30 September, 2011

Ye Maclargehuge Announcement: ETEV Joining Freethought Blogs

Oh, yes. I am mean, I am cruel, I am forcing all of you to update blogrolls and RSS feeds and all that rot: En Tequila Es Verdad is moving to Freethought Blogs on October 1st.

Look, was I really gonna say no when the opportunity to get all of my beloved geobloggers in front of more interested eyeballs was presented to me? Would I actually decline the chance to blog alongside so many of my personal heroes? Dude. PZ Myers, Stephanie Szvan, Ed Brayton, Ophelia Benson, Jason Thibeault, Greta Christina, Jen McCreight, and oh so many more... How could I say no? I couldn't. No way.

ETEV will be changing location, the furniture will look different, and the neighbors will be closer, but otherwise, things remain pretty much the same. I'll still be blogging on the same subjects and schedule. Really, the only major change you'll have to endure is ads. Freethought Blogs has to pay the bills, you see. But otherwise, things won't change all that much.

So in that sense, it's not a big deal. But in another sense, this is huge. See: blogging alongside heroes above. I didn't expect that to happen. But I'm very glad it did.

I hope you'll all come over to the new place once it launches. This new venue shall be a fantastic place to meet new folks and make them, like us, adorers of the good science of rock-breaking.

New URL: http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/.

RSS feed, go here to grab: http://freethoughtblogs.com/entequilaesverdad/feed/.

Tomes 2011: All Science All the Time Edition

Oh, dear. I think I just heard the sound of bookshelves screaming in anticipation. Poor overloaded darlings. They'll just have to toughen up and take it, or rely on e-readers to lighten their load. We've got some excellent books on tap this edition.


The Stuff of Thought

There are two things Steven Pinker always combines that I adore: the science of the mind, and language. This book delivers both in copious amounts. A few myths are dispelled, quite a few more insights given, and there's an entire chapter on metaphor that should have any self-respecting writer screaming for joy.

The chapter on names shall greatly interest those following the Nymwars Saga.

And it's all delivered in the gorgeous, clear, playful prose Steven's known for. There's absolutely nothing not to love in this book that I could find.

It's meant to be third in a trilogy: the first two were The Language Instinct and Words and Rules. But if you haven't read the other two, no worries. This one stands comfortably alone. That's not to say you shouldn't read all three, especially The Language Instinct, which is fantastic.


Crater Lake: Gem of the Cascades

This is a reasonably comprehensive and utterly enthralling book on Crater Lake. I've read a lot about Mount Mazama and the eruption that created Crater Lake, but this book contained a lot of things those other sources didn't. It covers everything from its discovery to its future. The color illustrations are delicious, the geologic information clearly presented and easy to understand without being melodramatic or simplified beyond toleration, and the little info boxes and explanatory diagrams add to rather than distract from the whole. I dipped into it during our Oregon trip, meaning to skim a bit. I finished it before we'd left for home. It's that easy to read, but I didn't finish it feeling like I'd been spoon-fed: my brain felt pleasantly full of completely intriguing information. And it certainly made visiting Crater Lake more interesting.

I really can't recommend this one highly enough. And, bonus, the 3rd edition is practically up-to-the-minute.

Source is moi.

Where Terranes Collide

Okay, so I had to snap a photo of it to get a cover image, and it's rather hard to find, but if you have any interest whatsoever in the North American Cordillera, then the effort to acquire this book shall be rewarded. It was written by C.J. Yorath, who worked for the Geological Survey of Canada for a great many years. The man knows his stuff. He knows it so damned well that even if you are a grammar guru, you will be able to forgive the occasional typos.

There were a lot of ups and downs in this book - up one set of mountains and down another, from the Rockies to the coast. He takes you on a field trip through the chaos of a subduction zone, and it's one hell of a ride. Then, he introduces you to the people behind the data. I love the paeans to the geologists he's known and worked with. And I love the inside look at the way geology happens - arguments over data, banging on rocks, the rough stuff that the public doesn't get to see before beautifully polished results are printed. This felt like being an insider. And now I'm going to have to go hunt down his other books...



I dearly love Oliver Sacks. I dearly love music. I dearly loved Oliver Sacks talking about music. This book is a total treat. If you've ever read any of Oliver's work before, you know his prose is like really good chocolate and that the subjects he explores are fascinating. This exploration of music and the brain caused me some difficulties, because I had things I was supposed to do and didn't do them. Went to lie abed and read.

There are so many incredible stories in here: of how music affects people who are so damaged it seems nothing can reach them, of how music affects us, the weird things and the wonderful things music can do. I have to admit that it scared the crap out of me at times: when you're reading Oliver Sacks, you realize just how many things can go drastically wrong with a human brain. But it also delighted me right down to my toes. If you have any love of neuroscience, music, or stories about human beings doing remarkable things, you'll delight in this book, too.


Road Guide to Mount St. Helens

I'm not actually going to say much of anything about this book. It's not because it's bad - far from it. It's a wonderful, handy little guide suitable for slipping into a pocket or purse as you explore Mount St. Helens. Pick up a copy at the visitor's center at Silver Lake on your way up.

But I won't tell you all about it, because you can go read it for yourself, right now. Just click the link above. The authors were kind enough to put in online, for free.

So go on, then. Go have a read. Just this once, your wallet and your bookshelves will both be sighing with relief, and you'll still get to enjoy a good book.

29 September, 2011

Prelude to a Catastrophe: Silver Lake

Let's have a road trip, shall we? Yes, I do know we were in the middle of Oregon, getting ready to shove our noses against some particularly delicious road cuts, but this is a virtual car - we can skip states in the blink of an eye.

So hop in. We're on our way to Mount St. Helens today. The skies are very nearly clear - by Washington state standards, anyway. Warm sun mingles with a cool breeze that snickers about autumn's imminent arrival. You've got your nose plastered to the car window as we drive up Spirit Lake Memorial Highway from Castle Rock. All you're seeing at this point are low hills and a flat bit of valley, plastered with green stuff. Biology is a perennial problem for geologists round here. You can barely see the hills for the trees. And you can't even tell we're driving along the shore of a lake. But here it is: visible in satellite views, anyway.

View Larger Map

We turn off at the Mount St. Helens Visitor's Center. Lovely building, quite a lot of nice displays, and a nice nature trail along Silver Lake.

And you're just burning for your first glimpse of Mount St. Helens her own self, but the clouds aren't cooperating. That's quite all right, because I want you to focus on the lake for a bit. Maybe it'll help if I tell you Mount St. Helens created it.

28 September, 2011

Epic Excitement: Reading Quad Map Documentation

I'm not being facetious. I spent a good portion of Sunday reading the pamphlet for the Geologic Map of the Silver Lake Quadrangle, Cowlitz County, Washington (pdf). And I was enthralled.

There's high excitement in that data. There's a whole history contained in it, over forty million years of oceans, deltas, volcanic eruptions, flood basalts, floods, lahars - enough stuff to keep a disaster buff busy for days. Yes, at a glance, it's couched in dry scientific language. There are words in there I had to look up: I had no idea what they meant, my Greek and Latin are still too poor to puzzle out meanings from roots, and even several years of intensive reading in geology hasn't exposed me to all of the terms. I discovered paludal. I love paludal. Now I know it comes from the Latin word palus, which means "marsh," and so means "sediments that accumulated in a marsh environment." I still think lacustrine and fluvial are prettier words, just as lakes and streams are often prettier than marshes, but who cares if it isn't the kind of word that sparkles as it rolls off the tongue? Think of the Scrabble games you could win!

