Christmas Eve Sarajevo, Two Versions

So this is a beautiful song, one of my favorite pieces. It’s up to you which version you choose. There’s the Trans-Siberian Orchestra version, which is a little more fantasy and wonder and has kittens and a very sweet little girl.

And then there’s the Savatage version, used on their Dead Winter Dead album, and it has war and a love story.

That’s the album that started me toward becoming a peacekeeper. I won’t say pacifist – I think there are times, unfortunately, when a species of war is necessary. But it’s very different from the kind of war we’ve been fighting. It’s the kind of war that helps stop ethnic cleansing and unthinkable violence and allows people to put shattered lives back together, as best as they can, and go on.

I think of this story every Christmas Eve: that there was a war, and a cellist, and a Christmas Eve when the cello stopped, and two people walked away from a war.

And there was a cellist of Sarajevo. He played in the ruins as the war raged round him. He inspired the story of Dead Winter Dead. But his was a happier ending, and hasn’t ended yet.

Vedran Smajlović, in Sarajevo, 1992. Image and caption courtesy Wikipedia.

Vedran Smajlović, in Sarajevo, 1992. Image and caption courtesy Wikipedia.

I think of those who try, in the midst of ruins, to make this world a little better, a little more beautiful, when to those in the midst of those ruins it must seem there’s nothing good or beautiful left in it, and I’m grateful for them, this Christmas Eve.

Little kids and kittens are nice, too. And fantasy, and wonder, and beauty in the dark night, as the music plays, and stories unfold.

What Pass for Winter Scenes In Seattle – With Basalt, Baby Sloths, and Sea Otters

It’s not going to be a white Christmas here. More like a gray wet one. That’s how Seattle goes. Still, when the sun peeks out for ten seconds, and the new basalt column fountain’s going, it’s quite pretty even without the frozen white stuff mucking up the roads.

Basalt column fountain in winter.

Basalt column fountain in winter.

So, it’s Christmas Eve here in the United States. Another War on Christmas season is almost over, and I’m thinking for the next one, we should design some less tacky displays to plant in the public square next to all of those gawd-awful nativity scenes. There was only one nativity scene I ever came close to liking, and that was the live one we had once. Only the camel ended up wanting no part of it, and I have no idea where the sheep had wandered off to, and it ended up just as lame as the plastic ones. Still. I got a glimpse of a live camel, which when you’re young and from a smallish American town is pretty damned awesome. We should invent some sort of nativity for the FSM, if there isn’t one already, involving exotic animals. Preferably ones that won’t get bored, like sloths. We’d have children clamoring to see the atheist displays if they included baby sloths, and I’ll bet the adults wouldn’t put up as much of a fight as they might have done otherwise. [Read more…]

Sunday Song: Autumn’s Last Gasp

Really. This is getting seriously ridiculous. Autumn refuses to leave. But I think it’s on its last legs now, so this may honestly and actually be the last of it.

These lovelies are from my breaking-in-shoes walk a couple of Saturdays ago. For the most part, we’re down to a few bedecked branches, and some solitary leaves that have fallen artistically into the evergreenery. [Read more…]

Silly Rhododendron. Don’t You Know It’s Winter?

Yay, we survived the current apocalypse! Woo! I am just astounded beyond words, reely. In celebration, I’m being completely lazy and refuse to turn on the computer. Good thing I had some winter-themed rhodies in drafts, then right?

I took a walk two Saturdays ago to break in my nifty new shoes. I took a picture of them so we can all remember them when: this is the pair that will be maimed, mangled, muddied, and otherwise modified during the summer adventuring season.

Mah new adventuring shoes

Mah new adventuring shoes

I know some of you will yell at me for not getting proper hiking boots. I can’t bloody walk in hiking boots. Also, some of the trails round here encourage you not to wear hiking boots anyway, because they’re apparently more destructive than sneakers. Don’t worry about my ankles. I’d turn them worse in hiking boots – I’ve done it before. Also, I’d break my nose: when my ankles are confined, I get unstable on my pins. Don’t ask me why, because I don’t know. It’s not an issue for city walking, but when I’m trying to scramble over rocks, it’s bad.

