’s best mom,” her son Matthew said.

So, when twitter explodes, the NYTimes listens.

The Thin Veneer Of Civilization Peels Away

It looks just like civility
In towns both far and near
It looks as firm as solid oak—
It’s false as thin veneer.

They go to church on Sundays
And they bow their heads in prayer
American utopia?
Try peeling back a layer.

“Our boys are always gentlemen!
They like to party, but
They’re members of the football team!
It must have been the slut.”

And no, it’s not just Steubenville,
And no, it’s not just jocks
Just look online, at comment threads
On CNN or FOX.

They gladly make excuses for
This adolescent jape—
And claim they’d call the cops themselves…
If only this were rape.

This wasn’t really rape, they said,
And isn’t worth a fuss…
But, damn… it really isn’t them
I look around… It’s us

Let me start with verse 2–in this particular case, I absolutely do not mean that all the rape apologists are religious. I needed a rhyme for “layer”. My point is not hypocrisy, my point is that I don’t think there has been a news site I have yet checked–right wing, left wing, local, national, whatever–where there hasn’t been an active cluster of rape apologists. CNN. FOX. NPR. MSNBC. Others. On NPR, I took the bait of a troll, and remembered that it is much easier to compose a drive-by trolling post than to properly respond… other commenters warned not to feed the troll, but if no one responded at all, it could be confused with tacit approval of a rape apologist.

And here I am, a doggerel writer. A writer of light, often humorous commentary. Ever try to write lightly about something that turns your stomach? Cos I have. It doesn’t go well.

So, in part because of this stuff, in part because of never you mind, I spent part of last night shivering through an anxiety attack, and the rest of it not sleeping. And I can’t wait to read some good news. If you have any, I’d love to hear it.

And the damnedest thing is, I have absolutely no reason to complain. Here I just phrased much of this post in terms of *my* discomfort, and that is so far removed from the actual real thing that’s wrong that it just makes me look a fool.

I guess the good news is, so far (don’t point me to exceptions, not yet!) whereever I have seen rape apologists on news sites, I have seen people ready, willing, and able to call them on it. And it seems that the apologists have been in the minority–motivated, headstrong, stubborn as mules, and loud, but in the minority. It seems. I certainly hope so.

All that TED talking about de-extinction, and I can think of a species I wouldn’t mind saying goodbye to.

If You Don’t Agree With This, You’re An Idiot

It’s the modern world I live in,
And I use it when I can
I get all my information
From my common, fellow man
I won’t venture an opinion
Till I see what others think—
And I’ll read it all in pixels,
Cos I cannot wait for ink.
Yes, the internet is perfect
When you cannot wait for ink.

Now, some drama is expected
When you get your news online
Where a claim won’t go unchallenged
(And this happens by design)
A democracy of chaos,
Where the hoi polloi will roar—
When the comments are uncivil
I will listen all the more!
Yes, when comments are uncivil
This will bring them to the fore.

There is vitriol aplenty—
It’s a caustic, nasty mess!
Some may strive, perhaps, to educate,
Still others, to impress—
While yet others play a sort of game,
Where points are won or lost
Where truth and reputation are
A portion of the cost
Yes, respect for fact or person
Is a line that’s often crossed!

When the comments are uncivil
They are given much more weight
So the rude and boorish bastards
Hold more sway in the debate—
There’s no need to point to evidence
Or logic, you can tell—
When the comments thrive on rancor
All you have to do is yell.
Yes, the winner (on the internet)
Is he who best can yell.

In today’s New York Times, an editorial that speaks to the current state of news commentary on the interwebs. The editorial comments on a recent article in the Journal of Computer-Mediated Communication, investigating the relative effect of civil vs uncivil commentary (regarding a nanotechnology issue) on participants’ opinions of nanotechnology’s risks vs benefits.

Ok… if you read the NYTimes article the results are “both surprising and disturbing”.

Uncivil comments not only polarized readers, but they often changed a participant’s interpretation of the news story itself.

In the civil group, those who initially did or did not support the technology — whom we identified with preliminary survey questions — continued to feel the same way after reading the comments. Those exposed to rude comments, however, ended up with a much more polarized understanding of the risks connected with the technology.

But, really… these were not big effects. The sample sizes were large, so significance could be found without really large effects. But… oh, well.

What is strange is that there is no mention in the NYT article of the religious interaction effect. From the paper itself:

Our findings also reveal a significant interaction between religiosity and incivility on risk perception. (beta=-.07;p< .05). Among those exposed to uncivil comments, those with high levels of religiosity were more likely to report higher levels of risk perception and those with low levels of religiosity were more likely to report lower levels of risk perception...

So, yeah… incivility contributes to polarization of positions. Perhaps especially with regard to religious issues. And incivility is a weapon, it appears. Not that it should be, but it is. Incivility and argument should be orthogonal… but it seems, empirically, they are not.

Civility matters, empirically, it seems. And truth matters. And people are more swayed by incivility than by truth, especially where religion is concerned. So… dickishness, on such comment threads, is actually an adaptive trait, contributing to one’s cause?

We are all so screwed.