Frozen Hydrology on My Geology

Three words: butt-ass freezing cold.

Seattle’s not equipped for this Arctic air shit.  Inch or so of snow and ice, and the entire city shuts down.  Having already been in one car accident this year, I decided to forgo a second.  The car stayed home, and I hoofed it to work.  At least the sun was shining, although it was too fucking cold for the birds to sing.  A coworker mercifully dropped me at home tonight, where I promptly immersed myself in a tub of hot water until all the bits thawed.

Yesterday, the cat and I lounged around inside and watched it snow.  Well, I watched it snow – she watched the crows playing in it and developed aspirations of becoming an apex predator:



More Seattle snow scenes after the fold, including what the weather’s done to my balcony-crops.

This is what the cat thought she could catch:



I don’t know why that part of the complex became the corvid meeting place, but there were about 50,000 of them down there at one point.  Then a raccoon later in the night.  ‘Tis a mystery.

The trees on the ridge got all snow-coated:



They’re still frosted, because it never did get warm enough to budge the snow today.

And while my porch is sheltered, that didn’t protect my Richmond Beach finds:



Aaaand the obligatory picture of snow in action:



It’s lovely as long as you don’t have to drive in it.

So now, we’re continuing on with our Superman marathon courtesy of Encore On-Demand.  Unfortunately, this means watching Superman III.  I can’t call it an abortion, because abortions frequently save the lives of mothers and are therefore a positive good, whereas this movie has, so far, only one redeeming feature: the line, “Pay attention, people, I’m about to take a human life!”  That didn’t make it worth it, but it’s quotable.  And I hear Christopher Reeve’s performance as Bad Supes eases some of the pain, so we’ll stick with it. 

If you don’t hear from me tomorrow, you’ll know that bad movies can, indeed, kill.

Meanwhile, if you haven’t had your fill of snowy Northwest photos, Cujo’s got a nice one of his backyard, and  Dan McShane’s got a lovely shot of the Skagit Valley.

Now if you’ll excuse me, I’ve hit one of those points in the movie that threaten to make me involuntarily bulimic…

Dana’s Dojo: Killing Your Darlings II

Today in the Dojo: Getting over the fear of being a killer, and keeping the story going strong after killing off somebody essential.

There’s blood on my hands
But I’m sure in the end
I will prove I was right.

-Demons and Wizards, Blood on My Hands

There are a few major classifications of writers.  There are those who will never kill off anybody near and dear to them: you can be assured that, if the writer is spending any length of time with and shows any empathy for somebody, even for just a few pages, that somebody isn’t going to end up a body.  There are those who will kill off absolutely anybody they feel like killing off, helter-skelter, with no regard for either the characters or the readers.  There are those who will sacrifice one or two people of middling importance, along with gleefully killing all the important baddies in horribly satisfying ways, but won’t touch the main characters. 

And there is nothing really wrong with any of these types, but while they may be sensei masters of just about everything else in writing, they’re not sensei masters of the authorly art of character killing.

So what makes somebody a sensei master?  Many things.  We’re going to start exploring them here.

If you’re putting your characters in mortal peril, important people must die from time to time.

You can’t be a sensei master if you’re not willing to murder your darlings.  It’s quite easy to kill off the folks you don’t like, don’t let yourself like, and never took the time to really get to know.  The mark of a true sensei master begins with killing off those characters who truly matter to you and your readers.

I’m not advocating a wholesale slaughter, of course.  That’s just as bad as not killing anybody at all; worse, in fact, because then you leave your readers with nobody to cling to.  Remember that as you overcome your squeamishness and begin to plot mayhem.  All things in moderation, including the body count.  To a degree.  I mean, leave at least one major character standing, if you would be so kind.

But right now, you’re in the “but I can’t kill any of these people, I love them!” phase, or you’re in the equally self-defeating “A lot of people are going to die, so subconsciously I’m avoiding getting to know them very well and actually not spending much story time on them.  I mean, what’s the point?” phase.  So here’s what you do:

First, you take a very clear-headed look at what you’re writing and ask, “Is death likely to happen in such situations?”  And if what you’re writing is a war epic, a thriller, horror, murder mystery, Western, or any one of a billion genres that place people’s lives at risk, the answer had better damned well be yes.  If it’s not, remove the rose-tinted glasses from your head, go outside and stomp on them really hard, and then have another look.

