Sweeping Sands

First, let me take your breath away. Just for a moment. I’ll give it back, I promise.

Sand Dunes, Oregon Coast

Back in 2010, my intrepid companion and I went geotrekking with Lockwood, and he took us to see some ethereal dunes on the Oregon coast just north of Florence. This photo comes from a viewpoint somewhere past Darlingtonia Wayside, below Seal Rock Cave. I’ve had it on my mind to write up for ages now. I still haven’t got the research done, but Brian Romans and Galileo’s Pendulum have declared Sand Dune Week, so now’s as good a time as any to tease you with a few photos, and reminisce about Sand Dunes I Have Known.

Where I grew up, sand dunes were a dry-land sort of thing. There’s all sorts of places in Arizona where you can do the dunes, Yuma being among the more impressive. We passed through there on the way to San Diego once, and I recall being rather astounded by the sea of sand. Those dunes would qualify as mountains in some of the flatter parts of the country. I snapped a picture of them on the way through, but have since lost it. So, engage your imagination, and pretend we’re looking at a picture of pale yellow sand looming outside the car window, with a wonderful little blurred bare tree accenting just how much sand and how little vegetation we’re looking at. Someday, if they’re very lucky, those dunes may end up looking like this:

Coconino Sandstone, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. Photo Credit Cujo.

This isn’t the best example of cross-bedding in the entire universe, but you get the idea. And another:

Moar Coconino Sandstone, Oak Creek Canyon, Arizona. Photo credit: Cujo

Once, this part of Northern Arizona was like Yuma, covered in pale sand piled up into dunes. They’re now fossil landscapes. You can find lithified dunes all over Arizona.

Page Sandstone, Page, Arizona

Spent quite a few years running over the slickrock, without ever knowing I was exploring an ancient dunescape. It may have once looked like Sossusvlei. That’s a hell of a thing to contemplate.

There’s a reprise going on, along Highway 89, just after 89a splits off. You go through a magnificent road cut blasted through the ancient dunes, and right on the other side, cuddling the cliffs, you’ll see little red sand dunes. The sandstone here is returning to its roots.

Down in Sedona, you can travel through a variety of sandy old landscapes, deserts and coasts, and they loom over you at Slide Rock. It’s dramatic scenery. Too bad the cat didn’t appreciate it.

Moi avec chat, Slide Rock State Park, Arizona. Shot by Cujo.

In Arizona, the sand dunes that have not got turned to stone don’t tend to have much vegetation on them. So it’s fascinating to loop back round to Oregon, and see so much stuff growing on the sand that the dunes are practically immobile. Not to mention all that blue wet salty stuff off to the west.

Sand Dunes, Oregon Coast.

Some misguided fools last century actually planted some sort of grass so the dunes would stop moving around and annoying the land owners. And it’s done a bang-up job of paralyzing once-free dunes. But here and there, the sand slips free.

Free Sand!

And maybe, just maybe, someday, the dunes will move again.

I’ll leave you with one last image, this one from Holman Overlook:

Oregon Coast Sand Dunes, Holman Overlook

There. Lovely. And someday, I’ll give them the write-up they deserve. For now, I leave you with these other fine Dune Week posts:

Clastic Detritus: Grain Flow on a Martian Dune.

Galileo’s Pendulum: Who Needs Shark Week? Let’s Have Dune Week!

Cocktail Party Physics: Of Granular Material and Singing Sands.


Georneys: Sand Dunes in Death Valley.

Looking for Detachment: Sand Mountain for Sand Dune Week.

Geology Home Companion: Can Dune!

Agile Geoscience: Wave-particle duality.

Research at a Snail’s Pace: Dune Week.

Pools and Riffles: Sand Dune Week: The Sand Hills.

European Geosciences Union: Sand Dunes at EGU GA 2012.

Sandatlas: Mysterious dunes in Estonia.

In the Company of Plants and Rocks: Dune Week: virtual field trip to the Oso Flaco dunes.

Catherine Curtis: Namib sand dunes.

EPOD: Death Valley Dunes and Former Lake Bed.

MRO: NASA Orbiter Catches Mars Sand Dunes in Motion.

Let me know if there’s anybody I missed.

Thanks A Lot. Really. I Mean It.

So, Thanksgiving in America. I’m finding myself thankful for a lot of things today. I’m thankful that once I finish today’s shift, I’m free for four days. So, thank you, Sarah Josepha Hale. Thank you for not giving up until we had ourselves a holiday, and for so much else besides.

Thank you, Tree Lobsters, for combining two outrages into something that pokes a sharp bit of fun at the offending idiots:

Tree Lobsters: A Very Megyn Kelly Thanksgiving

Thank you, my amazing, incredible, and deeply appreciated readers, for being the best damned group of readers on the internet. Thank you for making all this worthwhile.

Thank you, my fellow Freethought Bloggers, for bringing me on board, and making me a part of the best damned atheist and freethought collective anywhere.