And I came across an old friend: hyaloclastite. Check this out:
The massive to well-bedded, poorly sorted, mafic tuffs typically consist of angular, commonly scoriaceous basalt clasts cemented by abundant zeolites and yellowish clays. Most of the tuffs are thought to be hyaloclastites generated by phreatomagmatic eruptions.
And I squeed, because I remembered: I've even seen a hyaloclastite. Saw it with Lockwood on Mary's Peak, didn't I? Even got the picture, complete with zeolite, to show ye:

Those white bits are zeolites. The whole mass is probably quite similar to what you'd find in the Silver Lake quadrangle. Hyaloclastites form when lava hits water. Yes, I know, you normally think pillows, and those are what happen when the lava doesn't esplode. But let me refer you to another mouthful of a word: phreatomagmatic. In this case, instead of forming nice pillows, the lava hit the water and basically shattered due to sudden cooling. They're talking about tuffs, as well. Tuff is a rock formed from volcanic ash. So, if I've understood me geology correctly, I don't even have to read on to the next paragraph to understand what happened: lava encountered a shallow-water environment, either due to an underwater eruption or a lava flow into the water source, and that sudden quenching caused it to shatter rather spectacularly.

And now we consult the experts:
In some localities the clastic beds appear to grade upward into massive basaltic andesite flows, suggesting that the phreatomagmatic eruptions were triggered when subaerially erupted lavas flowed over water-saturated sands, probably near or at the late Eocene shoreline.
Now we're cooking with geology! (Incidentally, you can cook with geology: you will need a chicken, banana leaves, a shovel and gloves, some seasonings, and 2000° F fresh Lava.)

The whole pamphlet is filled with such things (sans recipes). We learn about ancient shorelines, meet up with our old friends the Columbia River Basalts, witness the birth of Mount St. Helens, and discover that this is a horrible quadrangle to site your house in if you don't want it bulldozed by a lahar. Reading this pamphlet was like parking the TARDIS and watching 40 million years of subduction zone antics unfold: when you began, you had a nice oceanfront view. Then came the eruptions, and the marshes, and continents colliding, and flood basalts, and the incredible violence of the Cascades' birth. I got so wrapped up in it that when it came time to stop and call my best friend, I became upset.

Who would have known reading the documentation for a geologic map could be so damned fun?

But that's geology. It's a very accessible science. Learn a little of the lingo, get a general understanding of how things work by reading excellent pop sci books and palling around with geologists, combine that with Google searches for unfamiliar terms, and you can enjoy the source material. You don't need years of college education. You don't need calculus. You'll run the risk of coming away with a burning desire to go traipse around the countryside and take a petrology class, yes, but you can understand this stuff. You're not reading a science paper so much as a story, one that begins in the middle of things and is still going on right at this moment. And did I mention, explosions!

If you can't get excited by all that, I have very little hope for you.

Bonus delight, here's what I saw when I Googled "hyaloclastite":

That's our Lockwood, that is! I'm not sure when Google started doing this, or how it works, but that's actually pretty awesome.

27 September, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Steven Pinker Makes Me Feel Better

He shall probably do the same for you.

I fell in love with Steven quite by accident. I was at Bookmans, the most delicious used bookstore I've ever been in this side of Powell's, and I was combing the Buddhism section for some Zen goodness. Behind me stood books on writing, so I turned round for a look. You never know but you might find something of use. And there, fortuitously out of place, was this book called The Language Instinct.

Admittedly, I'm a bit of a sucker for neuroscience, philology, and psychology. This book was all of it. So I clutched it to my bosom and sashayed up to the register to negotiate its release to my custody. Read it. Adored it. Started reading more of his books, and I have to tell you this: few non-fiction authors have made me think as hard or deliciously as Steven Pinker. And I've read a lot of non-fiction authors that made me think hard and deliciously.

The Language Instinct is a book I'd recommend to any aspiring author, especially those who are trying to invent languages of their own. But it's two other books we're quoting from today. First, we have this delight from The Blank Slate:

"Paradoxically, in today's intellectual climate novelists may have a clearer mandate than scientists to speak the truth about human nature."
I've always avowed that fiction is a means for telling truths that are difficult to administer otherwise. It's sad that scientists aren't as well-regarded as they should be, and shat upon by the fuckwits in Congress far too often. Working to change that, in fact. But until their mandate is secure, I'm more than happy to speak the truth about human nature. Well, some truths, anyway - there is no the truth, no one single truth about human nature. It's not only a fun and important thing to do, it makes me feel a little useful.

But it's this second passage, from How the Mind Works, that I wish you to pay closest attention to:
"Geniuses are wonks.  The typical genius pays dues for at least ten years before contributing anything of lasting value.  (Mozart composed symphonies at eight, but they weren't very good; his first masterwork came in the twelfth year of his career.)  During the apprenticeship, geniuses immerse themselves in their genre.  They absorb tens of thousands of problems and solutions, so no challenge is completely new and they can draw on a vast repertoire of motifs and strategies.  They keep an eye on the competition and a finger to the wind, and are either discriminating or lucky in their choice of problems.  (The unlucky ones, however talented, aren't remembered as geniuses.)  They are mindful of the esteem of others and of their place in history.  (They physicist Richard Feynman wrote two books describing how brilliant, irreverent, and admired he was and called one of them What Do You Care What Other People Think?)  They work day and night, and leave us with many works of subgenius.  (Wallace spent the end of his career trying to communicate with the dead.)  Their interludes away from a problem are helpful not because it ferments in the unconscious but because they are exhausted and need the rest (and possibly so they can forget blind alleys).  They do not repress a problem but engage in 'creative worrying,' and the epiphany is not a masterstroke but a tweaking of an earlier attempt.  They revise endlessly, gradually closing in on their ideal."
This passage should tell you three things:

It is okay if it takes years for you to develop into the kind of writer that other people believe must have been born with a supreme magical talent, so good are your works. You're not abnormal or useless or not cut out for writing because you can't write a masterwork on the first go.

Being a genius is bloody hard work, and it's not right for everybody.

You're going to have to work your arse off, did I mention?

Reading that passage in that book assuaged many of my doubts. I'd thought there was something wrong with me. Turns out not. And that's what I wish you to take away from this: there's nothing wrong with you, just because you're not finished becoming a genius yet and you obsess over things. Turns out you're just doing what geniuses do.

Now, get on with becoming a genius and telling the truth about human nature, perhaps whilst creating your own language, why don't you?

26 September, 2011

Los Links 9/23

Lots of amazing stuff this week, my darlings. You'll notice quite a few things highlighted in bold, and I do hope you read all those, but don't stop there! There's so much win in this week's selections that I could've bolded nearly all of them.


The New Civil Rights Movement: DADT: Gay 88-Year Old WWII Vet Speaks On Repeal Of Don't Ask, Don't Tell.

New York Times: Marines Hit the Ground Running in Seeking Recruits at Gay Center.

AP: Navy officer, partner wed in Vt. as ban ends.