So you’re not writing one of these things.  So you’re writing a nice novel about a fireman, let’s say, who is going through a process of self-discovery that will end with him becoming a drag queen in Thailand.  Fair enough.  On the surface, not much necessity for death, but you know, people die of all kinds of oddball things every day.  And if your original trigger for this guy was something goofy like his wife bringing home a new teddy from Frederick’s of Hollywood and thinking wow, I’d really like to wear one of those, maybe it’s time for you to reassess matters.  What does it take to release somebody from the bonds of a conventional life?  Death’s a good start.  What if his wife dies in an escalator incident at the mall?  What if, having lost the love of his life, he starts wearing her intimate things, and that brings him to his major revelation that what he’s been all along is a drag queen in hiding?  What if it’s his own near-death?  His buddy getting killed beside him in a burning great warehouse?  What if it’s his mom dying, or his dad, or his dog? 

If it’s none of those things, fine.  But I put this forward to say that, no matter what you’re writing, no matter how light-hearted, death might be lurking in there somewhere, and you’d better be ready to face it when it pops up.

So.  You’ve determined that, yes, what you’re writing is going to lead to folks dying.  But that’s okay.  There’s the bad guy’s henchmen, and some of the people they killed who are kind of peripheral to the whole thing, and yeah, the heroes get threatened, maybe a sidekick dies and it’s all this really touching scene, and then everything turns out just fine.

NO NO NO NO NO!

You’re sliding into Phase Two.  You’re not willing to kill off anyone who matters to you (and thusly the reader) because it would hurt too damned much.  Well, you know something?  Life doesn’t work like that.  When dangerous things happen in life, they happen to people we wouldn’t want to lose in a million billion years. 

Fate, my friends, is a female.  Which means she’s a bitch.  She doesn’t give a rat’s arse what you want.  Look at her perspective.  What can she do, spare folks just because you want her to?  Well, then there’s no way she can knock down anyone, because for every person Fate’s about to bugger, there’s at least one more saying, “No, please, not that one!”

So you have to do what Fate does in the real world, which is roll up the old sleeves, say, “Sorry, but them’s the breaks.  This’ll hurt me as much as it hurts you,” and then deliver the killing blow.

But you have to go further.  Because in the really intense situations, where you have to show just what a huge, insurmountable threat is hanging over your protagonists’ heads, you have to determine, “Whose loss will fuck with them the most?”

And you have to then go on to kill this person.  And you have to spend time with them first.  And you have to weep with your whole heart so that the readers will, too.

If you don’t like this idea, I would suggest knocking off the fiction and going to write things like cookbooks instead.  Preferrably vegetarian.

When you get to this phase, there’s a symptom.  When you know who’s going to die, you tend to draw back.  You start shutting them out.  It’s as hard to be with them as it is to be around anyone with a terminal illness.  You want to spend every last moment with them, but it’s too hard.  You find yourself making excuses and buggering off to find something easier to deal with.  You shunt them to the side, and then you wimp out on the details of their dying, and you really wimp on the aftermath.  Because it’s too messy.  Because it’s too painful.  Because it makes you confront not only Death, but all the damned complications and loose ends when life’s cut short.

So here’s what you do.  I’m sure there’s more, but this is the one method I use:

When you know who’s going to die, that’s when you get to know them best.  You spend a lot of time with them, writing stuff that will never find its way into the story.  You find out who they are, and what their life’s like, and you fall in love with them, and you figure out just why they’re so damned important and why their death will mean anything at all, and then you write it.  Just that.  You don’t shunt them off to the side.  You can’t, if you’ve really gotten to know them.  You stick with them until the bitter end, and then you write that ending for all you’re worth, because they deserve no less from you.

And then, after you’ve done all that, you spin out the implications.  Do not, ever, kill off someone of importance and then, two chapters later, act like it was just this minor little blip on the screen.  They don’t deserve that kind of treatment.  You take the time to figure out just how their death is going to complicate an already complicated situation, and how the people who loved them are going to handle losing them, and you have to realize that the loss is going to be there forever.  It’ll get better with time, for some, but twenty years down the road there’s still going to be folks going, “Bob.  Jeez.  What a guy he was.  Good ol’ Bob” with tears in their eyes.

