Sapere Aude!

This post first sailed on the HMS Elitist Bastard, three long years ago, when PZ Myers hosted Carnival of the Elitist Bastards III. I’ve been meaning to repost it eventually, as many of you weren’t with me back in those halcyon days of joyous elitist bastardry, and I like this piece. I love the Latin phrase I found for its title: sapere aude, dare to know. So many incredible people dared to know, and gave us the modern world.

What will we dare to know? What world will we hand to those who come after us?

Enlightenment is man’s emergence from his self-imposed immaturity. Immaturity is the inability to use one’s understanding without guidance from another. This immaturity is self-imposed when its cause lies not in lack of understanding, but in lack of resolve and courage to use it without guidance from another. Sapere Aude! [dare to know] “Have courage to use your own understanding!”–that is the motto of enlightenment.
– Immanuel Kant, “An Answer to the Question: What is Enlightenment?”

The Enlightenment. Those two words send a cascade of awe and delight down my spine. They set synapses to firing like chains of fireworks. Names and ideas erupt from the sparks: Newton, Spinoza and Leibniz released science and mathematics from their classical and medieval cages and advanced them by light years in a virtual instant. Voltaire, Diderot and Rousseau struck through chains and risked their lives to set human minds free. Locke, Smith and Montesquieu set forth major components of political and economic philosophy that led to democracy and capitalism. Franklin, Jefferson, and Hamilton created a whole new kind of nation from scratch. Beethoven, Mozart, and Goethe elevated music and literature to heights they had never known before.
Men, and not a few women, dared to know, and changed the world.
There had been hints of an awakening for centuries. A few flames burned dimly in the Middle Ages. A few flames flared up brilliantly during the Renaissance. But the Enlightenment was a conflagration, a wildfire beside a candelabra. In less than two centuries, the scientific method arose and began advancing knowledge at an incredible pace; the foundations of democracy and liberalism were laid and thriving nations built on them; education was no longer a prerogative of the fortunate few, but a practical gift offered to a broad swath of the population. The entire Western way of thinking changed virtually beyond recognition. All of those ideas we take for granted – freedom of religion, equality, political and civil rights, and countless more – emerged because of men and women who refused to remain ignorant.
Look at the lives and work of any group of Enlightenment thinkers, and you’ll see similarities. They were desperate to know and understand. They were determined to use rational thought to overcome superstition. They believed in man’s ability to understand the world. They didn’t believe religion had all the answers, or even most. They weren’t afraid to challenge established authority; indeed, they often risked their lives to do so. They found ways to make end-runs around the censors, evaded every attempt to silence them, and believed beyond doubt that what they were doing was right, necessary, and valuable.
They argued with absolutely everyone, each other included. They accepted no limits to their curiosity. There was nowhere to them that Man was forbidden to go.

All is not lost when one puts the people in a condition to see it has intelligence. On the contrary, all is lost when you treat it like a herd of cattle, for sooner or later it will gore you with its horns.


In the salons of Paris, the coffee houses and Gresham College in London, in the dining rooms and halls of power all throughout Europe, intellect raged. Pamphlets, books, magazines, scientific papers all poured into the streets and captured the imaginations of men and women who then used those ideas to create new governments, societies, and values. Knowledge was passed into the hands of ordinary people, and those ordinary people did extraordinary things with it.
The two revolutions of the 18th century, the American and the French, get all of the attention, but neither would have been possible without the revolution in ideas that preceded them. Never before in the history of Western civilization had common people been entrusted to govern. Even Greece, that thriving original democracy, was more of an aristocracy than anything else. But the Enlightenment thinkers believed that all regular people lacked was education and the freedom to use their native intelligence. Given those things, a peasant could rise to rule. Peasants eventually did.
It wasn’t just the aristocracy and absolute monarchy that the Enlightenment thinkers overthrew. They broke the stranglehold religion had over the populace. Religion didn’t escape their scrutiny. The sacred got subjected to the same empirical analysis as the natural world, and where it was found wanting, it suffered the same scathing criticism unleashed on politics, pseudoscience, and ignorance. Some of them treated Christianity with respect and reverence, but they were in a minority. Most Enlightenment thinkers had no use for a Church that sought to keep people in ignorance and servitude, a faith that led to intolerance and claimed miracles it couldn’t prove, and religions rotten with hypocrisy.
“Let’s eat some Jesuit,” Voltaire wrote in Candide. Baron d’Holbach proselytized for atheism, churning out a flood of books and pamphlets proclaiming that there is no God, only nature, and that only a society of atheists has any hope of being truly moral. He often had to publish his books under innocuous titles to evade the censors. But other philosophes left nothing to doubt with theirs: among the books on offer was Toland’s Christianity Not Mysterious. Pretty revolutionary for a world in which religion still ruled.
Other books might have seemed innocent enough until they were opened. Woolston’s Six Discourses on the Miracles of Our Savior proclaimed the Resurrection of Christ “the most notorious and monstrous Imposture, that was ever put upon mankind.” Voltaire, when completing the Philosophical Dictionary, wrote, “Theology amuses me. There we find man’s insanity in all its plenitude.” Jefferson removed all of the miracles from the Bible, a decision which Hume would have applauded.
The only sacred thing was the pursuit of knowledge. Rational thinking, empiricism, science, and intellect reigned supreme. The next world meant very little to them, if anything at all. People had to make a difference in this one. And that was exactly what they set out to do, and succeeded. They brought us the modern age.

