Dojo Summer Sessions: Mah Sooper Sekrit Projeckt

So, for almost three months now, I’ve been writing like mad.  I’ve often compared writing to volcanoes: there are times when the magma chamber’s empty, then over a period of time it fills, you get your basic harmonic tremors, and then an eruption that lasts days, weeks or months, depending.  That’s how it’s been for these past many weeks: one sustained eruption that’s disrupted the airspace over this blog and rained ash all over my relationships.  Even the cat’s been deprived of premium cuddle time.  I am Busy Writing Fiction, by the gods, and there is nothing that can pull me away from it for long.

I’m up to 169 pages over the past 12 weeks, and that’s not counting over 100 pages of writing journal and various handwritten scribbles.

With all that, by now, my Wise Readers are saying, “Well, then, Dana: where are the damned excerpts?

There’s a good reason I haven’t posted a single word of all this mad, frantic fiction on ye olde writing blogge for your reading pleasure (or displeasure, depending).  That’s because it’sfanfiction.

Artist’s Impression of Reader Response

Deep breath.

Screw courage to sticking place.

THAT’S BECAUSE IT’S FAN FICTION, ALL RIGHT?

Artist’s Impression of Reader Response

Now, don’t be that way.  There’s nothing wrong with fan fiction, and I’ll tell you why.

For one thing, lots of us get our start writing fan fiction.  Think of it this way: it’s like learning how to play the guitar.  Most folks aren’t virtuosos from the start.  They learn by imitation, drive people mad by playing “Stairway to Heaven” ninety-seven times a day really badly, and eventually, after stealing borrowing bits from the professionals for many years, become skilled and confident enough to strike out on their own.  You can learn a lot about telling stories and handling characterization and all those important but difficult aspects of writing by getting your feet wet in other writers’ worlds.

But after you’ve gotten your feet wet, once you’ve learned how to swim (or, switching metaphors, play something that is not “Stairway to Heaven”), you should never, ever write fan fiction ever again, right?

I mean, you’re just wasting time that could’ve been spent on your own magnum opus.

You’re grown up.  You’re past that, now.

It’s silly.  Immature.  Useless.

And those are things you can tell yourself in order to stay on track with your own work rather than reverting to young writerhood, but let me ‘splain why, after having given myself the “Stay focused, you’re too grown up for fan fiction, you shouldn’t waste time, etc. etc. Peter Cetera etc.” lecture, I’ve plunged into writing fan fiction anyway.

It’s because I needed New Eyes.  Not Wise Reader eyes.  Not New Character Eyes.  They weren’t helping.  I’d got bogged down in the minutiae of my created universe and couldn’t see the forest for the trees.  Hell, I couldn’t even make out some of the trees for the trees.  I knew there were places where I was stuck, where my imagination wasn’t grasping the essentials, but I couldn’t for the life of me see what they were or how the hell I could extract myself.  Also, I am teh suck at action scenes, and I’d grown tired of page after page of nothing much going on.  Okay, so lots was going on, psychological drama and all that, but still.  Everything felt stagnant.  And you know what happens when things stagnate.  Ain’t pretty.

Around the time I was about to write this winter writing season off as a bad job and bugger off to do something else, my intrepid companion hauled Doctor Who up for our Monday entertainment.  And there they were.  My much-needed New Eyes.  I didn’t mean to write fan fiction, I really didn’t, but a story presented itself and then (as things to do when the Doctor’s around) spiraled a bit out of control and now we’re pushing two hundred pages, and I don’t begrudge an instant of it because chucking him into my universe is allowing me to see it in ways I’ve never seen it before.  Thorny problems that plagued me for years are resolving nicely.  And I’m improving on the action scene front.  And it’s fun.

There’s nothing not to love here.

When I go back to writing non-fan fiction, I’ll have a fresh perspective.  Not to mention all that lovely exercise.

So here’s my advice to you writers who might be stuck: don’t run away screaming if the possibility of writing some good old fashioned fan fiction presents itself.  If you can fit someone else’s character into your world for a bit, and you feel like trying it, try.  Unleash your imagination.  Because here’s what it does:

1.  Forces you to write from an unfamiliar perspective.  If your characters have all started blending in to each other, or slotted themselves into neat little types, filching other people’s characters and writing from their viewpoint for a bit can break that vicious cycle.  And it’ll improve your characterization chops in the process.

2.  Helps you see your world afresh.  What’s intimately familiar to you and your characters is completely new to other people’s characters.  They’ll notice things you and your own characters wouldn’t pay any attention to.  And sometimes, that will lead to creative revelations.  You might even find yourself quoting T.H. Huxley: “How extremely stupid not to have thought of that!”  You’ll find yourself questioning assumptions and seeing things differently and asking those questions that make writing a process of exploration and discovery rather than a plodding one-word-after-another slog.

3.  Gives you practice with different techniques and situations.  If your mad writing skillz suffer in a particular area, and you know you need to polish ‘em up, using an established character who’s an old pro at this sort o’ thing can give you that polish.  There’s already a template to follow.  And after tracing the template until you’re good at it will allow you to toss the template out and strike out confidently on your own later.

4.  Gets you excited again.  After so much time exploring every detail of your world, you might be suffering the old “familiarity breeds contempt” malady.  Not to mention, you have performance anxiety.  Fan fiction allows you to spend some time writing without suffering those complaints, and hence can recharge your fictional batteries nicely.  It can allow you to fall in love with your own writing again.

5.  Gives you practice for that great day when, as a famous author, you’re asked to write a reboot of your favorite fiction.  Look.  There’s nothing wrong with dreaming, is there?  And you never, ever know.  It could happen.  You might even make it happen.  And in case points 1-4 weren’t enough to convince yourself it’s really okay to spend a little time playing, this last one might be just the permission slip you need.

There are other benefits, I’m sure, probably quite a few I haven’t discovered yet or won’t discover because they’re not relevant to my situation, but might be for yours.  You won’t know until you’ve tried.  And you might never try.  You might never need to write fan fiction in your entire life.  But if you’re stuck, consider this as a way of unsticking yourself.  And enjoy the hell out of it.  And if people sneer at you for piddling around with fan fiction when you should be spending your time being a Really Serious Original Writer, there’s just one response:

Artist’s Illustration of Proper Technique

Memorials

The Moving Wall Vietnam Memorial

My dad used to tell me stories.