Thank you, all you writers who taught me how to string a useful sentence together, and ignited me.

Thank you, my dear friends, for joining me in adventure and pulling my irons out of the fire when such becomes necessary. There are far too many of you to call out by name in this short little post, but there will be a roll call in my first book.

Thank you, denizens and creators of the internet, for all the info, without which I couldn’t find things like tasty restaurants and reliable mechanics and science blogs and those weird factoids that suddenly become essential to a scene in the wee hours of the morning when the poor research librarians are trying to sleep.

Thank you, bloggers, for pouring out your passion in prose and podcasts and pictures and video.

Thank you, OWS folks, for taking a stand.

Thank you, scientists, for figuring out how life, the universe and everything works: a journey of discovery that will probably never finish, and which has been one hell of a fun ride.

Thank you, teachers, for giving me the foundation necessary to understand what the scientists are saying, and introducing me to so very many worlds.

Thank you, Mom, Mom and Dad, for giving me this life and then helping me navigate the sometimes wickedly complicated and frequently surprising thing.

Thank you, parents and people and places and pets and all the things in this wide, wild and wonderful universe, for everything that makes this life both possible and worth the living.

Gracias y salud.

Not Made of Cheese (Definitely) nor Labradorite (Probably): Lunar Anorthosite

When last we left labradorite, we’d discussed the fact that large bits of the Moon are composed of anorthosite. Isn’t that labradorite, you ask? And the answer is no. Not quite. Labradorite is a mineral, and anorthosite is a rock often made of it, but the two are not precisely equivalent.

I’m thrilled to say that ye olde labradorite post inspired another post at Sandatlas on just this topic: Lunar anorthosite. This is brilliant! It clarifies a lot of confusion and explains a lot about the Moon in the process.

So go read that, and enjoy some lovely pictures of anorthosite fetched down from the moon by Apollo astronauts.

Thin section photograph of Apollo 16 Rake Sample(s) 60055,4 using cross nichols light*


Lunar Ferroan Anorthosite 60025


Apollo 17 Astronaut Harrison Schmitt Collects Lunar Rock Samples

*Mind you, that’s “crossed nicols” (.pdf), despite what the caption from NASA says. Thanks to Silver Fox for the correction!

Dana’s Dojo: Imodium for the Verbal Diarrhea

Today in the Dojo: We begin to come to grips with this hell that is description.


A long, long time ago in a Death thread far, far away, Glynis posted the following question:

I wonder if there is a way to stop before doing in cases of over description?

And I said I’d write a column on the subject someday. I keep my promises. Eventually.

I’m not the world’s expert on description. My first drafts tend for the most part to be somewhat Spartan, sometimes to the point where Wise Readers yell at me for not describing things thoroughly enough (which is a problem when you’re writing SF and supposed to be describing things beyond mortal ken). This wasn’t always the case. My early writing suffered from the verbal diarrhea: long-winded descriptions of buildings, ships, trees or what have you that stopped the story cold; inventories of characters’ appearance, flowery landscapes…. Let’s just put it this way. When it annoys even the writer, it’s too much.

Being the offspring of an Indiana farm boy/coal mine engineer, I don’t get mad, I get even. And I have applied that philosophy to description. I spent a couple of years reading every book on writing I could get my hands on. I practiced varied techniques: describe the character/leave it up to the reader, remove every other adjective, etc., until I found my happy medium between too much and too little. My first drafts got leaner and meaner. I don’t have to do as much slash-and-burn in the revisions. I find myself editing as I go, automatically, as if there’s an alarm that goes off when the description creeps up to dangerous levels and the narrative auto-corrects. Usually. When I’m lucky, anyway. No matter how good you get at this, description will probably never be easy.

That said, I’ll attempt to give you some pointers on hooking up the Over-Description Warning System, and keep it running smoothly as you’re in the throes of prose writing.

Exorcising the Demons of Obsession

A good rule-of-thumb in description, though not an infallible one, is this: if it sticks out with blinding clarity in your mind, it’s probably important to the story. There’s a reason why you’re obsessing. However, we all know from those eons-long conversations with the bore at the bar who shares his passion for the complexity of stock car design by describing each similarity and difference in excruciating detail that obsessions can overwhelm.

If you want to keep that obsession out of your first draft, open up a fresh document or turn to a blank page in your notebook and blurt it out. Whether it’s a person, a place, a thing, or an event, describe it in it’s entirety. Go ahead – this isn’t going to end up as part of the story, so let loose!

Now you’ve got a page or dozen of pure description. You know absolutely every detail. What now? You can’t drop it into the story whole hog. As Inigo Montoya would say, “No, there is too much. Let me sum up.”

You can use several methods here. One is simply to ignore it and go write the scene. I do this sometimes on the theory that I now have the temptation to describe every little thing out of the way, and so the only thing that’s going to end up in the scene is what belongs there. Look at it this way: it’s like telling your best friend all about your horrible breakup, beginning with when you first met and escalating through every hurt, barb and accusation over the last eight years. When your coworker asks how things are going the next day, you’ve let go of the minutiae and can now answer, “Not too good. My spouse ran away to Bangkok to become a transvestite prostitute last night, taking all of my underwear and leaving me with the dog, the Visa bill, and this lousy t-shirt.”

Another method is to sort through what you just burbled all over the page and pick out the telling details. That goes something like this: Everybody fights over money, we can axe that… axe the interfering mother-in-law, she never said anything interesting… not many people can say their spouse left for Bangkok to become a transvestite prostitute, guess we’ll keep that in… definitely need to mention the underwear theft… punchy line, this dog-visa-t-shirt… get rid of the ten hours of blubbering, I want to look cool and collected here… Done! In other words, look for the unusual, for things that speak to character, theme or plot, a nice turn of phrase or appropriate summary of a situation many people deal with. Then work those things in to your scene, being careful not to feel obligated to use everything on the list. You’ll find yourself cutting out some of your chosen details as you write because they don’t flow with the narrative. No matter how much you liked a particular bit of description, don’t force it back in. It’s artificial and you will almost always axe it in the second draft anyway.

If you’ve done this exercise in the advance planning stages, you can see what turns up a few weeks/months/years later when you go back to write the story. Chances are, if something stuck in your mind that long, it will stick in the readers’ as well and needs to be there. Most everything else can be safely ignored, or if appropriate used in later scenes.

Walk Through the Scene

This is one of the techniques I constantly employ. If I find myself describing too much or too little of a scene I’m in the midst of writing, I’ll stop and do a walk-through from the viewpoint character’s perspective. I open up all of my senses and try to notice everything. I run through it mentally a few times until every detail becomes clear. Then I ask which ones are needed to flesh out the scene. What’s really grabbing that character’s attention? What aren’t they paying attention to? Does it matter how their feet are sinking into the plush carpet, or are they too focused on the bastard behind the desk to care? Their attitude helps me shape the scene: I might care about the Dali portrait behind the desk, they might care more about the Cuban cigar this guy’s just removed from the case on the desk – stolen from MY shipment, thanks so much! Both details speak of wealth and privilege, which is what I want to get across, but the cigar adds to the character and the emotion of the scene, too. It helps drive the plot forward. And the scent of that expensive tobacco isn’t a detail any longer, it’s a knife being constantly twisted.

This is also a useful technique when you have to describe the same thing many times, like when you’re using the same location repeatedly. You’ll want some detail to show where we’re at, and preferably you’ll want that detail to add to the reader’s experience of that place without bombarding them with dry description. So walk through it in the characters’ shoes. If you’re using the same viewpoint character, they’re attitude might be different, and that will affect what they notice this time around. If a different viewpoint character, that Dali painting might have some meaning now – you can add it to the mix. But again, since you’re in the character’s mind, you’ll be less tempted to stop the story dead to describe the tassels on the curtains and that little worn patch on the Persian rug – unless, of course, this is a mystery and a tassel and Persian carpet fibers were found on the victim….

Remember, You Don’t Have To Get It In One Go

While I’m writing, I’ll deal out just enough description to put the reader in the scene with me (hopefully – this is far from an exact science). I don’t front-load, even though the temptation is sometimes there. Depending on the scene I need to set, I’ll dole out a few words to a few sentences, but I almost never dump a block of pure description in. I’m writing SF, not travelogues.

So when I come across a location or creature my readers aren’t likely to have seen before, I’ll ask a few key questions and describe from there. This technique can work for any genre: remember, the African Bush is as alien to a suburbanite as Mars, maybe more. And instead of presenting it as a chunk all-at-once, I’ll pay out those details as the scene progresses, based on the answers to the following:

1. How unusual is it? A house is a house is a house. I don’t have to explain that it has walls and a roof – nearly any dwelling has those things. It’s the differences that make it outstanding and that will interest the reader. They won’t care if it’s made of wood and is rectangular, but they’ll probably be interested to know that the walls are woven from Silly String.

2. What Stands Out? In describing a scene most readers are apt to be familiar with, such as an alpine vista, I’ll reach for the stand-out features: a particularly high peak, a very disfigured tree, an overwhelming smell, or a bird of prey sweeping down on the innocent travelers…

3. Where the Hell Are We? Back to the house: I’m not going to describe it in its entirety, including contents, all at once. I’ll let the reader see it as my character sees it, and there will be some places they never do see, like that very odd shed in the back yard….

Some Further Useful Questions to Ask As You Go Along

1. What’s the Pace? Do I need to slow things down a bit? Has my character come through a near-miss and is now appreciating the ordinary a lot more? Or are they fleeing from the Evil Bald Eagle of Doom? If so, I doubt they’ll be noticing that gorgeous little bunch of flowers they just trampled underfoot, unless they’ve landed on top of them and are thinking that this is the last thing they’ll ever see.

2. How Captivated is my Character? We’ve all seen things that arrest our attention. Could be a person, place or thing. If your character is suddenly paying rapt attention to the details, go ahead and slip in the rather more lavish description. If it’s important to the character, it’ll probably be important to the reader, too.

3. Is This The Language This Character Would Use? My favorite. I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had an epic description going that would have Professor Tolkien weeping into his hanky due to its sheer beauty and grace, and then I remember whose mouth I’m speaking from. Oh, dear. Billy Bob Jenkins isn’t likely to go from “Them’s sure purty” to Byronic poetry. Adrian would look at the Dali (let’s call it Persistence of Memory so you guys can look it up if you like) and say something like, “The richness of Dali’s color palate blended perfectly with the George II desk and the Ming vase standing with false modesty on the teak table by the window.” Chretien, however, would be more apt to see it this way: “Figured that fucker would go for drippy clocks and antique bullshit. And that vase looks like something he picked up in Chinatown for two bucks. If this is the best money can buy, all hail poverty.” Remembering whose voice you’re writing from helps keep you from getting lost in your own immortal prose.

4. What Does the Reader Need to Know? The single most important component here. If you’re one of those people who likes to hang up bits o’ advice by the computer, add this to the wall. You have to decide what’s best for your story, but you need to be honest here: does the color of the bedspread really add to the readers’ experience? Do they need to know exactly how many steps lead up to the door, and how many cracks are in the concrete? Does an inventory of the characters’ appearance enhance their mental image or get in the way? Have I assumed they know something they don’t and skimped the detail, like forgetting to tell them that a venomous snake in the bed is considered a sign of high esteem among the Klang tribe, unless of course it’s the pink Goober snake arranged in the shape of a tongue, in which case that’s a deadly insult and explains why my character stomped out to avenge his honor?

5. Is This Just Plain Ol’ Description, Or Is It Supporting Other Elements? If your description tells us something about the characters, enhances the plot, speaks to the theme, focuses us on the action, or affects the mood, it’s in. No problem. But if it’s only description without added value, it probably needs to be changed or cut down. This is why, in my someday-to-be-finished novels, you will see many rather detailed descriptions of Luther’s house and grounds, and only the bare basics about Ray’s home. Luther’s house offers insight into who he is, in a way it is him, and it’s a different experience for every character who enters it. Ray’s house is just a typical Mercer island dwelling, and it’s not stamped with his personality.

6. What Kind of Story is This? Some kinds of stories, like milieu, need more description than others. Some, like action, need much less. Knowing that from the start will help you take control over description as you write.

Ultimately, how much or how little description a story needs depends on you. It’s your choice whether you’ll be as minimalist as Hemmingway or as detailed as Tolkien. And that may not be a judgment call you can make until the story’s done. If you find the above advice is making you trip and damming your rivers of prose, set it aside. Those tips and tricks will still work if you don’t use them until the second draft.

After all, better out than in! (With thanks to Hagrid.)

[This turns out to be something of a repost, only I hadn’t remembered I’d posted it before, so a few bits are different. That’s what I get for forgetting to put “posted” at the top of the Works document. Still, I know one or two of you are new to the Dojo and haven’t had time to go back through the archives, so I’ll leave it up. If anyone has any questions on handling description not addressed herein, please ask them, and I shall do you up a little something fresh.]

Los Links 11/18

Okay, yes, I’m late. I usually post around midnight, and here it is, 4 in the ay-em. Blame the 6-day work week.

As far as why there’s so many links, you can blame the people writing interesting things.

And I know what the writers and writer watchers will say: “But, Dana, aren’t you supposed to be doing NaNo?” And the answer is yes, in a sorta-kinda-halfarsed way, yes, I am doing NaNo. But. Aunty Flow was here this week. I neverever write fiction when Aunty Flow’s around. And I’d just done a 7,000-word weekend. So I gave my wrists (most of) the week off. (And I’d just like to give a hearty thanks to the nurse practitioner at our company clinic, who gave me a miracle drug called Back Quell, which turns out to have done a bang-up job quelling the monthly misery as well.)

With that digression digressed, I give you, at long last, Los Links. Enjoy!

Occupy Wall Street

Almost Diamonds: Occupying Foreclosed Homes.

Post Partisan: Bloomberg’s disgraceful eviction of Occupy Wall Street.

Media Decoder: Reporters Say Police Denied Access to Protest Site.

Scott Olsen: “I’m feeling a lot better, with a long road in front of me.”

Contrary Brin: Roll over, Frank Miller: or why the Occupy Wall Street kids are better than #$%! Spartans.

Wil Wheaton dot Tumblr: “…linking arms in a human chain when ordered to step aside is not a nonviolent protest.”

Taylor Marsh: The Occupation has begun, and the 1% know it …

Occupy Wall Street Library: UPDATE: State of Seized Library.