Anyway, my feet aren’t important. They’re just what forced me out of the house. I went bouncing down the road (the tread on these makes me feel like I’m all springy) and stomped around North Creek for a bit getting used to them. Columbia, it turns out, makes good shoes. They’re brand-new, yet didn’t give me ferocious blisters. They didn’t even rub much. And they stop on a dime. I know this because I stopped dead when I noticed a rhodie blooming.

A Rhodie in Winter

A Rhodie in Winter

I’ve never ever seen a rhodie blooming this late. Then again, I don’t typically go traipsing round Seattle in the winter. I’m a complete wuss. I also have ten trillion tons of research to accomplish before summer so that I can continue to pump out blog posts whilst adventuring. But you know, cabin fever and new shoes, and the sun came out for thirty seconds, and I was all like, “Yay let’s go outside!!!!!”

And this rhodie’s all, “Yay let’s bloom even though it’s a ridiculous time of the year for it!”

Beautiful blooms

Beautiful blooms

You may notice they’re covered in water. That’s because it’s been raining. All. The. Time. Also, it’s definitely colder than a sled dog’s arsehole, although we haven’t definitively established that temperature. It was cold enough to make my ears ache and my thighs go numb. I’m a bloody wuss, people, I admit it. And standing round photographing a rather ambitious rhodie didn’t help matters.

But gotta love the results.

Sweetest Bud

Sweetest Bud

How lovely is that? Here’s the full version, because I can’t decide which I like best.

Sweetest Bud II

Sweetest Bud II

So there were all these flowers, nestled among the greenery, and if my ears hadn’t been ready to fall off and my thigh muscles MIA, I could’ve believed it was an overcast but lovely spring day. It’s nice of these late-bloomers to give us this spring reprise.

Pretend it's spring. Hope it doesn't snow.

Pretend it’s spring. Hope it doesn’t snow.

I found you some fantastic fungi, too, and you shall have it in the not-too-distant future. This is why I love the Pacific Northwest. I’m always finding lovely things, and although I’m a wuss, I can survive no matter the season. Then I can come back and share lovely things with you. That, my darlings, is part of what makes life so delightful.

One Week

Flag at half-mast. Illinois State University campus during winter storm Draco, on 20 Dec 2012. Image courtesy George Wiman.

Flag at half-mast. Illinois State University campus during winter storm Draco, on 20 Dec 2012. Image courtesy George Wiman.

The flag at the Seattle Times building is at half mast, too – I see it when I pass by on the way to work, and remember. I hope this time we don’t forget.


Charlotte Bacon, 6

Daniel Barden, 7

Rachel Davino, 29

Olivia Engel, 6

Josephine Gay, 7

Ana M Marquez-Greene, 6

Dylan Hockley, 6

Dawn Hochsprung, 47

Madeline F. Hsu, 6

Catherine V. Hubbard, 6

Chase Kowalski, 7

Jesse Lewis, 6

James Mattioli, 6

Grace McDonnell, 7

Anne Marie Murphy, 52

Emilie Parker, 6

Jack Pinto, 6

Noah Pozner, 6

Caroline Previdi, 6

Jessica Rekos, 6

Avielle Richman, 6

Lauren Rousseau, 30

Mary Sherlach, 56

Victoria Soto, 27

Benjamin Wheeler, 6

Allison N Wyatt, 6

Maya Apocalypse Day Music Madness: Only The End of the World Again!

Welcome to the Umpteen Thousandth Annual Apolcalypse! Brought to you by the Maya Long Count Calendar – and we all know that things carved in stone must be true. Never mind that people have based their idea that the end times are upon us on a cultural misunderstanding. Somehow, the fact that the Maya expected the world to continue after today never crosses their minds. Never mind that their doom scenarios are completely without foundation.

The small detail of end-of-world disaster scenarios being completely corny will not stop us from throwing end-times parties (because it’s Friday and damn it, we’ll take any excuse handy. Woo!). End-times parties need a soundtrack. I am here to provide. I also stand to lose ~90% of my readership if you all watch some of these videos sober, but I’m willing to take the risk, because they made me laugh.