He’d been in Vietnam.  Infantry, United States Army.  He’d gotten drafted while switching colleges (never let it be said grades aren’t important: they can keep you from getting shot, for instance).  And it was a hard year.  That year changed his life.  He went to war.  He lost half his hearing when someone shot a .45 near his ear in a tunnel; he’d had his jaw broken by a bullet; he still has bits of shrapnel working their way out of his chest from a grenade wound he took to the ankle.  He still won’t sit with his back to a door.  And for years, he could only allow bits and pieces of that year to surface.  He’d talk about it, but only in fragments.  Some of it he barely talked about at all.

I used to go out into the garage and open the box with his war medals.  I remember the cold, rich glow and sharp points of the Bronze Star; the royal starkness of his Purple Hearts.  There was a scent to them, old ribbon and polished metal, somehow seeming very distant and serious.  I remember his name sewn on his fatigues, and the stiff decorations.

He hated green for a great many years.  Green was Army fatigues, and jungles, and too many memories.  Maybe that’s part of the reason we ended up in Arizona.  Not so much green there.  And he wouldn’t eat beans on a bet.  Yes, part of that was because of the horrors of his grandmother’s method of cooking green beans (place in pressure cooker, cook until it explodes, scrape beans of ceiling along with flecks of yellow paint, serve).  But the rest of beankind got short shrift from him after a year in the Army.

He’d tell me stories. 

There were young men in that unit who knew you had to be a little crazy to survive.  So they’d be crazy.  You’d have to be crazy to be pinned down in trenches, under heavy fire, running out of ammo, and go fetch an enormous sack of the stuff, come back through the trenches with that sack on your back singing “Here comes Santy Claus, here comes Santy Claus – and what can Santa do for you?”

And my father, giddy with the relief of seeing rather more useful bullets come his way than the ones that had been coming his way a moment before, said, “Well, Santa, I’d like some ammunition.”

And the man – Jimmy Blue, I believe, though you can’t trust a kid’s memory and I hesitate to dredge my father’s memory at this time of year – the crazy man with the enormous sack of ammunition on his back handed over some ammunition with a cheerful “Here you go!” and went singing off to the next man pinned down under fire, the best Christmas present they could have asked for.

There was the time they were out on patrol with a lieutenant they didn’t like.  Obstacles were supposed to be whispered back.  This was enemy territory at night – had to be quiet.  So you whispered back the obstructions and moved as quietly as possible.  Until you heard riotous laughter from the back of the line, and stormed back there to see what the fuck was going on, and found Zimmerman and a few of the others laughing at the lieutenant, up to his neck in raw sewage in a drainage ditch, because one of them “forgot” to pass the word along.

You did not piss off the men, because they would find ways to piss on you.  So would their monkey.  They had a monkey who lived in the common area.  It once pissed on an officer.  This, they decided, was an enlisted man’s own monkey.  Nobody had liked that officer much.  Neither, it appeared, had the monkey.

So many men, so many stories, hilarious stories, funny and heartwarming and head-shaking stories.  There were moments of high bravery and low comedy.  Brothels in Saigon.  Beer runs.  Trying to eat a steak when your jaw had been shattered in a dozen places.  Shooting a wild pig at dawn, because as it turns out, pigs breathe quite a bit like humans and don’t identify themselves when they’re ordered to.  That poor unfortunate porker came upon my dad and a few of his fellows when they were in a perimeter camp.  My dad built that story from the foundations: a dark, quiet morning.  Breathing in the jungle.  Something creeping closer, closer, surely the enemy.  Finally opening fire.  Silence.  “Should we check?”  Finally, a cautious excursion, and the dead enemy: a wild boar.  Inspiration.  Breakfast.  Their commanding officer came up on them just as they were busy roasting the boar for breakfast, demanded to know what was going on, and was solemnly informed that they’d engaged the enemy.  They had a confirmed Viet Cong kill: this pig.  Would you like some, sir?

He told me the stories.  So many stories.  And then, one day, the Traveling Wall came through Page, and he handed me a list of names.  He couldn’t face that wall yet.  Could I find those names and get rubbings of them?

I looked down at the list.  On it were a lot of the people he’d told me stories about, people I’d come to love and look forward to.  I remember going numb, and then I started crying.  I’d had no idea.  I knew that war had claimed over fifty thousand American lives, but not them.  Not those lives.  Please, not the men I’d grown up hearing about.  I don’t remember much about that day.  I don’t remember getting those names off that wall.  I just remember looking at it not as a curiosity, not as a monument, but for what it was: a memorial, a long black monolith with the names of the dead written on it in stark white letters.  It’s different, when they’re men you’ve known.  It’s different, when they’re men your father fought and nearly died with.  It’s harder and it means more.

I wish I remembered them better.  One day, my father and I will sit at a table again, and he’ll be in the mood to talk about Vietnam, and I’ll treat those names with more care.  There’s only one I’m sure of: Jimmy Blue.

He was twenty years old.

He’d had the kind of outsized personality that made you believe he could never die.  And a memory of him never will.  There will be his name in stone, which will probably outlast this republic.  There’s the stories, which my dad told and which I’ll pass on, and generations from now, someone will remember the crazy kid who once went through the trenches near Christmas with a sack of ammo on his back and a song on his lips.

Your feelings about the justification for the Vietnam War don’t matter here.  There’s just one fact, on this day, that we must remember: this country asked these young men and women to fight and die for their country, and they did.  Whatever their personal feelings about why they were there or whether it was a “good” war, they served their country, and gave their lives for it, and this is the day we’ve set aside to remember them as a nation.

I give my love to all of those boys who only came home in my dad’s memory.  I wish I’d met you.  I’m so glad I’ve known you.

Thank you.

Accretionary Wedge #34: Weird Geology

It seems to me that there would be no such science as geology if dear old planet Earth wasn’t really damned weird.

Image Credit: Chris Rowan

People had been running into seashells on mountaintops for years.  Seashells.  On mountaintops.  “That’s weird,” they said, and eventually, some clever types not content with “Funny old world, innit?” and “God must’ve done it” arguments said, “That’s really weird.  How’d they get up there?  How, in fact, did mountains get there?”  And then you had Hutton sailing people around to Siccar Point and pointing out the rather dramatic angular unconformity there.  Now, that was weird.  So weird he took twenty-five years and a very verbose book to explain it.

Now, of course, we don’t think it’s all that weird.  But that’s only because it’s familiar.  It’s like your Great Aunt Vanessa, whose personal quirks like dressing every square inch of exposed furniture surface in doilies and pontificating on the personalities of her plants strikes first-time visitors as mightily strange, but after you’ve got used to her and had the origins of those oddities explained away, just seems charmingly eccentric.