ThinkProgress: Reporters For Right-Wing Publication Daily Caller Beaten By NYPD, Helped By Protesters.

New York Observer: Former Philadelphia Police Captain Ray Lewis, In Cuffs.

OEN: This Is What Revolution Looks Like.


Penn State

Meg Fowler: bearing responsibility.

Poynter: Memo to headline writers: Child sex abuse is not a ‘sex scandal’.

The Nation: Penn State and Berkeley: A Tale of Two Protests.

Tenured Radical: The Penn State Scandal: Connect the Dots Between Child Abuse and The Sexual Assault of Women on Campus.

Decrepit Old Fool: No more dismissal, no more excuses.

Grantland: The Brutal Truth About Penn State.

Lounge of the Lab Lemming:  Some thoughts on the Penn State sex scandal.

Sports Illustrated: Special Report: Scandal. Shame. A search for answers at Penn State.



Eruptions: Hydrovolcanism: When Magma and Water Mix and Etna Has Its 18th Eruption of 2011.

The Last Word on Nothing: The Guys Talk.

The Artful Amoeba: Serratia marcescens: A Tale of Bleeding Statues, Cursed Polenta, Insect Liquefaction, and Contact Lens Cases.

Sandatlas: Brain games with sand grains.

CBC News: World War I spies caught by woman who read invisible ink.

Clastic Detritus: Friday Field Photo #160: Mountainside Stratigraphy — What Do You See?

Culture of Science: Nature And Nurture: Why We Kiss.

Culturing Science: The Evolution of Grief, Both Biological and Cultural, in the 21st Century.

Practical Fishkeeping: Coral reefs support much more life than previously thought.

Highly Allochthonous: Friday focal mechanisms: aftershocks in eastern Turkey.

Geology Home Companion: Introducing Students to Geologic Time.

Science: An Ancient Moth, Now in Full Color.

Galileo’s Pendulum: Tsunamis of Sand in the Sahara.

TYWKIWDBI: “History is all explained by geology”.

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Try to Make Bricks without Clay.

Myrmecos: Inside an ant nest, for real this time.

Deep Sea News: So You Want to Be A Marine Biologist: Deep Sea News Edition.

Glacial Till: Meteorite Monday: The Geminid’s and a quick update.

Slate: GM Mosquitoes Bite.

XKCD:  Map Projections.

Mother Jones: Your Prius’ Deepest, Darkest Secret.

Genomeboy: Things we said today.

Hudson Valley Geologist:  Why do we have sunspots?

New Scientist: Virtual robot links body to numbers just like humans.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Scientists track the evolution of an epidemic to show how bacteria adapt and How coral snakes cause excruciating pain.

Punctuated Equilibrium: Bird-friendly California vineyards may have fewer pests.

The Guardian: Amnesiac cellist astounds doctors with musical memory.

Scientific American: How We View Half-Naked Men and Women.

History of Geology: November 13, 1985: The Nevado del Ruiz Lahars.

Aetiology: Does bestiality increase your risk of penile cancer?

This May Hurt a Bit…: Like a patient etherized upon a chair.

Highly Allochthonous: Scenic Saturday: Wood in Streams.

Neuroskeptic: Autism: What A Big Prefrontal Cortex You Have.

Scientific American: Hot and Steamy: Beautiful Volcano Lakes Hold Data Trove and Potential Danger [Slide Show].

Fly’s Picture Place: Geode Central.

Volcanoclast: No fracking earthquakes.

Skeptoid: Top 10 Worst Anti-Science Websites.

Hydraulically Inclined: “Natural Dams”.

Wired Science: Leonardo’s Formula Explains Why Trees Don’t Splinter.

Terra Sigillata: K2 Synthetic Marijuana: Heart Attacks, Suicides, and Surveillance.

The Landslide Blog: New paper on landslide-dams and genetic change in fish.

Science 2.0: Eye Evolution Gets Its “War And Peace”.

The Star: Canadian’s lucky iron fish saves lives in Cambodia.

Geotripper: Vagabonding across the 39th Parallel: A Canyon Where Cameras Stand Sideways.

TOR: Using Science to Better Understand the Beauty of the Universe: Richard Dawkins’ The Magic of Reality.

Empirical Zeal: How a new understanding of itch leads to better pain treatments.

Grist: Icelandic moonbow plus Northern Lights is methadone for your nature-starved eyeballs.

Token Skeptic: ‘What We Don’t Need Is Critical Thinking’ – Takedown Of A TEDx Talk On JREF’s Swift.

Observations: Exceptional Memory Explained: How Some People Remember What They Had for Lunch 20 Years Ago.

Science Alert: Sunken islands found in Indian Ocean.

The Planetary Society Blog: Is Europa’s ice thin or thick? At chaos terrain, it’s both!

Mountain Beltway: Shear zone in basement complex.

Georneys: Cango Caves in Pictures.



The Business Rusch: The Old Stone Path.

A Brain Scientist’s Take on Writing: Showcase The Sexy, But Don’t False Advertise (and other lessons I learned when writing my book pitch).

Dean Wesley Smith: The New World of Publishing: 95% of All Authors Will Never Indie Publish.

Writer Beware Blogs: Introducing Writer Beware’s Small Presses Page.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Guest Post by David Gaughran and Book Country Fail.

The Oatmeal: The Three Most Common Uses of Irony.

Gerard de Marigny: A Selfpubber’s Morning.


Women’s Issues

Speakeasy Science: Bedtime Scoop and Easy Lay.

The Atlantic: A High-Tech Lynching.

Almost Diamonds: One Pissed-Off MRA.

Gifts of the Journey: Shaming, Blaming, & Silence – How Sexual Harassment Changed The Direction Of My Life.

The Biology Files: Teaching my sexist sons that feminism has no gonadal requirements for entry.

Mike the Mad Biologist: Saturday Sermon: “Abortion Is a Blessing”.

That Weird Atheist Girl: She’s Just an Attention Whore.

Butterflies and Wheels: It’s a holy city with sensitivities.

The Daily Mash: Internet misogynists given chance to meet a woman.


Atheism and Religion

This Week in Christian Nationalism: Hey Veterans: Take Two Bible Verses and Call Me in the Morning.

WWJTD: Pictures: My Anti-Myth.

New York Times: Preaching Virtue of Spanking, Even as Deaths Fuel Debate.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: Atheism and the Meaning of Life.

Stupid Evil Bastard: SEB Mailbag: “Why does it matter?” edition.

The Digital Cuttlefish: Nothing To Live For.

Maryam Namazie: The hijab is not cultural, it’s compulsory!

A Voice of Reason in an Unreasonable World: The Poisonous Malevolence Of Religion (A Rant).

Friendly Atheist: He Makes Sense To Us Because We Don’t Dare Question Religious Authority.

***Dave Does the Blog: Bryan Fischer is a Dolt (Gay Pride March of the Penguins Edition).

AlterNet: Beating Babies in the Name of Jesus? The Shady World of Right-Wing ‘Discipline’ Guides.



WWJTD: A Cynical and Manufactured Ignorance.

New York Times: On the Rise in Alabama.

Bad Astronomy: Mister Terrific gets it right.

Mother Jones: Conservatives Plot to Burn, Shred, and Sabotage Scott Walker Recall Effort.

NotionsCapital: Congress Reaps Pizza Harvest.

The Washington Post: Gay, Muslim groups relieved by changes to bullying bill.

StarTribune: With supercommittee silent, millionaires and others eagerly jump in with their own advice.


Society and Culture

Decrepit Old Fool: Hawk vs Squirrel at the dentist.

Tiger Beatdown: If you protest racism during Black Face season in The Netherlands, you will be beaten up and arrested.

Foreign Policy: Twitter vs. the KGB.

The Atlantic: National Geographic Photo Contest 2011.


MacLean’s: In conversation: Alison Gopnik: On what’s wrong with the way we teach, and how a year out of university changed her son’s life.

TorrentFreak: Perhaps The Copyright Industry Deserves Some Credit For Pointing Out Our Single Points Of Failure.

Daily Kos: Hilarious! Judge Pwns US Bank.

Educated Erosion: The Fallibility of Heroes.



Butterflies and Wheels: Facebook’s little jeu d’esprit.

Amazing. 2 days ago FB deactivated my page saying they didn't believe I was me. I had to send a photo of my passport page. THEN...
Salman Rushdie
...they said yes, I was me, but insisted I use the name Ahmed which appears before Salman on my passport and which I have never used. NOW...
Salman Rushdie

The New York Times: Rushdie Runs Afoul of Web’s Real-Name Police.

DAWN.com: Rights group slams Facebook for censorship of French weekly.


Interlude with Cat III: Winter Sunshine

Our server’s acting the idiot again, and I have to work on my usual day off, plus I’m needing to get some reading done for Los links, so I’m afraid there won’t be substantial posting today. Here. Have a kitty in the sunshine:

She’s enjoying one of those rare winter mornings where bouncing sunshine hurls itself against the windowpane, waking Mommy up despite heavy curtains. It’s now at an angle where it hits the bed early on, which means she doesn’t have to go through all the hard work of moving on to the floor to find a sunbeam.

Still, even the minimal effort required to find the perfect position from which to enjoy it exhausts the poor dear:

She then attempted to look too dignified for photos.

When this didn’t persuade me to stop, she attacked. I haven’t got pictures of that, because I was trying to prevent her from ripping my hands off. She’s evil. Beautiful, but evil. And when there are sunbeams, she forgets her mother is where warm laps and cat food comes from.

