January 2004

How Embarrassing!

And now a quote from John Rennie in Scientific American:

"Embarrassingly, in the 21st century, in the most scientifically advanced nation the world has ever known, creationists can still persuade politicians, judges and ordinary citizens that evolution is a flawed, poorly supported fantasy."

The irony of this situation is fascinating. There are three major political forces at work here (in my observation):

The religious fundamentalists who want to get evil evolution out of the education system because it is an anti-God conspiracy that holds the majority of scientists in blind ignorance. This group has managed to get Georgia Department of Education to propose science standards that eliminate all references to "evolution" in the curriculum.

The Intelligent Design group who want to get God into the education system. They hope to gain credibility by advocating that evolution is still taught along with its known deficiencies. And to show how "open minded" they are they want their intelligent design theory given an equal ranking with evolution (despite the fact that their whole platform rests on: "Here - look at this amazingly complex piece of biology that nobody can yet explain with evolution. If we can't explain it we have to acknowledge an intelligent super-being. QED").

The mainstream scientists who want an education system that doesn't close its eyes to complex problems and assign them to the supernatural.

We've seen what happens when countries let religion control their education systems, but I don't think it will come to that. I suspect there is enough free-thinking momentum in the US to steam-roll the latest anti-science wrinkle. I doubt it will create a lasting impediment, so I'm happy to think of it as entertainment to be viewed from a distance. (That is, until the Creationist Taliban starts to target Australian Schools.) It's like watching one of those sitcoms with an embarrassingly stupid protagonist. You know that in every episode you're going to be frustrated by the obvious mistakes he or she will make, but you watch it anyway.

Sweet Villanelle

My love, I feel I must make clear
that time I spend in dreams of you
flies like the time when you are near.
Each time we dine you lend an ear-
you listen when I have some view,
my love, I feel I must make clear.
In search of sweetness I'm sincere,
and no pastime I can construe 
flies like the time when you are near.
Our parfait hours can disappear
in blissful moments, each one new.
My love, I feel I must make clear
how I adore your peaceful cheer,

Sweet Villanelle

It's been a few days since the last journal entry. Have I been slack? No, just distracted. I had to leap to the defence of falsely accused packbawkies. (Well, to tell the truth, I've been enjoying sparring with that bad rat Socar.)

The other challenge that has been ticking along in the background is the construction of a humorous villanelle. The villanelle is a form of poetry that seems to appeal to the obsessive compulsive poet. Its repetition of the first and third lines and "can't have too much of a good thing" rhyming scheme make it a worthy challenge for a warped mind.

Sweet Villanelle

My love, I feel I must make clear
that time I spend in dreams of you
flies like the time when you are near.
Each time we dine you lend an ear-
you listen when I have some view,
my love, I feel I must make clear.
In search of sweetness I'm sincere,
and no pastime I can construe
flies like the time when you are near.
Our parfait hours can disappear
in blissful moments, each one new.
My love, I feel I must make clear
how I adore your peaceful cheer,
but not a cream pie thrown, it's true,
flies like the time when you are near.
You fill my mind with mousse, my dear.
You're sundae to my sweet-tooth too.
My love, I feel I must make clear:
Flies like the time when you are near.

Self Image

Amy Greenwood and Paul Z. Myers discuss the merits of having your own full body 3d model for virtual shopping, tailoring, health monitoring and computer games. I can't see any reasons why 3d scanning technology won't become available in the home in the near future. Paul's health monitoring excuse can be used to justify spending the money, although the real reasons may be ones we won't admit.

Excuse me for "taking the piss"
but I don't think it's fair to dismiss
that our memes all evolve
with one riddle to solve:
"How's my butt? Does it look fat in this?"

Packbawky Discrimination

What is it about birds going about their natural lives that provokes people to write slanderous songs about them and encourage their mistreatment?

Neil Gaiman's journal pointed me to "The March of the Sinister Ducks" (available for legitimate download). Its quirky humour disguises its true nature. It is a hate song. It is anti-avian propaganda. I group it together with Tom Lehrer's "Poisoning Pigeons in the Park" and Weird Al Yankovic's song advocating duck slavery: "I Want a New Duck".

Please don't think I'm trying to build a case on just three carefully selected songs. Vilification of birds has been nesting in the back of human consciousness for centuries. It surfaces every now and then with songs like "The Tennessee Bird Walk" by Jack Blanchard - a song that, while not exactly encouraging cruelty to birds, did suggest the possibility of bird abuse as both a source of humour and a mnemonic device for separated sweethearts. The practice of singing about avian abuse has a long tradition. Allow me to remind you of those French feather-fetishist phrases:
Alouette, gentile alouette,
Alouette, je te plumerai.

Anti-bird sentiment has reared its head in other ways too. I know of several songs accusing birds of sexual impropriety. e.g. "My Canary has Circles Under His Eyes" by Kohler/Pola/Golden and Jake Thackray's "The Bantam Cock". Sometimes the discrimination even descends to childish mud-slinging, as in "The Cuckoo is a Funny Bird".