I mean, the very idea that these big ol’ solid continents go rafting round the world was so laughably ridiculous on its face that nearly everybody laughed at poor old Alfie Wegener when he floated the idea.  Sure, everybody’d looked at a map of the world at some point and went, “Hmm, Africa and South America are a perfect fit.  Well, that’s weird,” but not as weird as Wegener’s idea – until the evidence piled up, and everything fell into place, and the mountains made sense, and now everybody who knows anything about geology doesn’t think plate tectonics is all that weird at all.  But it is.  Really, really weird.  Just because something makes perfect sense and can be proven scientifically doesn’t mean it’s not strange.

It’s hard to remember how weird all this stuff really is.  Which is why I invited all you all to hop in the wayback machine or scurry out to the field in search of bizarre, befuddling, or simply baffling bits of geology.  What follows is a carnival sideshow of Weird Geology.  Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen, and feast your eyes on mind-boggling minerals, eccentric erratics, and a veritable smorgasbord of delightfully strange stones!

Image Credit: NIH

Roll up and see the famous Siamese Twins, Evelyn of Georneys and Michael of Through the Sandglass, conjoined at the posts Geology Word of the Week: Y is for Yardang and Yardangs: an Accretionary Wedge Weirdness Cross-post!  Feel the stare of the yardang!  Marvel at its perfect form and conformation!

Step right this way, ladies and gentlemen!  Hear Metageologist at Earth Science Erratics announce, “Chalk is weird.”  Surely not chalk, you say!  But surely yes!  This dull, dry, bland-tasting (admit it, you had a nibble, perfectly normal for a geologist even though you weren’t technically a geologist at that age) and indeed chalky rock is indubitably weird, and, dare we say, even strange.  See chalk as you’ve never seen it before!

And speaking of seeing, don’t believe your eyes!  Geology is a master of illusion.  Venture into Magma Cum Laude’s tempting tent, and Jessica shall show you illusions that will leave your brain befuddled and your senses insensible!  It’s all here in Weird Geology: Accretionary Wedge #34, wherein it is proved that seeing should not always be believing.

Image Credit: kh1234567890

Weird Geology?  Holy Haleakala, what’s weirder than molten rock? Let Matt at Research at a Snail’s Pace show you there’s nothing ordinary about rocks melting deep in the earth!

And then, ladies and gentlemen, come this way and walk on land – moving land, that is!  That’s right, Rachael at 4.5 Billion Years of Wonder has a Slow Motion Landslide that must be trod upon to be believed!  It will give a whole new meaning to “the earth moved.”  Guaranteed!

But that’s not all!  No, simple moving earth is not all landslides have to offer!  Let David at History of Geology show you The landslide of Köfels: Geology between Pseudoscience and Pseudotachylite, where you will find pumice created by the friction of a landslide!  That’s truly weird!  Weirder, even, than The toad in the hole

Watch your step, folks, watch your step!  That may be Quicksand you’re headed for!  At Ron Schott’s Geology Home Companion Blog, it is proved “that not all terra is firma,” a lesson you won’t soon forget!

Image Credit: The Church of Man-Love

Hoodoo?  Voodoo?  Erosiondoo!  Phillip at Geology Blues knows that Goblin Valley is Weird!  Take an eerie journey through the hoodoos, at night, on Halloween - the only way to see your truly weird geology!

Oh, but ladies and gentlemen, Malcom at Pawn of the Pumice Castle has landforms that are not only weird, but unsolvedAccretionary Wedge #34: That is Weird will introduce you to the great and terrible mystery of Mima Mounds.  Prepare to be amazed!

And, speaking of mounds, go Geocaching and discover Quellschwemmkegelmounds created by springs.  No mystery how these formed, but plenty weird, as Ole well knows!

Image Credit: Visboo

Ladies and gentlemen, you’ve seen breccia, but never like this!  You will marvel, you will ponder, Silver Fox of Looking for Detachment will prompt Some Thoughts on Weirdness, and A Picture (or Two) (or Three) – and what magnificent pictures they are!  How big can breccia be?  Come this way and find out!

Rocks can be magical, and what could be more magical than a crystal-filled rock appearing where no rock has ever been before?  Special to AW-34 Weird Geology, a blast from the past, Ann at Ann’s Musing on Geology and Other Things has the story of a stone rafted on ice, buried, and brought to the surface by frost. Marvelous!

Continue your tour of  Accretionary Wedge 34: Weird geology at Hypo-theses, where Doctor Ian will show you rocks that will make you gasp, yes, gasp in shock and delight!

And you know that Accretionary Wedge #34 – Weird Geology would not be complete without a very weird wave-cut bench, which On-The-Rocks at Geosciblog provides for your entertainment and edification.

Now see, right here at ETEV, captured in stone, frozen forever, phenomena that will make you wonder about Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize? 

And speaking of fossils, ladies and gentlemen, prepare to be amazed, astonished, and astounded at fossil rocks.  Step Outside the Interzone, where Lockwood hosts Weird Geology: Name That Rock Type!  What’s in a name?  Much more than you realize!

Ladies and gentlemen, the carnival is over, but the Weird Geology is still out there, awaiting discovery.  Take up your rock hammers, your beer, and your hand lens, don your boots, and go, intrepid explorers, to reveal the weird and the wonderful, the bizarre and the beautiful, the anomalous and the alluring bones of this good planet Earth.

Image Credit: IGN

Cantina Quote o’ The Week: Steven Pinker

The problem in dealing with people is that people can deal back.

-Steven Pinker, How the Mind Works

So can animals.  Just ask any pet owner who’s left the buggers alone for a weekend, and upon their return discovered that revenge is a dish that may be served cold, in several expensive pieces, or as a steaming pile of unspeakable horror left on one’s pillow.

Los Links 5/27

I caught up on some reading whilst Aunty Flow was here.  That means you’ll have more linkage than you know what to do with.  And on time!  So let’s get right down to it, shall we?

Biggest news of the week, at least for the United States, was Joplin getting leveled by a tornado.  It’s one of those shitty things that can happen when you’re in the middle of Tornado Alley and storms are getting stronger due to climate change.  For most of us, the immediate reaction was empathy and a hope that folks would make it out okay.  For others…

PoliticsUSA: The Darker Side of YHWH: Janet Porter Says Tornadoes Were God’s Wrath.  You knew some religious lackwit was gonna say it.  As if the people of Joplin haven’t been through enough.

This shit’s depressing.  So are head-in-the-sand attitudes that will allow this planet to bake to death.

