To The Senator’s Health!

PZ reports that Senator Tom Harkin regrets that his National Center for Complimentary and Alternative Medicine has done what I, for one, would have bet against: it has disproven “too many” alternative therapies.

I wonder if we can get something to make the Senator feel better…

The Senator is needing
A colonic or a bleeding
Or perhaps a dose of radium to give a healthy glow.
My alt-med guru teaches
That the use of sterile leeches
Would give balance to his humours, and would help his chi to grow.
Hydrotherapy and spinning
Would be only the beginning;
An emetic or a purgative would do his body good
Ground-up rhino horn or penis
And a sacrifice to Venus
Will do more to swell his thinking than viagra ever could!
A double dose of calomel
Would do his tired body well
Or drink colloidal silver till his skin is vivid blue
Elective psychosurgery,
As anyone can plainly see,
Is something that could keep his thinking on the straight and true
We can mix some herbs and spices
Bought at legislators’ prices
With the urine of donkey, for the Senator to drink–
But despite our urgent praying
We recall the ancient saying:
You can vote a man to Senate, but you cannot make him think.


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It’s Getting Verse And Verse!

The discussion in the Dennett thread continues–Phunicular is a phenom, and Thoughts is thoughtful (if wrong).

Phinicular is archiving his own comments, or I would post several here; they are wonderful. I’ll just post my latest comment as an appetizer here:

The nature of your question presupposes your position;
The “phenomenal” you’re after is an artifact of word;
Descartes approached the problem in a dualist tradition—
With the progress of neurology, that view is now absurd.
A photon is reflected from a stimulus that’s distal;
Through the pupil, lens, and humors to the retina it goes,
Where a rod or cone transduces it, to fire like a pistol
To bipolar cells and ganglia, as everybody knows.
At the level of the retina, already there are features
Which are processed by the structures that we call the visual fields;
Light is processed very differently by different sorts of creatures
So that information useful to their situation yields.
Now a signal (or “potential”) shoots along the optic neuron
Then through processing in parallel in many different ways
Such as color, edges, faces, on and on and more obscure on—
Read some Sacks or Ramachandran if you can, one of these days.
From occipital to temporal, and on up to the frontal
Back and forth, with constant feedback, now the signal makes its way
With perhaps a verbal output, though the answer that you want’ll
Still elude you, cos you’re looking for a view that’s had its day.
The majority of processing is out of our awareness
(And “the feeling of awareness” has its processing as well!)
We cannot feel the process, just results, and so in fairness
Introspection as a method simply doesn’t work that well.
At no point in the process is “an image” there for viewing,
Nor a “self” to view the image, which is really no surprise;
To demand an explanation for what you think we are doing
Is equivalent to asking how the sun can truly rise!
A perceptual illusion doesn’t mean that something’s missing—
What it means is merely something isn’t what it seemed at first
There’s no need to be Cartesian now, unless we’re reminiscing,
And there’s nothing there but trouble in the bubble we have burst.

Dude….


The department of oddities proudly announces
The latest official new species of fish!
It isn’t a swimmer—it more or less bounces—
With features that Timothy Leary might wish.

A species of frogfish, its fabulous features
Make H. psychadelica second to none—
Unique locomotion is one of this creature’s
Exciting behaviors—this fish is just fun!

(A bit depressing–if you pay close attention, you will note that the ocean floor in the clip is littered with trash, some of it camouflaged by seaweeds.)

Phun Stuff!

For those of you (the majority, I would guess, based on the site statistics) who do not read the comments to these posts, you are missing some fun! I am getting my metrical, metaphorical and metaphysical ass kicked by Phunicular on the Daniel Dennett post; what is more, Phunicular is serving up this can of whupass in wonderful verse! (If you are fundamentally, morally opposed to reading comments, at least some of the Phun stuff is here, in a recent series of posts.)

Now… I need to compose another reply. I know what I want to say; I just need to find the right words to say it. This is not nearly as easy as Phunicular makes it look! (And now I must actually stop browsing through Phunicular’s writing and post this; I see his cunning plan now–distract me with all sorts of wonderful writing…)

Cunningly, funningly,
Phriendly Phunicular
Shares in the lyrical
Cuttlefish curse.

Some say obsession is
Psychopathology;
We say, of everything,
“It could be verse.”

The Distillation of Religious Truth

PZ reports on a very silly UN resolution, which attempts to make defamation of religion illegal.

The major religions all gathered together
To fathom the depths of god’s will
They listed their tenets, examining whether
There’s Ultimate Truth to distill.

There were some that rejected a literal Jesus
And some the Nicenean Creed;
But by carefully looking though all of the pieces
There’s one thing to which they agreed:

I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m right and you’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in my song
You can all go to hell, which is where you belong,
With your stupid beliefs, ‘cos I’m right and you’re wrong

They argued all week over “one god or many?”
Original sin, and the role of The Fall
The atheists said they believed in “not any”
Which hardly, to me, is religion at all!