Troy Davis

White Coat Underground: Emergency ethics post.

Observations: Eyes (and Minds) Deceive: Witness Unreliability Casts Doubt on Death Penalty Rulings.

Slate: A Killer Issue.

Bad Astronomy: The night the lights went out in Georgia.

Geotripper: The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia...and Texas Too.


Oregon Live: Oregon Shores Conservation Coalition celebrates 40 years as coastal watchdog.

Lifehacker: Forget the Standing Desk; You Just Need to Move Regularly.

Discovery News: Dinosaur Feathers Found in Amber: Photos.

National Geographic: The Beautiful Teenage Brain.

Mountain Beltway: Giant City State Park, Illinois.

Clastic Detritus: Listening to Rivers.

Bad Astronomy: Invaders from Vesta! and The Milky Way from the top of the world.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Computer gamers solve problem in AIDS research that puzzled scientists for years.

Uncovered Earth: Sometimes You Just Can’t Reach the Top.

Science Cheerleader: “I was skeptical about the Science Cheerleaders.”

Earthly Musings: My 10-Day Rafting Trip Through Grand Canyon - 2011.

NYT Scientist at Work: Northern Lights on the Midnight Watch.

Atomic-O-Licious: An Open Letter of Apology to my Organic Chemistry Students.

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Tangle Two Lines of Thought and Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Breadth of knowledge is essential.

Wired Science: Q&A: The Unappreciated Benefits of Dyslexia.

Bad Archaeology: I remember why I’ve never wanted satellite television.

Oscillator: Allergy Recapitulates Phylogeny.

The Guardian: Another view on the new Feist album Metals.

Not Necessarily Geology: Pillow Basalt, Bencorragh.

Rapid Uplift: Geological Framework Of the Sikkim Earthquake.

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: So you think you’ve found a meteorite.

Science-Based Medicine: Scientific American Mind Is Not So Scientific.

Southern Fried Science: In sexual selection and thermoregulation, bigger is better, at least for fiddler crabs.

Boundary Vision: Students don’t lose their ability to think scientifically.

JPL: Aquarius Yields NASA's First Global Map of Ocean Salinity.

A Blog Around the Clock: The Mighty Ant-Lion.

Speakeasy Science: Dr. Oz and the Arsenic Thing.

Grist: Oceans kept the last decade from being even hotter.

Dinosaur Tracking: Cretaceous Utah’s New, Switchblade-Clawed Predator.

The Scientist: Plant RNAs Found in Mammals.

Degrees of Freedom: Archimedes and Euclid? Like String Theory versus Freshman Calculus.

Surprising Science: Biologist Rob Dunn: Why I Like Science.

Scientific American: Urban Geology: Artists Investigate Where Cities and Natural Cycles Intersect.

Scientific American: It’s Not That Easy Being Green, but Many Would Like to Be.

The Scicurious Brain: One injection makes you older…

Volcan01010: Farmyard Geomorphology.

Respectful Insolence: Reiki: You can't always get what you want, but if you try sometimes you can get what you need.

Highly Allochthonous: Scenic Saturday: Pinnacle in the Piedmont.

Observations: Hackers Use Open Hardware to Solve Environmental Problems.

Evergreen Public Schools: Evergreen Public Schools Names new school Henrietta lacks Health and BioScience High School.

Terra Sigillata: Kitchen Chemistry: Rose Jelly. Sweet!

History of Geology: Large Igneous Provinces and Mass Extinctions.

Geotripper: You Betcha, it's Breccia: Some Otherworldly Pictures.


The Creative Penn: Trunk Novels Are An Endangered Species.

The Buttry Diary: ‘He said, she said’ stories fail to seek the truth and report it.

Terrible Minds: Writers Hear that All-Too-Familiar Refrain: 'Get a Real Job'.

Mitali's Fire Escape: How To Write Fiction Without The "Right" Ethnic Credentials.

Write to Publish: Branding #3...product vs. author brand.

Take As Directed: Trine Tsouderos on This Week in Virology: When do you fact-check article content with sources?

Password Incorrect: Ebook Specific Cover Design: #2 – Size and Resolution.

Digital Book World: Best Practices For Amazon Ebook Sales.

Atheism and Religion

This Week in Christian Nationalism: A New Ending for an Old Spam Email.

Think Atheist: My Testimony (my journey to atheism).

Unscientific Malaysia: Why atheists must not be silent.

I Heart Chaos: Christian fourth grade textbook, tries to explain electricity but just gives up.

Why Evolution is True: The ugly, vicious, fanatical side of atheism.

BBC: Al-Shabab radio gives weapons prize to Somali children.

Butterflies and Wheels: Don’t think, just live.

ABC Religion and Ethics: Is the Australian Christian Lobby dominionist?

Shouts & Murmurs: God’s Blog.

Women's Issues

Another Feminist Blog: Boundaries.

Firedoglake: Sluts Are Asking the Right Question about Rape.

Almost Diamonds: “Consent Is Hard” and MRA Says, “Yep, We’re Domestic Abusers”.

Strange Ink: Let's talk about sex.

Man Boobz: Violence against women? Blame it on feminism, says W. F. Price.

Downlo: A Useful Rape Analogy.

BBC: 'My cousin wanted me for a passport'.

Madison Magazine: Why Doesn't She Just Leave?

Butterflies and Wheels: We wanted to do a bruised-up Barbie shoot.

The F Word: On Tom Martin's campaign to sue LSE.

MSN CA: Is this the most annoying thing a man can do to a woman?

Biodork: Fighting Kindness with Kindness.

Camels with Hammers: Be Careful About Loving Women Too Much Lest Other Guys Think You’re Gay.


Spocko's Brain: No Brains. No Heart. The Tea Party/CNN debate.

Firedoglake: Woman Who Watched Her Brother Die From Lack of Insurance Delivers Powerful Rebuttal to GOP.

Balloon Juice: The Modern Inquisition, Starring David Brooks in the Role of Phlogiston Man.

Think Progress: Texas GOP Rep On Cuts To Family Planning: ‘Of Course This Is A War On Birth Control’.

Decrepit Old Fool: “You get what you pay for” – third in a series of things we used to say.

MoveOn.org: The Elizabeth Warren Quote Every American Needs To See.

White Coat Underground: Death cult.

Salon: A real Wall Street takeover threat.

Duluth News Tribune: Sam Cook: Big, bad government sure helped during fire.

War is a Crime: Welcome to Boston, Mr. Rumsfeld. You Are Under Arrest.

Dispatches From the Culture Wars: On the Internet, Everyone is a Criminal.

Society and Culture

The Telegraph: Animal rights group PETA to launch pornography website.

Gawker: The Wall Street Journal Wonders: Should We Let Blacks Marry Whites?

Dangerous Minds: Another heartbreaking gay teen suicide.

New York Times: Autistic and Seeking a Place in an Adult World.

Charlotte Observer: Same-sex marriage ballot skips words.

Pam's House Blend: Will the Catholic Church declare war on Obama over gay equality?

On Top Magazine: North Carolina's James Forrester Tells Lesbian Mom To Move To New York.

Have a Heart of Fire, Have a Heart of Gold: On understanding.


Almost Diamonds: Pseudonymous Service.

And, finally, two of the sweetest compliments I've ever had:

Watershed Hydrogeology Blog: About the best compliment I could get (or, why blogging is worthwhile).

