Los Links 12/16

You may scream when you go down below. Los Links looks enormous, and it is. But there are a few things you should bear in mind:

1. It is a convenient excuse. No, you can’t go shopping / entertain the annoying houseguest / perform X unpleasant task, because you have to read all the links. Ever so sorry. It’s all Dana’s fault.

2. The Geophotomeme posts are, for the most part, extremely short.

3. You don’t have to read all of the links (despite what you’ve told people you’re trying to avoid). Just, y’know, most of them.

I’ll just leave you to get on with it, then.



Vanity Fair: Trial of the Will.

Dispatches from the Culture Wars: RIP Christopher Hitchens.

Rock Beyond Belief: Christopher Hitchens 1949 – 2011.

The New Yorker: Postscript: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011.

Token Skeptic: We Lost Hitch. That Is All.

Why Evolution Is True: Christopher Hitchens is dead.

Greta Christina’s Blog: Christopher Hitchens, 1949-2011.

Pharyngula: Hitch is not in heaven and The dark side of Hitchens.


Occupy Wall Street

Coalition for Clean and Safe Ports: An Open Letter from America’s Port Truck Drivers on Occupy the Ports.

Mad Art Lab: Artless & Broken: My Brother and Ows.

Salon: Busted for tweeting.

Assassin Actual: The Wrong Route.

Taylor Marsh: Occupy Bill of Rights Day.


Forbes Fatuousness

The X Blog: Forbes’ Gene Marks Needs To Check His Priv.

The Urban Scientist: If I were a wealthy white suburbanite.

Greta Christina’s Blog: “Even the worst have their best”: Forbes’ Gene Marks, the 1%, and the Luxury of Second Chances.

Pandagon: If I Were A Rich White Motivational Speaker.

On Becoming a Domestic and Laboratory Goddess: Dear Black Kids, You Need to Work Harder! But Women Will Never Succeed!

Angry Black Lady Chronicles: “If I Were a Poor Black Kid…”

XOJane: If I Were A Rich White Man Pretending To Be A Poor Black Kid.

Southern Fried Science: If I were an unappreciated endangered shark.

The Atlantic: A Muscular Empathy.


Burzynski Clinic

The Guardian: Rhys Morgan: ‘They are trying to silence me’.

Respectful Insolence: Dr. Burzynski and the cult of personality of the “brave maverick cancer doctor”.


Geology Picture Meme

Georneys: Monday Geology Picture: A Gorgeous Cape Town Inselberg Tuesday Geology Picture: A Gneiss Double Arch Bridge in Valle Verzasca Thursday Geology Picture: Sandstone Statues in the Petra Siq, and Friday Geology Picture: Red, Red Las Vegas Rocks.

Research at a Snail’s Pace: Geology Pictures!, Geology Photos, Day 2Geology Photos, Day 3 – Quartz Arenite, and Geology Photos, Day 4 – Unintentionally Ironic.

Ron Schott’s Geology Home Companion: Some Swell Gypsum Veins, Hoodoos,

Paleoseismicity: Tuesday Geology Picture: Lake Marathon, Greece, Wednesday Geology Picture: Salty creek in Potash, UtahThursday Geology Picture: Iron-nickel mine in Albania,

Tuff Guy: Monday Geology Picture: Tilted ripples in the Pyrenees, Tuesday’s Geology Photo: Ngauruhoe, Wednesday Geophoto: Greek Fault, Thursday Geophoto: Isle of Skye, and Friday Geophoto: Iguazú Falls.

Knowledge Flocs:  Week of Photographs and Photo week continued: St Lucia.

Geotripper:  Geo-Picture-a-Day Week: Houses Made of (Former) Stone, and a Dog, Geo-Picture-a Day-Week: Grand Canyon National Park, Geo-picture a Day Week – Zion National Park, and Geo-Picture a Day Week: Kasha-Katuwe Tent Rocks National Monument.

The Geology P.A.G.E.:  Geology Pictures!!, Geology Photos – Part 2, Geology Pictures – Part 3, and  Geology Photo of the Day – Part 4.

Tannis Likes Rocks: Monday Geology Photos, Tuesday Geology Photo,

Earth-Like Planet: A Growing Collection of Geology Field Photos.

Volcanoclast: Geo-picture a Day? Count me in.


AGU 2011

Clastic Detritus: Wrap-up of the 2011 AGU Fall Meeting.

Highly Allochthonous: Thursday and Friday at AGU and All the blogging from AGU.



Dot Physics: Cannonballs: Size Matters.

Scientific American: How to Act Like a Psychopath without Really Trying [Excerpt].