Dog people don’t understand why I can adore such a wee vicious evil beastie. They talk of devotion and unconditional love and affection. When I look at a dog, all I think of is barking, drooling, strange smells, and the necessity of taking the damned thing out in all weather to relieve itself. Dogs are find for them as likes ‘em, and I wouldn’t mind owning a nice German Shepherd again someday. But I do so love the strange personalities, aloofness, self-sufficiency, purring, and occasional moment of conditional love interspersed with the unpredictable mayhem that kittehs provide. Keeps me humble and on me toes, that.

Gimme a cat any day.

He’s a Sexist AND a Sockpuppet!

Why, this is adorable!

This comment appeared today on my open letter to Nature regarding that loathsome bit of sexist dumbfuckery known as “Womanspace.” It’s under the handle “Disappointed.” Observe how it appears to be a supporter of the author:

Amazing: someone writes something whimsical, which pokes fun at middle-aged men, and suddenly it becomes about stereotyping women?  Really??  You don’t think that possibly, just possibly, the author was attempting satire?
Ah, well – turns out I like the other two stories held up as being “problematic”, over on Contemplative Mammoth.  That HAS to label me, too.

Actually, Ed, it’s your comment’s metadata that labels you – as the bloody stupid author hisownself.

Sock puppets aren’t loved round these parts. But I’m loving it. I’m loving the fact you couldn’t come right out and defend your own story, but felt you had to drum up “outside” support. It’s precious.

And now I will turn you over to the tender mercies of my readers and my fellow Freethought Bloggers, who shall now do what they will.

Have fun, my darlings. No need to be gentle. He is, after all, wearing a sock.

My Country ’tis of Thee, Bad Land of Police Brutality

This is what America’s Finest are up to these days:

Note the technique: the insouciant stoll, the pepper spray held at a casual yet effective angle, the expression that says he could just as easily be spraying cockroaches as students, because they’re equally vermin to him. Note that his safety and the safety of others is in no way imperiled by a bunch of students sitting on the ground, yet he feels it necessary to spray them full in the face with a chemical weapon because they were, y’know, protesting. Defying his authortay. Can’t have that.

This is Lt. John Pike. You can go say hello.

ucdavis.edu">japikeiii@ucdavis.edu rt @ Welcome to the internet Lt. John Pike of UC Davis http://t.co/lnLjlwxo #ows
Gen JC Christian

Let him know what you think of actions and injuries like this:

Police used batons to try to push the students apart. Those they could separate, they arrested, kneeling on their bodies and pushing their heads into the ground. Those they could not separate, they pepper-sprayed directly in the face, holding these students as they did so. When students covered their eyes with their clothing, police forced open their mouths and pepper-sprayed down their throats. Several of these students were hospitalized. Others are seriously injured. One of them, forty-five minutes after being pepper-sprayed down his throat, was still coughing up blood. [emphasis added]

If, like me, you have no desire to speak to that piece of shit directly, contact the UC Davis police directly. Maybe you can send them a link to this video and ask them how this comports with their mission to protect and serve the students of UC Davis. And you can let UC Davis know what you think on their Facebook page.

Read this letter from UC Davis Chancellor Linda P.B. Katehi trying to explain away the violence:

And then let her know what you think of her excuses. Maybe just send her a copy of this letter, if you’re too disgusted to write one of your own.

Actions like this are truly disgusting. This is an outrageous way to respond to people peacefully exercising their First Amendment rights. But it also shows how terrified those at the top are. They’re terrified enough to make their precarious position even worse by attacking students for the crime of sitting in front of tents.

Keep ‘em running scared.


Dear Nature: There is a Crucial Difference Between Being Contentious and Being a Misogynistic Asshole

Update: Bonus fun! “Womanspace” author Ed Rybicki has appeared in the comments, trying to sockpuppet himself some support under the handle “Disappointed.” Be sure to take this opportunity to speak your mind directly to the responsible party. Enjoy, everyone!

You may wonder what I’m doing here with a can of kerosene in one hand and a match in the other. Why, I’m about to burn a bridge.

Writers are typically advised against doing so, as the person you’re pissed at today may have been the person who’d publish you tomorrow. And yes, it would have been nice to be published alongside our own Stephanie Zvan someday, as I’d figured any publication wise enough to choose one of her stories might prove an attractive market for my own fiction, should I be fortunate enough to make the cut. However, there’s the matter of the other company I’d be keeping. I refer, of course, to the wretchedly sexist story “Womanspace” that appeared in your formerly-august pages in September. No, I won’t link to it. Interested readers will have no trouble finding it, by way of Dr. Anne Jefferson’s masterful takedown of it.

I gave the story a glance. It’s one of those stories in which a writer masturbates to the tune of exhausted stereotypes, and believes the resulting mass is original simply because it emerged from them, and they haven’t got out much. It contains the kind of overdone sexist humor that tickles the underdeveloped funnybones of men who are too inept to figure out teh wimminz. I understand the author’s wife giggled. I’m certain she did. If she hadn’t learned to laugh at her husband by now, she’d be a divorcee. A laughing spouse, however, is no guarantee of quality, a fact which writers who attempt to publish in professional fiction magazines soon learn to their sorrow.