Clastic Detritus: What Rocks: The Week’s Best In the Geoblogosphere.

25 September, 2011

Banned Books Week Meme

It's that time o' the year again, that joyous and irreverent turning up our ink-stained noses at the fools who think banning books is a good idea. Time for a meme, wouldn't you say?

I got this handy list of the most frequently-challenged books 2000-2009 from the American Library Association's website. I've highlighted the ones I've read in bold. Feel free to do the same, my darlings - and do treat yourself to some delicious literary contraband this week.

1. Harry Potter (series), by J.K. Rowling
2. Alice series, by Phyllis Reynolds Naylor
3. The Chocolate War, by Robert Cormier
4. And Tango Makes Three, by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell
5. Of Mice and Men, by John Steinbeck
6. I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings, by Maya Angelou
7. Scary Stories (series), by Alvin Schwartz
8. His Dark Materials (series), by Philip Pullman
9. ttyl; ttfn; l8r g8r (series), by Myracle, Lauren
10. The Perks of Being a Wallflower, by Stephen Chbosky
11. Fallen Angels, by Walter Dean Myers
12. It’s Perfectly Normal, by Robie Harris
13. Captain Underpants (series), by Dav Pilkey
14. The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, by Mark Twain
15. The Bluest Eye, by Toni Morrison
16. Forever, by Judy Blume
17. The Color Purple, by Alice Walker
18. Go Ask Alice, by Anonymous
19. Catcher in the Rye, by J.D. Salinger
20. King and King, by Linda de Haan
21. To Kill A Mockingbird, by Harper Lee
22. Gossip Girl (series), by Cecily von Ziegesar
23. The Giver, by Lois Lowry
24. In the Night Kitchen, by Maurice Sendak
25. Killing Mr. Griffen, by Lois Duncan
26. Beloved, by Toni Morrison
27. My Brother Sam Is Dead, by James Lincoln Collier
28. Bridge To Terabithia, by Katherine Paterson
29. The Face on the Milk Carton, by Caroline B. Cooney
30. We All Fall Down, by Robert Cormier
31. What My Mother Doesn’t Know, by Sonya Sones
32. Bless Me, Ultima, by Rudolfo Anaya
33. Snow Falling on Cedars, by David Guterson
34. The Earth, My Butt, and Other Big, Round Things, by Carolyn Mackler
35. Angus, Thongs, and Full Frontal Snogging, by Louise Rennison
36. Brave New World, by Aldous Huxley
37. It’s So Amazing, by Robie Harris
38. Arming America, by Michael Bellasiles
39. Kaffir Boy, by Mark Mathabane
40. Life is Funny, by E.R. Frank
41. Whale Talk, by Chris Crutcher
42. The Fighting Ground, by Avi
43. Blubber, by Judy Blume
44. Athletic Shorts, by Chris Crutcher
45. Crazy Lady, by Jane Leslie Conly
46. Slaughterhouse-Five, by Kurt Vonnegut
47. The Adventures of Super Diaper Baby, by George Beard
48. Rainbow Boys, by Alex Sanchez
49. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, by Ken Kesey
50. The Kite Runner, by Khaled Hosseini
51. Daughters of Eve, by Lois Duncan
52. The Great Gilly Hopkins, by Katherine Paterson
53. You Hear Me?, by Betsy Franco
54. The Facts Speak for Themselves, by Brock Cole
55. Summer of My German Soldier, by Bette Green
56. When Dad Killed Mom, by Julius Lester
57. Blood and Chocolate, by Annette Curtis Klause
58. Fat Kid Rules the World, by K.L. Going
59. Olive’s Ocean, by Kevin Henkes
60. Speak, by Laurie Halse Anderson
61. Draw Me A Star, by Eric Carle
62. The Stupids (series), by Harry Allard
63. The Terrorist, by Caroline B. Cooney
64. Mick Harte Was Here, by Barbara Park
65. The Things They Carried, by Tim O’Brien
66. Roll of Thunder, Hear My Cry, by Mildred Taylor
67. A Time to Kill, by John Grisham
68. Always Running, by Luis Rodriguez
69. Fahrenheit 451, by Ray Bradbury
70. Harris and Me, by Gary Paulsen
71. Junie B. Jones (series), by Barbara Park
72. Song of Solomon, by Toni Morrison
73. What’s Happening to My Body Book, by Lynda Madaras
74. The Lovely Bones, by Alice Sebold
75. Anastasia (series), by Lois Lowry
76. A Prayer for Owen Meany, by John Irving
77. Crazy: A Novel, by Benjamin Lebert
78. The Joy of Gay Sex, by Dr. Charles Silverstein
79. The Upstairs Room, by Johanna Reiss
80. A Day No Pigs Would Die, by Robert Newton Peck
81. Black Boy, by Richard Wright
82. Deal With It!, by Esther Drill
83. Detour for Emmy, by Marilyn Reynolds
84. So Far From the Bamboo Grove, by Yoko Watkins
85. Staying Fat for Sarah Byrnes, by Chris Crutcher
86. Cut, by Patricia McCormick
87. Tiger Eyes, by Judy Blume
88. The Handmaid’s Tale, by Margaret Atwood
89. Friday Night Lights, by H.G. Bissenger
90. A Wrinkle in Time, by Madeline L’Engle
91. Julie of the Wolves, by Jean Craighead George
92. The Boy Who Lost His Face, by Louis Sachar
93. Bumps in the Night, by Harry Allard
94. Goosebumps (series), by R.L. Stine
95. Shade’s Children, by Garth Nix
96. Grendel, by John Gardner
97. The House of the Spirits, by Isabel Allende
98. I Saw Esau, by Iona Opte
99. Are You There, God?  It’s Me, Margaret, by Judy Blume
100. America: A Novel, by E.R. Frank

That's a pathetic showing, I admit. time to get readin'.

24 September, 2011

Cryptozoology and Cute Fuzzy Critters

No, this isn't about the cat. This time. Although she's pretty crypto - I never can figure out why she goes from cuddly to homicidal with no warning, and she is cute and fuzzy. Even when she is trying to tear you limb-from-limb.

We stopped at the North Fork Survivors Gift Shop at the Buried A-Frame on our way to Mount St. Helens. This is practically a requirement. First off, A-frame house buried by a lahar - tell me that doesn't attract every geologist on the planet. Secondly, Bigfoot statues.

And, this being the Pacific Northwest, Bigfoot's gotta have an espresso.

23 September, 2011

We Need to Stop Executing Peoplel

Last night, the state of Georgia executed a man who was very likely innocent. Like PZ, I don't care whether he was guilty or innocent. I care that my country is one of the few countries in the world that executes people.

From Wikipedia
I used to be a strong death penalty supporter. Some crimes, I thought, could only be adequately punished by death. I didn't ever believe it acted as a general deterrent, but as former FBI agent John Douglas said in Mindhunter, it surely acts as a specific deterrent: that particular person will never commit a crime again. When you're talking about serial killers, that seems like an admirable thing.

But we kill too many innocent people. We come close to killing far more, before luck and persistence and the existence of DNA evidence, uncovered by tireless investigators, come to the rescue. Those are the lucky ones. Those are the ones who aren't denied the chance to prove their innocence. How many other people have gone to their deaths because no DNA evidence existed, or if it did was never found, or if found, never allowed to be presented? We don't know. And it's unbearable that we don't know.