Atomic-o-licious: The Science of Shoes (or the Lack There of).

Research at a Snail’s Pace: Thurs-Demo: The One with Frickin’ Laser Beams.

Scholarly Kitchen: Short, Silent, and Stunning — Comparing Earthquakes By Energy Release.

Skulls in the Stars: Mireya Mayor’s “Pink Boots and a Machete”.

Gizmodo: The Science of Taste Or: Why Dry-Aged Meat Is So Damned Delicious.

Slate: It’s Missing Louisville, Fresno, and Parts of Thailand.

Laelaps: The Squid and the Ape.

Not Necessarily Geology: Not Necessarily Geology Mountain Bike Guide: Part I.

Double X Science: Real science vs. fake science: How can you tell them apart?

Bloomburg Businessweek: Correlation or Causation?

The Chicago Tribune: Federal center pays good money for suspect medicine.

Berkeley Seismological Laboratory: Filling the Seismic Gap?

Earth-Literally: Underground Truth: Too crazy to be true?

Cross-Check: In Physics, Telling Cranks from Experts Ain’t Easy.

The Crux: Bursting the Bubble of Human Intelligence.

Sandatlas: Glacial arch, Syncline in 3D and Sandstone columns in the middle of a crater.

JFleck at Inkstain: Grand Canyon.

Hydraulically Inclined: A Few Good Reads (12/12/11): Raging Floods in Kenya.

BlogHer: Scientifically Proven for Female Pleasure? What’s in Your Lube?

National Geographic: Solar Storms Are “Sandblasting” the Moon, NASA Study Hints.

New Scientist: Do thoughts have a language of their own?

Puff the Mutant Dragon: Do vaccines contain toxic chemicals?

Technorati: Autism’s Big News: There’s A Manual!

Lifehacker: Nine Stubborn Brain Myths That Just Won’t Die, Debunked by Science.

The Loom: A Long Walk To Land.

Terra Sigillata: Ch-ch-ch-ch, Changes.

GeoSpace: Drilling to tell a tsunami tale and Exoplanets with plate tectonics, better odds for life like Earth’s.

Observations: Poor Design Can Be Bad—for Your Health.

Respectful Insolence: Now I’ve seen it all: An anti-vaccine children’s book.

Mountain Beltway:  Friday fold: crumpled & faulted Brallier  and Dikes crossing dikes.

Earth Science Picture of the Day: The Parallel Roads of Glen Roy.

Geology Times: Early Earth may have been prone to deep freezes.

Krulwich Wonders: Scary Geology: Mountains In Motion.

Skepchick: Measles are Marvelous!

Oregon Live: In a virtual world, Oregon Burn Center patients escape real-world pain.

American Scientist: Two Journeys Through the Human Past.

Neurotic Physiology: Do you love Science? Well, that depends, do you like sleep?

The Last Word on Nothing: Guest Post: the Nature of Octopuses, Waiting for Dynamo.

Discoblog: Got Wrinkles? Smear on the Hottest New Fashion Toxin…Snake Venom!

Metageologist: Geospeedometry – how fast is metamorphism?

Not Exactly Rocket Science: The semi-naked ape, or why peach fuzz makes it harder for parasites and Deinonychus and Velociraptor used their killing claws to pin prey, like eagles and hawks.

Context and Variation: Networking, Scholarship and Service: The Place of Science Blogging in Academia.

Mind Hacks: An unborn brain flowering connections.

Watching for Rocks: Journey To Walcott Quarry.

10,000 Birds: Why is the Robin’s Breast Red?

Gene Expression: The history and geography of genomes.

Research News: Study: Gian Super-Earths Made Of Diamond Are Possible.

Earthling Challenges: The Messinian Salinity Crisis (3/3) – Causes and lessons of a huge salt pan.

Bad Astronomy: Tiny lunar volcanoes, Galaxy cluster collision makes a splash… a million light years long! and Epic tantrum thrown by 30 octillion ton baby.

Scientific American: Caught on Video: A Himalayan Glacier Deflates.

Adventures in Ethics and Science: Things I cannot do.

Reallyoldplants: Just gorgeous.

Open Mind: Johnny’s Growth and The Value of Data.

The Musings of a Life-Long Scholar: Science is the ultimate game for adults.

Quest: Getting Started on Earthquake Preparedness.

A Blog Around the Clock: The New Meanings of How and Why in Biology?

Scientific American Guest Blog: The Origins of Bullying and Lets Talk: A Story of Interspecies Communication.

Neuroskeptic:  Do Antidepressants Make Some People Worse? and “Mad Honey” Sex Is A Bad Idea.

