This Is Why I’m So Damned Proud to Blog Here

I told you recently about The Conversation. It’s still ongoing, despite attempts to derail it by some folks who just can’t quite seem to understand why sexual harassment is not okay, and that putting policies in place to ensure harassment is handled quickly and appropriately are not, in fact, going to to turn the skeptical and atheist movements into the Taliban. It’s ongoing despite the fact that people who should know better seem to believe discussing these problems is the problem, not the problems themselves. (If that kind of blame-the-messenger syndrome reminds you a little of the Bush regime’s attempts to sweep problems under the rug by attacking the people who mentioned problems instead of solving the actual problems themselves, you are not alone.)

Despite all of the folks who just can’t quite seem to understand that harassment is a real issue, that it’s bad, and that steps need to be taken to reduce it, whilst still ensuring people get to have fun and be flirty if with other people who also want to be fun and flirty, The Conversation is resulting in some real progress.

The Conversation is moving forward.

And it’s moving in large part because so many of the people who blog here at FreethoughtBlogs are ensuring it doesn’t stop.

I just wanted to take this opportunity to mention how much I love the folks I blog alongside of, and how very proud of them I am. This conversation isn’t easy. But they’re keeping it going, and because of them and other hard-working people who know The Conversation is worth having, conventions will be a hell of a lot safer and happier for everybody, abusers excepted.

You guys are amazing.


(Standard reminder for posts on sensitive subjects: First-time comments go automatically to moderation. Swearing and disagreement are fine, but keep it within bounds. Gendered epithets, misogyny, abuse of other commenters, and other misbehavior won’t be tolerated. You might wish to review the cantina’s comment policy before you comment.

ETEV has, so far, had nothing but good people having good talks in the threads, even when disagreements spring up. And I want to thank my regulars and my newbies, who have all ensured that the discussions we have are thoughtful, productive, and quite often fun. You, my darlings, are the best!)

Mystery Flora: A Little Bit Blue

There’s a hilltop above Locust Creek Park in Brier, Washington that’s full of flowers. There were all sorts of delights, some wild, some domestic. I’m not sure which category these fall in to. They were growing on the verge of a driveway, happily overpowering the grass.

Mystery Flowers I

I see them around quite a bit. They’re always a cluster of little delights, a nice contrast to the nearly endless green round here.

Mystery Flowers II

I’m just going to pause a brief moment for a small rant. Lawns annoy me. This is because so many flowers that end up in them are treated as weeds. One day, you have a sea of lovely flowers, creating a miniature meadow: the next, some bugger has been through with the mower and the Roundup and you have a boring green desert. I know folks like pristine expanses of grass. I used to spend quite a lot of time on my neighbor’s lawn in Flagstaff, which was thick and soft and a masterpiece of the homeowner’s art. Any weed that ended up in that lawn was an instantly dead weed: we never did get to see anything bloom in it. You could practically use it as a mattress, the grass was so thick and evenly-mowed. And he went into panic mode the instant a dog appeared on the horizon, because even the possibility that he could end up with a small brown circle due to calls of canine nature was not to be entertained.

He had a willow tree growing at one end of his lawn. There was, as there frequently is under such circumstances, a circular bare patch. He was convinced it was because evil canines were using the tree as a watering post. We had to explain that the tree was sucking nutrients and water out of that area, thus leaving the grass bereft. We found this small island of ignorance in a sea of expertise odd. Then again, he was an astronomer by profession, so the fact he managed a world-class lawn in Arizona is a remarkable achievement anyway. And you should have seen his roses. Their blooms were practically as big as our heads, and they filled the air with the most luscious scent imaginable. They probably survived because the local grasshoppers had already gorged themselves on ours…

Yeah, that was me getting mugged by the Memory Fairy. Yeesh.

Speaking of filling the air with scent, though, you lot can tell me whether the stuff I had my nose buried in was lilac or lavender. I can’t tell the difference. I just know both of them have cones of purple joy, and that planting my face in a bush is one of the best ways to spend part of an afternoon.

Bonus Mystery Flowers I

When I am an old woman, I shall wear purple – and probably, if I own a house by then, have the thing buried in it. Purple rhodies, purple lilacs, purple lavender – and a bit of honeysuckle for variety’s sake. Roses, which come in purple varieties. Fuchsias, ditto. The nice thing about the Northwest is, I can have all of these things without drawing down the local water table. This does, unfortunately, mean I shall only be visited by people with allergies for a few short weeks each year, but it’s a small price to pay.