Chances are, if you did your homework, that won’t even be a problem, because as you’re writing on with the survivors, things will happen that make you do that.  The fact of Bob’s absence will hit you like a warhead.   Then write those moments in.  That’s all you have to do. 

And don’t wimp out at the last minute.  No last-ditch miracles.  No “he’s not really dead.”  No resurrections.  Let them die. Let it be for a reason, and let it be. 

Authors have to have extraordinary courage.  Be courageous.  Do them the justice of letting them go when it’s time.

It has to mean something.  It doesn’t if you rescue them all the time.

Never forget that.

Then Pass the Torch

When you are killing off a major viewpoint character, you have to have someone there to pick up the narrative thread and run with it.  Otherwise, what you give your reader is a jumble of meaningless incidents.  Life can be like that.  Stories should not.

Think of it this way.  What you are pretty much doing is the prose version of the Eternal Flame.  You light the torch at the beginning, hand it to a runner, and then it’s off.  It’s supposed to be bloody eternal, so it’s passed from hand to hand.  Now imagine the next runner in the sequence getting to where he’s supposed to pass it off and finding out no one’s showed up.  He can’t run it any further, his legs are about to rebel and his lungs are contemplating murder.  So what’s he going to do?  Set it down?  Hand it to some tourist who runs off several yards in the wrong direction before he gets it and starts puffing the other way?  Give up and let the flame go out before it’s gotten to its destination?

Things kind of lose their meaning and impact when you get a situation like that.  Which is why planners of such events are so very careful to make absolutely sure that the bloke who’s supposed to carry the torch from this point to that knows where he’s going and when to be there to do it, and then makes damned certain he’s there.  You as the author must do the same.

The moment after the torch was supposed to be passed is not the moment at which the author should turn to the crowd and shout, “Okay, who here’s really good at running?”

That person should have been there for a while already.  The readers shouldn’t be asking “Where did this guy come from?”  They should be saying, “Wow, I didn’t think little Georgie had it in him, but look at him go!” or “Thankee gods we still have Marko.”  They can even be saying, “Oh, shit.  Not Herbert!  Not Herbert!”, but that’s taking a risk of losing the reader there.  Be careful with torch-bearers who can’t rally the readers to their sides.  Remember, you just killed someone the readers (hopefully) knew well and dearly loved.  Don’t replace them with an absolute burke with no redeeming qualities.

Most of the time, this won’t be a problem.  You’re probably not killing off your main character because, well, they’re main.  But if you knock out their entire support system, the same rule applies.  No man is an island and all that.  Someone has to be there to shore the hero up, or the hero is going to topple.  Either that, or the reader is going to roll eyes, go “Whatever!” and lose all respect for you because you’re so obviously not in touch with any sort of reality whatsoever.

You may notice I’m not telling you exactly how to pass the torch.  That’s because, depending on the situation, it can be done in about ten billion ways.  All I’m going to tell you is this: have that person on stage before the big death, have them pick up the torch right away, and keep them running.  Ask your test readers:  “After Bob died, was it easy to keep reading?  Or did I almost lose you there?”  Read masters of the game.  Read losers and note how badly they fumbled the pass (The Dreaming Tree comes to mind, but buy it used). 

But you also don’t want to make it too easy.  After all, Bob was a really important guy, right?  Don’t put an equal in his place.  If Bob is interchangable with Marko, say, or even Herbert, then there’s no point to killing him at all.  What I’m talking about in passing the torch is not reassuring the reader that everything’s going to turn out fine – quite the opposite should be true, in fact – but in convincing the reader that they need to stay with Marko or Herbert or whoever.  Fight through to the bitter end against all odds and that.  Not walk away with a shrug, saying, “Well, Bob’s dead, who the fuck cares what happens now?  It’s over as far as I’m concerned.”

One of the reasons you’ll seldom see an author kill of a main character halfway through is this: it’s because stories are about people, and preferrably a person who’s still alive at the end.  If you’re going to be killing off major viewpoint characters, you need to make sure the story is not so much about them as what they were dying for, and that is a very, very hard thing to do.  People matter more than things, oddly enough.  But it can be done.  That thing – that cause, that dream, that need – has to be strong enough to be a main character all by itself, and it has to be supported by a lot of people never letting it die.  When the torch is the story, you have to make sure it doesn’t get dropped and snuffed out before the story ends, no matter how many of the people who carried it lost their lives for it.  And you have to make sure it’s worth it.