A popular government without popular information or the means of acquiring it, is but a Prologue to Farce, or a Tragedy, or perhaps both. Knowledge will forever govern ignorance. and a people who mean to be their own Governors, must arm themselves with the power which knowledge gives.

-James Madison

The Enlightenment never truly ended: its results permeate every aspect of our lives. But there hasn’t been another time quite like it since. The passion for knowledge has been eclipsed. We’ve entered an age in which ignorance rather than intelligence is celebrated. As Kant said, it’s easier to be immature, to let others do the thinking. We become habituated to the yoke: we become afraid of freedom. “The guardians who have so benevolently taken over the supervision of men have carefully seen to it that the far greatest part of them (including the entire fair sex) regard taking the step to maturity as very dangerous, not to mention difficult,” Kant wrote. “Having first made their domestic livestock dumb, and having carefully made sure that these docile creatures will not take a single step without the go-cart to which they are harnessed, these guardians then show them the danger that threatens them, should they attempt to walk alone.”
He could have been describing our age.
Fundamentalist religion is attempting to rein us in. Governments want to control, not serve, the governed. This has always been the case. The powerful never relinquish power easily, and they always desire more power. It’s easier for them to take it from people made willfully powerless.
War, poverty, ignorance and despair are rising all around us.
We should be thrilled.
After all, the Enlightenment grew out of a desperate age. Europe was torn by war, crushed by despotic governments, ripped apart by religious strife, and it was from this harrowing that the philosophes grew. When I look at the conditions surrounding the Enlightenment, I see clear parallels. Strife can destroy people: it can also galvanize them.
I think we’re standing on the cusp of a new Age of Enlightenment.
Bloggers are the new pamphleteers. What bloggers are saying today about politics and religion, life and learning, show the same spirit as those tracts poured from the pens of subversive thinkers who went on to redefine the foundations of the world.
Comments threads and message boards have become the new salons, where ideas are exchanged and intelligence elevated. Those discussions wouldn’t have been out of place in the most illustrious gatherings of learned people.
All we need is the passion, the commitment, and the courage those revolutionaries displayed. Nothing is beyond us. But we have to step outside of the little boxes we’ve put ourselves in. Scientists need to brush shoulders with artists. Writers need to converse with mathematicians. Political philosophers and musicians should mingle. That cross-fertilization of knowledge is what leads to world-shaking ideas, quantum leaps in human understanding.
Politeness and deference are sweet social ideas, but we can’t defer to those who would impose ignorance and superstition. Contention was the order of the day during the Enlightenment. We should never shy away from it. Conventional thinking will get us nowhere. The world is on the cusp of a crisis: we’re never going to get anything solved if we don’t break away from tradition and habit. We won’t solve a damned thing if we don’t risk capsizing the boat.
The philosophes changed the world not by force of arms, but force of mind. Their ideas, their writings, their experiments, are what changed the world irrevocably.
It can happen again. Ignorance has no power to stand against those who dare to know. And those who dare have the power to change everything.

Here and today begins a new age in the history of the world. Some day you will be able to say – I was present at its birth.”

-Johann Wolfgang von Goethe

A River Runs Through It – Sometimes At Flood Stage

Before Anne Jefferson, floods bored me.

I didn’t used to put a lot of thought into how rivers overran. I knew the basics: too much water = overflowing banks. Simple equation, one even an Arizonan can solve. We watched it happen. Rain had a difficult time soaking into hard desert earth. So, every rainstorm, there would be flash floods, and every monsoon season, at least a few people who didn’t quite grasp the fact that those floods were, in fact, flash, and furious: they’d get caught by surprise, and stranded, or drown. On one memorable occasion, some New River folk decided it would be a great idea to drive a backhoe into a flooding desert river that was usually a wash so they could see how deep the water was.

It’s not a great idea to do that. It’s too bad so many of them didn’t survive to learn the lesson.