Bonus Mystery Flowers II

Also, willows and Japanese maples, and if I go really wild on the gardening in my old age, we might even do a few cloud pines and a plethora of crocuses and tulips. There won’t be any grass. Bollocks to grass. Up here, moss grows in thick, luxuriant carpets that work just as well, and require a hell of a lot less work, and like it just fine under the trees. There is nothing quite so beautiful as the mossy ground beneath a stately old tree. And when you get different varieties all growing together, the subtle blend of colors and textures is astoundingly lovely.

Of course, all that biology’ll be on only one part of the yard. The rest is rocks.

What will your dream garden be?

New Rosetta Stones Post: In Memory of the Geologists Who Died in the May 1980 Eruption

I’m not sure how many people know four geologists died on Mount St. Helens. None of us can think of St. Helens without thinking of David Johnston, of course, and the other three deserve to be remembered as well.

This was so hard to write. I wanted to do them justice. Very little information on James F. Fitzgerald Jr., Bob Kaseweter, and Beverly Wetherald is available. And I’m not a journalist: I didn’t want to go prying around looking for friends, family and colleagues, ripping scabs off old wounds. That said, if anyone reading knew them and wishes to share anything about them, please feel free to leave a comment or email me directly at dhunterauthor at yahoo dot com. That goes for folks who knew David Johnston, of course.

I really want to go hug a vulcanologist right now. The work they do is so insanely dangerous, and yet so necessary. If we have any vulcanologists in the audience, I want you to know how admired and appreciated you are. Consider yourself hugged. Also, let me buy you a beer, next time you’re in town.

Thomas Paine: “A Calamitous Necessity of Going On”

I’ve been reading the works of 18th and 19th century heretics. I feel cheated. My education elided freethinking. If mention of a freethinker was necessary, textbooks and teachers focused on something else they’d done, not the actual freethinking bit. This allowed Christians to slumber happily in the delusion that in days gone by, not a word was said against their religion except by icky people who got their asses kicked, or did nothing important at all, or didn’t matter in the least. And it left me with the impression that atheists had sprung up brand-new this (well, last, now) century. I thought everybody who ever meant anything had been religious of some sort, and of course our Founding Fathers were faithful.

And this, mind you, was in a school system that actually taught evolution, at least a little bit, and did a reasonable job inculcating secular values.

Later, I’d discover that many of our Founders were actually Deists. I heard about the Jefferson Bible, which has left me with an enduring image of that luxurious-haired head bent painstakingly over pages, his tongue plastered thoughtfully to a corner of his mouth, as he applied scissors to the Good Book and made a better one. I found out that many of the nominally Christian ones were the sort of Christians other Christians consider no better than atheists. I’ve come to understand why they shuffled religion off onto the side rails and tried to wall it off from government, which seems like a damned important thing to know. It also would’ve been nice to know what a fuss and drama the clerics stirred up then, howling over God being left out of the Constitution, because it would have allowed me to place their current cries in context now: sound and fury which could and should be ignored.

I’ve discovered that actual atheists existed before the 20th century, strikingly intelligent and courageous men and women, who risked their freedom and fortunes to follow their conscience.

But it’s a Deist I want to discuss at the moment.

Thomas Paine, painting by Auguste Millière. Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

Thomas Paine was a definite Deist. Read The Age of Reason, and you’ll have no doubt of that. But the man could take after religion in general and Christianity in particular just as thoroughly as any atheist, New, Gnu or Old. No wonder the frothing fundies would rather pretend he never existed.

There are two things I loved especially about The Age of Reason. The first is this, which answers those people who’d like to hang on to religion because, they say, it does some very nice things.

It is possible to believe, and I always feel pleasure in encouraging myself to believe it, that there have been men in the world who persuaded themselves that what is called a pious fraud, might, at least under particular circumstances, be productive of some good. But the fraud being once established, could not afterwards be explained; for it is with a pious fraud as with a bad action, it begets a calamitous necessity of going on.