So what about those cases in which evidence of guilt is undeniable? Where we definitely have the right person, and the crimes they committed are horrific?

I still don't support the death penalty. Not even for them. Oh, I may want them to die, and die horribly; that visceral emotional reaction, that righteous outrage, is certainly there. But a civilized society should restrain itself. All we gain is another dead person, another traumatized family, proof that we aren't able to rise above bronze age ideas of justice. We engage in violence to punish violence, and make our civilization just that much more violent.

Life in prison, no parole, is enough to keep society safe.

We spend an insane amount of money on killing people. That money would be far better spent on improving the conditions that lead people to violence in the first place. A society that takes care of its vulnerable members has less to fear from them, and so much to gain.

Troy Davis should be the last person to be put to death in this country. We're the last country in North America to execute people. It's time we joined Canada and Mexico in recognizing what justice truly is.

22 September, 2011

Dragonfly in Action

I meant to post something really nice and substantial tonight, but my darling Aunty Flow is being wretchedly evil this month. We'll have to make do with a dragonfly instead. But whatta dragonfly! I shot this at Silver Lake, where a lovely visitor's center and a nice walk on a nature trail built along and on the lake make for a good introduction to Mount St. Helens.

Dragonflies swooped round us, too active to easily photograph, but I got a fantastic action shot of one of the little buggers.

This is why I love my camera: that little dragonfly was several feet away in a riot of vegetation, and it still managed to capture him. Check out the crop:

Not bad for a little point-and-shoot, eh?

I love this shot, because it shows the weird contortions of a dragonfly's body as it gets ready to launch. They're such interesting little critters. Someday, I plan to park myself along Silver Lake for an hour or two and catch more of these guys - in addition to the blues, there were some delicious reds I didn't get a chance to shoot, although Steamforged got a few and might be kind enough to put them up for us soon.

21 September, 2011

My Volcano Phobia is Officially Pining for the Fjords

We would have ended the summer adventuring season with a bang if Mount St. Helens had been so kind as to erupt.

I used to have a bit of a volcano phobia. I'd have nightmares of majestic mountains suddenly exploding, threatening me with pyroclastic flows and hot red lava. I remember those dreams: tense, terrified sequences that sometimes began with the first jets of steam and ash from an unexpected eruption, sometimes picking up in mid-drama as I tried to gather cat and loved ones and flee. There was a dream where I lived in my childhood home again: the Peaks were putting on a spectacular show outside the sliding glass doors, lava bombs and ash falling all round, hot bits of volcanic ejecta setting off massive forest fires. Lava flows once chased me all the way from Flagstaff to Phoenix, melting the car's tires and cutting off escape routes. I'd wake up exhausted, heart pounding, eyeballing the nearest mountain for the slightest sign of unrest. I'd run through evacuation plans in my mind and check the news (at the time, rumor had it the ground around Flagstaff was rising by an inch a year, and I believed there was a magma chamber filling up below the mountains). I'd watch teevee shows about eruptions and consider that the oldest volcanics nearby were less than 1,000 years old. The volcanoes were sleeping, not dead, and I was ready: if they so much as twitched, I'd be outta there like a shot.

I never ever in my entire life wanted to see a volcano erupt live. Not even the tame little Hawaiian ones. Nossir. I'd take my eruptions on teevee from a safe distance of several hundred miles, thanks ever so much.

So what did I do? Moved to a subduction zone, where things regularly go boom. My stepmother laughed at me. But as I told her, they monitor these things intensively, and the moment one of them woke, I'd be on her doorstep with cat and suitcase in hand.

I never would have gone to Mount Saint Helens the first time if I'd known she was, actually, erupting. And I would have fled if I'd realized the pretty wisps of steam emerging from the dome weren't merely residual heat, but active dome-building. The parking lot was filled with scorch marks from hot rocks falling from the sky. And I was damned glad we'd brought the fast car - if it looked to be an eruption, we'd be so outta there.

And we got home after a hell of an experience, and I looked some things up, and realized I'd stared into the heart of an erupting volcano, one that had violent tendencies, and nothing bad had happened.

Still, I'd run, wouldn't I? If I saw her start to blow, I'd surely scream and run away.

Then I started studying geology.

And then I went back.

And found myself disappointed St. Helens is sleeping.

The scorch marks in the parking lot are faded now. The dome isn't steaming. The seismometers on her slopes are quiet. And I wished she'd wake up. I wished she was busy dome-building again. I wished I could stand on the viewing platform at Johnston Ridge and watch her put on a show. Not a big one, mind, but just a little something for the kids. Cujo and Steamforged had never seen her in person before. I had the new camera. C'mon, girl, just a little plume for your old buddy Dana. I wrote you a get-well card when you blew apart in '80, remember?

No such luck. But it doesn't matter if she's erupting or not - she's still spectacular. The blast zone is still a virtual moonscape, despite all the wildflowers and alders. You just don't get to see bald slopes and deep, wild erosion in western Washington. There's nothing like a VEI-5 eruption to clear away all that pesky biology.

We took the long climb from the parking lot to Johnston Ridge Observatory. At first, the ridge hides the mountain. She peeks at you, gradually comes into view, and you almost don't notice because you're goggling at the downed trees and nearly-naked slopes of the blast zone.

Note the biology starting to get all uppity. I think we need another VEI-5 to teach it a lesson. Yes, it's pretty; yes, that's how western Washington's supposed to be, but damn it, it's beginning to block the geology views.

And yes, that's a bit of the crater rim rising above the bushes. Stick with me. A few more feet of climbing, and you'll see views.

20 September, 2011

Dojo Summer Sessions: Writing Inspirations, Good Advice

I'm busy writing a short story that decided it couldn't wait and trying to pre-load meaty posts for this long winter writing season. So I shall foist you off on other, wiser people who had quite good things to say to writers such as ourselves. This is a small collection of quotes I've gathered over some years and meant to turn into a Dojo article someday. They need no help from me: they can stand alone.
"You ask yourself the following question: To what questions in life have I not yet found a satisfactory answer?"

-Holly Lisle, "Finding Your Themes"
"An American editor worries his hair gray to see that no typographical mistakes appear on the page of his magazine.  The Chinese editor is wiser than that.  He wants to leave his readers the supreme satisfaction of discovering a few typographical mistakes for themselves."

-Lin Yutang, The Importance of Living
"There is a curious thing that one feels sometimes.  When you are considering a subject, suddenly a whole train of reasoning comes before you like a flash of light.  You see it all, yet it takes you perhaps two hours to put on paper all that has occurred to your mind in an instant.  Every part of the subject, the bearings of all its parts upon each other, and all the consequences are there before you."

            -Lord Wellington, quoted in John Keegan's The Mask of Command
"A writer of fiction, a professional liar, is paradoxically obsessed with what is true..... the unit of truth, at least for a fiction writer, is the human animal, belonging to the species Homo sapiens, unchanged for at least 100,000 years.

"Fiction, in its groping way, is drawn to those moments of discomfort when society asks more than its individual members can, or wish to, provide.  Ordinary people experiencing friction on the page is what warms our hands and hearts as we write."