I learned my lessons from other people, and stayed away from flooded things. If the road had water over it (and believe me, Phoenix has lots of roads that seem built specifically so they can flood reliably every summer storm), I’d go another way. I never lived in a place too close to water. I knew vaguely what a floodplain was – it was the place non-natives built houses, and then wondered why they got washed out every few years when the rivers rose. I didn’t directly experience a life-impacting flood until I moved to El Norte. Back in November of ’07, right after I’d begun working for my present company, North Creek flooded so bad we got evacuated. I had to drive through water that reached the bottom of my car doors – something I’d been told never to do, but the police were there directing traffic, and it was the only way out. I thought I’d come home to find I could float up to my third-floor windows, but Forbes Creek had behaved itself beautifully, and we were as dry as one can get in a Seattle-area winter.

That still didn’t make me think much of floods. In some vague way, the waterways in my story worlds would usually behave themselves. I thought of flooding on small scales, sometimes, but never really considered how rivers misbehave and what people who must live beside them do in order to tame them. Floods? Pfft. Boring. We had bigger matters to attend.

Then came Anne.

She’s in to something I’d never thought had anything much to do with geology: hydrology. When she wrote a blog post, chances were you’d be getting damp. This is a big world, and more than just strictly local bits of it flood. Some of those floods can impact a region, some an entire country. And, as she said in the title of one memorable blog post, “A flood is a disaster when people are in the way.”

Right. So, rivers don’t behave themselves all the time. But we like to live by them. So what does a civilization do to deal with it? How do you tame the savage beast?

In order to understand how a river or stream might be at least semi-controlled, you’ve got to understand how it behaves. What causes it to flood? And what sort of flood does it flood – because I’ve discovered through her posts that rivers aren’t just large generic entities. They have behaviors. A lot of factors influence how they’ll flood and what those floods will be like. You get in to geology and geomorphology, even biology. What happens after you’ve asserted your authority? Because if you change the character of a waterway, you change habitats, and even small changes can lead to drastic impacts. You and I might think nothing of removing a log from a stream so it doesn’t get all stagnant and backed up, but the critters who like that large woody debris might have something to say about it. If removing wood from a stream can have such dramatic impact, how much more can a dam, or dredging, or levees cause?

These are things I’ve never thought about before, not in any but the most fuzzy detail, but my characters have to know it. My civilizations have to deal with it. They have to deal with matters of sediment, how water undercuts banks and digs holes and behaves in different environments. If I want to have a realistic world built, I have to remember that rivers will be rivers, and have a science all their own. And sometimes, quite often in fact, they don’t do what you wish them to do.

Because of Anne, I’ve added a whole new word to my lexicon: hydrogeology. I pay attention to what streams and rivers are up to. I look at watersheds in a completely different way. They fascinate me in ways they never could before. And when I finish this novel and you (hopefully) enjoy it, if there’s an authentic ring to the rivers, remember: it began with Anne.

“Adorers of the Good Science of Rock-breaking”

“Make them like me adorers of the good science of rock-breaking,” Charles Darwin told Charles Lyell once, long ago. This, from a man who also once said of Robert Jameson’s lectures on geology and zoology, “The sole effect they produced on me was the determination never as long as I lived to read a book on Geology.” That, of course, was before Adam Sedgwick lectured him in geology and took him out for field work, which seems to have done the trick. He did read another book on geology, Lyell’s Principles of Geology, which became his constant companion on his voyage with the Beagle. The concepts of geology prepared him to think in deep time. Without his passion for geology, without deep time sinking deep in his mind, the theory of evolution that changed the world might not be Darwin’s.

Outcrop on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

I have become, like Darwin, an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking.

It’s a love that bloomed late. It’s always been there, since I was little and wondered at the mountains rising in my back window; at the vast chasm in the ground that revealed billions of years; at the sea that had become fields of stone. But just a bud, tucked away, unopened. I thought I knew what I wanted and needed from life: a degree in some sort of writerly discipline, like English or maybe History, until I decided the additional debt I’d have to take on wouldn’t teach me any more than I could teach myself, and I left academia for the world of daytime wage-slavery and nighttime scribbling. I set geology aside, because what a fantasy writer needed couldn’t be found in earth and stone. So I thought. I searched the stars, delved into physics, waved fondly to geology on my way to geography. I knew the basics: plates moved, mountains rose where they crashed. Enough to determine the shape of an imaginary world, wasn’t that?


And there was the small matter of a subduction zone, now: I’d moved away from the fossil seas. I didn’t understand this terrible and beautiful new place. It wasn’t a landscape I’d grown up with. So I explored it a bit, and the more I explored, the more I needed to understand, the more I realized a story world should be so much more than an ocean with a few haphazard continents sketched in. I wanted to understand this world so that I could understand that. So I delved, deep, into deep time, into continental crust and ocean floor. I turned to books on geology. They weren’t enough. I found a few geobloggers. They were more, still not enough. I began writing geology in order to understand it, because there’s no better way to learn than by teaching someone else. And it still wasn’t enough.

The more I learned, the more I realized I didn’t know.