But it’s in the second part of The Age of Reason that he really lets go. You see, when he’d written the first part, he didn’t have a copy of the Bible handy and couldn’t get one. He was going from memory, writing furiously in France because he knew he could be arrested at any moment, and he wanted to get this out. Once he was free and safe and had a copy of the – ahem – Good Book in hand, he could settle down to really dissect it. And dissect he did.

He wanted to get at the truth. “[Before],” he wrote, “any thing can be admitted as proved by Bible, the Bible itself must be proved to be true; for if the Bible be not true, or the truth of it be doubtful, it ceases to have authority, and cannot be admitted as proof of any thing.” So he set out to investigate whether the Bible could be proved true. Things looked shaky from the start:

To charger the commission of things upon the Almighty, which in their own nature, and by every rule of moral justice, are crimes, as all assassination is, and more especially the assassination of infants, is matter of serious concern. The Bible tells us, that those assassinations were done by the express command of God. To believe therefore the Bible to be true, we must unbelieve all our belief in the moral justice of God; for wherein could crying or smiling infants offend? And to read the Bible without horror, we must undo every thing that is tender, sympathising, and benevolent in the heart of man. Speaking for myself, if I had no other evidence that the Bible is fabulous, than the sacrifice I must make to believe it to be true, that alone would be sufficient to determine my choice.

Yeouch. Nowadays, I do believe he’d be called militant, strident, and mean by believers and faitheists alike.

Still, he didn’t stop there. He promised “evidence as even a priest cannot deny.” This, my darlings, is where a maniacal grin spread across my face, and I might even have cackled a little, and I said, “Thomas Paine, you were a genius.”

Because this is what he did:

The evidence that I shall produce in this case is from the books themselves; and I will confine myself to this evidence only. Were I to refer for proofs to any of the ancient authors, whom the advocates of the Bible call prophane authors, they would controvert that authority, as I controvert theirs: I will therefore meet them on their own ground, and oppose them with their own weapon, the Bible.

What follows is total devastation. I’m not quite sure how anyone Christian can read The Age of Reason and come away with their faith intact, unless they have the IQ of a developmentally disabled turnip, or flee into metaphor and mumbling about “sort of inspired in parts but not really literally true, and, y’know, people make mistakes and….  stuff.” I don’t know how anyone can claim with a straight face that this silly book is the perfect revealed word o’ god, or that even if it’s not actually authored by god, it’s still the greatest literary masterpiece ever. As Thomas Paine says in an aside, “This book, the Bible, is too ridiculous for criticism.” But criticize it he does. He didn’t even need a flamethrower to leave it in a smoldering heap.

This is why I laugh so heartily when people sputter, “But if you just read the Bible, you’d believe!” Those of us with at least two functioning neurons typically became atheists because we’d read the Bible, or at least major portions thereof (usually omitting the endless begats), and we’d seen it was, as Thomas Paine said, “too ridiculous.”

From now on, when people tell me inane things such as “read the Bible,” I’m just going to stuff the second part of The Age of Reason in their hands and say, “Read this first.” I see it as a little test. If their faith isn’t at least slightly shaken, I’ll know any further conversation with them is pointless, as they have got a brick where their brain should be.

Good old Thomas Paine. I know just who I’ll be celebrating this Fourth of July.

Unidentified Flying Dinosaur: Batman Among the Blueberries

My supervisor, Shelli, is teh awesome, and has sent me one of the greatest UFDs of all time. Check this birdie out:

Mystery Bird I

She says he just sat there while she crept up with her cell phone in hand, tilting his head this way and that, completely without fear. I think he was mesmerized by the horns on her phone’s case. Besides, it’s blue. Maybe he thought it was an enormous rectangular blueberry.

Mystery Bird II

He looks like a fledgeling of some sort. Hopefully, your bird-fu is good enough to identify even teh bebbies. If it helps, this photo was taken sometime around late July-early August. And, obviously, it was at a blueberry farm. Bryant Blueberry Farm in Arlington, Washington, in fact. Shelli goes there every summer, because, she says, “they keep them really well tended. I’ve been to lesser blueberry farms, and they only make me keep going there [to Bryant]. They keep their rows completely mowed and weeded, you can actually sit right under a bush and eat berries.” This is, of course, in between your bird-stalking activities.

With this testimonial, I believe Shelli should get at least one free admission this summer.