They spoke up for Allah, and Loki, and Isis
They pounded their desks till their knuckles were sore—
Then, just when the argument bordered on crisis
Agreement was found, and they started to roar:

I’m right and you’re wrong, I’m right and you’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in my song
You can all go to hell, which is where you belong,
With your stupid beliefs, ‘cos I’m right and you’re wrong

For every religion, each cult, sect, or practice,
Each prayer, incantation, recital or song
A neutral observer would notice the fact is
That other religions all thought it was wrong!

Much bloodier, though than a plain disagreement,
These differences lead to crusade or jihad
The leaders each saw, though, to just let it be, meant
That people might realize they don’t need a god!

So, enemies once, now they joined protestations,
Their new common cause made them pause to reflect,
They petitioned the world, through the United Nations
To legislate everyone equal respect.

They couldn’t admit to the truth—quite unwilling,
They couldn’t admit that it all was a fraud
They glossed over eons of torture and killing
Pretending to worship the very same God:

We’re right and they’re wrong, we’re right and they’re wrong,
Come gather together and join in our song
They can all go to hell, which is where they belong,
With their stupid beliefs, ‘cos we’re right and they’re wrong

Ok… for those of you who lasted through that, a reward: an actual worthwhile bit about politics and religion, from the amazingly talented international rock-star, Tim Minchin:

The Creationism Dance

The NPR story has legs, as they say; today’s verse is inspired by the comment thread on the Darwin story, which as of this writing has 338 comments, and is well worth a read. [oops–spoke too soon–NPR has closed commenting on the thread, so it no longer has legs. It was extremely mild when compared to, say, a Pharyngula thread, but NPR must have more delicate stomachs. It is still worth a read, although now I cannot link this verse to the thread. boo hoo.]

The Creationism Dance:

I don’t know evolution, but I know what I believe,
My scientific ignorance worn proudly on my sleeve;
I don’t know what I’m doing, but I do know what we’ll find
When we look to find the origin of mind.

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

We know the human eye is irreducibly complex
We know that Adam saddled a Tyrannosaurus Rex
We know that Darwin’s theory has a monumental hole
When it comes to evolution of the soul

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

When scientists explain the evolution of the eye
I’ll never understand it—I don’t even want to try—
As they go through my objections and they check them off the list
I’ll keep looking for the ones that they have missed.

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

I’ll check to see they dot each i, make sure they cross each t,
And thank the Lord such scrutiny does not apply to me
If they can’t prove their case beyond a shadow of a doubt
Then god is what creation’s all about!

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

The board of education knows exactly what to do
I’ve told them “keep an open mind and teach both points of view!
The one with all the evidence and logic on its side,
And the will of God, which cannot be denied!”

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

And once we’ve done Biology, we’ll hit the others, too–
Astrology and alchemy are honest points of view
We’ll teach them demonology, and when they’ve swallowed that,
We can show them that the earth is really flat!

I look to evolution and I see the hand of God
This universe could not arise by chance!
But teaching that’s illegal, so I’ll throw up a façade
And we’re doing the creationism dance!

Say It Ain’t So, NPR!

In National Public Radio’s series Darwin: The Reluctant Revolutionary, we get this story: Doubting Darwin: Debate Over The Mind’s Evolution. An interesting possibility, actually; I could think of a number of fascinating guests to interview on this.

But not Michael Egnor. This story is no place for a creationist’s ignorant spiel.

Egnor says that an intelligent designer was involved in producing not only the brain but all living things and certain features of the universe. Without this designer, the brain would be just a meat computer made up of brain cells, he says.

“There is nothing about neurons that scientifically would lead you to infer consciousness from them. They’re masses of gelatinous carbon and hydrogen and nitrogen and oxygen, just like other kinds of flesh. And why would flesh have first-person experience? So, even logically, it doesn’t hang together.”

In real life, I have had this debate many times. It can be a great experience, and there really is a tremendous amount of evidence to bring to bear. But again, not Michael Egnor.

“My personal view is that we have souls and that they’re created by God. But you don’t have to hold that view to recognize what I think is the evidence that the mind is not entirely material.”

Big claims of evidence… but he’s brought a cork-gun to the O.K. Corral.

He simply does not deserve to be in the NPR story. There is too much good information to waste a second of airtime to his drivel.

It is wholly unsurprising a creationist dismisses
Scientific contributions to the study of the mind;
When your theory’s based in ignorance (in such a case as this is)
Your omnipotent creator shrinks with every fact you find.

Every question that is answered using evidence and logic
Is a blow to the creationists, and likewise to their God;
They prefer to couch their arguments in speeches demagogic—
An appeal to base emotion with a sciency façade.

Michael Egnor has a history of pure apologetics;
As a scientific expert, there is nothing to his rant.
Could he cite a proper journal for his odd take on genetics?
I am certain he would do it in a heartbeat—but he can’t.

This is clearly not a story with two equal sides competing;
The minority opinion Egnor holds is quite bizarre;
In the march of human knowledge, it’s a view that’s fast retreating,
And I’m fairly disappointed that it’s here on NPR.