Token Skeptic: Education And Critical Thinking In Australia – Part 1: A Valuable Argument.



The Business Rusch: How To Make Traditional Publishing Writer Friendly.

TalkToYoUniverse: Tightening your plot by layering.

The Passive Voice: I have silently watched as my fellow authors have had to deal lawsuits or potential lawsuits.

Giga Om: If we are all journalists, should we all be protected?

The Editor’s Blog: Why I Would Decline an Edit.

Terrible Minds: 25 Fun Financial Fuck-Ups for Writers!

Ryan Macklin: Don’t Work Without a Contract.

Novelists Inc.: Dodging the Agent Bullet.

New Humanist: The Secrets of Pain by Phil Rickman (Corvus).

The Shatzkin Files: Paying authors more might be the best economics for publishers in the long run.

The Writing Bomb: 5 Reasons Why Indie Authors Are Succeeding.

FutureBook: FutureBook Conference Report: Takeaways for writers and We need to talk about Amazon.

The Tightrope: Twitter and the elevator pitch.

Courtney Milan: The best thing about self-publishing.

Brooklyn Arden: Behind the Book: Three Things Writers Can Learn from Liar’s Moon, Part II and Behind the Book: Three Things Writers Can Learn from Liar’s Moon, Part III.

Dean Wesley Smith: The New World of Publishing: The Big Hurry.

Let’s Get Digital: How Much Do You Want To Get Paid Tomorrow?

Slashdot: Neal Stephenson Responds With Wit and Humor.

Nieman Journalism Lab: From Nieman Reports: In digital publishing, content drives length, not the other way around.

Dystel & Goderich Literary Management: Know when to walk away, know when to run…

Nieman Storyboard: When journalists become authors: a few cautionary tips.

Patricia C. Wrede: Decisions, decisions and A few things not to do.

Jody Hedlund:  The Inevitable Identity Crisis That Happens After Publication.

Highly Allochthonous: Struggle and Serendipity (or: Yay! I’m in Open Lab!).


Women’s Issues

Boing Boing: The diagnosis.

The Morning News: Now That Books Mean Nothing.

Scripting News: Another example of tech sexism.

The Millikan Daily: and University of Michigan College of Engineering Dean David Munson on Cyberstalking on Campus.

Feministe: Frat at University of Vermont asks, “If you could rape anyone who would it be?”

The SAFER Blog: Disgusting UVM Fraternity Questionnaire Sparks Outrage.

Man Boobz: The False Rape Society is shocked — shocked! — by a fraternity’s “who would you rape?” survey.

n4cm: The Men Behind The War On Women.

Skepchick: Sacrificing Privilege.

Kotaku: In which I don’t try to write like a man…

Jezebel: Lego Targets Girls With Pink Blocks, Cute Figures, & No Creativity.

Almost Diamonds: Gender Transitioning and Gender Stereotypes.

SF Gate: Women urge others to go public about abortions.

The Digital Cuttlefish: …So He Cut Off Her Fingers.


Atheism and Religion

The Village Voice: Scientology Cruise Ship as Hellhole: The Ramana Dienes-Browning Story.

WWJTD: “You Give Activism a Bad Name”.

Black Skeptics: The New York Times: Unbelievable!

Almost Diamonds: With Faith, Nothing Is Impermissible.

A Voice of Reason in an Unreasonable World: I Got Your “Tolerance” Right Here…

Rock Beyond Belief: Another foxhole atheist given “No-Rel-Pref” against her will.

Lousy Canuck: Fasting Away To Nothing for an Imaginary Deity.

Greta Christina’s Blog: “(X) Is Just Like A Religion” — No, It’s Not.

This Week in Christian Nationalism: Southern Baptists Admit That They Oppose Religious Equality In The Military.



The Biology Files: Kathleen Sebelius should have attended my middle school.

Pandagon: Do parents really need to know everything?

Lousy Canuck: America’s Softest-on-Rape Sheriff.

AlterNet: “These People May be As Crazy as Their Statements Indicate”: Why a Former GOP Staffer Quit the Party.

Business Insider: Finally, A Rich American Destroys The Fiction That Rich People Create The Jobs and Iceland Arrests Former CEO Of Failed Bank.

Blag Hag: Well, that’s awkward.

Paul Krugman: Depression and Democracy.

Political Animal: When Fox News tries to make a chart.

SodaHead: GOP Site Plans To Infiltrate Liberal Sites With “Trolls”.