And one more thing: make sure you show that torch being passed.  There’s nothing more annoying to a reader to lose sight of the narrative torch and then see it crop up several hundred yards down the line, carried by someone else, without ever seeing how it got there.

Got all that?  Yes, it’s a lot.  Death is serious business.  And there’s more to come…

Great Scarp! Seattle Has Faults!

You know how I promised you a tour of one of Seattle’s most prominent fault scarps a few months ago?  You’d probably given up hope I’d ever get round to it.  But here we are at last, taking a trip through the southern end of the Seattle Fault Zone, and seeing some pretty dramatic evidence of what happens when the ground rips.

Wacky Trees on Ginormous (Presumed) Fault Scarp

We’ll begin with a bit o’ scarp that I’ve been unable to confirm or deny as a fault scarp.  It certainly looks like a fault scarp.  In fact, the only thing that it doesn’t have in common with the known fault scarp at Seward Park is the fact it’s enormous and easily accessible.  There you are, walking the nice, wide, paved path around the boat launch area and Andrews Bay, and all of a sudden the hill gives way to a cliff.  It looks like the end of the drumlin was just sliced right off by a giant’s meat cleaver.  It’s dramatic and a little shocking.

By now, the non-geologists in the audience are probably wailing, “But Dana – what the fuck is a fault scarp?”  It is, quite simply put, what happens when, during an earthquake, one bit of earth either goes zipping up or another goes down (or possibly both at once, I suppose).  Here, you can easily create your own right there at home.  Hold your hands together like you’re praying.  Then aim them like you’re about to shoot somebody.  Let your left hand slide toward the floor a good inch or two, and you will see your right hand become a fault scarp justlikethat.  Neat, huh?

Here’s a nice, simple illustration showing you all the relevant bits:



So, you wanna know why there’s a ginormous fault scarp or two hanging about one of Seattle’s city parks?

I thought so.

Welcome to the Seattle Fault Zone, my darlings.  You can read about my first adventures in it here.  On January 30th, 2009, it gifted us with a 4.5 magnitude earthquake, reminding us that we live in a very tectonically active area.  I mean, practically all of Seattle’s getting crunched and squished and tossed about like a cowboy on the back of a bronco standing on a wild bull standing on the deck of a ship in a hurricane.  People living near the San Andreas Fault don’t know how good they’ve got it.  All they’ve got to deal with is a nasty transverse boundary.  We get a subduction zone, and we’re dealing with no less than three tectonic plates all jockeying for position up here.  It leads to subduction zone earthquakes and volcanoes and tsunamis, oh my.

This enormous fault zone:



means that Seattle’s getting crushed in a north-south vice.  Nobody explains it better than Paul Talbert:

Why is western Washington being compressed? Although the part of the Pacific Ocean that lies offshore from western. Washington rests on the Juan de Fuca Plate, most of the Pacific lies over the Pacific plate, which is slowly moving northwest relative to the North American plate. As the Pacific Plate slides northward along the San Andreas Fault in California, it drags the edge of California northward, rotating western Oregon and squeezing western Washington up against the more stationary rocks of British Columbia. Combined with the northeast movement of the Juan de Fuca Plate, this motion causes compression and thrust -faulting in the Seattle area in the north-south direction.

And that, dear readers, causes things like this:

Probable Fault Scarp Dappled in Sunshine

The Seattle area’s prone to three different types of earthquakes, in fact.  The Big One the teevee yammers about every time they go on about megaquakes in the Pacific Northwest are the subduction zone or interplate earthquakes.  They’re the quakes you get when a subducting plate comes unstuck suddenly and causes a hellacious quake.  They’re called “megathrust” for a reason, and the last one we had hereabouts just over 300 years ago was powerful enough to cause a tsunami in Japan.  Then you’ve got your basic intraplate or Benioff zone earthquake, which occur within the subducting plate.  In this case, it’s the Juan de Fuca plate breaking at depths of around 25-100 kilometers (15-60ish miles).  We’ll discuss those in more detail at some future point, but if you’d like an example of one, look no further than the 2001 Nisqually earthquake that caused so much angst up here.  Locals still love to yammer about that one.