I have a dre... er, no. That line's been overused. Let's just say it's time for the militant wing of the United Packbawkies to begin a retaliatory campaign. Don't say you weren't warned. All we need is someone to do for birds what Dana Lyons did for cows...

[Edit: The lone birdbrain attempts to defend packbawkies against unfounded allegations in a verse versus verse battle.]

I'm an Organ

If I were an organ I wouldn't be a huge cathedral pipe organ made by a master craftsman. I wouldn't be played by virtuosos to the envisioned glory of the omniscient. My sounds would never shake the stained glass saints and chill the spines of the devoted with awe-inspiring infrasonic rumbles.

Instead, I'd be a calliope organ built in the back shed of an incorrigible tinkerer. I'd have pipes, bells, whistles, triangles, cymbals, pipes, snares, sirens, castanets, and more pipes. I'd chuff and toot my tunes in the park and watch the wide eyes of enraptured children, but my magic wouldn't be limited to the young.

My de-tuned waldflutes would tug at circuses from childhoods past, long forgotten clown-fears and the smells of ice cream and peanuts. My reeds and cymbals would conjure the sensual orient and invoke mind mirages of moonlit oases. My strident prinzipals would bring back showers of rice and white-veiled hopefulness in some; cobwebbed crypts with satin-lined coffins for others.

My inventor didn't shy from impractical ideas, for within my frame he has found room for carefully tuned strings. They have no jacks or hammers. They resonate in sympathy with ambient sounds and add their barely perceptible overtones to the concert. There are few voices that fail to find some reflected whisper of recognition.

People may curse my brazen swell. They may hear only an antiquated cacophony as they hurry past. I expect very few will wait and listen for the introspective vox humana pathetique. Fewer still will find the patience or desire to learn to play. As an instrument I'll remain an entertaining curiosity for Sunday afternoons and a monument to dedicated eccentricity.

A Thorny Riddle

Give us a lush green field and we'll be seen.
Against bright walls of orange - not a trace.
We often hide inside a cozy nook,
but never in deep darkness can we dwell.

Sometimes you cannot hear us but we swear
we're here, although you'll see our rough ends first,
and here, if there were eyes that would inspect
under the boughs and in unusual troughs.

The way we choose to play may make you mad
and three of us can be a wee bit much.
We know you'll grow to like our company

Dear Diary

Dear Diary,

You've had life too easy for too long. Tonight you'll just have to sit tight and listen to me bitch and whine and moan. I know you'd like to be getting out and linking up with other diaries. Don't think I don't know what you get up to. Sometimes I think you'll give your address to any Joe Blogs that looks your way. Well, tonight it will be different. It's my turn.

First, dallying Diary, let me tell you about a conversation at morning tea time. I was talking with two of the lost boys at work. There was a "how was your break over Christmas?" question from one. The other answered, complaining about the marriage breakup of a near relative. The first echoed a similar experience. I added my voice to the fugue. The theme was almost identical in the three parts, and they harmonised surprisingly well. We modulated through several related keys, strictly minor of course, as we explored the effects that rippled out from the rifts. A complete rendition of that improvisation would be pointless here. There was no satisfying, synchronising allargando drawing us to a major conclusion. We just faded back to other topics with a general feeling of resignation.

The verbal intranet (or office grapevine) was in operation later. The shock news of the day was a resignation from a very prominent position. The information was accompanied by a deliberate dearth of detail, and a list of unanswered questions that could shame any dogma. The message was characterised by the negative space around the delivered words. I rang the source before leaving work. I'm still not much wiser.

So my dearest, dozing Diary, since you seem to be comfortably asleep now, I'll slink off and browse.

Linguistic Devices

Linguistic devices are wonderful. I love their names. They sound like medical conditions. Let me show you:

"I must try and shrug off this hendiadys."

"I think we may have an iddy-biddy touch of hypocorisma today."

"Litotes and meiosis are not everyone's favorite words."

"If you don't get something done about your aposiopesis..."

"This dyst-friggin-mesis is driving me crazy."


On a completely different topic, how many links does it take to disrupt an established google rank? Join the Brian Leiter project to help find out!


"I have a friend who keeps a giant rat in her apartment." Doesn't that sound like a good opening line to feed your therapist? It's true. Believe me.  Would I lie to you? You can read all about the fun of trying to keep up with an escaped giant rat.

if dere's a scritchin in yer kitchen
den yer rat-bitch needs a switchin
cuz da twitchin git's bin hitchin
up er manky lil paws
on der corners o yer drawers
wid er claws in all yer stores

if she gnaws der locks on doors
an explores dat ting wot snores
you gon find how she kin cause
irresistabubble itchin
from der bits left in yer stitchin
which evenchually gits into yer pores