Grist: Missouri tornado whips up media discussion of climate change and extreme weather.  No better post if you need to sober up in a hurry.

Kansas City Star: Tornadoes! Floods! Droughts! Scientists say it’s global warming.  Our own Anne Jefferson gives a kick-ass interview.

The news we poked the most fun at, o’ course, was the Rapture!

LiveScience: Failed Doomsday Has Real Deadly Consequences.   Pets and people dead.  So don’t tell me there’s no harm in religion.

Greta Christina’s Blog: Live-blogging the Rapture.  We do still get to point and laugh, though.  “There is a vanishingly small but non-zero chance of butt monkeys.”  Oh, Greta, how I love you!

Pharyngula: Wrong, root and branch; wrong at every cell and molecule; wrong to the core.   The aftermath, and a rant.

Science

Miller-McCune: Scientists Take Charles Darwin on the Road.  Getting scientists into classrooms to talk about *gasp* evolution has some surprising – and uplifting – results.  Also, Comet Theory Comes Crashing to Earth, in which we see the sad result when scientists refuse to face the lack of evidence.

Puffthemutantdragon: Bubonic Plague in America, Part I: LA Outbreak.   Yes, I’m a sucker for super-deadly infectious disease stuff, but this is fascinating even if you aren’t a sucker for same.  Don’t miss Part II.

Speaking of Research: A paralyzed man stands again…thanks to animal research!   This, my friends, is among the many reasons why it’s important to stand up against the animal rights maniacs who think mayhem and murder are justified against animal researchers.

Neurotic Physiology: Friday Weird Science: Horsing Around and the Sexual Behavior of Stallions.  You know, I owned horses for years and never realized they pleasure themselves…  Also, see how to handle being wrong with kick-ass awesomeness.

Georneys: Blast from the Past: Element Talk Show.  Evelyn’s posting bits of her school projects for a bit of a laugh, but this one’s brilliant.  I want to see it produced!  Also, the Geologist’s Alphabet is complete.  Learn your ABZs!  And then feast your eyes on Cape Peninsula in Pictures.  Wowza!

ScienceNews: Stellar oddballs.  If anyone was wondering if Kepler’s worth the money it took to develop and launch it, the answer is yes.  Yes, it is.  Sign of a truly great mission, this, the fact it’s already gone so far beyond its original intent.

Uncovered Earth: Expressions In Stone: Suiseki.  For those of you wondering what to do with those unruly rock collections, or looking for excuses to collect more rocks, this.  Bonus: suiseki, unlike bonsai, won’t die horribly because you have a black thumb.  Also, Sunday Science Photos, May 15 – 21

Contagions: Rinderpest, Measles and Medieval Emerging Infectious Diseases.  Measles is younger than you think.  And 400 kids die of it every day.  Vaccinate, people!

About Geology: A Poet’s Advice on Geology.  Walt Whitman proving science and poetry do mix.  Beautifully.  Plus, the d-word.

Sauropod Vertebra Picture of the Week: The world’s longest cells? Speculations on the nervous systems of sauropods.  You thought the giraffe’s recurrent laryngeal nerve was ridiculous?  Check this out!

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: Lunar meteorites.  Including one of the most beautiful pictures of the Moon you’ll ever see.

Outside the Interzone: Moonday: Io.  While we’re on the subject of incredible pictures of moons….

The Loom: How a zombie virus became a big biotech businessShh.  Don’t tell the anti-vaccine frothers that zombies manufacture vaccines!

Highly Allochthonous: Earthquake ‘precursors’ and the curse of the false positive.  Chris Rowan takes the latest earthquake prediction nonsense down.

Doctor Stu’s Blog: Blue Lights Shown to Give a Brain Boost! But is a Better than Coffee?  I need me a blue light!

Thoughtomics: Why Life is like Lego.  This is purely awesome.  I’ll never play with Legos the same way ever again.

Scientific American: Physics and the Immortality of the Soul.  Damn you, physicist Sean Carroll, for making my writing life harder!  But I’m glad you did.  Too bad about the souls, really.

Bad Astronomy: Weather satellites capture shots of volcanic plume blasting through clouds.  Okay, this is too cool for words – just go look.

The Official Geologist Webpage.  ZOMG LOL just go have a look I can’t talk about it laughing too hard ow.

Scientific American: Looking for Empathy in a Conflict-Ridden World.  Can you capture empathy in a scanner?  Appears so – and the results may or may not startle you.

Quest: Geological Outings Around the Bay: Ring Mountain.  Andrew, look, you know I love you – but stop making me want to move to California!  Okay, actually, don’t stop.

Grist: How industrial agriculture makes us vulnerable to climate change, Mississippi floods edition.  Awgawds.  As if it wasn’t already horrible…

Smithsonian: Top Ten Myths About the Brain.  If I ever hear “We only use 10%” again ever in my life, the person saying it will get such a smack.

Mountain Beltway: Weekend macro bugs.  So pretty!  A camera certainly changes your whole perspective on creepy-crawlies.

Laelaps: Long Live the Anomalocaridids!  Squee!  Anomalocaridids survived longer than we thought!  Hooray for bizarre beasties!  Also, don’t miss Brian’s ScienceNOW companion piece: Who You Callin’ Shrimp? 

io9: The story behind the world’s oldest museum, built by a Babylonian princess 2,500 years ago.  Modern archaeology, meet ancient archaeology.

The Guardian: Britain’s volcanic past.  Epic.  Geology is awesome.

Eruptions: That about wraps it up for the Grímsvötn eruption.  Nice finale to the biggest Icelandic volcano news since that bloody unpronouncible one.

Scientific American: Material Poet.  Cloning glaciers.  I bloody love it when art and science mix!

Writing

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: In Which I Wax Philosophical on Narrative Distance, POV, and Voice.  This isn’t a run-of-the-mill post on those points – this is a brain scientist’s post on those points.  Much food for thought for such a short post!

The Passive Voice: How to Read a Book Contract – Assignments – Part 1.  Assignments, people, not assignment.  As in, assignments in a contract.  And if you don’t know what those are, you’d better get your arse over there and read up.  Also, Part 2.  

Nathan Bransford: Reversals in Novels and Movies.  Or, why your story should be more like switchbacks than open road.  Hey, I should write that…

Dean Wesley Smith: Think Like A Publisher #11… Electronic Sales to Bookstores.  This is possibly the coolest idea ever.  Who says you can’t sell ebooks in a brick-and-mortar store?!

The Business Rusch: Publishers (Surviving the Transition Part 2).  It’s amazing, innit, just how many different ways people can find to screw you royally.  Good thing there are people who can help you screw back.