            -John Updike, quoted in Steven Pinker's The Blank Slate
If at least one of those didn't make your Muse sit up and take notice, then I despair of your Muse.

19 September, 2011

Los Links 9/16

All right, people. Stop writing awesome stuff I feel compelled to read. Actually, don't stop, but do allow me to throw my hands up in despair. I need another me who does nothing but read cool shit on the interwebz and can download the results directly into my brain.

Anyway. There's this one post I have to put right up here, because it's about the Cascadia Subduction Zone and it's utterly terrifying, enthralling, and some of the best writing I've yet seen.

Outside: Totally Psyched for the Full-Rip Nine.

And now, on with the rest of teh awesome.


Anthropology in Practice: Pieces of the Human Evolutionary Puzzle: Who Was Australopithecus sediba?

Context and Variation: Menstruation is just blood and tissue you ended up not using.

Andrew Alden: Dietary Minerals and Real Minerals.

Obsidian Wings: A brook, run, creek, branch, or stream runs through it.

Glacial Till: The Molalla River, Oregon.

Scientific American: Wire Up Your Sense of Smell: How the Internet Is Changing the World of Perfumery.

Arya M. Sharma, MD: Should We Outsource Obesity Treatment To Weight Watchers?

Atomic-o-licious: The Smell of it.

Guardian: The versatility of science graduates should be celebrated not criticised.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: O is for Ooid.

Uncovered Earth: Sunday Science Photos, September 4 – 10.

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: The Hayabusa mission to Itokawa.

Denison Geoblog: Flint Ridge, Ohio.

Scientific American: Nile Crocodile Found to Comprise Two Different Species.

Butterflies and Science: Butterflies and Social Science.

The Atlantic: The Dark Side of the Placebo Effect: When Intense Belief Kills.

Clastic Detritus: Seafloor Sunday #89: Photo From the Deepest Part of the Ocean.

American Rivers: The importance of small streams.

Galileo's Pendulum: A Planet With Two Suns.

The SciencePunk Blog: Five iconic science images, and why they're wrong. (This solar system scale model is a bit more realistic.)

Scientific American: How to Improve Your Life with Story Editing.

Highly Allochthonous: One recipe for flooding: Take a tropical cyclone and add steep topography.

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: The Situation Is in the Mindset of the Observer and Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: The Power of Public Opinion.

My Modern Met: Town Squeezed Between Giant Boulders.

Metageologist: What you ought to know about metamorphism.

Cosmic Variance: Trusting Experts.

The Conversation: Diamond planets, climate change and the scientific method.

Scientific American: Peace of Mind: Near-Death Experiences Now Found to Have Scientific Explanations.

Decrepit Old Fool: The alien menace.

Geotripper: Vagabonding across the 39th Parallel: A Canyon Along The Colorado River? Really?

Earth Literally: Dynamic Topography: What’s in a name?

Strange Maps: 531 - A Rio Runs Through It: Naming the American Stream.

Anthropology in Practice: On My Shelf: Geologic City (A Review).

Matt Kutcha: Mineral Cleavage Test.

Mountain Beltway: A dismaying course, part II: evolution  and Clinker.

Skepchick: Guest Post: Birdchick – Are sea eagles coming after your children?

Not Necessarily Geology: Folded Lakes Marble.

The Last Word on Nothing: Guest Post: Part of Me Forever.

Outside the Interzone: Volcanic Ramblings Part 3: Salt Creek Falls.


Pub Rants: In The Author's Shoes.

LitReactor: Interesting new tool for writers, might be worth subscribing to.

The Coffee-Stained Writer: Fiction Friday: getting into your characters' heads.

Nieman Storyboard: Story, interrupted: why we need new approaches to digital narrative.

Bob Mayer's Blog: Marketing and Indie Authors: Our Successful Release of The Jefferson Allegiance.

The Book Deal: What authors can learn from the bestseller lists.

The Passive Voice: Is There Anything That Can Take the Pain Out of Ebook Formatting?

A Newbie's Guide to Publishing: Guest Post from Bella Andre (aka Lucy Kevin) (aka Bella Riley).

A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing: From St. Martins, to Self Publishing, to Amazon: Q&A With Barry Eisler.

Write It Forward: The real gatekeepers in publishing now? Authors.

Terrible Minds: Twenty-Sided Troubadours: Why Writers Should Play Roleplaying Games.

Genreville: Authors Say Agents Try to “Straighten” Gay Characters in YA.

Atheism and Religion

***Dave Does the Blog: Man Does Not Live By Bread Alone … but he doesn’t live long without it, either.

Lousy Canuck: Why don’t atheists just shut up and stay home? (a repost) and What is an ad hominem? What isn’t?

Oregon Live: Another faith-healing death of a child puts Oregon City parents on trial.

Camels With Hammers: A Living Illustration of the Problem With Trying To Love The Gay Person But Hate Her Gayness and How Religious Bullying Makes Atheists So Angry: One New Atheist’s Story.

On Humanity, Naturally: Concerns About the Religious Right Are Not Overblown.

Women's Issues

White Coat Underground: A trick question.

Jezebel: County Attorney Accused Of Making Rape Jokes, Ignoring Child Porn.

Emily L. Hauser - In My Head: “Like a girl” – yes, again.

The Guardian: As the Topman T-shirts show, misogyny is now so commonplace it's mundane.

The Guardian: Let's get this straight. Gender studies isn't about 'women good, men bad'.

Slate: The Girl Scouts' Allegedly Radical Feminist Lesbian Agenda.

The Daily Beast: Women: The Invisible Poor.

Science Sushi: Observations: Why do women cry? Obviously, it’s so they don’t get laid.

Ynet News: Cadets dismissed over woman's song.

National Postdoctoral Association: A Postdoc's Guide to Pregnancy and Maternity Leave.

ABC News: Forever 21′s ‘Allergic to Algebra’ Shirt Draws Criticism.

Almost Diamonds: And Then You Wait.

Gamasutra: Gamazon: 'Feminist Whore' Powers Activate.


ThinkProgress: GOP Legislator: Homosexuality Is ‘More Dangerous’ Than Terrorist Attacks Because We Have To Deal With It Every Day.

Paul Krugman: Setting Their Hair on Fire.

Wisconsin Gazette: GOP memo instructs DMV workers not to tell voters that photo IDs are free.

Thoughts from Kansas: Why science questions matter for candidates.

Media Matters: Murdoch's U.S. Hacking Woes Grow.

Washington Post: Bachmann’s wrongheaded attack on HPV vaccinations.

White Coat Underground: Ignorance, beatified.

Almost Diamonds: Emily for Elizabeth.

***Dave Does the Blog: Lying Talking Points for the 2012 Election (Collect the Whole Set!).

Newser: Debate Crowd Cheers Letting Uninsured Die.

The Dish: Republicanism As Religion.

Politco: GOP grumbles about jobs plan.

Grits for Breakfast: From the off-topic irony department: Fire Follies.


Bioephemera: Pseudonymity: Five Reasons the New Scienceblogs/NG Policy is Misguided.

Society and Culture

Decrepit Old Fool: Dan Savage at Illinois State University.

Stories from the Heartland: Some real Shock and Awe: Racially profiled and cuffed in Detroit.