The Digital Pack-Rat, volume 12

Ok, the first is from here–a bit of a discussion about a badly reviewed journal article “Mitochondria, the missing link between body and soul: Proteomic prospective evidence”.

Creationists’ goal is to prove there’s a soul
That’s impossible to have evolved;
The task is quite trying; instead, they keep lying,
And think that their problem is solved.
These pinhead god-floggers just woke up the bloggers
Who slapped them back down to their place;
With options now fewer, they’ll try something newer;
A godly stupidity race.

Next, from here, a comment on the observation that creationist cure for so very many physical ailments is… enemas. The nature of the problem hardly seems to matter–if there is half a chance they can make a badly-argued connection (and remember, making badly argued connections is a property of creationists in the same way that inertia is a property of matter), they will prescribe a high colonic for everything from the common cold to lung cancer.

Creationist pinheads and half-wits and numbskulls–
You name it; Pharyngula’s got ’em.
Some people go straight to the doctor for pains:
These people go straight to the bottom.
No antibiotics! No surgery! Nothing!
The Bible says “this too shall pass”
We only want medicine Jesus approves of…

So here, stick this hose up your ass.

I don’t tend to include limericks in the pack-rat series, but these I enjoyed. One of PZ’s fans had written him… long on words, short on paragraphs or content. And, as per policy, PZ presented it in his traditional Comic Sans font.

“I get email”; we know what comes next
In this case, an immense wall of text–
So there’s no other choice
But the standard “kook voice”–
Comic sans, pathologically vexed

We know briefness contributes to wit
And this fellow, he wanders… a bit.
And although there is levity
In sheer lack of brevity,
More words: greater chance that it’s shit.

Lastly, the most recent kerfuffle in Washington State, where a legislator is concerned that the Supreme Ruler Of The Universe is getting short shrift. Of course, I would kinda think that a supreme ruler could take care of him, her, it, or themself(ves), but rep. Struiksma apparently thinks God–er, the supreme ruler of the universe could use her help. Seems she has more power in this than the SROTU does.

If this ruler really rules,
then the courts and laws and rules
Are already gleaming jewels
in his crown.
Does she think that we are fools,
She can use us as her tools?
Let’s just wait until she cools
A little down.

Does she think her ruler shy?
If we slight him, will he cry?
After all, she does imply
In her bill
That our power to deny
Is sufficient to defy,
Overcome, and say good-bye
To his will.

If this bill of hers should pass
Then her power would surpass
Her god’s greatness, and alas,
She’d be greater
Which, although it may be crass,
Means this legislative ass
Joins the new and higher class
Of “creator”.

Poor lady. I bet she doesn’t even suspect that the Supreme Ruler Of The Universe is a cuttlefish. Or that he really doesn’t care about recognition by Washington State.

The Theist And The Blade Of Grass

John Holbo of Crooked Timber has newly acquired a wonderful old book, in which he finds a poem, “The Atheist and the Acorn” (hat tip to PZ for the link). Go read it! Then maybe my little verse will make more sense.

Methinks this “God” is strangely made
For something of such worth,
An introspective theist said
As plucked he up a single blade
Of grass, from off the earth:

Behold, quoth he, this tiny thing,
This single blade of grass,
Enough to make Walt Whitman sing—
They grow in millions every spring
Unnoticed as we pass.

But God counts every single leaf,
Each hair upon your head
(For bald men, he just counts their grief)
The reason that we know? In chief,
It’s what the Bible said.

But where is God when good men die
In wars, fought in His name?
He counts the grass—He can’t deny
He hears the wounded moan and cry—
He sits there, to His shame.

He mustn’t think; he mustn’t doubt,
This theist on the lawn;
His worship must remain devout;
One thought that he might do without
And poof—his God is gone.

He cannot help but smile and nod
It feels so good; so right.
He’d looked upon the face of God
And found it merely a façade—
And now he’s seen the light.


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God’s Hands

Hold up your hands before your eyes. You are looking at the hands of God.”
– Rabbi Lawrence Kushner

If my hands are god’s hands, and god’s hands are mine,
And god has no hands of his own
There’s nothing that I can achieve with god’s help
I can’t do myself, all alone.

I’ve heard that he once had unlimited power
I don’t really see it today;
It seems he grows weaker with each passing hour
And now he just gets in the way.

I’m taking the middleman out of the picture—
This “god” isn’t pulling his weight—
He doesn’t do well with corrections or stricture
And doesn’t show up much, of late.

If I did my job the way god’s doing his
I would surely expect to be fired;
Omnipotent? Impotent! All that he is
Is a loser; it’s time he retired.

If god’s hands are my hands, and my hands are god’s
But wait—there’s one thing to recall—
The truth is, it’s infinitesimal odds
There was ever a god there at all!

If my hands are my hands, and your hands are yours,
And god’s hands—let’s face it—are none,
There’s a long list of problems that god just ignores:
Come on, then—there’s work to be done!