Nature, of course, is not a professional fiction magazine, but only does a bit of fiction on the side, and so it is, perhaps, understandable that selling points such as, “My wife laughed, so it must be funny and not sexist!” could sway the minds of the editorial staff. Fiction is not your specialty, and I’m certain this explains why you ended up publishing a story based on ideas that weren’t even original in the 1950s and which an editor at a top fiction magazine would have considered worthy of pissing on only if the paper was absorbent, the restrooms out of order, and the only plant in the room a cactus. Usually, such stories earn a rapid rejection slip of the mass-produced variety. The editor (or, more likely, the editor’s slush pile reader, who exists to ensure such D-grade doggerel never sullies the editor’s eyes) would not even have bothered with a personal note scribbled on said rejection slip advising the writer to try harder in the future. They’d much prefer the writer never try again.

You may not have a slush pile reader, or pre-printed rejection slips with little checkboxes that include such categories as “Not original,” “Not science fiction,” “Not funny,” and “If you ever send anything to us ever again, we will send staff to egg your house and steal your dog.” I suggest you acquire both if you plan to stay in the fiction business.

Now, you may have heard Neil Gaiman say, “Being contentious is what you should be doing. You should be shaking people up” when he was speaking at the Chicago Humanities Festival in 2001. These wise words may have stayed with you, leading to this unfortunate incident in which you read a story, found it contentious, discovered yourself shaken, and mistakenly believed this meant it was Art. I know you were aware you were igniting a shitstorm, because one of your editors, Henry Gee, commented on the lack thereof. (Note to Henry: shitstorms take time to build when no one reads the fiction section you edit. Sorry.) So perhaps you all thought this was very clever and necessary, because this is what Art is all about: shaking people up.

You have overlooked the fact that there is a major difference between igniting a necessary shitstorm and an unnecessary one. There is a difference between being contentious for good reason and being contentious because you want attention, any attention, even negative attention, like a spoiled child feeling ignored by Mummy.

Allow me to lead by example: there are some posts I write which I know will rile people. I post them because I believe that calling out religion or other silly beliefs is the right and necessary thing to do. You will not, anywhere in these pages, find me posting something noxious for the sake of driving traffic. I could, for instance, post a bit of misogynist doggerel while calling it humorous, and I’m certain that the resultant outrage would enhance my page views considerably. In the short run, that is.

If you did, in fact, know that you were posting a bit of sexist idiocy and did it merely because you wanted to drive some traffic, congratulations. It has worked – in the short run. In the long run, you risk people believing that this one piece reflects your true views on women. I would like to believe that’s not the case, but considering Henry Gee’s history in this regard, I think it’s safe to say at least one editor among you is likely harboring some seriously pathological thoughts toward women. It is time for you to reconsider this editor’s relationship with your company. I’m afraid if you don’t, well over 50% of your readers shall be reconsidering their relationship with you.

Additionally, it behooves you to find someone less inept at handling public relations fiascoes. I refer, of course, to the fact that some buffoon(s) shut down comments on the piece of D-list doggerel in question, and managed to delete the Facebook posts criticizing it. I’m sure both actions were accidental. Just as I am sure you will be thrilled to purchase my oceanfront condo in Yuma, Arizona. (Perhaps you would also be interested in a bridge to replace the one I’ve just burnt. If so, I have a true Brooklyn original at a screaming-hot price.)

I hope this discussion has proved helpful to you in your future endeavors with Futures. I myself shall not be reading it again until Henry Gee’s departure at the earliest, but perhaps one or two other readers remain who enjoy fiction with that retro 1950s-sexism feel. If you have no intention of removing “Womanspace” from your list of publications, plan to retain Henry Gee, and wish to ignite further shitstorms with added misogyny, I’d suggest you advertise on ERV. That seems to be where all the kool he-man woman haters hang out these days. You’ll find plenty of women there who, for reasons mystifying to the well-adjusted, love to hate teh wimminz too. Deplorable company all round; I’m sure you’ll fit right in. That is certainly one possible future for Futures.

If, however, you wish to remove this blot on Nature’s good name, then this is my advice: get rid of that shit-stain of a story, boot Henry Gee out, and apologize immediately. Then learn more about the art of discerning between fiction and items that should be instantly binned. I am certain you will find the links curated by The Contemplative Mammoth and Science Sushi, along with the #womanspace hashtag on Twitter, helpful in this regard. Additionally, Strange Horizons maintains a list of stories too often seen to usually be worthy of consideration. As you found “Womanspace” to be new and interesting, I suspect you should refer to the above resources in order to avoid publishing pieces in the future that lack originality or, indeed, any artistic merit whatsoever.


Dana Hunter