And that isn’t precisely the problem. If it was, I could decide that knowing a little more than most is quite enough to be going on with, and settle down, content with my little gems of knowledge. If I’d just stayed a bit more ignorant, it would have been okay.

There’s a metaphor that explains why those few shining gems, no matter how many more I acquire, will never be enough. It’s in the story I’m writing right now, in which Nahash, the Serpent of the Elder Tree, is tasked with giving knowledge and wisdom to a young girl. And this is what he does, the first time they meet:

He led her round the tree, to the spring that bubbled out from between the roots, clear and deep. Another branch hung low there, and there was fruit on it, so heavy and ripe it was ready to fall. He plucked one of the fruits and turned back to her. “This fruit is knowledge. Do you see? It’s probably sweet. Could be sour. You won’t know until you’ve tasted it.” He held it out. She reached for it, but he pulled it back. “There’s something else. Once you’ve tasted it, no matter whether it’s sour or sweet, you’ll always be hungry. You’ll starve. And that water, there-” He waved at the spring. “Sweetest water in the world, maybe the whole universe, but once you’ve had a drink from it you’ll always be thirsty. Starving and parched. Is that how you want to spend your life? There are other ways of living, you know, and some of them are no less worthy. Some of them are even fun. Or so I’ve heard.”

She held out her hand, but didn’t speak.

“Are you quite sure? Because there’s no going back, you know. Not ever.”

Should I ever become a famous speculative fiction author, people will accuse me of being autobiographical. And, aside from the fact that I was an adult when I ate that fruit and drank that spring water, and didn’t actually munch unidentified fruit and drink from the spring of an actual World Tree Serpent, they’ll be quite correct. This is completely autobiographical. Since taking a bigger bite and a deeper drink from the fruit and springs of science, especially geology, I’ve been starving and parched. I’m desperate enough for more that I’ve considered going deep into debt for a degree I may never earn a living from. I’d beggar myself to get a full meal, and I know I’d walk away with a $30,000+ tab, and I’d still be starving. Add several fistfuls of dollars for grad school, and I’d still feel I hadn’t had more than a bite to eat and a drop to drink.

There’s no going back, now I’m an adorer of the good science of rock-breaking. There’s no end to it, you see. It’s a vast old Earth, and there’s no way for any of us to know everything about it. And even if we could, have a look out in space – lots more planets out there, all unknown, all fascinating, all with incredible rocks to break.

On Doherty Ridge, with George’s rock hammer. Photo by Cujo.

Anne Jefferson asked, “If you are a geology enthusiast but not professional… what do you wish you could get in additional formal and informal education? What would you like from geosciences students, faculty, and professionals that would make your enthusiasm more informed and more fun?”

And these are the things I’ll say to you professionals and pending professionals, you professors and students, you who have careers at surveys and for companies:

Do not withhold your passion.

If there’s a book within you, write it. Let your love pour onto the page. Put as much of your knowledge and wisdom into words as you are able, and get it into my hands. You don’t even need a publisher in this digital age: y
ou can upload it as an ebook. I’ll take whatever you’ve got. And if you need a wordsmith’s help, well, you know where to find me.

If something fascinates you, blog it. Even if it’s complicated and you think it’s of doubtful interest to anyone outside of the geotribe, post it up there where I can see it. If you love it enough to spend time explaining it, chances are I’ll love it enough to spend time doing my best to comprehend it.

If you’ve written a paper, share it. Blog about it, maybe even offer to send me a .pdf if you can. There’s a huge, expensive double-barrier between laypeople and papers: the language is technical and hard, and the journals charge so much that even if we’re willing to put in the work, we may not have the funds. We’ve already spent our ready cash on books and rock hammers and various, y’see. But if you’re allowed to send out a copy, and you can give me an iota of understanding, I’ll read it, struggle with it, combine it with those other precious bits of knowledge until I’ve made some sense of it.

Show me what you see. Post those pictures of outcrops. If we’re in the same neighborhood with some time to spare, put those rocks in my hands. I know you’ve got a career and a family, and can’t lead many field trips, but if you can take even a few of us out, do it. We’ll happily keep you in meals, beer and gas money just for the chance to see the world through your eyes, in real time and real life.

Answer questions as time allows.

Point us at resources.

Let us eavesdrop on your conversations with other geologists and geology students.

And hell, if you want to make some spare cash, and you’re not in a position where there might be a conflict of interest, consider teaching some online classes for a fee. There’s plenty of us who can’t quite afford college, but could scrape together some bucks for the opportunity to learn something directly from the experts.We’d practically kill for that opportunity, but the days when you were allowed to break rocks in prison are pretty much over, so there’s not quite as much incentive to break the law.

In other words, mostly do what you’re doing now, with maybe a few added extras.

That’s what those of us without the cash for a college degree and not even a single community college class on offer need. We just need you to share as much as you can, challenge us as much as you can.