I shall provide a convenient map for those who may wish to go look for Batman* and eat blueberries themselves:

View Larger Map

There is also a kangaroo farm there. With actual kangaroos. And koalas. And wallabies. Any fan of Rocko’s Modern Life has got to want the wallabies. I think I’m going to force my intrepid companion to go adventuring with me this summer. Blueberries and Aussie animals. What could be better?

Well, some geology (pdf). There’s a terrace or bench there, upon which the Arlington Heights neighborhood sits. Everything’s pretty much glacial outwash, it appears, although the bedrock looks wild: “sandstone, shale, conglomerate, andesite,basalt, and metamorphased sedimentary and igneous rock.” Okay. That tells me this area’s had a rather eventful history, even before it got mauled by ice sheets, and if I can find any bedrock outcrops round there, I’ll be completely excited. Besides, the Skagit River Valley is exquisitely lovely, and the Cascades are right there, and it’s just a quick hop over to the San Juan Islands…

Suddenly, stalking Batman seems like a completely reasonable thing to do. Who’s with me?

*We’ve been calling him Batman. Or Batbird. But he also kinda looks like the Lone Ranger. Also, he might be a she, for all I know.

Three Beautiful Things and a Funny

I just spent a few moments perusing G+ whilst dinner cooked. For those of you who aren’t on G+ or don’t follow me there, I figured I’d share, because there are three extraordinarily beautiful photographs and something to delight the hearts of current and former English majors.

If I remember rightly, there were people who said, when photography was born, that it could never be art. It’s too bad they’re gone. I’d like to spread the following photos out in front of them, laying them down like a royal flush.

For geology lovers, Kent Mearig’s photograph of a stream in an ice cave in Alaska’s Mendenhall Glacier. You’d be forgiven if you thought such things couldn’t appear on this planet – but they can, and do, and they are exquisite.

Arachnophobes beware, but our own George Wiman took this fantastic photo of a tiny spider, and I think it’s utterly adorable. Also, I love the eyes! Remarkable little critters. And capturing it in such detail takes a certain mastery of photography that can only be envied by amateurs such as myself.

The trump card*: liquid flower photos. Mind boggled. Click through to see the whole series, because they are amazing.

And, teh funneh: English doesn’t borrow from other languages. Laughed me arse off, didn’t I just? I’m sure at least one or two of you got a kick out of that.

It’s back to the gargantuan 800+ page paper on Mount St. Helens for me. Stay tuned for the best UFD ever later this morning…


*I don’t play poker, so I don’t know if there is a trump card in a royal flush, or even what a trump card is except in a vague “ha ha you are so pwnd” sort of way, and I didn’t feel like looking it up. Did I mention dinner? Also, 800+ page paper? Yeah. Just go with it, m’kay?

“The Shovel is Brother to the Gun”


by Carl Sandburg

Long, steel guns,
Pointed from the war ships
In the name of the war god.
Straight, shining, polished guns,
Clambered over with jackies in white blouses,
Glory of tan faces, tousled hair, white teeth,
Laughing lithe jackies in white blouses,
Sitting on the guns singing war songs, war chanties.

Broad, iron shovels,
Scooping out oblong vaults,
Loosening turf and leveling sod.

I ask you
To witness—
The shovel is brother to the gun.

War Memorial at The Park at Bothell Landing

Sunday Song: Memorials

It’s Memorial Day weekend here in the States. I wrote a memorial last year, and won’t add to it. We’ll just do two songs.

This is Iced Earth’s “Ghost of Freedom,” which is quintessentially American and a lovely tribute to those who fought and died for liberty.


Every time you think about it
It tears you up inside
You curse the day your mother
told you, your father died
Now you’re always searching
Searching for the reason why I’ve gone
But I will always be here
By your side, through the darkest night

Here I’ll stand on the firing line
Here I’ll walk through the field where I died
I will fight and let the voice ring true
I am the ghost
Standing next to you

Every night you go to sleep
You pray the Lord my soul to keep
You don’t know I’ve not gone away
You see I watch over fighting men
So they can have peace again
And maybe someday you will all be free

Here I’ll stand on the firing line
Here I’ll walk through the field where I died
I will fight and let the voice ring true
I am the ghost
Standing next to you

You speak to me
And I feel your pride
Assuring me I’ll never die
I write Mother…
“He’s here with me…”
He’s in our minds
He’s in our souls
Of sacrifice his story’s told
He holds the flame of freedom for all to see

Here we stand on the firing line
Here I’ll walk in the field where I fight
I will fight or die for liberty
With the ghost standing next to me

Don’t tread on me…live free or die!!!
To our fallen brothers
You died to keep us free
To our fallen brothers
Who gave us liberty!!!

Of course, I have hopes that one day, liberty won’t come at such an appalling cost. I would like to see a time when there are no fresh names to remember on Memorial Day, when war is just a memory from our species’s angry adolescence, and disputes aren’t solved at gunpoint. I find myself unable to do the “Rah, rah!” thing on Memorial Day. They died. Some of these soldiers died for good causes, some while serving their country in much murkier wars, and we owe them all. But they died, and I want there to come a time when people do not have to die in the line of duty.

So, “Sleepless.” This an an Anathema cover by Cradle of Filth, and it’s haunting and beautiful and a soul cry.

And I often sigh
I often wonder why
I’m still here and I still cry

And I often cry
I often spill a tear
Over those not here
But still they are so near

Please ease my burden

And I still remember
A memory and I weep
In my broken sleep
The scars they cut so deep

Please ease my burden
Please ease my pain

Surely without war there would be no loss
Hence no mourning, no grief, no pain, no misery
No sleepless nights missing the dead … Oh, no more
No more war!

Riverside Ramble, with UFDs and a Cameo Appearance by My Cat

Seattle’s about to do its Memorial Day thing, where it gets all cloudy and probably rains. But today, it graced us with one perfect summery day. So I nipped down to the river for a ramble before coming back to hang out with the cat.

Sammamish River from bridge at The Park at Bothell Landing

The river’s been pretty well tamed down here. There used to be a fair amount of boat traffic, and the river got dredged and straightened for flood control and transportation purposes, if I remember the sign right. It’s thoroughly domesticated now. And once Lake Washington was lowered, it lost its purpose as a highway of sorts. You’ll see the occasional small boat and plenty of kayaks, but no commercial shipping.

Bridge over untroubled waters

The riverside trail is wide and paved, with mountain bikers zipping by, and birds singing lustily in the trees, but showing themselves to a photographer only long enough to go “Ha, ha, you’ll never get your camera aimed in time!” before flying off into thick vegetation. I heard a woodpecker, and lots of songbirds, and saw some raptors soaring before the buggers soared behind the trees and didn’t come back out. There were little brown birds, one of which I caught on camera. You’ll probably tell me it’s some sort of invasive sparrow.


Here’s a cropped image for those who wish to identify. I just like the large one because it’s got that strange red patch on the tree, and shows what I contend with trying to photograph birds round here.

LBB closeup

Someday, some genius will make a camera that understands what you’re trying to do, so that when I’m shouting, “No, no, don’t focus on the leaves and twigs! I want the bird! The bird!!” the camera will go, “Oh, right, sorry” and focus on the proper bit.

It did a fantastic job with the beaver-chewed tree, though.

Beaver's been busy

I think the little bastards have designs on damming the river, as if the river hasn’t got enough problems. This was a fairly large tree, too. Evelyn told me the young beavers out East get all cocky and hey-look-at-me and fell very big trees which they then can’t do a thing with because they can’t drag them off to build dams or lodges, and the older beavers laugh and are all like, “Silly youngster, see if you laugh while we cut down small trees now!” The poor large tree that died for nothing just lies there in a sad heap, although I’m sure there’s plenty of fungi and insects and other critters that find it very useful indeed. Just not useful for the beavers.

The beaver's handiwork

I did a project on beavers in elementary school. I remember doing the research while we were driving back to Indiana in the middle of winter, through blizzards and freezing rains and all sorts of things, because Grandpa had had a heart attack. I’d read a bit about beavers, and then set that aside to watch my father trying to navigate increasingly awful roads. Then we got to Indiana, and I forgot all about beavers because my grandma and I were exploring the possibilities of hospital food and gift shops, and telling Dolly Parton jokes. My grandfather turned out to be fine. I think he was a little embarrassed we’d come all that way in the winter just to see him in a hospital gown.

He and I never discussed beavers, either, that I recall.