Mike the Mad Biologist: Do Those Who Oppose OTC Plan B for Teens Remember Being a Teenager?(Some) People Have Always Sucked, We Must Choose to Ignore Them and Rick Santorum’s Murderous Arrogance: The Healthcare Edition.

***Dave Does the Blog: I’m willing to be culturally impolite in the name of freedom and The Poor You Will Always Have With You.

The New England Journal of Medicine: The Politics of Emergency Contraception.

Media Matters: Fox Cites Non-Existent Part Of The Constitution To Hype Argument For Kagan Recusal.

Treehugger: How Big Oil’s Back Room Dealing with the GOP Revived the Keystone XL.

Slate: A Gestational Issue.


Society and Culture

Laughing Squid: Aqueous, A Beautiful Series of Photos by Mark Mawson of Paint Being Dropped Into Water.

Outside: Say Hello to My Little Friend.

Gawker: Mysterious 16th-Century Sext Discovered in Copy of Chaucer.

Nnedi’s Wahala Zone Blog: Lovecraft’s racism & The World Fantasy Award statuette, with comments from China Miéville.

The Digital Cuttlefish: What, No Second Date?

Boing Boing: Internet Engineers to Congress: SOPA censorship will harm Internet security.

The Inverse Square Blog: Man, I Wish I’d Written Something This Nasty.

The Crommunist Manifesto: Politically INcorrect? As though that was a good thing…

The Boston Globe: Led by the child who simply knew.

Wil Wheaton dot Tumblr: Uhura.

Wired: What Made This University Researcher Snap?

You Good People

Just a quick update. I wanted to say a very hearty and heartfelt thank you to all those who replied to my outpouring last night. You’ve made things better. You gave me the strength to get through the day, and to begin to determine just what I can and cannot do, and be at peace with the “cannot” part of it.

I’m lucky to have you. One day, I hope to have the opportunity to buy each and every one of you a drink, and we shall toast to life and love and friends and doing the best we can.

Thanks to you, I’m not alone.

I called our Employee Assistance Program hotline today and got some wonderful folks who are more than willing to help me sort these things out. They were even more than happy to recommend counselors who are good with atheists, and giggled in sympathy when I told them why I was asking – that the last thing I need at a time like this is a counselor who would see conversion as the solution to my problems. So if I need them, I’ll have access to counselors who can watch over my mental well-being while I attempt to see to my mother’s, without bringing Jesus into the mix.

There’s a division of the EAP that helps specifically with adult care. They’re doing the legwork to determine what our resources are, and which state will be best to keep her in. That takes a large part of the burden off. And once they’ve shown me what’s out there, I can begin to pass that knowledge along to you. I know I’m not the only person with an ill relative to take care of. Knowing where and how to get assistance is important, and not everyone has union-negotiated health insurance that can help with such matters. One thing the adult care person told me today was to look for the Department of Aging in the relevant state. It goes by different names in some states – in Washington, it’s known as Senior Information and Assistance.

There’s going to be nonsense with waiting lists and talking to a myriad of departments, but help is out there, and since we’re starting before she’s in critical need, we’ll be as prepared as we can be. She won’t end up alone on the streets. There’s things we can do that won’t require me installing her in my own household, it would seem. This is all to the good.

She was also coherent enough tonight to give me the name and number of her case officer, so I can contact him and he can help coordinate things. The good news on that front is, she likes and trusts him. So, if all goes well and he really is a good guy, he should be able to help us make the right decisions for both of us.

I’m not going to pretend that this will be an easy road. There will be plenty of bumps, and probably several places where the whole bloody thing’s washed out and we’ll have to find a way around. But we’ll get there.

And you, my good people, my dear cherished readers, have given me the resolve I need to make it more than a few steps along.

Thank you.

And now, I’m going to bloody well get Los Links done for you. Almost there…

In Which I Admit I Am Not Noble and Can’t Do This Alone

It’s been a day. I spoke to my mother, who had sounded better the last time we spoke. She sounded much worse today, and informed me my grandfather’s in the hospital, although she can’t say for what. A rehabilitation center of some sort. She thinks he’s going to die soon. And then she wants to move to Washington.

I’ll admit that cold dread fills me at the idea.

We have a history. I spent a considerable chunk of my twenties trying to extricate her from a horrible situation. She’d call me in tears every time her husband went back to drinking and began beating her. She’s really leaving him again, this time, she’d say, and so I’d tell her to come on down. She’d live with me for a few days or weeks, interrupting my writing, putting my life in disarray, and inevitably, just when we’d got things sorted enough she could begin to live a life of her own, she’d go back to him. Always. This went on more times than I can remember.

He called me once, drunk, barely able to do more than breathe, and said, “Your mother…” His voice trailed off. My heart tried to explode. My body went cold and numb, my field of vision shrinking to a sliver, because I thought this was the call, this was where I’d find out he’d finally killed her. I still don’t know the reason he called, but I got hold of her later and found out she was fine. But he was drinking and abusing her, and every time she went back because he was good at winning her back, I’d watch her leave with the certainty that this was the last time I’d see her alive.

I spent a lot of time angry and scared. I spent a lot of time confused and hurt. The confusion and hurt would morph into anger. That’s how my personality works. I’m not one of those people who can suffer mildly and patiently. I just get mad, and the more scared or hurt I am, the angrier I am.

But no matter how angry I got, the fear won out. I’d always accept her back. She eventually left him for good only because he beat her dog. I made her buy a house that time, not trusting her not to go back. Get her in a house, something she’d invested in, where we could live together, and this time she’d stay put, I thought. It wasn’t much, but it was a pretty double-wide with potential. Between the two of us, we could afford it. I gave up my lovely little studio apartment, where I’d been happy for a great many years and could walk to work in a trice. I gave up my freedom and independence, and moved in with my mother. And her dog. And her two cats.

It was a disaster. She treated me like I was still a child, virtually a toddler. You’d think someone dancing attendance on you and making you meals would be awesome, but it wasn’t. It felt like being smothered. She wanted to know every detail about what I was up to. And while she didn’t demand, the constant quest for information got right up my nose. We had opposite schedules: she’s an early bird, I’m a vampire. The walls were thin. And she wouldn’t smoke outside. I’m a smoker, but I smoke outdoors. Can’t stand the smell in the house. I’m a desperately light sleeper, awakening at the slightest noise or strange odor. So sleep deprivation piled up on top of the loss of autonomy.

And then there’s the Illness. Being faced with that every day, this shell, wearing an approximation of my mother’s face but with few traces of who she’d been, that was rough. Incredibly rough.

It wasn’t easy. I was miserable, and sometimes she’d push a button and I’d lash out. I yelled, and hated myself for yelling. But she knows which buttons to push and can’t help pushing them. Everyone in the family talks about that, how Linda just finds those buttons and grinds her finger in. I don’t think she’s even aware of doing it. But you’re surely aware. And you howl.

But we were making it, to a degree. I wasn’t happy, but we had our good moments, and they were enough to keep me from going mad myself. We’d get it sorted out. We’d forge a life together. We were on our way.

Then she abandoned my ass for Indiana. Temporary, she said. Just to take care of her mother for a few weeks. Then months. Then it became permanent.

I’ll spare you the details of the shrieking that ensued. I’ll just advise that I was not happy being left with the land lease, and with her trying to also dump the mortgage on me, which I couldn’t afford, and then constantly after me to sell the place for her. The house we’d started to build together, all she wanted to do was get rid of it. She couldn’t think what that meant for her daughter. She couldn’t think.

And that was during one of her best times. She was pretty coherent, back then.

So I told her the truth, tonight, when she said my aunt had told her I wanted her to fly back here. I know how that conversation went. My aunt told her I’d floated the possibility of getting her into an assisted living facility out here, and that morphed in her damaged mind in to “My daughter wants me to live with her right now.” You can’t trust her thinking anymore. You can’t trust that what she says is true. It’s true to her, but it’s like seeing reality through a funhouse mirror. So who knows if she’ll even remember the truth? But I told her:

She can’t live with me.

There’s no way. Both of us would end up destroyed. I don’t have the time, money, physical and emotional resources to handle it. The only way she’s coming out here is if I can get her in to an assisted living facility. And I won’t bring her here unless we have that. She will need to live with people who can take care of her physical and medical needs, in a home where she might make a few friends, so that I’m not her only friend. I don’t know if this state will pay for such a place for a dirt-poor person. We’ll find out.

If they don’t, she must stay where she is. There’s family there, and she’s established residency, and she has a home, and a mental health facility that picks her up thrice weekly to make sure she’s treated and taking her medicine. These are things that are already being done for her. She may not like them, and they may not be quite enough, but they’re far more than I can do.

I’ve had to face the fact that there is no possible way, short of sacrificing my own life, to take care of her. And I’m sorry, I’m selfish, and I do not want to let my life go. I’ve sacrificed quite a bit of it for her already, and I know what happens when I do: I get us nowhere.