And you there, with the students: make them, like me, adorers of the good science of rock-breaking. Send them out into the world with passion, a hammer, and a desire to babble to the poor starving, parched enthusiasts hoping for just one more bite to eat and drop to drink.

Lockwood, Dana, rocks and rock hammer on Doherty Ridge. Photo by Cujo.

This post is dedicated to the geobloggers who adopted me, answer questions and write remarkable posts and answer my plaintive “I can haz pdf?!” cries with a grin and a quick email. Dedicated most of all to Lockwood, who taught me how to properly break a rock, and gave me such rocks to break! Thanks will never be enough, so when you’re next in the Pacific Northwest, my darlings, I shall give you a fine road cut (or several), a substantial meal, and more than one beer. And I meant what I said about being your wordsmith, should you ever need help writing a book.

Dojo Summer Sessions: I Shall Require Topics

Summer’s drawing to a close, and the winter writing season is very nearly upon us. The Muse is back from wherever she spent her summer vacation. It looks like winter will be coming early. There’s a sharp chill in the night air, and a certain gleam in her eye that says I’m in for it. She also appears to have acquired a new whip. Dear, oh dear.

So I’m furiously loading up on posts before summer ends in order to clear the decks for some marathon fiction writing. I’ll need at least 30 Dojo posts fired up and ready to go in advance. I’ve got about half that nearing completion, and I’m running a bit low on ideas.

Topics. I require topics. What haven’t I covered in the Dojo that you’d like to see covered? Pepper me with questions about all things writing, whether fiction or blogging. Tell me what you struggle with. Are there contentious issues in the wordsmithing world you’d like to see me tackle with nothing more than my wits and perhaps a rock hammer? Get them to me. If you don’t want to go public, you can always find dhunterauthor at yahoo. DM me on Twitter. Drop me a line on Google+, only you’d better do that before October, because I’ve plans to abandon it willy-nilly if it continues to be evil. You can even find me on Facebook: although I tend to neglect that place shamefully, they always notify me by email when something gets messaged or posted.

Right, then. Fire away.

Los Links 9/9

Slightly less links than usual, I’m afraid. But some great stuff in here. Do enjoy!


Deshler Photography: Hurricane Irene – Record Flooding in Vermont.


Speakeasy Science: Et tu, Science Magazine?

Scientific American: Lessons from Sherlock Holmes: Don’t Underestimate the Importance of Imagination.

Almost Diamonds: Humor Study Is Funny Peculiar.

Neurotic Physiology: Friday Weird Science: Are men really funnier than women? Who’s asking?

Looking for Detachment: Report on an Afterwork Field Trip.

Mountain Beltway: Friday fold: duplex structure in the gastropod limestone and A dismaying course, part I: climate change.

The Open Source Paleontologist: How do you read the literature? Thoughts on academic maturation.

The Thoughtful Animal: Animal Imagination: The Dog That Pretended to Feed a Frog (and Other Tales).

White Coat Underground: You’re all gonna die!

Highly Allochthonous: Scenic Saturday: Sliced, diced and weathered.

Life as a Geologist: Kinky Columns.

AnimalWise: The “Yellow Snow” Test.

Georneys: Geology Word of the Week: N is for Nummulite.

The Last Word on Nothing: Guest Post: Microscope, DIY, 3 Minutes.

Not Exactly Rocket Science: Bacteria use electric wires to shock uranium out of groundwater and Hummingbirds dive to sing with their tails.

Uncovered Earth: Geoblogging the Northwest.

Macworld: FTC: No, your smartphone can’t heal acne.

Scientific American: How Accurate Are Memories of 9/11?

Quest: Local Geological State Parks to Close.

Ars Technica: Why my fellow physicists think they know everything (and why they’re wrong).

New York Times: Where Early Dinosaurs Lived, Deal Expands a National Park.

Scientific American: What We Know about Black Holes.

Culturing Science: On vaccines: scientists can’t stop doing science because of crazy people.

History of Geology: September 2, 1806: The landslide of Goldau.


Mad Genius Club: He Beats Me But He’s My Publisher.

Galley Cat: How Publishers & Authors Can Use SoundCloud.

Janet Reid, Literary Agent: Pitch versus query.

A Newbie’s Guide to Publishing: Not Caring.

Dear Author: Let’s Give Them Something to Talk About.

The Creative Penn: How To Write Fight Scenes With Alan Baxter.

Atheism and Religion

Choice in Dying: The Bishop of Swindon is an Ass.

Greta Christina’s Blog: Diplomacy and Accomodationism Are Not The Same Thing.

The Meming of Life: The power of two.

Almost Diamonds: We Are Indeed on a Slippery Slope.

New Statesman: What would Jesus ban?