Jay Rosen's Press Think: We Have No Idea Who’s Right: Criticizing “he said, she said” journalism at NPR.

Def Shepherd: Why A Heterosexual, Married, North Carolinian Father Of Three Cares About LGBT Equality.

Pam's House Blend: Bible-beating Kentucky lawmaker wants to pass a bill to protect anti-gay bullies.

Mike the Mad Biologist: “Why the HELL Didn’t He KEEP HER IN THE HOSPITAL?” and Why Low-Income Parents Rationally Choose Failing Schools.

Foreign Policy: Got Cheap Milk?

The Mary Sue: How To Have An Awesome Wedding: Do it With Dinosaurs.

The Washington Examiner: You have a right to record the police.

Danger Room: How to Beat Terrorism: Refuse to Be Terrorized.

HamdenRice: Most of you have no idea what Martin Luther King actually did.

18 September, 2011

I Love the Smell of a Scam Crashing and Burning In the Morning

The Internet Age has been kind to scammers, who have used the toobz to find all sorts of hapless victims. But worms can turn. A little bit of Google-fu can turn you from potential victim to fraudbuster.

Case in point: Sai posted this awesome hunt for a fraudster on Google+. This shit's like potato chips for me - I'm not satisfied after one little bite, I've gotta have the whole bag. So I clicked the link over to Popehat, and found myself vastly entertained for a half-hour. Upshot: if you receive an invoice from UST Development, US Telecom, or similar, research before you assume you owe. They're a big ol' scummy scam.

More importantly, however, this series of posts shows you how you can protect yourself by not assuming an invoice means someone in your company actually ordered a service just because there's a slightly-odd invoice landing on your desk, and by doing a few Google searches to check things out. Don't have a company? Doesn't mean you won't get scammed. Research anyone attempting to part you from your cash, or offering you unexpected money, or asking you weird questions.

I actually love this stuff. I think it goes back to the days when I used to watch all the cheesy 80s PI shows, and had a brief desire to become a private investigator. I gave up that dream early on, but still lap up true crime stories. One of my favorites was The Cuckoo's Egg, which almost had me in college learning all I could of computers and networks just for the sheer joy of tracking cybercriminals, before I decided I should just focus on my writing instead. I've read Kevin Mitnick's The Art of Deception, which opened my eyes to social engineering and has served me in good stead in my current job.

That book also helped me impress the pants off our fraud department.

Not long after I joined my current company, they threw a big job fair, where I got to meet really real FBI agents for the first time (they were super-nice and for some silly reason encouraged me to join the Bureau despite my lack of any useful degree, or indeed, any degree whatsoever. They have civilian positions, they said). And there was this booth, all tarted up with balloons and things, prize bags, clipboards, and a nice gentleman foisting a clipboard on me and saying all I had to do was fill out a survey to win.

I don't remember what the banner said - something innocuous. They had a few books displayed. One of them was The Art of Deception.

"Sure," I said, and took the clipboard. I looked at the questions. Mind you, I was already suspicious - with that book sitting there and these folks not saying what company or department within our own company they represented, I figured they were up to something. A glance down the list of questions confirmed it. Mother's maiden name? Name of your first pet? Favorite color? And others, salted with a few questions that might distract you from what they were actually asking.

I laughed, handed back the clipboard without a single pen mark on the "survey," and said, "No thanks."

"Why not?" the squeaky-clean gentleman who'd handed me the survey asked.

"Because these questions are designed to get my passwords."

He broke into a great big gleaming grin, and said, "You're the only person who's gotten that." Which I found super-sad, considering all the classic signs of a fraud were there, combined with that bloody book. I'd thought it was blindingly obvious what was up.

The proprietors of the booth were from our fraud department, and I've still got the calculator in the shape of a cell phone they awarded me for being able to spot the bleedin' obvious. If they're ever hiring again over there, I might give it a go. There's nothing I love better in my current job than getting a whiff o' fraud, doing a bit of account research to confirm my suspicion, and then sending them a referral so they can do a proper investigation. That kind of thing leaves me glowing for days.

Wait, there was a moral to this story. It's not just "look at me, I am awesome." It's this: scammers are clever, but you are more clever. You've got instincts you can hone. Pay attention to what people are taking from you when they're offering you something for free. Are they asking the sorts of questions that often come up on those security questions thingies for password resets? Are they playing on your emotions, whether fear or compassion, a little too heavily in order to get you to give them money or answers? Is a bit of your brain screaming, "Hey, something's not right!"?

If so, take the time to do some research, even if they're all up in your face howling that you'll miss the opportunity of a lifetime or kiddies will die if you don't donate right now or threaten to set the law on you for not paying what they swear you owe them even though you can't remember ever doing business with them. Decline to answer invasive questions. Use Google. Listen to that part of your brain that says, "This doesn't pass the smell test," but can't quite articulate why.

And if some dude claims he needs you to send him money so he can send you a bunch of money from Nigeria, just say no. Unless, of course, you want to have a little fun fucking with the fucktards. In which case, go mad.

17 September, 2011

Caturday Sunbeams

And I'm spent. Also very, very behind in this week's blog reading, so if you lot want a nice, fat Los Links come Monday, I'm going to have to pawn you off with a little light (ah-ha-ha) entertainment.

The sun has forsaken us now, but last week, Seattle attempted to apologize for not giving us an actual summer. Lovely 80+ degree days with wonderfully cool nights, my favorite. I usually don't open the curtains in the bedroom, because keeping the place a dark cave prevents it from getting warm, but over the last several sunny days, I took to letting the sunshine is for the poor kitteh, who wasn't getting enough quality porch time.

This met with some approval.

About the second or third day (I know, consecutive sunny days in Seattle, unheard of!), she figured out the routine. She appeared at the window before I'd even gone to it and stood there, little nose poked out and eyes half-closed, awaiting that magical moment when Mommy would let Mr. Sunbeam in. And this continued to be her routine most days thereafter. I wish I'd had the camera handy, but the one time I did, she broke her streak. On purpose, I'm sure.

But she did allow me to catch this moment of bliss:

Doesn't she just look smugly self-satisfied? You'd think she was responsible for the fine weather.

You may be wondering about the blue thingy. That's her hair tie. She won't play with cat toys, but for some reason, adores chasing hair ties. She'll even play fetch with them sometimes. And when she's not chewing on Mommy, she likes chewing on them:

Funniest moment ever was when she started dry-coughing due to a developing hairball, but wouldn't let the hair tie go, so it was dangling from a tooth as she wheezed. She's ridiculously cute sometimes. I try to explain this to friends who wonder why I've kept an animal with homicidal tendencies. They just do not understand the power of her Massive Cute.

During the day, her sunbeam would move, but she'd sleep through it. So when I was home, I'd go back to the bedroom every hour or so and drag her a few inches over. I probably shouldn't have done - this just taught her she didn't have to do a damned thing for herself. No matter. Once the sunbeams had well and truly moved on, she'd amble out through the living room and onto the porch for a nice lie-down in the sunshine with her favorite rocks. So she did get exercise. Of a sort.

I'm looking forward to the winter writing season, but I'll miss these times.

16 September, 2011

Sapere Aude!

