Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Little Red-headed Bird

You lot have ruined me. We went to Brown Point Lighthouse over the weekend. And what did I do most of the time? Spent it chasing birds. Also, cursing birds. I rather wish birds were rocks. Then they’d sit still. But then, you ornithology buffs probably wouldn’t have so much fun identifying them.

And I wouldn’t have quite as much fun presenting a triumph. Observe: a bird that is slightly more interesting than Little Brown Birds!

Mystery Bird I

It’s a little red-headed bird! How awesome is that! And it actually stayed on the log long enough for me to take four whole pictures of it.

Mystery Bird II

Here’s a crop of the first photo, so you can see the bird a bit better. It flitted down from the trees behind the boathouse in a lovely splash of color, a little bit of fire on a gray beach. I’d been busy photographing the rusted old ramp that goes from the boathouse to the Sound, which meant I was zoomed all the way out. And as the bird hopped about on the driftwood log and acted like it was about to make for the trees again while I slewed around and zoomed in, I was certain all my hopes would be dashed. The bastards almost always escape my lens. But not this time. It decided it liked the log just fine, and settled down.

It even gave me a chance to photograph multiple angles. Side view, back of head (obviously thinking of abandoning my ass):

Mystery Bird III

And a lovely back view:

Mystery Bird IV

Look at the color on that kiddo! I got inordinately excited over this one – it’s not often I get to see something outside of the LBB or crow categories.

Mystery Bird V

And a very nice profile to finish off. It’s too bad I had to snap from so far away, but by the time I started walking up the beach, it decided the photo shoot was over and took off. Rocks don’t do that. This is why I like rocks better than birds.

FYI to photographers: if the bird you’re shooting starts moving, curse fluently and look for another bird (which there won’t be one, because they’re all sniggering at you from the trees: “Ha ha, look at the fool with the camera trying to take pictures of us! Humans are teh funny”). If the rock you’re shooting starts moving, you might want to consider running away while cursing fluently, because if rocks are on the move, that’s generally a sign something bad is happening to the landscape. This could have unhealthy results if the bit of landscape in question happens to be one you’re standing on.

I spent more time on this outing stalking birds than geology, but that’s just because I’ve seen most of the geology around the South Sound. I did get a pretty sweet exposure of glacial deposits in a bluff at Marine View Park, which I’ll be sharing with you. Also, porphyry. And something that’s such a vivid green I’d swear it’s not natural. Interesting bits wash up on our beaches. Equally interesting bits hitched a ride down on the ice sheet. It’s some consolation for those moments after the bird I’ve been trying to shoot has flown tittering off into impenetrable thickets.

I’ve determined that next time, I’m going to bring birdseed and ambush the bastards whilst they’re feasting…

Sunday Song: Love Changes Everything

All right, I admit it: I’m a sucker for a good love story and a show tune. If that destroys my metal cred, so be it.

So here’s a love story I’ve been following for a few weeks. It’s made me laugh and cry and glow. It’s made me determined to ensure that my transgender fellow humans get to enjoy full and happy lives free of discrimination and prejudice. And it’s made me marvel at the beauty people are capable of. This love thing actually works sometimes.

So, of course, what else could the Sunday Song be but this?

I actually hadn’t known before now that Sarah Brightman ever performed this song. Speaking of love, I love Sarah Brightman. I first heard her in a record shop down in Phoenix, when we were on a trip for choir and had been allowed to mob the mall in between choir things. We were all from a microscopic town and went wild. I, wearing my metal shirt, went in for stuff like Ozzy and came out with an opera singer singing pop. Go figure. Of course, I was also the person who delighted in driving our old Cadillac with its Bose sound system blasting classical music. The looks on people’s faces when a headbanger stepped out with orchestras spilling after her was priceless. Also, I loved the music.

But this isn’t supposed to be about me, but about love. Here’s how I first heard the song:

Oh, yes. I did indeed own a copy of Michael Crawford Performs Andrew Lloyd Webber. Still do, in fact.  Gorgeous music.

There’s places for everything in this world: opera and show tunes and metal, straight and gay and transgender. There’s places for life and love and discovery. Life is much better as a symphony. Life, in all its infinite variety, is beautiful, and so are the people who have let go of narrow categories, one-size-fits-all, and dared to take a chance on variations on the human theme.

This Actually Is a Review of Victor Stenger’s New Book

Right. So. I promised a review of Victor Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion. Here it is.

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I kid. Although Mano Singham’s review is actually very good and straight-up and I recommend it. I’ll be playing the funny to his straight, as it were. Also, I’ll be focusing more on readers’ questions than on a regular old review.

I just want to start with a few words from the Doctor:

That’s pretty much how the vast majority of his book struck me. It’s lots and lots of physics. Proportionally, it’s probably not that much physics – there’s lots of other stuff in there, like the history of science and the birth of religion. There’s a big bit on Darwin and evolution, and what bad news that was for religion. There’s purpose, and transcendence, and neurology. Lots and lots of philosophy. Geology, even so! And awfully bad news for the woomeisters. Physics itself takes up a mere two chapters, along with mentions in several others. It’s just that those two chapters loom over the rest. As I said before, it’s been a long time since I studied physics, and those chapters were a tough slog. Tough, but fun, and I probably learned more in them than I had from all sorts of reading before.

So there’s the book in a nutshell, say a walnut. Here it is in a filbert: science is bad news for religion, the two aren’t compatible at all – no, not even the vague spirituality-type religions – and if you’re looking to physics to support your ideas about the supernatural, you’re barking up the wrong damned tree. Not even quantum supports your religion. It’s natural all the way down.

Right. On to reader questions.

Brad wished to know if it included a rebuttal of the idea that science depended upon the Judeo-Christian tradition in order to flower. Why, yes. Yes, it does: there’s a section called “Did Christianity Beget Science?” The answer, astonishingly, is no. Do try to contain your shock. Enjoy watching Victor trample all over the notion.

Kele Cable says, “I just started reading Stenger’s The Fallacy of Fine-Tuning (I got it for $4 for Kindle on a sale) and like this book it sounds like, there is just a ton of hard-to-understand physics in it.” True. However, mercifully little math. And the physics isn’t beyond someone who’s recently dipped in to tomes like A Brief History of Time. He really did try to dumb it down

Chris Hallquist says, “You say he’s read “On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat,” but has he read both the book of that title by Scotus and the one by Eriugena? Because if he hasn’t, then whichever one he hasn’t read, that will turn out to be the real one you need to read.” I get the impression from the text he has read and contemplated both, but of course, there’s some other book he hasn’t read that will invalidate every argument against religion until he’s read that one, and once he has, there will be that other other one, and so on, apologetics without end.

Graham wished to know if Victor credited Susan Blackmore’s work on NDEs. He did indeed, extensively. Dying to Live was cited several times: I counted at least three substantial mentions, and one walks away with the impression that Victor thinks very highly of Susan indeed.

Graham additionally wishes to know how Victor handled the case of China and its failure to develop science. Victor was spending most of his time on Christianity and the West, but he does argue (albeit briefly) that in China, strict government control stifled the development of science. He says that it was the “new openness in Europe that made science possible.” In other words: totalitarian states, whether theocratic or otherwise, are anathema to the birth of scientific thought.

Graham goes on to ask, “What does he say about Penrose’s ideas about quantum theory and consciousness…?” I’m afraid that, in a section entitled “The Quantum Brain,” Victor hands Roger his ass on a plate. I don’t think he’s impressed by the whole quantum brain thingy, and argues very effectively against it.

Right, then. That does for the reader questions, and excellent questions they were, too. We should do this more often. It’s more fun than a plain ol’ book review. It also makes me pay more attention to the text, which is all good.

You can stop here, if you like. I’m going to go on about some of my favorite bits.

In the Preface, Victor points out something rather important: “The conflict between science and religion should not be regarded as a conflict between reason and unreason…. The distinction between theology and science is in the objects on which to apply reason.” He also points out that reason and logic need outside input. “Theology is faith-plus-reason, with some observation allowed. Science is observation-plus-reason, with no faith allowed.” Sums that up nicely, and also allows me to have a more fruitful conversation with my best friend, who prides himself on his ability to reason, yet can’t reason his way out of the Christian faith.

I loved what Victor said about NOMA: “Most nonbelieving scientists want to just do their research and stay out of any fights over religion. That makes the NOMA approach appealing because it allows these scientists to not worry much about what religion is or how it affects our social and political world. In my view, though, these scientists are shirking their responsibility by conceding the realms of morality and public policy to the irrationality and brutality of faith.” No mercy for NOMA. Me likey. He also asks an excellent question: “And if religion doesn’t work in the sphere of nature, why should we expect it to work in the moral or other spheres?” Why should we, indeed?

For those who insist there must be some vital force or other, Victor brings the hammer down in the chapter entitled “Purpose:” “None of the life sciences has ever found any difference in composition between living and nonliving matter. A living cell is made of the same quarks and electrons as a rock.” Sorry and all that. Some folks seem mightily disappointed that this is so. But, being a geology addict, I think it’s rather awesome we all share the same quarks and electrons.

One of the most powerful statements in the book comes in “Metaphor, Atheist Spirituality, and Immanence,” in response to the folks who claim that God is all-loving, but not one of the other alls, therefore God. “If God isn’t all-powerful, then he hasn’t the power to alleviate all suffering. If he isn’t all-knowing, then he may not know about every case of suffering. Notice, however, that science eliminated the suffering due to smallpox without being aware of every case and without being omnipotent. Certainly any benevolent god worth his salt could do a better job in easing suffering.” My italics. That, I think, is a knockout punch to the argument that a god of some sort exists and wants the best for all of us.

The book finishes with a powerful closing argument: “Religious faith would not be such a negative force in society if it were just about religion. However, the magical thinking that becomes deeply ingrained whenever faith rules over facts warps all areas of life…. Science is not going to change its commitment to the truth. We can only hope religion will change its commitment to nonsense.” Exactly. And Victor knows religion will never do that without help from the non-believers.

This book is an excellent tool for applying the needed pressure. No, it’s not perfect. Yes, it’s a tough go in some places. But there’s a lot of value in here. I found it clarifying my thoughts and, despite feeling like I hadn’t learned a thing during the reading, I’ve come away with a much better understanding of physics than I had before. It’s well worth your time.

Mystery Flora: Gnarled and Resplendent

There are two trees in Heritage Park, gnomic, somewhat fey. They give the impression of incredible age, although I’m sure they’re not so very old. There’s just something about thick, twisted trunks and dense flowers that make one think of ancient forests in Faerie. Or at least one does if they’ve read the entire fairy tale series edited by Ellen Datlow and Terri Windling, and Neil Gaiman, and Susanna Clarke, and other masters of fantasy.

Mystery Trees I

If fantasy was never your passion, on the other hand, they’re still lovely trees with intriguing twisty trunks.

So here they are, and I’ve passed them without a second glance in other seasons. But in spring, when they’re in full bloom, they compel attention. Stand up that little flight of stairs, and you’re on par with their canopy, looking along weirdly-shaped branches laden with blossoms.

Mystery Trees II

They’re cloud trees, storm trees, trees that are wild despite the fact that humans have domesticated them. I love these sorts of cultivated things, the ones that never quite manage to look fully tamed. Sometimes that’s the gardener’s art. My favorite gardeners are the ones who evoke wilderness rather than tidy things to the point of an almost bureaucratic order.

Mystery Tree III

And I like this about flowering trees: they carelessly drop their petals all over landscapers’ attempts to keep things groomed. This tree drops the whole bloom, perfect and complete.

Mystery Tree IV

I don’t know why I thought, once, long ago, that if I became an atheist, all of the beauty and magic would go out of the world. Where does that myth come from? Living without the supernatural doesn’t mean you can’t be utterly enchanted by something beautiful, struck silent with delight standing beside a gnarled trunk under a thick canopy of floating white blooms.

Mystery Tree V

Dark, lichen-covered bark stands out just as starkly against luxuriant white.

Mystery Tree VI

And the sky is still magnificent blue.

Mystery Tree VII

Stories still matter. I thought, for a while, that fantasy may no longer hold any fascination, but it does. Imagination is still intriguing. Playing with the impossible is still as joyful. About the only thing missing is the futile effort to step into Faerie or some other realm when I encounter a strange scene.

Mystery Tree VIII

There was a time when oddly-shaped trees would have had me contemplating the means and methods for leaving the mundane world. I don’t do that anymore, which has led to less frustration and more enjoyment of the odd things. Also, the world doesn’t seem mundane at all. Science has done what magic never could: open the gate to other worlds. Worlds where I’m related to twisted trees, for instance.

Mystery Tree IX

And where light scatters, and evolved eyes process the result, and a little huff of breath leaves the body as the intensity of the colors strikes a brain that quite likes that sort of thing.

Mystery Tree X

Who said there can’t be magic in the mundane? I just wish I’d realized the truth sooner.

A Book for Believers

Image Credit Kenneth W. Daniels

Thank you for the excellent responses to my post sounding out the idea of a book for believers. With such a great many excellent suggestions, I got fired up and ready to go. I made a little list of points, and then figured I’d best see what’s out there already, so I fired up the Fire. I’ve downloaded and read a ton of samples from various books on atheism. Many of my fellow FreethoughtBloggers were authors or contributors. This has convinced me of two things: 1) I am in distinguished company, and 2) I had probably better get off me arse and write a book on atheism. So it’s in the works.

Even though I think I found the book.

Why I Believed: Reflections of a Former Missionary seems perfectly suited for handing to those believers in your life who can’t handle The God Delusion and other atheist classics. Ken was the real deal. He was a child of missionaries. He was conservative evangelical. He became a missionary himself. He went to Africa in order to bring the word of God to tribes that didn’t have a written language yet, and hadn’t heard the supposed good news. Then doubt came crashing in. He followed the evidence, read the Bible closely, read all the apologetics he could get his hands on, considered what various freethinkers had to say, and in the end, became an atheist.

This book was written for believers, by a former believer. He’s married to a believer, many of his friends are believers, so he’s had all the experience he needs showing respect for the person while defending freethought. He’s faced all the questions and comments from believers who just can’t quite grasp why he lost his faith. He’s confronted the No True Christian fallacy head-on. You know, the variation wherein the believer-told-atheist is told they were never a true believer to begin with: he eviscerates that argument. Politely. This gentleman has a way of staying unfailingly polite while thoroughly destroying the myriad arguments and apologetics believers throw our way.

While he’s not quite a new or Gnu atheist, he doesn’t throw any of us under the bus, either. Early in the book, in a section entitled “My approach to my readers,” he gives a spirited defense of Dawkins – by quoting Isaiah of all things! Gorgeous.

This is a long book, but it didn’t really feel long to me. It was a fascinating journey through various trails of doubt, all leading up to the conclusion that Christianity isn’t the truth, there is very probably no god, and the life of an atheist isn’t filled with horrors, but wonders. This is a man who’s read the theologians, too, so he can’t be tarred with that “but you haven’t read X” brush. The courtiers can try their reply on him all they like. He has studied Imaginary Fabrics in depth. He has even read On the Luminescence of the Emperor’s Feathered Hat with a mind that wished to be convinced of the magnificence of same. And in the end, after years of study, after considering pretty much every argument for the classic yet cutting-edge fashions of the Emperor, he has determined that the Emperor is, in fact, nekkid. Only I don’t think he’d put it quite like that: more along the lines of, “I’m afraid the Emperor is unclothed” would be more like it. As I said, unfailingly polite whilst standing firm on the facts.

There are times when I squirmed a bit – Ken sometimes seems to miss the godly life a little too much – but then I hit the end this evening, and it’s a megadose of pure awesome. Sort of a one-two knockout: he just annihilates the goodness of a religion that preaches hell, then invites the believers to come on in to the secular waters – they’re fine! He concludes with a secular dream that had this Gnu Atheist standing up and applauding.

This book, I think, is the one you can hand to that true believer in your family. I don’t know if they’d read it all the way through. I don’t think they’d come away feeling any better than if they’d read Dawkins or Hitchens or Harris or Christina. In fact, I think it’ll be worse – with us icky new atheists, they can other the hell out of us. But against Ken, they haven’t got a defense. He knows all the verses, all the apologetics, and he speaks their language intimately. He knows precisely where the cracks are, and while his crowbar may have a velvet cover, he’s still busy wedging it in and splitting the whole edifice of faith apart. He explains exactly what atheists are and why while never failing to respect the believers. Their only defense against this is going to be not reading it. But they should. So should we.

The book is available on Kindle, Nook and a variety of other e-book platforms for $.99. Ninety-nine cents. You can get a paper copy for $9.95 for the luddites in your life. And if you were planning on donating to charity, you can tick off two tasks at once: he’s donating the proceeds to Doctors Without Borders, UNICEF, and PATH.

Why, you may ask, am I still planning to write a book for believers after this? A few reasons. This is a long book. I’m going to do up something short. Also, I found all sorts of awesome books on atheism I need an excuse to read. I can be all like, “Yeah, this isn’t for pleasure, you know. It’s totes work!” And then I can stick them in a bibliography, so that believers who truly want to understand this atheism stuff can go on to read about how we can have Sense and Goodness Without God, how we go about Raising Freethinkers and Parenting Beyond Belief, and how we navigate holidays with The Atheist’s Guide to Christmas. Among many, many others. And, last but absolutely not least, you all came up with some excellent suggestions, and I think together we can come up with something brief yet awesome. A gateway drug to all the other atheist goodness, if you will.

But if you need something immediately, and you’ve got a believer in your life who will at least read a few pages before screaming “SATAN!” and running away, Why I Believed is an excellent choice.

(And I swear to you, the next book I review will be Victor Stenger’s God and the Folly of Faith. If you have any questions about it, ask them here, because answering reader questions will be far more fun than just babbling about it. What do you want to know before you decide whether to buy it or not?)

This Isn’t A Review of Victor Stenger’s New Book

God and the Folly of Faith. Cover Art credit Prometheus Books.

I’d actually like to do that book justice. I’ve read it. I’m still digesting it. I can tell you my foremost thought whilst reading it: “Damnit, Victor, I’m a geologist, not a physicist!” It’s been a long time since I’ve read up on physics. The middle chapters, in which he drills down pretty deeply into physics, put my brain through the kind of workout that still leaves you wobbly days later.

My second thought throughout most of the book was, “Ha ha ha, the quantum woo people are gonna hate this!” No mercy. No quarter. Beautiful.

However. Like I said, still digesting. I’ve got bits highlighted for further contemplation, and when I get a spare moment (ahaha I am teh funneh), I’ll scribble down a few notes and get round to saying something that might actually be vaguely interesting about it all and persuade you that you, too, must put your brain through the same experience as mine. Because you know you want to. Unless you’re a quantum woo person, or the kind of religious believer who sticks your fingers in your ears down to the knuckle and screams “Lalalalanotlistening!” until the bad heathen goes away, that is. In that case, you’ll probably hate it. But if you’re a science-loving sort who’s disgusted with the ways various religions and spiritual beliefs try to claim science totes vindicates their position, only to howl that science is nasty and reductionistic when it fails to support them, but then turn right round and claim that science just wuvs woo, then yes: God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion will suit you right down to the ground. Especially if, like me, you groan and roll your eyes whenever someone piously brings up NOMA.

Right. So. The reason I bring it up now, before I’m ready to write a deep and profound and, in places, mildly critical review (really, Victor? All the atheists who ever existed, and you couldn’t find one single solitary woman for your list of famous atheists? Really?), is because of this: Salon just published a howler of an article in which some jackass claims science supports near death experiences, and the afterlife is proved. Evidence: “like, y’know, this woman named Maria had this near death experience-”

And I’m all, “Stop. Just stop.”

I should not have to repeat the tired old “plural of anecdote is not data” line. The editors at Salon should already know this. But we’ll be generous and pretend they have not heard it, and the fact that a bunch of stories written up in fancy language is not science is a fact they were, until just now, unaware of. We will give them that slight benefit of the doubt. Then we will quietly hand them Victor Stenger’s new book, which could have saved them from experiencing massive amounts of embarrassment and publishing something which has made them look like Huff-Po (and if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish the most gawd-awful tripe draped with sciency-looking words and attempting to pass itself off as science, which is about as convincing as someone putting a box over a bicycle, painting it gold, and calling it a Porche – hold on. This sentence is wandering off uncontrollably, so let me rephrase: if you know anything about Huff-Po’s tendency to publish rancid bullshit, you’d know that’s quite a lot of embarrassment, and is best avoided).

You see, Victor has a whole section dedicated just to Maria and the Shoe. We learn that not only can Maria and the Famous Shoe She Saw While Dead cannot be verified, we also learn that Maria’s Miraculous Seeing of the Shoe wasn’t actually miraculous. Not unless you count the fact that in the story, no one is reported to be blind, including Maria, and the famous shoe could be seen from her room.

I’m reminded of a line from the Qabus Nama, quoted in The Walking Drum: “Our senses perceive things which do not impinge upon our awareness, but lie dormant within us, affecting our recognition of people and conditions.” Yes, even people in the 11th century knew we sometimes notice stuff (like shoes on ledges visible from hospital rooms) which we don’t consciously realize we’ve noticed. People who really really want NDEs to be true, however, do not seem to know this. Intriguing.

So, yes, the Salon folks needed this book. They needed it badly. They needed it foremost for the section on NDEs, of which the anecdotal Maria’s anecdote is just one small part, one pellet in the buckshot cartridge that blows NDEs to smithereens as it were. They also needed it to help them figure out how to sift woomeisters from people who know what the shit they’re talking about. One of the first clues, which I don’t recall being explicitly stated in this particular book, but have learned from prior experience is a good rule of thumb: if someone co-wrote a book with Denyse O’Leary, you probably shouldn’t trust a single fucking thing they write ever again. (If you have no idea who Denyse O’Leary is, this sums her up quite well.) Victor provides many other clues. Together, they add up to a clue-by-four, with which editors everywhere should whack themselves when being presented with some pablum claiming science has “proven” some sort of spiritual bs. I mean, yes, it’s infinitesimally possible science will someday find cold hard evidence proving something we thought was supernatural – but there’s “evidence,” and then there’s evidence, and editors need to know the difference.

Since they don’t, you do. So I suppose what I’m saying is this: I’ve sort-of just reviewed Victor Stenger’s new book God and the Folly of Faith: The Incompatibility of Science and Religion; it’s not perfect but it’s extremely useful; and you should go read it forthwith. Especially if you like seeing Dinesh D’Souza and quantum woomeisters in general thoroughly paddled.

Right. Let’s See How Good My Geology-Fu Is

I’ve struck up a bit of an online friendship on G+ with someone who made an off-hand comment about one of the geology posts I shared. It was the one about 10 Reasons Geologists Are Weird. When a person reshares your reshare, and their profile photo shows them standing by some particularly yummy geology, wonderful things can happen. Like, being shown some delights and asked to identify them.

Case in point:

Grooves in rocks leading from the beach out to the sea. Flinders, Victoria. Photo Credit: S. Travers.

Here’s the accompanying description:

Grooves in rocks leading from the beach out to the sea. Flinders Victoria. The romantic in me wants them to have been made by glacial activity, but I don’t seriously think that’s the cause. They don’t appear to be manmade and they’re not regular – at the widest about maybe 30 – 40 cm, but only about 20cm or so through the rocks in shadow toward the top of the photo.

There are fantastic rock pools right through this area, lots of seaweed washed up on shore and great surf for those hardy souls not worried about sharks (there’s a seal colony not far away) or being swept over the rocks.

Right. So I’m supposed to be writing a review of Victor Stenger’s new book, researching for the metamorphic post on Rosetta Stones, beginning endless reading for a huge series on Mount St. Helens, planning for my upcoming trip to New Hampshire to see The Doctor (Evelyn, that is), and about ten billion other things, including research for another set of photos that S. Travers dangled in front of me (and are delicious). However. Comma. This can’t be resisted. This is a chance for me to see if all this studying geology really taught me anything at all.

So, here’s my thought process: Two strikes against glacial striations. They don’t seem quite right. They’re just not giving me that striation vibe. Too curvy, for one. And they’re in Australia, for another. My Australian geological knowledge is teh pathetic, but I don’t recall Australia being heavily glaciated recently.

It’s hard to tell from this one photo, but I’m getting a faulty feeling. I’m seeing possible faults. And the rock looks sort of a bit volcanic. I’ll crop the photo a bit, and changed the exposure, to get a better look:

Crop of Flinders photo. Photo Credit: S. Travers.

So what could we have? Cracks and fractures in a volcanic rock, seems to me. Now, I could be spectacularly wrong. Certainly, I could be, and that’s why I’m posting this: so that my geologically-savvy readers can confirm or correct.

But let’s see if I can find some evidence to bolster my position.

First, we need to know where Flinders, Victoria is.

View Larger Map

Right. That helps. See, I found this site while searching for Flinders, Victoria geology, and it talks about stuff near Barwon Heads. That turns out to be within the same area. So, what can we find here? Ah-ha! “The collision of the Australian Plate and the Pacific Plate during the Miocene created the SE-NW compressional stress field that Victoria currently experiences.” Now, that looks promising! Could be faults, indeed. There’s also mention of basalt. Excellent!

Now, let’s have a look for faults. I love finding faults. And I found plenty round Victoria. Dunno if that map’s public domain, so I’ll just have you give it a click and return.

Right. So. We’ve got faults, we’ve got basalt, but none of them specifically saying, “Flinders, Victoria has got basalt and faults all over the place.” So what else can we do to make the case? Look at the geologic map. Here, I’ll even clip the bit and point toward Flinders. It’s a government-produced map, hopefully they won’t mind.

Geological map of Flinders, Victoria and surrounding area. Image credit: Geological Society of Australia.

So that bright yellow is noted as Older Volcanic Group. Yup. Volcanics abound there. I think we’ve got some pretty decent evidence, although without boots on the ground, I can’t be certain what I’m seeing. And, again, I could be spectacularly wrong. But even if so, I’ve just learned something about Flinders, Victoria, Australia that I didn’t know before. And got to see a photo of some very lovely rocks.

Also, you guys get something that is not so Pacific Northwest-centric. Along with a chance to kick my arse if I’m wrong. Which is what geology is all about, really, aside from the beer and the hammering and the stories rocks tell and the geologists (who rock) and – we could be here all day if I keep saying what geology’s all about, so I shall stop now. Over to my geos, who can tell us more.

That was fun. Very much so. So much so, in fact, that I’d like to extend an invitation for more photos. I can’t promise I’ll ever get to them, but if you want to send me photos of some delicious geology, along with the location they were taken and any observations you may have about them, it’s quite possible you, too, can see me attempt some geology-fu-by-photo on your very own mystery geology. Email them to dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com, if the fancy takes you.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Surfers

Usually, when one sees waterbirds paddling round placidly up here, they’re ducks. There’s nothing much mysterious about ducks except for their genitals. I can’t look at a mallard anymore without thinking about feathery little rapists. Thanks, Ed Yong. Thanks so much.

Back in the days when ducks were just a semi-domestic feature of the local ponds, and I lived in a complex with a lovely little pond with a fountain in the middle, I used to enjoy watching them float around. And I noticed that in the wintertime, they were joined by some apparent cousins. Little black and white things, they were, which seemed a bit out of place amidst the locals. I figured they were migratory something-or-others, and always liked having the bit of variety.

I never suspected they surfed.


Lake Washington was being whipped up into whitecaps by the wind, big swells and so forth, and this wee delight was just bobbing like a cork. Looked very much in its element. Which, I suppose, it was.

You have no idea how hard it is to get a good photo of a waterbird when it’s on a choppy lake in the wind with the clouds scudding over the sun, and the thing’s fairly far away.


Also, it was swimming. For the fun of it, seemingly, just randomly turning this way and that and riding the swells.


You know, I kinda wish I had one for my bathtub. Not a live one, my cat is a definite only child and hates ducks and all related waterfowl, but a nice little rubber one. Frickin’ adorable.


There was another one, too. I’m not sure if it’s the same species or not – it looks a bit different – but this one was awesome. It’s a total surfer.


It would paddle out, and then catch a wave.


Of course, by the time I caught on to what it was doing and had the camera all ready to shoot a video of this awesome surfer bird action, it dove down for lunch. Bugger.

Right, my dear ornithologists. Have at.