But it’s the third kind o’ quake that concerns us here, your standard-issue shallow crustal earthquake.  These go only skin-deep – roughly down to 30km (18mi), but don’t think shallow means gentle.  Washington State’s largest historic earthquake, the North Cascades earthquake, was probably shallow.  That didn’t stop it from being felt in four states and two Canadian provinces, now, did it?  And, being so close to the surface, they leave quite a mark.

Fault Scarp Looming Over Park-Goers

About 1,100 years ago, something in the Seattle Fault Zone let rip, and sent bits of land careening up by 20 feet.  No less than three substantial tracts of forest went slip-sliding down right into Lake Washington, where they evaded logging for a thousand years before being discovered when the lake got lowered, and enterprising businessmen said, “Oooo, timber!”

I haven’t got pictures of any sunken forests, considering they succumbed to the saw mill, and more importantly, I haven’t got an underwater camera, scuba gear, or any idea how to use any of the above.  But I have got a neat photo of roots growing in the suspected scarp:

Rooted

I have no idea how old these scarps are – they might be from 1,100 years ago, they could be in their mere hundreds.  It’s hard to find specific info on these very scarps.  But I can tell you that they’re on the side of the fault zone that’s going up while the other goes down (which means that bits of Seattle north of the I-90 have
more to worry about than just global warming as far as sea level goes – the northerly bits have dropped 6 miles since the Seattle Fault Zone became active, so the next earthquake could cause parts of the city to become unexpectedly aquatic).  And I can’t tell you much about the formations the scarps are cut in to, but I can show you they have some pretty patterns:

Patterns

There’s some bedrock I’ll babble about in our next installment, and we’ve got a bit on glacial erratics coming up, but for now, I’ll just show you some of what leads me to suspect we’re looking at either glacial deposits or old lahars.  It’s the great big boulders popping out of nowhere:

Boulder with Lichens

Up till now, we’ve dealt with a suspected scarp.  And you’ll see why it’s a good suspect once I show you a known offender:

Undoubted, Indubitable Fault Scarp

Now, the folks who designed the path leading to it weren’t thinking clearly, and planted a whole bunch of vegetation between the old social trail and the new official trail to encourage people to stay put.  The only thing that accomplished was to make the geology nearly impossible to see because of all the damned biology.  But we can catch some good glimpses:

Closer Look

In fact, with a 10x optical zoom, we can practically touch the scarp face:

Even Closer Look

And then we can zoom out to take in the whole scene:

Geology Through the Biology

The thing’s at least 20, maybe 30 feet high.  Now, I have a few things for you to consider: 1. The Seattle Basin is shaped just right for containing seismic waves, ensuring we get shaken harder than one might expect.  2.  A fault crosses the bottom of Lake Washington from Seward Park to Mercer Island.  3.  The above photos show you that a lot of ground can move in a quake round these parts.  And 4. Have I mentioned the fault under Lake Washington yet?  The big, deep, filled-with-lotsa-water lake?  You can see what I’m getting at: those of us in the East Sound who laugh at all those tsunami-prone areas on the coasts should probably stop laughing just about now.  In fact, when that fault under the lake goes, we could be talking waves up to 18 feet high.  And the fact that it’ll technically be a seiche rather than a tsunami is no comfort at all.  We shall get very wet either way.

So.  Fault scarps in city parks, underwater forests, and inland tsunamis – anyone who thinks Seattle is a quiet place to live hasn’t paid attention to geology at all.  That’s why it’s a good idea for everyone to get their arses out to Seward Park, where they can stand dwarfed by a rather imposing example of just what happens when the ground round here lets rip.

And just think, we haven’t even talked about the ice and the implications of exposed bedrock yet….

Give Lockwood and Ozma Some Love

Ozma’s dying.  She’s Lockwood’s beautiful feral baby.  We didn’t get a chance to see her when we were there – she’ll only associate with Lockwood – but we caught a glimpse.  She’s a gorgeous girl.  I’m glad she’s got someone she loves and trusts who will stay with her to the end.

Ozma

Love and hugs to both of you.  I’m glad you had each other, even though it’s never long enough.