Also, don’t forget: we have a very special Geopocalypse edition of the Accretionary Wedge up courtesy of Lockwood, and it has awesome content and valid points, so you lot who are stuck at work should absolutely read it while the clock ticks toward party time.

Soundtrack below the fold. Party on, my apocalyptically outstanding readership, party on! [Read more…]

New at Rosetta Stones: I Snark At the Media. Do Contain Your Surprise.

Back to geology for a bit: our own RQ sent me some articles that got me started on Tolbachik and the media’s fractal wrongness. One thing I’ve learned during these last years of science writing: don’t trust science writing. Really don’t trust anything you see in the popular media, and take stuff written up by actual science writers with a grain of salt (or, if you’re watching your sodium intake, salt substitute). Yes, even mine. We can be wrong sometimes. But, happily, not as often as the mainstream media, which is filled with poor innocent journalists being asked to cover breaking news about things they know nothing about. It’s like asking me to cover a soccer game. What could go wrong is hilarious and horrible to those with more expertise.

Anyway. It was nice to do up a bit of geology, and I hope it proves to be a nice breather for all of you who have spent this week alternately crying and raging. Enjoy!

A Child Armed Himself

So there’s this, and it broke my heart. Good job, America. You’ve convinced eleven year-olds that they need to be armed and dangerous. And what happens when we arm children? They don’t know how to use a gun responsibly, so they wave it at people, and we have one more data point in the set that says guns don’t make you safer. At least it was unloaded.

Elsewhere in that article, after the tragedy of a child thinking he needed a firearm to be safe because we can’t get our violence under control, and we have gun nuts telling us the solution is more guns (conveniently forgetting Fort Hood, and all of the highly-trained people armed with guns there), we have an Attorney General-elect declaring fortifying schools is one possibility.

Ah, smell that Second Amendment freedom! We are free to live as if we are living in a war zone, because we’re not responsible enough to take the high-capacity clips and assault weapons away while we begin the long work of addressing the myriad factors that go into making this a culture where people with guns kill lots and lots of people.

“Well Regulated.” Image courtesy Rick Cooper (RickC) on Flickr.

I am disgusted beyond words with my country right now. [Read more…]

Space and Time to Heal

If I can figure out how to do it, I want to post a delightfully science-ific parody of the “Gangnam Style” video here:

NASA Johnson Style

Okay, that didn’t seem to work.  But do click on the link, and enjoy a few minutes of sciency silliness.

Why?  Because I need time to think.  The first salvos against the USian violence culture are clear: keep assault-type weapons at gun ranges, and make mental health care easily accessible and a positive thing to access.  Just those will be difficult enough.  But Dana has called for nothing less than the eradication (or at least a great reduction) in the violence culture of our country, and thinking of ways to go about that makes my head hurt.

Meanwhile the video reminds me that there are lot of people doing good work for the sake of our country and our world.  They don’t negate the shooters of the country; they don’t reduce the violence.  But they do good, and in this climate, it’s proper to remember that some people go to work every day and do good (other than teachers; they go to work every day and do fantastic.)


A Few Important Items

Before we get back to our a semblance of our normal routine, I want to share a few things with you.

First, for those who want to help the Sandy Hook families with funeral expenses and paying for counseling, Atheists Giving Aid has set up a fund. You can donate here.

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR

Roses at Avery Park, Corvallis, OR: A reminder there are still beautiful things in the world.

I will have some more substantial things to say at a later time. I do know one thing: things here will change. We’ll still have our fun and our geology and so forth, but you’ll see more of a focus on social justice issues than before. This latest mass shooting crystallized the entirety of A+ for me. The reason why we need movements like A+ is because we have so damned much to fix. As I’ve said repeatedly over the past few days, there’s no single way to prevent these shootings. Getting an assault weapons ban passed is just taking the keys out of the drunk person’s hand – it will probably reduce the incidence, but it won’t eradicate the causes. We will never completely solve these problems. That’s no reason not to begin somewhere. [Read more…]