Women’s Issues

Butterflies and Wheels: How to patronize the wimminz.

JAYFK: Oh No They Didn’t: JC Penney still missing the mark.

Feministing: Finally a beer just for women!

RH Reality Check: Court Victory in South Dakota’s Misinformed Consent Law.

Almost Diamonds: Women Can Teach; You Just Can’t Be Obliged to Listen.

Skepticlawyer: Miss Manners and playing the victim.

Tiger Beatdown: CHRONICLES OF MANSPLAINING: Professor Feminism and the Deleted Comments of Doom and “Elitism:” Now, It Basically Just Means “Not Having Sex With Everybody”.

Whatever: Shut Up and Listen.

Love Joy Feminism: Men and Women in Christian Patriarchy: Masters and Slaves or Equals?


Grist: Conservative pundits grapple with ‘anti-science’ charge, flail.

Talking Points Memo: Columnist: Registering Poor To Vote ‘Like Handing Out Burglary Tools To Criminals’.

Forever in Hell: Skin in the Game.

Mike the Mad Biologist: Is 12,000 Lives Worth a Re-Election? Because People Have to Breathe This Crap.

Political Carnival: Tea bagger to TPC reader: You’re “less than human because your husband is half Hispanic & half Irish.

The Telegraph: Jon Huntsman, the lone voice of scientific sanity in the US Republican Presidential race.

Grist: Rick Perry: Just because global warming is a ‘fact’ doesn’t mean it’s real and Even Tea Partiers don’t think environmental protection kills jobs.

Decrepit Old Fool: The Galileo Gambit; rule number one is…

Dan’s Wild Wild Science Journal: Science, The Tea Party and The Dunning-Kruger Effect.

Pam’s House Blend: Per Save California, Gay Activists Are “Kidnapping The Brains Of Our Kids”.

Guardian News Blog: Is Rick Perry a 21st-century Galileo?

Bad Astronomy: Republican candidates, global warming, evolution, and reality.

Mother Jones: Audio: Chris Christie Lets Loose at Secret Koch Brothers Confab.

Society and Culture 

Time: Beware of the Gonzo Nature-TV Presenter.

Pull My Finger: Dumbest. Blog. Ever.

New York Times: On Flood Plain, Pondering Wisdom of Rebuilding Anew.

The Hermitage: In which Hermitage is a pissy black person.

Lifehacker: How I Got My Stolen Laptop Back Within 24 Hours Using Prey.

Stupid Evil Bastard: Beware cold calls from people claiming to be from Microsoft about problems with your computer.

Inside Higher Ed: A Dissenter Is Fired.

Lousy Canuck: Al, why haven’t I leaped yet!?


Bob Blakley: Google+ Can Be A Social Network Or The Name Police – Not Both.

All Things D: Superman vs. Google+ (Comic).

We Have to Remember

Ten years ago today, the world changed.

It changes every day. Someone, somewhere, each day, finds themselves facing what they’d never expected to face. Wars break out, violence erupts; or there’s a fire, or a flood, or some other catastrophic event that means they will never live as they once did. Even if they rebuild their lives, even if they prosper, there’s always that memory, tucked away, and it colors everything. The world changed. It will never, can never, be the same.

Ten years ago today, we in America faced one of those world-changing events. And we are not the same.

In Flagstaff, that September day was achingly beautiful. The sun shone like a second spring. I’d woken late, as usual, and pottered around getting ready for work. There was no television in my house, no phone, no internet, no radio. I’d gotten rid of all those things, living in splendid near-isolation, because all of the things I needed to connect with the world were just a block away at work. So I didn’t know. The world hadn’t changed yet. I walked to work slowly, savoring the last of the flowers, blooming white and gleaming against the bark and cinders in the landscaping at the gym. I listened to birds singing their day away. I basked in the sun, and felt an overwhelming joy in it. Soon, winter would come, kill all the flowers and drape everything in cold, wet white. But right here, right now, it was warm and brilliant and perfect, a perfect moment. I was smiling as I arrived at work.

Where one of my coworkers, hunched on a bench outside, looked up at me and said, “We’re at war.”

And the world changed.

The Towers were already gone. Televisions wheeled on to the call center floor, tuned to CNN, showed the planes flying in to them, over and over; showed the collapse, the bodies falling, the debris, the end of America’s smug sense that it couldn’t happen here. I thought it was the end. How could we possibly survive this? This was the end of everything: our dreams, our hopes, our way of life. But the voice of one of my characters said, fiercely, speaking from a future I couldn’t see, “We survived.”

And we did. We survived. We came together under eerily silent skies. We buried our dead, tended our wounded, we lifted each other up and we became a united nation. We weren’t alone: the rest of the world was with us. We could be wounded, but never defeated.