Tomes 2010: Written in Stone Edition

When this book:

came in the mail after I’d waited literal years for it, I was like, ZOMG,

And now that I’ve finished it, I’m totally feeling like

Brian, this had better be the start of a long and prolific career, because one’s not enough, buddy.

This book constantly surprised me – not because it was good (it’s Brian Switek, so obviously it’s good!), but because of the number of times it made me say, “I didn’t know that!”  It’s populated with bajillions of scientists I’ve read a lot about, people like Charles Darwin and Nicolaus Steno and Richard Owen, some of whom have been so extensively babbled about in the pop sci books that it seemed nothing new and interesting remained to reveal – but Brian almost always managed to find a little something awesome that hasn’t made it into the 42,000 other books about them.  And lest you think this is merely a history of paleontology, keep in mind that Brian fleshes out that history with the newest of the new discoveries.  I’m amazed by how much territory he managed to cover without seeming to skimp.  It’s not that big a book!

It wasn’t just things about people I didn’t know, but how and why certain traits evolved.  Brian’s filled gaps in my knowledge I didn’t even realize I had.  That chapter on horse evolution: definitely worth the wait.  Got me thinking in whole new directions, that did, and that kind of thinking is like solid gold to an SF writer.

He set out to prove that the fossil record, despite some arguments to the contrary, is essential to understanding evolution, and I do believe he succeeded.  It certainly seems like we wouldn’t have discovered as much as we did without the evidence those big, extinct critters showed us.  I love the way he lays things out, like a poker player spreading out a particularly fine royal flush.  Booyah, cretinists!

Like Ron Said

Brian’s not a particularly combative person – he doesn’t jump hip-deep into frays with the zest and verve of people like, oh, say, PZ – but don’t let his polite, sensible prose fool you.  He gives no ground.  I love this book not just because it’s Brian’s and it’s wonderful, but because it’s unflinching.  Evolution is fact, paleontology’s got the evidence, no quarter given.  And when the time comes in the human evolution chapter to talk about Piltdown Man, he dispatches that with such alacrity you don’t quite realize he just shot it through the heart.  It’s this simple: there was a hoax, some people fell for it, scientists figured it out and exposed the hoax, done.  I love that.  And the whole book is like that: one long demonstration that while science is sometimes messy, it gets the job done in the end.  Scientists aren’t perfect, but they don’t need to be in order to advance our knowledge.  And again and again, Brian takes down the evolution-as-linear-progress myth.  If you’re not left with the idea that evolution’s a big brushy, branchy tree rather than one great chain of being leading to inevitable us, then you weren’t reading this book.  Either that, or you’re ineducable.

There’s also quite a few shout-outs to geologists in here, which is much appreciated!

A lot of people need this book: people interested in science; the history of science; paleontology; evolution; people thinking about becoming scientists; anyone who’s ever loved dinosaurs, birds, fish, mammoths, mammals, whales, horses or humans; people ignorant of science; those creationist relatives who love to yammer about “gaps in the fossil record”; people who don’t know what a fossil record is….  Look, basically, everyone needs this book.

And if you’re not convinced by me, the link I pilfered the book cover from has links to plenty of other reviews that just might do it.  There’s Chris Rowan and Anne Jefferson’s review plus interviewWritten in Stone is inexpensive and the perfect size for most standard Christmas stockings, not to mention an easily-wrapped shape.  And, finally, it’s Brian Switek – what more do you need to convince you?

Once you’re done enjoying this one, join me in pestering Brian for another installment.  I want his second book in time for Tomes 2012!

Sending You Elsewhere

You know how I thought I’d have Written in Stone read in two nights?  Make that three.  Books with actual, real-life science content take longer to read than novels.  Whodathunkit?

So I’m sending you away.  Lockwood, for instance, has a magnificent post up on coffee, trees and rocks, which includes a glorious photo of a gingko clothed in fall color.  And he shows you how to get your nerd on in plywood.  And then you really must make it by Silver Fox’s place, where gorgeous photos illustrate the difficulties of mapping in the wintertime (and yes, dear non-desert readers, our high deserts get quite a lot of snow, believe it or – well, you’ll have no choice but believe it after you’ve seen Silver’s shots).

Need something to vent at?  Something to really get your dander up?  Cujo’s got two: an outrageously funny spanking of AFA’s Bryan “If You Didn’t Kill A Bunch of People, It’s Not Worth a Medal of Honor” Fischer, and a post dissecting the idiocy of the Air Force vis a vis the Military Religious Freedom Foundation.  Still not done?  In case you missed it at PZ’s place, read Johann Hari’s takedown of kosher and halal slaughter.  This, dear Mr. Jeff “Atheists Are Scaring Religious People Away From Skepticism!” Wagg, is exactly why religious claims cannot be shielded from skeptical scrutiny.  To take religious claims on faith just cuz their religious ain’t just bad skepticism, it’s aiding and abetting torture.  Oh, and the next time somebody tries to tell me how meek and mild religion is, I’m going to duct tape them to a chair and force them to read Jerry Coyne’s post on visiting the Palace of the Inquisition (warning: do not read before/during/after any meal).

There.  That should keep you busy whilst I read.  Worthy posts, all, and just what one needs on a cold winter’s night.

Well, those, and the video Lockwood put up on Twitter:

Oh, that takes me back to my Flagstaff days!  My roomie and I used to sit out on our porch on snowy evenings and watch the cars slide down the hill, occasionally placing small bets on just how spectacularly a particular – ah, how shall I say this kindly, um – risk-assessment deficient driver would bite it. 

How I miss those days!  Aside from the snow and ice, o’ course.

Explaining Monkeys and Uncles to Christine O’Donnell

Yes, I know the election is old news.  Yes, I know Christine O’Donnell lost.  But she speaks for a hefty ignorant chunk of the population when she spouts that snide “Then why are there still monkeys?!” line at the slightest whiff of evolution.

Brian Switek explains a few things about monkeys, uncles, and why your cousins don’t vanish merely because you survived:

In any family tree you care to draw – whether from a broad evolutionary perspective or a narrowed genealogy of close relatives – each point among the branches is going to fall into one of two categories: linear relatives and collateral relatives. Your parents, grandparents, great grandparents, etc. are all linear relatives, while cousins, uncles, and aunts are collateral relatives who are more closely related to you than most other people but are not direct ancestors or descendants. That’s simple enough, and the same sort of logic can be applied to evolutionary relationships.

Read the whole thing, and you’ll be well-prepared the next time some ignoramus thinks he or she has stymied you with the monkey schtick.

Why I Won’t Own a Kindle

No matter what my stepmother says about how awesome it is, a Kindle will not darken my door until certain issues are resolved.  Namely (h/t):

Having learned all this, I went along and had a closer look at the current Kindle License Agreement. There is some simply petrifying stuff on there. For starters, you don’t “own” Kindle books, you’re basically renting them.

Unless otherwise specified, Digital Content is licensed, not sold, to you by the Content Provider.

They can change the software on you whenever they like:

Automatic Updates. In order to keep your Software up-to-date, Amazon may automatically provide your Kindle or Other Device with updates/upgrades to the Software.

That is how a totalitarian state would go about confiscating books, if they wanted to. There is nothing in this agreement to stop Amazon from modifying the Kindle software to make it impossible for you to read any of your own files on the device. Such a step is not actually forbidden to them by this agreement; they are under no obligation to protect any data you might be storing on there. That’s not to say that there aren’t laws at least in some states that might allow you to sue for damages; I’m just saying, there isn’t any promise made by Amazon to protect your data or preserve its readability.

They can also change the terms of the deal or simply shut down Kindle service entirely, anytime they like:

Changes to Service. We may modify, suspend, or discontinue the Service, in whole or in part, at any time.

Or they might decide to shut your account down:

Termination. Your rights under this Agreement will automatically terminate if you fail to comply with any term of this Agreement. In case of such termination, you must cease all use of the Software, and Amazon may immediately revoke your access to the Service or to Digital Content without refund of any fees. Amazon’s failure to insist upon or enforce your strict compliance with this Agreement will not constitute a waiver of any of its rights.

Keep in mind these are your books that you bought or collected. Can you imagine a bookseller or publisher asserting rights over the contents of your bookshelves in your house? That’s basically what we’re talking about, here. 

There’s much more at the link.  Sticking with paper, thank you so very much, at least until giving money to an enterprise for a book means I get to keep the damned thing no matter what.