Imaginary Foundation: Seth Godin: The Wealth of Free.  “The industry’s dead.” Find out why.

Atheism and Religion

Blag Hag: Atheist high schooler receives death threats for protesting graduation prayer.  Seriously.  Death threats, merely for pointing out that a school-sponsored prayer is against the law.  This is why atheists have to speak out, folks: to keep kids like this from being ostracized, disowned, and threatened.

What Would JT Do: They drag prayer lower than I ever could.  I hope they enjoy the ensuing court battle.

Jessica Ahlquist: A Quick History.  Another brave, eloquent high school student finding herself under fire for trying to get her school to understand the law.

Miranda Celeste: A worthless and dangerous report.  Once again, the Catholic Church blames everybody but itself for its child-raping priests – with bonus blame-society and but-they-were-never-taught-raping-kiddies-was-wrong handwaving.  Good on Miranda for ripping their report apart!

Patheos: Time for a Nontheist History Month.  I’m so down with this.  And can you imagine the frothing fundies’ reactions when they find out this nation wasn’t so Christian after all?  Heh.

Bad Astronomy: Oregon set to remove faith healing defense for parents.  Good.

Open Parachute: Confronting accomodationism.  Excellent.

Women’s Issues

The Daily Beast: DSK Accuser: The Dangerous Life of a Hotel Maid.  You’ll never see the woman who brings you fresh towels as anything less than incredibly brave after this.

The Difference Engine: What it feels like to be me.   A neat little thought experiment that should help even the most obtuse among us understand what it’s like to be female in a male-dominated world.

Coyote Crossing: How Not To Be An Asshole: A Guide For Men.  Give to every man you meet.  Men not already following the guide: pay close attention.

Sasha’s Den of Iniquity: Sasha’s Brief Guide to Not Being a Douchy Misogynist.  Also give this to every man you meet.  See?  Some men really get it.  You can, too!

The Plog: Kansas Rep. Pete DeGraaf: Being impregnated during a rape is just like getting a flat tire.  But I’ll bet he expects his insurance to cover Viagra while women are forced to pay for their own abortions after a rape.

Greta Christina’s Blog: Atheism, Sexism, and Pretty Blonde Videobloggers: or, What Jen Said.  Dear atheist males: you should be better than this.  Please ask the nearest female atheist to whack you over the head with a clue-by-four.  Repeat as necessary.

Blag Hag: We’re not here for eye candy.  Got that yet?

Skepchick: The Secular Movement’s Position on Women’s Rights.  As in, when you’re fighting frothing fundie encroachment on secular society, you shouldn’t forget the war against women they’re waging.

Almost Diamonds: Sexism Always Wins, but It Still Loses.  There’s good news.  Nothing like allowing the opponent room to shoot self in foot, is there?

Sociological Images: Serena Williams’ Patriarchal Bargain.  Why are we playing a game we can’t win, ladies?  It’s time to change that game.

Mike the Mad Biologist: Refusing to Cede the Moral High Ground on Abortion.  This is what abortion really is.  A blessing.  And we shouldn’t forget that, lest we lose all access to that blessing.  Oh, and before you start babbling about adoption, read this comment at Pharyngula.

The Independent: Laurie Penny: Say it again: it’s our right to choose.  Britain’s facing the same kind of frothing fundie anti-abortion crusades we are here.  Ladies, if you don’t want to end up a baby factory, time to get loud.

Society and Culture

MoveOn: The Most Aggressive Defense Of Teachers You’ll Hear This Year.  I don’t normally point to videos, but da-amn, this one’s worth watching in its entirety.

A Teacher on Teaching: Sham Standards: Governor Kasich and the Standardized Testing Fetish.  Veterans, teaching-to-the-test, and good old righteous rage.  You must read this, which is why it’s in bold.

Racialicious: How to Debunk Pseudo-Science Articles about Race in Five Easy Steps.  One of the best how-tos ever – definitely one we’ve needed.

Technosociology: Why Twitter’s Oral Culture Irritates Bill Keller (and why this is an important issue).  I love posts that make me look at something familiar through new eyes.  I’ll never see Twitter quite the same way again.

Rationally Speaking: Who dunnit? The not-so-insignificant quirks of language.  It’s fascinating how language can change one’s views.  This post shows how the way we word things can change the way we understand the world with chilling clarity.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Bad gossip affects our vision as well as our judgment.  Speaking of how language affects us, check out how a little gossip can change the way we actually see.

Decrepit Old Fool:  Consumerism and attachmentClocks, consumers, and a bit o’ Zen.  Also, The daughters of popular culture, in which the People of Wal-Mart and children’s toys are used to make some excellent points about our society.

Bug Girl’s Blog: Photos, Flames, and Copyright.  Copyright is important.  So is not being a total asscrunch when you think someone’s violated your copyright (but really hasn’t).  Also, never ever buy a picture from Ron Wolf.  Really, don’t.  There are plenty of photographers who aren’t gargantuan assholes who also take better photos.  Give them your business.

Almost Diamonds: The Role of Confrontation in the Gay Rights Struggle.  An awesome list of resources for those who want to understand the subject.  Accommodationists, take especial note, please, and extrapolate accordingly.  And don’t miss Stephanie’s Scientific American post: The Politics of the Null Hypothesis.

The Guardian: Our ignorance was bliss for Fred Goodwin.  Why we must learn to say, “That’s tough” a lot more often.  In fact, it’s so important that I’m going to quote it right here:

When censors try to restrict debate, democratic peoples must learn to reply with two words: that’s tough. “You want to use violence to stop criticism of religions that claim supernatural dominion over men’s minds and women’s bodies – that’s tough. You want to use libel law to stop scientists warning about the quack “cures” of chiropractic therapists – that’s tough. You want to use privacy law to prevent any mention of an alleged relationship between Sir Fred Goodwin and a colleague at the precise moment when he was taking the Royal Bank of Scotland over the cliff’s edge. Well, we can see why his tender feelings may be hurt, but this is a free society – so that’s tough too.”

SF Gate: The value of facts.  Apparently, reality violates some people’s values.  Jon Carroll helps us practice “that’s tough.”  And explains why volcanoes violate his values.

Politics

Marie Porter: Minnesota’s Gay Marriage Amendment.  A proper rant on the bigoted and badly misplaced priorities of the Cons.

Almost Diamonds: Not in My Constitution.  And while we’re on that subject, Stephanie Szvan’s blistering take on that nonsense.

NeuroDojo: Before you attack science, could you at least learn to use Google?  ABC plays the stenographer for Sen. Tom Coburn (R, of course, what did you expect?). 

Think Progress: BREAKING: Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin Makes History By Signing Into Law Single Payer Health Care.  WOOT! Nation, follow Vermont’s lead.

Alternet: Why Conservatives Want to Destroy Public Education.  Hint: it has a little summat to do with edimicashun and eekwaluhtee.

Mathematical Memories

There’s this post, you see, up at a new blog called Hyperbolic Guitars, that’s dredged up some old memories:

We should have, as a goal, to never hear the question “why are we learning this?” again.  No one asks why we learn to read.  The same should be true for basic mathematics.  Once students go beyond the basics, they should learn what their natural interests require of them.  The job of a mathematics teacher, once a student achieves basic mathematical fluency, should be to shine light on where mathematics lives in the world, and to point the curious student in the direction that they wish to go.  And then to stand aside.

The teachers, the engineers, the musicians, the artists, the scientists – all of us need to demonstrate – not EXPLAIN – how the quantitative complements the qualitative; the reasons that knowing why is as important as knowing how.  Or what.  Or when.  Or who.

I remember math.  I remember spending a good part of elementary school living in dread of it, because after I’d proudly learned my numbers and some basic addition and subtraction, it started getting nonsensical.  No one told me multiplication and division could be cool, just that they had to be done.  We had timed tests.  Those timed tests comprised a goodly portion of my academic dread (and I was a nervous child, mind).  I’d freeze.  I’d fail.  And freezing and failure led to more freezing and failure, until I became convinced that mathematics was an Evil Subject that Was Not For Me.


Something clicked early in middle school – don’t know what – but we got to the more complex stuff at the end of the basic math courses and all of a sudden, I was flying.  Math was fun.  I could own this shit.  It made sense.  Numbers spoke to me.  Oh, and the tests weren’t timed, so that pressure was off.  Just a nice, happy communing with numbers – until the school said, “Congratulations!  You’re doing so well we’ll just let you skip the rest of this and get right into pre-algebra.”


It was rather like someone deciding a hole in the ground was as good as a finished foundation and trying to slap a house up on top of it.  I collapsed.  Numbers, once more, made no damned sense.  And the book – oh, that book, with its horrible word problems.  My dad, incensed that his daughter, the daughter of a civil engineer, couldn’t do pre-algebra, sat down one night to explain to me just how easy it was.  He looked at the book.  He fell silent mid-rant.  He flipped a few pages.  And then he told me he didn’t understand it, either.  What, he asked, did any of this have to do with real life?  This wasn’t how math behaved in the real world.


He worked thirteen hour days, so he didn’t have time to teach me when the teachers couldn’t.  He tried, but by then, I needed too much time and attention, and his books were decades out of date, and what he did the teachers tried to undo the next day, because it wasn’t the way it would be on the test, and so he gave up.  We both did.  Math became one of those subjects that I scraped by in.  The numbers never talked to me, and I could see no possible way it would ever be relevant to my interests.  I didn’t need algebra to balance a checkbook.  I had calculators to deal with the calculations.  And all I ever wanted or needed to be was a writer, and what writer needs calculus?


SF authors, actually, but nobody ever told me that.


There was only one more time when math made sense.  It was in high school chemistry, and our chemistry teacher didn’t take for granted we’d have learned any of the algebra we’d need.  So he taught it to us.  It had context, it was directly applicable to what we were doing, it helped us do interesting stuff with chemicals, and I loved it.  I could do it.  I could solve the problems.  But he was the only one who ever did that.  It was back to story problems and divorced-from-my-reality-bullshit-complete-with-blond-jokes-in-geometry for the rest of my academic career.  


And no one ever told me, ever, in all that time, that music and math were related.  Never told me where algebra came from, or how powerful it was.  No one ever said that calculus had been only a comparatively recent invention, and what a universe it had unlocked.  Math was never put in context.  The closest my math teachers got was some vague hand-waving about algebra being useful if you forgot to record a check in your checkbook (like we couldn’t just call the bank) and some extraordinarily lame “What if you were trapped on a desert island without a calculator?” bullshit when they tried to get us to go without calculators.


I felt that, in that case, solving for x wouldn’t be high on my list of priorities.


So I missed out.  There’s a whole enormous universe of numbers out there, and I don’t speak the lingo.  I can’t understand what they’re trying to say.  I never knew about “happy primes” until I watched Doctor Who and thought no such thing existed.  But they do.  There’s whole realms of happy and sad numbers.  Why don’t they teach recreational mathematics? 

I can’t tell you how to fix education.  But I can tell you what I needed: I needed teachers who loved the subject.  I needed less teaching to the test and a lot more exploration.  I needed strong foundations built.  I needed the who and the what and the when and the where and the why.  I needed teachers who demonstrated what math was good for, and the astonishing things it could reveal, and how art and music and myth and fiction and science and engineering and politics and just about everything else used math, could be inspired by it, could be given power and potential by it.  I needed to be shown how math tied in to other subjects.  I didn’t need it walled off from everything else, as if it was a noble gas that refused to react with anything else.  I needed to see it as something every bit as dramatic and exciting as a great story (which it can tell), and as uplifting and inspiring as a song (which it can be).  I needed to make friends with numbers.  I needed to understand you don’t have to be born good at math in order to become good at it.  And I needed to know it was beautiful.

If my teachers had done even a fraction of that, I’d very possibly have gotten right up through calculus.  Equations would still hold mystery, but they wouldn’t be mysterious.  I’d be able to suss out their secrets.  We’d be able to converse, these numbers and I.  Instead, we’re doomed to stuttering, stilted conversations held only when translators are available, and I don’t understand a tenth of what they’re saying.  That hurts, sometimes physically hurts, and it’s held me back in life.  It’s kept me from delving as far into science as I’d like to go.

So yes, education in this country is failing miserably, and I’m damned glad there’s a good place to have a conversation about it.  Maybe someday, if enough of us get talking, we can change the academic world.

Permanent Impermanence: or, How the Fuck Did That Fossilize?

It’s Weird Geology month here for the Accretionary Wedge.  Geology might not be quite as weird as quantum physics, but it’s got its moments.

There’s a great many weird things to choose from, but I’ll tell you what warps my mind: seeing things we normally think of as temporary preserved forever in stone.