Beaver tooth marks

I’d never actually seen a beaver in my life. But when we got home, I put together a nice project, complete with a papier-mâché beaver pond and dam and lodge, which drove my mother frantic, because we had a hard time running down papier-mâché. And I didn’t remember a single damned thing, aside from the fact that beavers build dams and lodges, and they do it with their teeth. Can you imagine? You’re a construction worker, and all you’ve got to work with is your teeth. That makes beavers pretty darn impressive in my book. And I’m always delighted when I come across their handiwork, even if it does turn out to be something done by a youngster who hasn’t quite grasped the concept of not biting off more than you can chew.

I also think “busy as a beaver” is something of a misnomer, as the only beaver I’ve known intimately was a lazy sod who never did manage to dam Forbes Creek.

Anyway. I spent an inordinate amount of time enjoying the beaver-chewed tree, and then stalking a bird that I heard rustling round in the bushes nearby. I got only this one shot.

Busy bird

It’s things like this that are making me consider doing a “Sasquatch Birds” series, because they remind me of that faked Sasquatch film where you can barely see the Sasquatch, except for glimpses. Only that was because it was some dude in an ape suit, and I rather doubt this is some dude in a bird suit. If it is, he was really damned small and he had feeding behaviors nailed. This small avian dinosaur was delightedly scratching around in the leaf litter on the bank finding nice things to eat. I just wish he’d found them in one of the areas with fewer bushes. Ah, well, I think it was a robin, anyway. So much for mystery.

So I ended up at Blyth Park, which is just a little ways down the river from The Park at Bothell Landing, and the grass was so full of daisies it looked like it had recently snowed daisies.

Daisy field with river

Blyth Park is on a bit of a bluff. If you go down the stairs, there’s a place where you can see a little bit of the glacial deposits everything stands on, cut by the river, but it’s not much. Just a handful of pebbly outwash. Considering that’s pretty much the only geology not covered in thick vegetation on this walk, it’s better than nothing, but it just didn’t seem worth photographing this time round.

And then there was the old trestle bridge, and the kayakers. I can’t see kayaks without missing Evelyn now.

Kayaks on the river

I was briefly tempted to rent one for old time’s sake, but it probably would have gone very badly for me, as I don’t yet know how to steer.

Then it was time to wander back, as I was beginning to starve. I saw a seagull perched atop the Bothell Landing bridge, which for some strange reason tickled my fancy.

Seagull sentry

And there’s a spot where you can almost always count on ducks, although no ducklings just now, alas. I wandered over for a visit, and admired their iridescent heads, which in this light were bluer than I’d ever seen them.

Sleepy rapists

Of course, I can’t see a male duck anymore without thinking of odd genitalia and calling them rapists. Thanks, Ed. Just for you: the most demure rapist I’ve ever seen.

Demure rapist

I like the way their heads go from ultramarine to teal, depending on the angle at which sunlight strikes them.

Off home, then, to spend quality time on the porch with kitteh. She becomes a complete porch addict in the summer time. We hung out there, and ate bread and cheese and watermelon and strawberries and pineapple, and finished off with a bit of gelato, which she helped with. She snuggled in with the New Hampshire rocks, which are currently homeless due to me not having created shelf space for them yet.

Kitteh and NH rocks

I treasure these lazy summer days. Seattle doesn’t give us many of them, but what it lacks in quantity, it makes up for in quality. At least the air isn’t like a blast furnace five seconds after spring arrives. And it smells wonderful, and sounds delightful, and when it’s just me and my kiddo basking in the sun, it’s perfect.

I hope, my darlings, that you end up with a collection of perfect summer days.

Snail on Green Stone

Starspider dropped by this evening and graciously allowed me to show off my rocks. This included a ramble by the stone walls between my apartment and hers, which include some nice green stones, which I’m suspecting are actually greenstone. Imagine that. She snapped this photo of a snail on the green stone with her camera phone.

Snail on green stone. Image Credit: Starspider

I know gardeners consider them pests, but I love snails. I especially love snails on rocks. We’ve got lots of both round here, and the snails come out after it rains and I’m all like ZOMG SNAILS!!! and have fond memories of Thomas, my wild snail who mated with our domestic golden snail Goldie, and all of the tiny little snail babies that resulted. Snails rock. Especially when they’re on rocks.