I feel, right now, like a trapped animal eyeing its leg and considering how much less pain will be involved in chewing it off rather than succumbing to the trap. I actually, seriously, considered emigrating to South Africa. Not kidding. My dad’s about to lose his job, but he might get a job in South Africa, in a gorgeous region I might add, and I swear to you all I can think about is that if he does, I want to go with him. Because then I could escape.

I’ve considered engineering a break. I’ve considered a lot of things that are not at all noble, and involve me running away at greater or lesser speeds. All this in the course of one afternoon and evening, all this because I want, desperately, to elude that trap. In the end, I won’t do them. I won’t let her completely down. I won’t (probably) move to South Africa. But there’s a negotiation that has to be done, in which boundaries are established, and it’s determined just how much of a sacrifice I can make. It won’t be as much as some. Those people who give up their lives in service of others, that’s not me, and I can’t be that person, no matter how much guilt and anguish it causes to admit it.

So, I shall be spending part of the day tomorrow on the phone with various people, including her counselors, and trying to track down what resources might be available here in Washington, and whether any sort of life for her here is viable, or whether we’re going to have to do this long-distance. Because she agrees: I can’t go there. I can’t move to Indiana. No jobs, and I’d be suicidal almost from the moment of arrival. It has that effect. At least that boundary’s clearly established. But what can I do if we find out there’s no way for her to be here? No help, no health care, no home? How do I tell her that, then, that’s that? How do I live with that answer?

VNV Nation’s “Entropy” speaks to me: “When does enough become enough? / When does “no” have meaning?”

[Los Links is coming. I promise.]

Interlude with Cat: Le Miewse

Yes, that’s the best title I can come up with. It’s late, Aunty Flow’s here, I’m on a variety of OTC painkillers, I’ve been reading for Los Links and also reading a rather mind-bending book by Oliver Sacks, and I think my brain has quietly slipped out the back door and legged it down an ally to freedom.

So it’s time for pictures full o’ mindless cute. And hideous puns.

pensive cat

The cat pretending she's pondering whilst monopolizing my lap

I’ve spent the last little while writing in bed. It’s easier to jockey a notebook in there – easier, at least, until the cat decides the rest of the bed isn’t good enough, and she must lie atop Mom in about the place where the notebook goes. This is exhausting work for a felid. Luckily, there’s a nice paper pillow nearby.

sleepy kitteh

The cat pillows her head on the notes for my magnum opus.

Do you know how hard it is to write with a cat’s noggin in the way? And she snores. And she’s cute. It’s terribly distracting. I’ve begun to wonder why writers are so often associated with cats. We don’t actually get as much writing done in their presence as one might think.

kitteh with pillow

The cat takes over the second pillow.

When she’s tired of getting bonked in the head with the ever-shifting notebook, she’ll sometimes make her way off to the side, where her pillow is. Yes, that’s her pillow. It lies flat, so that she can curl up on it and bask under the lamp. She’s spoiled rotten, that cat.

There are times, when she’s cuddled up with me like this, that I just put the notebook down and look in to her eyes. She’s got remarkable eyes, green with hints of blue and gold. She’s got a very patrician stare. Most of the time, she looks upon me as a serving wench, staring as if from a great height no matter how high above her I tower. But at times, those green-gold-blue eyes stare into mine with the purest adoration, and she purrs so loudly the whole bed seems to hum, and stretches her little white-capped paws out on me with vast contentment, and sighs deeply, as if she’s sinking in to the rightness of the world. In those moments, I get a sense of the love parents must have for their children, that vast and unconditional and heart-wrenching affection the English language doesn’t have a proper word for.

We’ve been together a lot of years, that cat and I. I have no idea how many good ones we’ve got left. So sometimes, I do take the time to just stop and cuddle with her. Gather your cuddles while ye may…

She’s over on the back of the couch right now, snoring away. In a short little while, we’ll head for bed, where she’ll probably do her usual routine of using Mommy as a trampoline before settling down for the night. I may wake in the morning to a little feline face butting mine, and some pretty urgent meowing, if I forget to fill the food bowl. I may wake to a warm bundle of fur ready for a snuggle before the day starts. I never know what I’m getting from her, except this one thing: companionship.

Geologists Have an Incentive to be Naughty

coal black mesa mine

Lump o' coal, Black Mesa Mine, Arizona

I never understood why getting a lump of coal instead of presents should be considered a threat. I’m a coal miner’s daughter (yes, really. Okay, so he was an engineer at a coal mine, but it counts). The best thing my dad ever gave me, aside from the pony and the playhouse and the Breyer Horse stable that I adored for nearly a decade, was a lump of coal. I’d been after him about it for a long time. “Daddy, please bring me a lump of coal from the mine! Pleasepleaseplease I’ll be good!”