Ripples in the Moenkopi Formation

Two hundred and forty million years ago, waves left ripples in soft sands and silts.  Currents worked and reworked these sediments, and you’d think that something so ephemeral would be wiped away long before the ancient mud flats and river beds turned to stone.  But this time, other sediments swept in and buried the ripples whole.  They lay there under their blanket for hundreds of millions of years, as ages passed, an orogeny lifted the plateau, time turned ancient muds to rock, and erosion wore the blanket away.  Now here we are, in the middle of a desert, looking at the echo of wetter days.

I’m sorry, but that’s just bloody weird.

Walk around Wupatki, and you’ll see ancient ripples exposed.

Ripples, Moenkopi Formation, Wupatki National Monument

They tell geologists all sorts of things about where they formed: whether by wind or water, what direction the wind blew or the water flowed, what an environment long vanished was like.  Just little ripples, most ordinary things in the world, suddenly extraordinary. 

And it gets weirder.

Mudcracks, unidentified sedimentary rocks, Richmond Beach, WA

Where I grew up, in northern Arizona, we got to see plenty of mud cracks.  And the thing about them was, they never lasted.  We’d have a torrential rain (in Arizona, when it rains, it usually pours).  Then it would get dry again (in Arizona, when it gets dry, it gets dry).  And then, a few days later, the hardened mud went back to being ordinary dirt again, worked over by wind, maybe a bit more water, and probably quite a variety of biological beings, all nice and soft and not a crack in sight.  They didn’t last.

So imagine my surprise when I learned that sometimes, if the mud cracks get covered by a nice layer of sand or silt, they can sometimes last forever.

Mud cracks, unidentified sedimentary rocks, Richmond Beach, WA

And if the sediment that covers the mud cracks is a bit different from the sediment the mud cracks formed in, you get some really wild contrasts.

Mud cracks are a dead giveaway that the place these sedimentary rocks formed in suffered from wet and dry cycles.  (I wish these told us more, but they’re in boulders ripped out of their context, so I haven’t got the slightest bloody clue what formation they’re from.  But if you ever make it down to Richmond Beach in Seattle, wander a bit down the beach toward the spot where the train tracks bend, and have yourself a look at the severely out-of-place mauve rocks shoring up the railway bed.)

And it gets weirder.  And wormier.

Burrow casts, Moenkopi Formation, Meteor Crater

These little delights are burrow casts.  Some enterprising animals wormed their way down into the sediments way back when the Moenkopi Formation didn’t realize what it was destined for.  Then something, maybe a flood, washed a bunch of mud and sand down into the poor dears’ homes, making a cast.  These had a slightly more exciting life than some in the formation.  Not only did they get elevated by thousands of feet over millions of years and turned to stone, but then, about fifty thousand years ago, a maclargehuge lump of iron and nickel fell out of space and tossed them around like a salad.  Exciting times.

But that’s not the mind-warping, worldview-changing, weirdest bloody thing I’ve ever seen.  This is:

Raindrops preserved in sediments, Almeria, Spain

Okay, so I haven’t seen that personally.  Chris Rowan has.  I’ve seen structures like these in various formations around Arizona without realizing what I was looking at.  Figured it was just a bit of weird weathering.  Well, in a way, it is.  But the weather happened millions of years ago, when rain fell on the smooth surface of a mud flat.

Raindrops.  Fossil fucking raindrops.  Can you think of anything more unlikely to survive millions of years and who knows what vagaries of erosion than a raindrop?  Such a delicate thing, such a tiny thing, a memory of a brief shower, so long ago, living to tell the tale.

Geology, my friends, is weird, and wonderful.

Dojo Summer Sessions: What Use is Creativity?

Well, quite a lot, actually:

In fact, I’ve just published a study that shows that almost all Nobel laureates in the sciences are actively engaged in arts as adults. They are twenty-five times as likely as average scientist to sing, dance, or act; seventeen times as likely to be an artist; twelve times more likely to write poetry and literature; eight times more likely to do woodworking or some other craft; four times as likely to be a musician; and twice as likely to be a photographer. Many connect their art with their scientific creativity.

Go read the whole thing.  And the next time you doubt the utility of creativity, or someone tells you to stop dreaming, read it again.

Without creativity, we’d still be scratching out a meager living as naked apes alone in the wild.  Remember that.  And dream.

Los Links 5/20

Right.  Okay.  So it’s late.  Again.  So what’s new?  Look, I had some frantic fiction writing going on, there was a Peacemakers concert, and then meeting Helena.  I was busy.  But I’ve finally got everything gathered for your reading pleasure.

Before we get on with the rest of Los Links, there’s one I just want to place right up front here:

Harvard Magazine: The Fringe Benefits of Failure, and the Importance of Imagination.  I don’t even care if you despise J.K. Rowling.  Go read her commencement address.  It’s one of the wisest, most inspiring and important things I’ve ever read, and it applies to everyone, regardless of what they plan to become.  And it’s got funny bits in.  And it might just change your life. 

Mississippi Floods

Highly Allochthonous: Levees and the illusion of flood control.  Anne’s fantastic post will make you rethink river systems and our attempts to control them.

Dr. Jeff Masters’ WunderBlog: America’s Achilles’ heel: the Mississippi River’s Old River Control Structure.  A wonderful post explaining just exactly how difficult it is to make a mighty river go one way when it really wants to go another.

Science: One Step Forward, Two Steps Back on U.S. Floodplains.  Written in 2005, uber-relevant now.  Ye gods, we’re idiots…

Mount St. Helens Anniversary

About.com Geology: National Volcano Day.  Some excellent points and a wonderful collection of links to various and sundry 31st Anniversary posts.  Including mine.  Squee!

Rapture Nonsense

Mountain Beltway: Five days until… nothing much happens.  Callan at his uncompromising, incisive best.  Don’t miss the bonus fun of the tone troll in the comments!

Science

Uncovered Earth: Take a Hike: Latourell Falls.  A beautiful post about a beautiful setting.  Now that summer’s almost here, it’s definitely time to take a hike!

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Building anti-flu drugs on a computer.  I can’t think of anything clever to say about this because it’s rather too awesome for words.  Amazing what we can do with computers these days, innit?  Also, Life’s deliberate typos.

Neuroskeptic: There’s no DNA in “Disease”.  A good explanation as to why one gene doesn’t always equal one disease.

Starts With a Bang: On Being What You Want, and BigotryEveryone should read this amazing and inspiring post on science, diversity and pursuing your dreams.  That’s why it’s in bold.  While you’re there, also peruse The Fun of Going Faster-Than-Light.

Respectful Insolence: Straw men and projection: Tools of quacks and conspiracy theorists to deflect critical thinking.  Read this post for classic lines like, “Projection this massive should be reserved for 3D movies in IMAX theaters.”