Then our Republican government spent the next several years ensuring we did everything wrong. Invaded the wrong country. Went the wrong way on security and civil liberties. Used the excuse of 9/11 to chip away at what we were and what America meant. America now meant security theater, and torture, and endless wars against people who had nothing to do with bringing the Twin Towers down, and no part in killing so many there and at the Pentagon. We, afraid, followed along, and we never should have done.

A terrorist act cannot destroy a country. A country can only destroy itself.

This is a time to remember heroism: firefighters and policemen rushing in to burning buildings, giving their lives so others may live. It’s a time to remember everyday people who rose to the moment and did magnificent things, helping each other survive, cope and pick up the pieces. It’s a time to remember that nineteen fanatics can cause terrible damage and pain, and a time to remember that nineteen fanatics aren’t enough to bring down a nation.

But it is also a time to remember what we have done since. We’re determined to never again let terrorists get so far past our guard, but we’ve let ourselves forget why they attacked us in the first place: our freedoms, our democracy, our contentious and wild culture, one in which we’re free to say and do things they find appalling. We were strong, we were a beacon, we were leaders. We tried so hard to be the good guys, even though we failed so many times to live up to our ideals. But since then, we’ve become frightened and jaded, we’ve given up too much of what made us fantastic. We’ve made horrific mistakes, in trying to face this. We’ve brutalized people who had no part in the attack. We let it be the opening salvo in a hopeless war rather than what it truly was: a criminal act, the work of outlaws, the risk we take for living in a free society that would like to lead the world. We’ve acquiesced to torture. We’ve allowed flying to become an ordeal of security theater in which we ritually remove shoes and sacrifice liquids, topped off with a choice between a grope or being stripped by a scanner. We’ve let fear get the better of us, too many times.

And we must not forget that.

We must not forget that what happened on that bright September day ten years ago is not unique to America. Other countries have been attacked. We are not alone in this. That’s not to minimize the impact of September 11th, 2001: it’s a uniquely painful moment in American history, the day we realized we, too, could suffer. And we should never forget. But let’s not forget that others, before and since, have been attacked, and picked up the pieces, and carried on.

Ten years on, our economy’s shattered, our civil liberties under threat, our political system broken, and we are struggling. But we’re not done yet. We can come back. We can be what we were that September morning: strong, prosperous, and admired.

We can do better than we have done. We can become a nation of ideals and inspiration again. And we don’t have to do it alone.

We have to remember. We have to remember that we could have been so much better, and then be it.

Ten years from now, I want to look back to that September day, and be able to say, “That day could have destroyed us. But it didn’t. We remembered, and we became the best we can be.”

Los Links 9/11: I’ll be adding to these as more arrive.

Almost Diamonds: On the Importance of Forgetting. In which Stephanie Zvan reminds us of the things that should be forgotten.

Bad Astronomy: Repost: Making new anniversaries. In which Phil Plait explores the importance of making new memories.

The Washington Post: F-16 pilot was ready to give her life on Sept. 11. What would have happened if the ordinary people on United Flight 93 hadn’t done extraordinary things.

Superbug: Terror and Bioterror: 9/11 to 10/4. (Part 1). Maryn McKenna describes how disease detectives responded in those first chaotic hours, when no one knew what would come next.

White Coat Underground: Yet another 9/11 remembrance, with commentary. In Detroit, PalMD treated patients and listened to the news, wondering what we all did: is our city next?

The Coffee-Stained Writer: What I will tell my children. Nicole shares memories from herself and her husband, and looks ahead at the day when her infant children will come to her for memories of something they know only from social studies classes.

Respectful Insolence: Ten years ago today. Orac posts a long, harrowing video taken 500 yards from the Twin Towers, and time marches on.

The Friendly Atheist: The Falling Man Is Not In Hell. (Warning: graphic image.).

Greta Christina’s Blog: 9/11, and the Shallow Comfort of Religion. By the time you reach the end, the final line rings like a clarion.

Spiegel Online: How 9/11 Triggered America’s Decline. Rings painfully true, this.

Geotripper: An Audience Applauded, and Humanity Evaporated Away: A 9/11 Reflection. We have to face the worst of ourselves as well as the best. And Christians especially will find some food for thought within.

Maureen Johnson: 9/11. The experiences of a New York woman on that day. And never forget this:  “All those people downtown had names and faces and they all mattered. Everyone mattered. We suddenly remembered that. Everyone mattered.”

Neil Gaiman: Memory. Neil reposts blog entries from that time, and includes the one I have never forgotten: “En route today to the home of Maximilian, the rain forced us into a dry space which happened to be holding an exhibition of Robert Capa photographs: astonishing stuff, of the Spanish Civil War, of the Second World War, of the Japanese-Chinese War of 1938, and I found myself looking at the photos of combat, of wounded civilians, of people whose worlds had crumbled and fallen, without any sense of irony. These people were us. Whatever side they were on. They were us, and the images had a truth and an immediacy I couldn’t have imagined until recently.” 9/23/01

Decrepit Old Fool: Build the right monument. And this, finally, the best post I’ve read on 9/11. As always, George says everything I’ve ever wanted to say and never found the right words for.