If I’d had a better grasp on reverse psychology, or my dad a somewhat better-developed sense of irony, I might have ended up with one earlier. Regardless, one day, he arrived home with an enormous black chunk of ancient swamp, and I cherished it until we lost it in a move.

I’ll never forget visiting Black Mesa once. I was very young, probably no older than 7 or 8, and we drove through a black canyon gashed by men’s machines in the thick seams of coal that made up the mesa. I don’t know what I’d expected, maybe a tunnel, like I’d seen in various pictures of mining operations. I stared, slack-jawed and thrilled beyond containment, at those shiny black walls towering above me. And then there was the fire, and the truck with a mounted hose spraying an enormous rooster tail of water on it. Fires sometimes started in the seams, my dad told my astonished young self. They’d burn for years. You couldn’t really fight them so much as contain their spread. They sometimes could manage it with water; sometimes, they’d have to bury it.

I’d never considered that there might be any such thing as a fire that burned year after year, that no number of firetrucks and firemen could defeat. And when I got my hands on that hard lump of coal, and realized this tough shiny stuff was what did the burning, I was amazed. It didn’t really sink in then, but it did later. These were rocks. Rocks that burn.

What moron decided this was a disincentive to naughtiness?

But kids seemed to take that threat seriously. They’d rather have the shiny toys than a shiny lump of coal. I don’t think they were future geologists, or there would have been a considerable uptick in the naughty quotient whenever that threat was made.

Angry parent: “If you don’t stop doing X bad thing, all Santa’s giving you is a lump of coal!”

Future geologist: “Awesome! Two, please!”

My original lump has been replaced by a smaller but no less cherished lump purchased from a wonderful little rock shop down in Cottonwood, AZ. And that little delight has been joined by several bits picked up during rambles along Coal Creek (aptly named), which was my first opportunity to pick up coal in the wild. I love this stuff.

coal creek

Coal in streambank at Coal Creek near Seattle, Washington

And why am I babbling about coal just now? Partly because I’ve been extremely lax in posting on geological topics lately. Mostly because one of my Twitter friends posted a link to this perfect gift for geologists: coal candy! Which you can make, at home, and use your rock hammer to break, and just seems like the perfect thing for geologists to make and/or receive. I saw that, and thought of Coal Creek and Black Mesa and Evelyn’s geophoto meme, and thus inspiration did strike.

But I’ve saved the best for last. It hasn’t much to do with coal, except it’s on Coal Creek, and it’s just the most awesome orange waterfall I’ve ever had the pleasure of getting up-close and personal with:

waterfall coal creek

Orange Waterfall on Coal Creek

That lovely orange hue is probably courtesy of chemotrophic bacteria, according to a commenter on the original adventure report. It certainly adds a little verve to the scene. And what’s even nicer is that you can get to it by following a stream bed filled with chunks of petrified wood and lots and lots of coal.

And if you’re very naughty, I may venture back out there and collect a lump or two just for you.

Buffalo Bill’s

e.e. cummings's "Buffalo Bill's," published in The Dial, 1920. Image courtesy Wikipedia

Poem’s been running through my mind since I heard about Hitch. He was outsize to me, like Buffalo Bill. Perhaps someone will put him in a poem like this one. Perhaps, if the Muse is kind, I shall.

What I like about them is that, outsize as they were, legendary as they seemed, they were human. Fully, gloriously, infuriatingly and charmingly human.

Insights from 9-1-1

(This is a post by my coblogger, Jacob. He’d post it under his own handle, only WordPress is giving us guff over adding him as an author. That situation should be remedied soon, and you’ll be hearing more from him. He’s an amazing guy. I’m proud to have him posting here once again.)


Do the right thing. Do it over and over.

This is my rule.

Anyone who knows me knows that I consider myself to be a bit of a white knight. The kind that makes other white knights look grey (one of the few areas I allow myself to be arrogant confident about myself.) Its a title I’ve done my best to earn, to deserve, and live up to. Like anything in life it can be taken to an unhealthy extreme, but for the most part, its one of the few aspects of my persona that I’m actually happy with. I have a massive inferiority complex and a serious problem with an esteem that has more cliffs and valleys than a sine graph. However, when I stop and look at what I’ve been able to do for people, or when I’m presented with the opportunity to help someone in need, that’s when I know everything will work out in the end. Whether it be helping a woman buy a propane tank to help heat her house for her daughter, listen to a friend when they don’t know who to turn to, or even just holding open a door for someone whose hands are full, its these moments when I know with absolute clarity who I am. Some people don’t get it.

Some people do.

I took a call once from a citizen who was calling in about an elderly gentleman on the street who looked to be having some trouble. (For context, I am a dispatcher and 9-1-1 calltaker. Emergencies are my day-to-day.) Now, most people see a problem, call for medics and they go on their way. Infrequently you’ll get people who will stop and make sure they are at least still kicking a bit before they call, then they move on. Now and then, you get someone who actually stops and stays with them until medics arrive. Not that people are insensitive to a crisis, just that most people have lives of their own and they are busy, or they are in a car on the street and can’t immediately stop and assist. This woman, though, she stayed with him until medics arrived. What was remarkable, though, was the compassion she showed. My job is to keep people calm, give instructions, and mostly just try to make sure things don’t get too much worse before help arrives. Usually this is giving a lot of reassurance, giving people things to do to keep them busy, and just being a calm voice. This man clearly had a medical history, but was in such a dire state he didn’t think he was going to make it. He was conscious, breathing, and alert, so he was hardly on death’s door compared to some of our calls, but he was a far cry from comfortable either.

I could tell this woman was a caretaker at heart. I start giving reassurances, but I hear her taking the reins: “Stay with me, stay awake with me. Stay awake, Matthew.” She had asked him his name. Sometimes, if the call is long enough, I’ll get the patient’s name but depending on the circumstances I am often telling people how to deliver babies or give CPR and I never find out so much as their first name. Often enough I simply don’t bother to get their name, I have other things I need to find out first, and other 9-1-1 calls are always coming in. She had asked him and was using his name as an achor for him to hold onto. “Look at me, Matthew. Let me see those eyes. You have beautiful blue eyes, just like me. Let me see those pretty eyes, Matthew.” Every word was calm, soft, the kind of voice you expect a mother to whisper to a child. I could tell it was helping Matthew, who had calmed considerably from when the call started.

I stayed silent for almost the entire call.

It amazed me just listening to her. It may not sound like much, a few words of reassurance, but this is a job in which lives may be on the line. When you hear “Please don’t leave me” from someone trying to save their spouse’s life, or you hear little kids shouting for their parent to start breathing again, you realize the power of a few quiet words.

I say I am a white knight, a guardian angel. I dance behind the scenes and try to make the world a better place in what quiet ways I can. Even then, though, what I do every day is a job, its something I am paid well to do. This woman was truly a miracle to this man, this man to whom she owed nothing, she had no ties to, no promises. She was not there to earn recognition, she was just trying to do the right thing.

So to those angels that walk among us, remember you are not alone. The world would be a better place if we all just stopped to help each other now and then. You make this world a better place.

Whoever that woman is, where ever she is, I will always remember her.

And I never even got her name.

Christopher Hitchens Is Dead

There are moments, when you find out someone momentous has died, in which you find the world a little emptier than before. A person has died who filled up the world, poured so much of himself into it that he made it a larger and more interesting place. Someone whose words thundered and reverberated and will echo long after he has fallen silent.

Christopher Hitchens was like that.

And now he’s gone, and there are echoes, but while his words remain, there will never be silence.

Goodbye, Hitch. None of us will ever forget you.


I Shall Distract You With a Bearded Dragon and a Geology Picture

It’s one o’ those weeks, people. I haven’t got time to write anything of substance. So I shall give you a video of a bearded dragon playing video games instead.

When I saw that, I about died from the cute. And then I decided I need to get a smartphone and see if I can teach my cat how to play Angry Birds.

Ye olde blog’s been notably light on geology lately. I haven’t had the time to research and write as I’d like, a fact I’ll remedy shortly. In the meantime, Evelyn’s started a geopic meme, and I’d best jump on that bandwagon before it’s left the parade, eh? Here’s a lovely little snap from Rosario Beach, San Juan Islands, Washington:

Wave refraction, ribbon chert, argillite, and basalts, oh my. You can take a virtual field trip here. And someday, I promise, I’ll take you on an in-depth exploration of the place.

Last Weekend for Inspecting Carol

This is mostly an excuse to show off this wonderful snap from one of the dress rehearsals.

Craig Orsinger/Burien Little Theatre

But it’s also a reminder. It’s your last chance to see Inspecting Carol, Seattle-area folks! Don’t miss out.

December 16 at 8:00 p.m. – Friday

December 17 at 8:00 p.m. – Saturday

December 18 at 2:00 p.m. – Sunday

Buy your ticket. Go.

And if you’re lucky, this deal will still be available:

Just for tweeters. This Saturday all tickets $10 ONLY if you tweet back, and only while seats lasts.