Looking for Detachment: Bighorns on the Overlook Trail.  This one’s got cute animals and some of the most delicious strata you’ve ever seen.  That’s why you should go feast your eyes upon it.  Why are you still lurking about here?

Geotripper: “Are We There Yet?” In Geology, the Journey is the Destination.  The title rather says it all, but I’ll just add that this one’s an especial pleasure for LOTR geeks like meself.

Foundation Blog: After the Debunking: Autism Parents Have Their Say.  Why desperate parents fall for pseudoscience, and how to help them overcome it.

Observations: Space Is an Elaborate Illusion.  Dude, I think this one bent my mind.  Just a little bit.  I love it when a science post changes my perspective!

Aetiology: Pigs with Ebola Zaire: a whole new can o’ worms.  Kay.  I don’t know about you, but I’ve just sworn off anything to do with pigs for life.

Scientific American: Nothing Personal, You’re Just Not My Type.  Those of you worried about intelligent aliens invading earth should probably start worrying about a different sort of alien invasion.  It’s all in the strategy, baby, and I ain’t talking about military tactics.

Slate: Positive Black Swans.  I think the upshot here is that too much fear of falling will never get you flying.  Something for those who fund science to keep in mind.

The Curious Wavefunction: The top four publicly misused chemical terms: A layman’s primer.  This layman certainly appreciated it!

Discover: The Brain Is Made of Its Own Architects.  Brains are awesome.  More awesome than we knew.  Brains build themselves – don’t get more awesome than that, does it?

Cocktail Party Physics: hop, skip and a jump.  Okay, we’ve got a sexy Hollywood actress and a composer teaming up to invent a torpedo guidance system.  Who says artists can’t be scientists?

Myrmecos: Photographing insects with a point & shoot digicam.  So you wanna get a great pic for a post but all you’ve got is this lousy point-and-shoot?  You can still take outstanding photos for science!

Dinosaur Tracking: Tarbosaurus Gangs: What Do We Know?  One thing we know for sure: when something’s hyped out of all proportion, Brian Switek’s standing there with the Righteous Pin o’ Deflation.  You’d think they woulda learned after Ida…

Women’s Issues

The Atlantic: ‘Knowing Your Value’: An MSNBC Host Tells Women They’re Doing It Wrong.  Aren’t we always?  A nice battle cry for telling the UR Doin it Rong crowd to STFU.

Bug Girl’s Blog: Things do get better, sometimes.  Signs of progress, and the way things used to be.  

The Guardian: Being a slut, to my mind, was mostly fun – wearing and doing what you liked.  Clothes, power, and perception.

The Atlantic: Perverse Incentives.  Ladies: your naughty bits are fine just the way they are.  Really.  WTF do you want your vajayjay to look like Barbie’s for?

XKCD: Answering Ben Stein’s Question.  Wherein Ben Stein’s dumbfuckery regarding over-privileged arseholes accused of rape gets the proper boot in the arse.

Indymedia Scotland: Edinburgh City Council Advocates Violence Against Women.  What else can you say when a city council won’t issue a permit for a women’s march because drunk men may harass them?  Rather than, y’know, making it clear drunk men harassing women won’t be tolerated?

Society and Culture

LA Times: The disgraceful interrogation of L.A. school librarians.  This, my darlings, is the sign of a very sick culture.  I’m sorry to say that culture is ours.

Decrepit Old Fool: It’s a dirty job, but…  I have a new appreciation for blue-collar workers after our maintenance guy unclogged my toilet last Sunday.  And this is a beautiful tribute to them, and a good sharp smack for those who fail to realize how important such workers are.  Also treat yourself to Those who can, teach.  You know what, make it a trifecta and read Punishment while you’re there.

CDC: Social Media: Preparedness 101: Zombie Apocalypse.  The most brilliant hook for emergency preparedness education ever.

Take as Directed: The Freedom Riders and Same-Sex Marriage.  John Lewis, same-sex marriage, and the struggle for civil rights.

Atheism and Religion

Salty Current: Yes, Templeton is antiscience.  Just in case there was any doubt left in anyone’s mind. 

Temple of the Future: Support Sojourners? I Decline.  Anti-gay bigotry rears its ugly head yet again.  Why are people surprised that supposedly “progressive” religious groups can still be so hateful?

Butterflies and Wheels: A split within the movement.  All those accommodationists shouting at atheist activists to shut up ‘cuz they’re rocking the boat too much?  Yeah, think of what would’ve happened if Freedom Riders has listened to much the same advice.

Why Evolution is True: Mooney snatches victory from jaws of defeat.  Yup.  Chris Mooney’s still a disgusting little slimeball, although, like John McCain, he does on rare occasion say something reasonable people can agree on.

Politics

Racialicious: If You Haven’t Been On Food Stamps, Stop Trying to Influence Government Policy.  Email a copy of this to every fucktard in office who thinks people on food stamps are living like royalty at the government’s expense.  Better yet, force every fucktard in office who thinks same to live off of food stamps either to the end of their terms or until they stop being so stupid.

The Washington Post: Bin Laden’s death and the debate over torture.  I can’t believe I’m saying this, but John McCain is absolutely right (except the bit where he says those who tortured prisoners shouldn’t be prosecuted).  He demonstrates a moral clarity and an attention to reality that’s been sadly lacking on the right.

Writing

The Passive Voice: How to Read a Book Contract – How Long Does It Last?  You’ll be horrified at the answer in some cases. Also, What’s Not There? and Inflation.

Musings and Moths: It’s big, it’s bad, it’s a publish button.  This is the only checklist you’ll need as a science writer.  Modify as necessary for other sorts of writing.  Then write!

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Tech Talk and the Active Ebook.  A fascinating look at what books might become.

Smart Bitches, Trashy Books: Audible Launches ACX, Self Publishing for Audio Books.  Seems like self-publishing no longer means being limited to lame vanity press paper books, eh? 

The Business Rusch: Surviving The Transition (Part One).  As clear a survey of the changes sweeping the publishing industry as I’ve seen.

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: Ebook Publishing Tips from Joanna Penn.  Valuable info for anyone thinking of striking out on their own.

Literary Abominations: Principles of Contracts: The Third Cousins Rule.  No matter what kind of contract you’re negotiating, this is damned good advice.

Bit o’ Fun

Gabbro B-Sides: How Gay Marriage Causes Earthquakes.  Okay, so this is years old, but it made me laugh my arse off and it’s still relevant, so here you are.