This post first sailed on the HMS Elitist Bastard, three long years ago, when PZ Myers hosted Carnival of the Elitist Bastards III. I've been meaning to repost it eventually, as many of you weren't with me back in those halcyon days of joyous elitist bastardry, and I like this piece. I love the Latin phrase I found for its title: sapere aude, dare to know. So many incredible people dared to know, and gave us the modern world.

What will we dare to know? What world will we hand to those who come after us?

Enlightenment is man's emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one's understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] "Have courage to use your own understanding!"--that is the motto of enlightenment.

- Immanuel Kant, "An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?"

The Enlightenment. Those two words send a cascade of awe and delight down my spine. They set synapses to firing like chains of fireworks. Names and ideas erupt from the sparks: Newton, Spinoza and Leibniz released science and mathematics from their classical and medieval cages and advanced them by light years in a virtual instant. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau struck through chains and risked their lives to set human minds free. Locke, Smith and Montesquieu set forth major components of political and economic philosophy that led to democracy and capitalism. Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton created a whole new kind of nation from scratch. Beethoven, Mozart, and Goethe elevated music and literature to heights they had never known before.
Men, and not a few women, dared to know, and changed the world.
There had been hints of an awakening for centuries. A few flames burned dimly in the Middle Ages. A few flames flared up brilliantly during the Renaissance. But the Enlightenment was a conflagration, a wildfire beside a candelabra. In less than two centuries, the scientific method arose and began advancing knowledge at an incredible pace; the foundations of democracy and liberalism were laid and thriving nations built on them; education was no longer a prerogative of the fortunate few, but a practical gift offered to a broad swath of the population. The entire Western way of thinking changed virtually beyond recognition. All of those ideas we take for granted - freedom of religion, equality, political and civil rights, and countless more - emerged because of men and women who refused to remain ignorant.
Look at the lives and work of any group of Enlightenment thinkers, and you'll see similarities. They were desperate to know and understand. They were determined to use rational thought to overcome superstition. They believed in man's ability to understand the world. They didn't believe religion had all the answers, or even most. They weren't afraid to challenge established authority; indeed, they often risked their lives to do so. They found ways to make end-runs around the censors, evaded every attempt to silence them, and believed beyond doubt that what they were doing was right, necessary, and valuable.
They argued with absolutely everyone, each other included. They accepted no limits to their curiosity. There was nowhere to them that Man was forbidden to go.
All is not lost when one puts the people in a condition to see it has intelligence. On the contrary, all is lost when you treat it like a herd of cattle, for sooner or later it will gore you with its horns.

In the salons of Paris, the coffee houses and Gresham College in London, in the dining rooms and halls of power all throughout Europe, intellect raged. Pamphlets, books, magazines, scientific papers all poured into the streets and captured the imaginations of men and women who then used those ideas to create new governments, societies, and values. Knowledge was passed into the hands of ordinary people, and those ordinary people did extraordinary things with it.
The two revolutions of the 18th century, the American and the French, get all of the attention, but neither would have been possible without the revolution in ideas that preceded them. Never before in the history of Western civilization had common people been entrusted to govern. Even Greece, that thriving original democracy, was more of an aristocracy than anything else. But the Enlightenment thinkers believed that all regular people lacked was education and the freedom to use their native intelligence. Given those things, a peasant could rise to rule. Peasants eventually did.
It wasn't just the aristocracy and absolute monarchy that the Enlightenment thinkers overthrew. They broke the stranglehold religion had over the populace. Religion didn't escape their scrutiny. The sacred got subjected to the same empirical analysis as the natural world, and where it was found wanting, it suffered the same scathing criticism unleashed on politics, pseudoscience, and ignorance. Some of them treated Christianity with respect and reverence, but they were in a minority. Most Enlightenment thinkers had no use for a Church that sought to keep people in ignorance and servitude, a faith that led to intolerance and claimed miracles it couldn't prove, and religions rotten with hypocrisy.
"Let's eat some Jesuit," Voltaire wrote in Candide. Baron d'Holbach proselytized for atheism, churning out a flood of books and pamphlets proclaiming that there is no God, only nature, and that only a society of atheists has any hope of being truly moral. He often had to publish his books under innocuous titles to evade the censors. But other philosophes left nothing to doubt with theirs: among the books on offer was Toland's Christianity Not Mysterious. Pretty revolutionary for a world in which religion still ruled.
Other books might have seemed innocent enough until they were opened. Woolston's Six Discourses on the Miracles of Our Savior proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ "the most notorious and monstrous Imposture, that was ever put upon mankind." Voltaire, when completing the Philosophical Dictionary, wrote, "Theology amuses me. There we find man's insanity in all its plenitude." Jefferson removed all of the miracles from the Bible, a decision which Hume would have applauded.
The only sacred thing was the pursuit of knowledge. Rational thinking, empiricism, science, and intellect reigned supreme. The next world meant very little to them, if anything at all. People had to make a difference in this one. And that was exactly what they set out to do, and succeeded. They brought us the modern age.
A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce, or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.
-James Madison

The Enlightenment never truly ended: its results permeate every aspect of our lives. But there hasn't been another time quite like it since. The passion for knowledge has been eclipsed. We've entered an age in which ignorance rather than intelligence is celebrated. As Kant said, it's easier to be immature, to let others do the thinking. We become habituated to the yoke: we become afraid of freedom. "The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult," Kant wrote. "Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone."
He could have been describing our age.
Fundamentalist religion is attempting to rein us in. Governments want to control, not serve, the governed. This has always been the case. The powerful never relinquish power easily, and they always desire more power. It's easier for them to take it from people made willfully powerless.
War, poverty, ignorance and despair are rising all around us.
We should be thrilled.
After all, the Enlightenment grew out of a desperate age. Europe was torn by war, crushed by despotic governments, ripped apart by religious strife, and it was from this harrowing that the philosophes grew. When I look at the conditions surrounding the Enlightenment, I see clear parallels. Strife can destroy people: it can also galvanize them.
I think we're standing on the cusp of a new Age of Enlightenment.
Bloggers are the new pamphleteers. What bloggers are saying today about politics and religion, life and learning, show the same spirit as those tracts poured from the pens of subversive thinkers who went on to redefine the foundations of the world.
Comments threads and message boards have become the new salons, where ideas are exchanged and intelligence elevated. Those discussions wouldn't have been out of place in the most illustrious gatherings of learned people.
All we need is the passion, the commitment, and the courage those revolutionaries displayed. Nothing is beyond us. But we have to step outside of the little boxes we've put ourselves in. Scientists need to brush shoulders with artists. Writers need to converse with mathematicians. Political philosophers and musicians should mingle. That cross-fertilization of knowledge is what leads to world-shaking ideas, quantum leaps in human understanding.
Politeness and deference are sweet social ideas, but we can't defer to those who would impose ignorance and superstition. Contention was the order of the day during the Enlightenment. We should never shy away from it. Conventional thinking will get us nowhere. The world is on the cusp of a crisis: we're never going to get anything solved if we don't break away from tradition and habit. We won't solve a damned thing if we don't risk capsizing the boat.
The philosophes changed the world not by force of arms, but force of mind. Their ideas, their writings, their experiments, are what changed the world irrevocably.
It can happen again. Ignorance has no power to stand against those who dare to know. And those who dare have the power to change everything.
Here and today begins a new age in the history of the world. Some day you will be able to say - I was present at its birth."
-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe