Tomes 2010: Harry Potter Mania Edition

Don’t ask me why, but for some reason, I decided to re-read Deathly Hallows.  I think it’s because my coworkers were babbling about the film.  Then I decided, fuck it, I’ll read ‘em all.

I’ve got a story to tell you ’bout that, actually.  Not the most recent trot through the lexicon, but how I came to be a Harry Potter fan at all, and why Quidditch is my favorite sport outside of steeplechasing (the kind with horses, not merely humans).  So, settle in for a bit, even if you’re rabidly anti-Potter.

So this one time, back in Flagstaff, when my friend Justin was still my Entertainment Executive, he forced me to read the books.  I believe it was before I saw the movie, but my memory’s unclear on this point.  What is crystal clear is that I didn’t want to read them.

“Justin,” says I, “these look stupid.”

They were not, he assured me, stupid.

“Justin,” says I, “these are fucking kids books.”

They were not, he assured me, merely for children.  British author J.K. Rowling, in fact, thought more of children than most of our American authors tend to.  She even used big words.  Did you know, he said, that the title of Sorcerer’s Stone in Britain was actually Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone?  Because the British thought kids were smart enough to figure out what the real name of that famous alchemical substance was, but American publishers thought they’d scare the audience away if they so much as mentioned the word philosophy.

“Justin,” says I, “even so, I do not fucking want to read these books.”

Our arguments about entertainment usually ended in just one way.  And this one ended with me grumbling my way home with two books in hand.

My Doom #1

So, being obligated now, I cracked open the first one, not expecting much of anything.  A few hours later, I set it aside and opened the second one.  I don’t remember stopping for dinner.  I don’t know if anything at all about the world outside or my own biological needs impinged upon my awareness.  I was too busy fighting Voldemort at Hogwarts to worry about Muggle bullshit like that.

At about three or four in the morning, I finished all Justin had given me.  And I knew a few things.

1.  There were two more books in this series.

My Doom #2

2.  I had stupidly told Justin I’d borrow them later if I decided I’d ever read them.

3.  It was the wee hours of the morning and I had to go to work the next day.

4.  Wal-Mart is open 24 hours.

5.  But there was a blinding snowstorm, with several inches on the ground already, and the plows hadn’t been by.

6.  I owned the most obstinate, skiving, broken and temperamental Ford Escort known to man.

7.  It was doubtful the car would run long enough to go to Wal-Mart even in the best of weather, much less when it was peeing down snow.

8.  I was going to die if I didn’t get the next two books RIGHT BLOODY NOW.

So I forced the car to go to Wal-Mart.  At 3 or 4 in the morning.  On a work night.  In the snow.  And I came home with all that was currently available in the Harry Potter series.

My Doom #3

Got a good ways through Prisoner of Azkaban before I collapsed from exhaustion and slept for an hour or so before work.  I nearly strangled Justin that day – not because he’d got me hooked, but because he’d done it in the middle of the week.  During a snowstorm.  The fucker.

It took me a bit longer to finish these next two.  They weren’t the whimsical trip through fantasy-land the first two had been, and they were a bit longer.  I started noticing something about J.K. Rowling, and Justin backed me up on it: she doesn’t pull punches, and she lets the stories age with the character.  In the first two, the main evil dude Voldemort is still weak, so he’s the sort of threat a young kid can plausibly face off against.  We’re mostly having fun, here, leaping into the world of wizarding with Harry, who’s one of the most sympathetic characters ever created.  How can you not love a boy with a lightning-bolt scar who lives with horrible relations?  Doesn’t everybody dream of having secret powers as a kid?  And Rowling has a gift for names – characters, places, spells.  I don’t think people realize how much there is in a name, but she does.  Check out the names of the two main rival Houses: Slytherin and Gryffindor.  I don’t have to tell you which are the bad guys and which are the heroes.  You can tell that from the names, I’ll warrant.

But still, it’s all good clean fun with a little deus ex machina in the bargain.  The third one’s a bit heavier fare, with a murderer on the loose, betrayal, innocent people tortured as if they were guilty and all that, but it’s still kid’s stuff.  Not the kind of toothless kid’s stuff you’d expect, quite a lot of fun and utterly absorbing, but still nothing super intense.

My Doom #4

Then you hit the fourth book.  The first thing you notice is, it’s twice the size.  There’s stuff in there that makes you think serious thoughts about slavery and justice.  Abracadabra gets turned into something altogether sinister and evil: avada kedavra, the killing curse.  And you know that when a killing curse is raised, someone other than the villain is going to get killed.

Only it’s worse than that, because on top of the torture and murder, there’s a dark damned ritual that brings the Dark Lord back in all his power.  This isn’t kid’s stuff anymore.  This shit’s getting serious.  And if you’ll notice, it’s timed just about right: Harry’s a teenager now, and even though he’s very, very young, he’s old enough that fighting the dark side isn’t going to remain child’s play forever.

My Doom #5

Then the next book happens, and you find out that no one’s rallying.  No one powerful, anyway.  The Ministry of Magic would rather pretend reality doesn’t exist, and starts a huge disinformation campaign.  Very few people believe Harry.  So there he is, with 90% of everyone he meets believing he’s a glory-seeking maniac at best and a murderer at worst, he’s been isolated from the people who loved him all summer while trying to deal with the horrors he’s seen, and on top of all that, the Ministry’s placed one of the most evil people in the universe within Hogwarts.  And she’s pure evil, my friends: one of those people who hides a sadistic streak a continent wide beneath pastel cardigans and fluffy bows and walls full of cute purring kitten plates.  This book is actually difficult to read, not because it’s badly written, but because the bad news is so unrelenting.  It makes you squirm, remember every worst teacher you ever had, put you face-to-face with death and despair, and then kills off a major character to boot.  You’re left wondering how Harry can possibly hold up under the weight of so much loss.

My Doom #6

And just when you think it couldn’t get worse… it does.  Book 6 has its light moments, but it explores a lot of dark sides.  We learn how Voldemort came to be, so he’s no longer just a vaguely-defined Big Bad who went bad.  Harry discovers how hard it is to date while also being the Chosen One.  Snape, their least favorite teacher, gets what he’s always wanted, which is never a good thing where Harry’s concerned.  A lot of things that had been left as open questions get answered, and heroes are discovered to have clay feet.  It’s a book with a lot of difficult questions and themes, appropriate for someone who’s growing up, who’s very soon going to be an adult, and who’s facing an evil so powerful wizards still won’t repeat its name.

In the end, when you’re wondering just how Rowling’s going to top the previous year’s kill, you find out.  And you rage.  That woman is not afraid to kill off your favorites, your staunchest allies, the people you love and need the most.  This book, I think, is what cemented my respect for her as an author.  She saw what had to be done and did it, without flinching.  And if you’d thought Harry had been put through hell before, well, it’s nothing compared to what she does to him here.

My Doom #7

You may think you’re numb, now.  You may think you’re tough.  You may think she’s done her worst.

You’d be wrong.

I can sum up Deathly Hallows thusly: “It was a good book. Nearly everybody died.”

And if you’re still thinking this is a kids-only series by the end, you’ve got a warped view on what kids-only entertainment is. 

At least she leaves us with a glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel.  After all of the emotional trauma, you’re shown that yes, it was worth it all.  But that’s the only consolation offered.  Mostly, it’s just brutal. 

So yes, this is a kid’s series. It grows up right alongside them.  And it’s not afraid of big words and bigger concepts and it’s got the greatest sport ever invented in it.  After reading these, get Quidditch Through the Ages.  I’m serious.  It’s hysterically funny.  That’s another talent J.K. Rowling’s got, that tongue-in-cheek, extremely British dry sense of humor that slays, even when discussing in seeming seriousness a completely made-up sport.

And if your own Entertainment Executive tells you that a set of books for kiddies might be worth your while, take them.  Take them all.  Otherwise, you, too, may end up at Wal-mart in the snow at 4 in the morning on a work night.

The World Is Weird

Check out what I came across whilst pulling images off of Google for the valley I’m working on:

Blood Falls

So at first, I was like, “Is that some sort of dye experiment gone horribly awry?”  But no.  It turns out to be something quite different and altogether natural, no matter how unnatural it looks:

The Taylor Glacier is unique among the Dry Valley glaciers in that the presence of subglacial brine near its terminus results in geomorphic behavior more like that of a temperate or polythermal glacier. Ice-penetrating-radar data indicate water or slush below the glacier corresponding to an 80-m depression in the bedrock topology at ~4km up-glacier from the terminus. This depression is below sea level and forms what is believed to have been a third lobe of Lake Bonney. When the chemically reduced subglacial brine flows from below the glacier and is exposed to the atmosphere, it becomes oxidized and a red salt cone, known as Blood Falls, precipitates at the northern end of the glacier terminus.

Sometimes, I get the impression that no matter what weird, wacky shit I attempt to invent, the world’s gonna clear it’s throat at every turn and say, “Been there, done that.”  At least I’m not ashamed to admit that the vast majority of “unique” stuff I’m writing about will have been filched from the real, live, complex and delightfully bizarre universe around us.

Totality!

Long-time readers may recall that in my deep past, I wanted to be an astronomer.  I’ve still got an abiding fondness for such things, but I don’t get to feed my inner amateur astronomer much up here.

So when Twitter started buzzing with word of a total lunar eclipse for the night of December 20-21, I looked out the window, saw clouds, and said, “Bah, humbug.”  But that didn’t stop me from heading outside at a little after 11pm to have a hopeful look.

The clouds had parted!

Stayed out there for almost an hour in flip-flops, too intent on watching the moon vanish to run back inside for sensible shoes.  This was the event of a lifetime, wasn’t it?  I mean, seriously, people, those of us who got to see it either outside or streaming live online were witnessing something extraordinarily rare:

This lunar eclipse falls on the date of the northern winter solstice. How rare is that? Total lunar eclipses in northern winter are fairly common. There have been three of them in the past ten years alone. A lunar eclipse smack-dab on the date of the solstice, however, is unusual. Geoff Chester of the US Naval Observatory inspected a list of eclipses going back 2000 years. “Since Year 1, I can only find one previous instance of an eclipse matching the same calendar date as the solstice, and that is 1638 DEC 21,” says Chester. “Fortunately we won’t have to wait 372 years for the next one…that will be on 2094 DEC 21.” 

Soooo lucky Seattle’s cranky winter weather chose tonight to have a lengthy cloud break at just the right time.  So lucky I follow Phil Plait on Twitter, and that he kept us all up-to-the-minute caught up on what we should see and when.   He also had a super-spiffy blog post up with about all you’d need to know.

If I’m still alive in December of 2094, I shall have to make sure I’m ready with a camera that can record the event.  By then, we should have much better.  But mine did remarkably good for a little pocket model, and would’ve done far better if I’d have binocs.  Still, got some fun stuff!

First Look, through thin clouds

That’s what made me dash back inside and snatch up the camera.  Over the next 40 minutes or so, I watched the bright bits of the moon get smaller:



And the clouds cleared away near totality, and the last sliver of moon gleamed:



You can just barely see it.  And then, boom: totality.  Which was about the time my camera said, “Sod this for a bloody lark, I can’t see a damned thing,” and packed it in for the night.  Luckily, Phil was able to catch some good images:

Totality! Moon is deep Orange. Gorgeous!

Last one. Deep into totality.

Awesome!  I’ll never forget the moon, nearly invisible, glowing a faint pale orange in the sky, deep in our shadow.  Love love love this universe!

How many of you guys got to see it?

Update:  You, my darlings, must click here to see my friend Michael Smith-Sardior’s outstandingly beautiful photo of the eclipse!

Dana’s Dojo: Curses! I’m a Foil Again!

Today in the Dojo: Manipulating foils and mirrors to contrast and enhance.

I made the mistake once of asking Nikki for some column topics, expecting something rather easy that I could breeze through in an afternoon.  I should know better.  First she hits me with Subplots, then we get into Foils and Mirrors.  I latched on to Foils and Mirrors.  I have mirror characters, thinks I.  How hard could it be?

Yes, I know.  I don’t blame you for laughing at my folly about now.

There is not a word about foils and mirrors in the index of any of my books on writing.  Nary an article in any of those magazines I lug from apartment to apartment.  Not a single damned useful thing anywhere.

Grr, said I, and turned to the intertoobz.

A little while later, after sifting through the pages that assumed I want to do something arts-and-craftsy with actual foil and mirrors, I found some information that really kind of bugged.  Literary definitions were pulping foils and mirrors into a kind of blended mush.  Foil didn’t mean what I thought it did.  Mirror barely appeared at all.  But there was some great stuff in those articles that made up for the shattering of my assumptions.

I will, of course, be putting the patented Dana Hunter spin on things, and redefining things just a bit.  But for the most part, I’ve adjusted my own definitions to come more into line with common wisdom, and only imposed my own idiosyncratic interpretation where it seems to resolve the most confusion.

So here we go….

CLASSICAL CONCEPTS, ORIGIN STORIES, AND A NEW POLISH FOR THE 21ST CENTURY

The term foil came into literary use by way of the jewelry biz: jewelers place a bit of foil behind a gem to make its brilliance really pop.  Some clever literature person looked at that, had a brainwave, and filched the concept.  Voila, the literary world now has foils as well.  Only the foils involved here would probably be very upset if we tried to smash them flat and stick them behind the gemstone in a brooch.

And so, in its simplest sense, the idea of a foil is a character who sets off another and makes them really shine by contrast.  Sticklers say that the foil must enhance the main character rather than the secondary ones.  And then some either very confused or extremely clever persons took off on another definition of foil, which is a thin sword used in fencing, and said, “Hmmm.  The foil could be the bastard who foils the protagonist, ha ha ha.”

Indeed.  But it works, although it tends to confuse things a bit, as there are no specific terms for which type of foil we mean.  Do we mean a Watson, whose dimness and goodwill makes Holmes’ intelligence and coldness stand out like a halogen?  Or do we mean Snape, who constantly trips up poor Harry Potter and makes his life miserable?

“Mirror” is sometimes used as a synonym for “foil”, so I shall appropriate it to my own nefarious purposes and create the following definitions for our discussion: a foil opposes, a mirror reflects.  Remember that mirrors are also used to reflect and enhance light as well as simply reflect images, so this works very well.

Right, then.  So what are they?

THE STUFF FOILS AND MIRRORS ARE MADE OF

Literary definitions are narrow and persnickety.  They are refined beings and don’t like to mix with the commoners.  We, however, are not literati: we are rough-and-ready writers who are looking for tools, not objets d’art.  We don’t care what shape the hammer is as long as it will do for pounding down the nails.
And so, while we will use the classical definition of foils and mirrors as characters, I set out to prove to you that anything can be a foil or a mirror.  In a pinch, a lump of rock will do.

Michael Connelly uses the media as a foil to his main character Harry Bosch in City of Bones.  I use a manor house as a mirror for Luther Novotny.  Everything from nature to a play has been used as a foil or a mirror in great works of literature.  Don’t limit yourself to narrow definitions.  When you think foil and mirror, think things as well as people.  People are preferred most of the time, but there are times when people will not do the job.  The hammer is made of glass.  Time to look for the flatiron you acquired on impulse in the antique shop the other day, and then that nail’s gonna be pounded.

In fact, I would even go so far as to say that your foil or mirror could be something within the characters themselves.  That’s blurring the lines into conflict, but why not?  Who says we can’t use a screwdriver to set the screw before we start twisting?  Just remember you’re the only one likely to know that’s what you were doing, so don’t be too upset when the literati don’t ooh and aah over your clever use of the concept.  It’s okay.  We’ll know.

THE PROPER USE AND POSITIONING FOR MAXIMUM EFFECT

Like real foil and mirrors, what kind you use and where you put them make an enormous difference.  If you want the room to be brighter, you stick the mirror behind the lamp: if you want the room to look bigger, you stick a larger mirror on an accent wall.  If you want to become a fencing champion, you must have the proper foil.  It’s the same thing in writing.  A misplaced or misused foil or mirror will spoil the effect.

There are a few simple things to consider.  Did I say simple?  I assure you, I speak in relative terms.  We all know that nothing in writing is truly simple, no matter how easy it sounds.

First, what effect are you going for?  If you want to throw some caltrops in the path of your happily skipping hero, only a foil in the sense of an object with which to inflict jabs will do.  If you want to make someone shine brighter, or highlight some aspect of them, then you’ll want to reach for a mirror.  So, the first simple question becomes: do I want to obstruct, enhance, or reflect?

Secondly, probably most obviously, you’ll need to know whom you’re applying that to.  It’s not always as obvious as it seems.  Foils and mirrors are most usually paired with the main character, but you can use them on secondary characters as well.  It could be the villain.  It’s just probably a good idea not to use them on a bit player, because that’s like putting mirrors under the kitchen sink to make that cabinet look bigger.  Remember that foils and mirrors are a value-added option, so you don’t want to waste them on things of minor importance.  So, the second simple question becomes: who’s worth it?

Thirdly, you’ll need to decide to what degree and when.  Some foils and mirrors are there from the beginning and patently obvious.  Some show up at a critical juncture, perform their function, then bow out quietly (or not so quietly, depending).  Some only gradually become recognizable for what they are as the story unfolds.  So, the third and not-quite-so-simple question becomes: How much am I emphasizing, here, and where do I want that emphasis to be noticed?

Once you know the answers to those questions, you’ll probably find it fairly easy to decide what kind of foil or mirror you’d like to use: character or otherwise. 

I’ll share with you a personal anecdote at this point in case you like to see the silly goober manipulating the mirrors, and to give you an idea of why one might choose not to use a person as a foil or mirror.  When I was first starting to write Luther, I realized he was a hard nut to crack.  He was one of the ominous mysterious types who never really gets close to people and whom no one ever re
ally knows.  I wanted the reader to have some way to gain insight into him, and it wasn’t happening through his interactions with other characters as much as I might have liked.  A Watson was completely out of the question: this man does not like sustained human company.  He makes Holmes look positively gregarious by comparison.  And so, I brought out the details of his manor house and turned it into his mirror.  If you look closely at that house and its grounds, you can see into his soul.  His house is him.  He chose every aspect from where it was located to where it was built and what objets d’art fill it with great care.  The beauty of the manor house is that it also mirrors anyone who goes there.  What people notice about it tells you as much about them as Luther.

See the power of a mirror of the proper size, type and placement?  And why you should not limit yourself to living beings when creating one?

SOME NIFTY WAYS TO USE FOILS AND MIRRORS

And now we come to that part of any arts-and-crafts missive where demonstrations of what can be done with all those bits of things you just bought can be used.  Maybe I’ll even throw up a completed piece in the true spirit of things.  Only this time, it’ll be of the kind of quality you can hope to match with the instructions rather than one of those confections the directions promise you’ll achieve but must have been done using a different set of instructions and materials altogether.

I’ve got a few examples of what foils and mirrors are good for.  This is by no means the comprehensive list, just something with which to prod the muse and make her/him stop jeering at Survivor and get to work with the scissors and glue.

*A caveat: I use the word “hero” for the character the foil or mirror is being placed against.  Remember that this is a shorthand: it does not mean that the character being set off must always be the hero.*

Foils

  • Use your foil to prepare your hero for the final fight against the villain by making him/her overcome a similar but lesser obstacle.
  • Raise the stakes by having your hero fail against a foil whose opposition is similar to what the villain has on offer.
  • Make your hero’s life miserable by constantly having to deal with all of the crap the foil throws his/her way, as if the other crap they had to deal with wasn’t already quite enough to be going on with, thank you so very much.
  • Show how heroic your hero is by the way s/he handles all the thrusts and jabs from the foil.

Mirrors

  • Raise the stakes by having the hero’s mirror fail against the same or similar obstacle that the hero will soon have to deal with.
  • Give the readers (and the hero) false hope/confidence by having the mirror succeed in the same or similar situation the hero will soon be encountering.
  • Make facets of the hero shine all the more brightly for being compared to/contrasted by the mirror.
  • Reveal aspects of the hero via the mirror.

For further ideas on the possible uses of foils and mirrors, visit Traci’s Ten Assignments on Dramatic Foils.  And you thought I was snarky!  Not only is this list of assignments a pleasing read in its own right, it’s chock full of interesting possibilities.  She was only giving teachers ideas for making comparison/contrast papers involving foils more interesting, but she ended up handing us a sparkly new hammer for the toolkit.  And as a special bonus, you’ll get a Magic Eight Ball reading, too!

The Allure of the Orcas Chert and How to Keep Undergarments Fresh in the Field

I can always count on Dan McShane to provide me some local yum, and he had me drooling over the Orcas Chert the other day.  I’ll let him ‘splain and filch one of his pictures:

The Orcas Chert is part of a suite of rocks belonging to the Northwest Cascades System (NWCS). The NWCS is not a simple assemblage and taking a walk along the the Orcas Chert exposed on the west side of San Juan Island is a good reminder.  Lappen (2000) assembled the Geologic Map of the Bellingham 1:100,000 Quadrangle that includes much of the San Juan Islands. The accompanying report provides only a brief description of the geologic setting but I think it sums up the NWCS rather well as “This structural system is a thrust stack of mainly oceanic lithologic packages (terranes) of varying age, structure and metamorphic history.” I would emphasize “varying” as an understatement. When I get asked about these rocks or other assemblages of metamorphic rocks in the San Juans or Northwest Cascades I often say these rocks have had a long hard life. 



There’s schist in that thar chert!  How does he know I’m a sucker for schist?  Argh, now I want to go to the Islands, mon!

And thanks to Anne, who tweeted the following, I’ll always have clean underwear out in the field.  I am not giving away the secret here.  You will have to click this link.  Do not do so with your mouth full of food or beverage, because I refuse to be responsible for what happens if you do.

Ding, Dong, DADT Is Dead!

Finally!

I am petty much dying of shock, because somehow, six Senate Republicans managed to do something right for a change.  Drugs?  Blackmail?  Vestigial human decency?  Who knows?  All I know is, 57 Dems, 6 Republicans, and 2 Independents pulled together and

DADT IS DEAD!

Huzzah!

You may ask, why not 58 Dems?  Well, that’s because Sen. Manchin seems to find holiday parties more important than voting for legislation that restores civil rights to those who serve in our country’s military.  When it comes to lead, follow, or get out of the way, he apparently chose option 3. 

Would’ve been a perfect day if the Senate hadn’t been busy killing the DREAM Act earlier.  Sens. Lugar, Bennett and Murkowski deserve no blame on that one – they did the right thing, it was five defecting Dems who decided children who got dragged into this country illegally don’t get a chance to go to college and get decent jobs in the only country they’ve ever truly called home.  You can find the offending dumbfucks at the link, and add them to your list of Dems who deserve to get primaried when next they beg for our votes.

Still.  Banner day.  I have no idea how the hell this happened – I expected Senate Cons to stand united against teh gayz, considering what frothing insane Tea Partiers are likely to do to the Republicans who try to take even small, popular stands for basic rights and freedoms – but I’m so glad DADT is dead.  Let’s hope Gates et al work quickly to get the new policy in force.

And should you get a chance, give an LGBT servicemember a hug today.

Cantina Quote o’ The Week: E.B. White

I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.

        -E.B. White

Alas, I don’t know quite where this quote came from.  I just know that I love it, because I live it every day.

E.B. White, of course, was the author of Charlotte’s Web, which is a good book for determining who among us is destined to grow up a sociopath or a critic.  If you didn’t cry, you’re probably one or the other.

He’s also the White of Strunk & White fame.  He also satirized Freud.  No wonder he won the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Hey! I Practice Alt Med, Too!

Kimball Atwood’s been kicking the arses of all those who like to babble that because alt med’s popular, even the most implausible, most wootastic woo should be studied.  We’re talking folks who think that homeopathy should be studied, despite the fact the basic science isn’t behind it at all – you’d have to overturn pretty much all of physics and chemistry for it to qualify as anything remotely possible to actually work as more than a placebo mixed with willful idiocy.  The people who back randomized, double-blind, clinical trial after clinical trial for the wooiest of woo despite assloads of evidence already available showing it doesn’t, can’t, and will never work are the same ones who would probably demand said trials for butt reflexology if enough dumbfucks fall for a hoax.

But I digress.  I was about to tell you about the fact that I, too, practice complimentary and alternative medicine (CAM).  I found this out while reading Kimball’s lovely smackdown.  Here’s the passage that revealed all to me:

In addition to the ethical fallacy just discussed, there is another fallacy having to do with popularity: the methods in question aren’t very popular. In the medical literature, the typical article about an implausible health claim begins with the irrelevant and erroneous assertion that “34%” or “40%” or even “62%” (if you count prayer!) of Americans use ‘CAM’ each year. This is irrelevant because at issue is the claim in question, not ‘CAM’ in general. It is erroneous because ‘CAM’ in general is so vaguely defined that its imputed popularity has been inflated to the point of absurdity, as exemplified by the NCCAM’s attempt, in 2002, to include prayer (which it quietly dropped from the subsequent, 2007 survey results).

By these standards, I so totally do practice CAM!  Yep, it’s that slippery of a definition.  Y’see, sometimes, when I feel like I might be coming down with a cold, but it might just be allergies or too much smoking instead, I run this little litany through my head: “I hope I’m not getting sick!  I hope I’m not getting sick!  I hope I’m not getting sick!”  And sometimes, when I wish really hard I won’t get sick, sometimes I don’t get sick!!!

So imagine me getting surveyed:

Survey Person: Do you pray for wellness or healing?

Me [sarcastically]: Well, I’m an atheist, but I sometimes hope really hard.

SP: Great!  We’ve got you down for prayer, then, you alt-med lover you!

Me: Wait, what?  Hey!  Come back here and erase that right now, you fucking bastard!

SP: [vanishes into the distance at a brisk run]

And that, my darlings, is one of the great many reasons why you should always treat the argumentum ad populum with grave suspicion.

Just like you should butt reflexology.  Or is that butt-print astrology (ass-trology!)?  It’s so hard to keep all this butt-related woo straight!

Putting the “Awe” Back in Awesome

Apologies to whomever posted this on Twitter, because it was last week and I cannot for the life of me remember who.  One day, I’ll remember to jot these things down.  But it’s definitely too good not to share for lack of being able to credit.

Every science blogger needs to read “Rehabilitating Awesome” by John Pavlus.  So should everyone who loves science and wants other to love it, too.  If you haven’t yet, here’s why:

My humble opinion is that engagement should start from first principles–and I don’t mean elementary physics. Take the beginner’s mind, not the post-doc’s or the cynical reporter’s. Why did we as science writers get into this business? I can’t speak for you, but in my case it wasn’t because I loved how the word “chromodynamics” looked next to a forbidding table of statistics. It was because at some formative point in my life I felt awe and associated it with science. As in,”Wowwww”–then “why?”–then “ohhhh.” I would hazard that many scientists had a similar experiences that sent them on their professional paths.

Awe is our first principle. If we weren’t all using science to chase it in some way or another, why be in this business at all?

So there’s our answer about engagement. Every damn person who’s ever breathed air has once wondered why the sky is blue. So, whatever your scientific subject, just go back in time, dig out that tiny neutron-dense core of wonderment that you felt, and you’ll be well on your way to bringing someone else along for the ride. Easier said than done, of course — but perhaps not as difficult as many of us have learned to believe.

All right, then?  Think you can do that?  Of course you can.  Science makes it easy.  Science is amazingly awesome, frequently dramatic, beautiful even when it’s ugly, and has the power to make even the mundane look like the most extraordinary thing you’ve ever seen in your entire life.

It inspires awe.  All you have to do is add the “some,” then kick it up a notch or two.  Dead easy, right?  Yes, it is – take a trot down my blogroll and you’ll see science bloggers doing it every single day.

Twelve Months of Verdad (2010)

Oh, dear.  End-o’-year memes.  Silver Fox has got one, and tagged each and every one of us, so here we go:

The rules for this meme are simple, as explained by DrugMonkey: Post the link and first sentence from the first blog entry for each month of the past year.

Without further ado, then, I present: Twelve months o’ Verdad.

January:

Feliz Ano Nuevo

It’s 2010!

February:

I Feel Ashamed

I have a confession to make.  

March:

My Readers Are Going to Kill Me

I have come to this realization after filling in a few blank spots leading up to a few things in my narrative outline, and contemplating the deeply emotional reaction of X-Files fans to that bit in the movie where Mulder and Scully almost kiss after several seasons’ worth of sexual tension, only to be interrupted by a very bad bee.

April:

I’ve Become a Proud Republican

Join me after the jump for further details on my conversion.

May:

Just For the Record, I Hate Apple

Oh, yes.  

June: 

Quote O’ the Day

Aunty Flow is here, and has been pestering me with chronic cramps all day, which means I don’t have the energy to wield the Smack-o-Matic on some politician’s deserving derriere.  

July:

Dumbfuckery du Jour

Apologies for the lack of beating up dumbfucks lately.  

August:

Now That’s an Engineering Project!

When we went to Arizona last year, my intrepid companion and I crossed Hoover Dam.

September:

Dumbfuckery du Jour

I don’t know whether to thank the Cons or scream:

October:

Commending These to Your Attention

I have to go to bed early so that I’m nice and fresh for fending off used car salesmen in the morning.

November:

A Bloodbath, Not a Massacre

Because if it was a massacre, Sharron Angle and Christine O’Donnell would’ve ended up added to our list of national embarrassments. 

December:

Dana’s Dojo: Just Get the Facts Straight, Ma’am

Today in the Dojo: Why the willing suspension of disbelief and the factual facts depend utterly upon each other.

 Right, then.  There it is.  And you can bet I’ll be working on snappy first lines in the new year, because this was rather a bit embarrassing.

If you’re up to the task of posting your last twelve, consider yourself tagged.