Geotweeps remember:

@clasticdetritus: “10 years ago today I was doing geological field work in west Texas, listened to events transpire on radio, didn’t see images for three days.”

@eruptionsblog: “The oddest thing about the 9/11 anniversary is finding out only yesterday that someone I knew in high school died in Tower One. Solemn day.”

@rschott: “10 years ago today I was a new prof at LSSU following the events unfold on Slashdot between classes because everything else online was down.”

@callanbentley: “10 years ago, I was teaching at Jefferson Junior High in SW DC, directly across Potomac from Pentagon. Saw smoke from my classroom window.”

@ugrandite: “Ten years ago I was teaching at WKU and kept trying to catch up on the large TV they dragged out into the atrium btw classes.”

@davidkroll (honorary geotweep for the day): “Just going to buy OJ for the kids’ sleepover party and now crying in my car upon sight of Kroger’s flag at half-mast


Paul Krugman: The Years of Shame. Trenchant and correct.

Blue Texan: Krugman is Right: We Should Be Ashamed of What Happened after 9/11. Ditto.

Trek Into the Past

So. Star Trek turned 45 last Thursday. Wow.

It’s been nearly twenty years since I lost my Star Trek innocence. I wasn’t much of a sci-fi fan as a teenager, especially not the teevee shows. I loved Buck Rogers and Battlestar Galactica and… that was just about it. I truly believed most of those shows were horribly corny, with awful special effects and atrocious writing. I was above all that. I would never ever in my entire life become a Star Trek fan. Star Trek fans were pathetic and weird.

Ah, youth. So full of certainty and so full of shit.

Then my friend Ryan spent a few days with us on his summer break from college. This happened at the same time they’d started releasing Star Trek: The Next Generation on VHS. Yes, I am dating myself. Shut up. Anyway, Ryan saw these while we were at Wal-Mart one afternoon and snapped them up with evident glee. His little face just glowed. And he assumed that I, of course, would watch them with him.

“No,” I said. “I hate Star Trek.”

His face. So shocked. He pitched. He pleaded. He cajoled. He seemed to give up in the face of my continued refusal. I should’ve known better. Ryan was a man who could hear the word no, but not when it came to entertainment he believed in. And he could be a devious little bastard.

He also knew me very well. Since he was staying at my place with a herd of other friends, he had easy access to both me and backup. So at 8 in the ay-em, when I was still dead unconscious, he came into my bedroom. “We’re gonna watch Star Trek.”

I think I meant to say something like, “That’s nice, dear. I’m going to continue sleeping,” but what I really said was, “Groan.”

He started in on a let’s-watch-Star-Trek-together sales pitch, ending with, “C’mon. Just one.”

“If you want me to watch Star Trek,” I said, “you’ll have to carry me out there.”

And so he did. He scooped me right out of bed. He’s not the strongest man in the universe, but he was determined. Picture him staggering through my chaotic bedroom, trying to avoid tripping over debris, navigating hazards, while I watched the approaching door with the certainty that I was about to have my head cracked open upon it, if he didn’t fall and squish me first. I was about to die because a friend wanted me to watch Star Trek.

We made it to the living room with only minor bruising. He deposited me in front of the television whilst the other houseguests laughed and roared their approval. Ryan may not have been a strong man, but he was a smart man. He stuffed a Coke in my hand, knowing that at this hour and so equipped, I wouldn’t have the will to move for at least an hour, and an hour was all he needed. Then he turned on the telly.

The episode, for those interested, was “The Naked Now.” Yeah. If you know it, you’re already laughing.

By the end of that hour, I was hooked. By the end of summer, I was a full-on fan. I became an officer in our local fan club. I dressed as Deanna Troi for Ryan’s next visit (which didn’t shock him half so much as the fact that I was wearing makeup). I loved the friend who constantly wore his starship captain’s uniform, and didn’t think it at all weird that he’d spent months figuring out how to say, “Take your ticket and get on the damned boat” in Klingon. He worked for a boat rental company, it made perfect sense.

I owned the Enterprise’s manual. I wrote Star Trek fan fic. I read the books (and to this day, Q-in-Law is one of my favorite reading experiences. Read it. You’ll laugh). I watched all the movies. And I discovered a wealth of stories I hadn’t even known existed.

Star Trek taught me that sci-fi could be awesome, even in the television industry, even when the special effects weren’t all that. It taught me that this genre could tell amazing stories.

I rather drifted away after those halcyon early years of passion. I no longer read the books or write the fan fic. I don’t belong to a fan group, or keep up on the new spinoffs, or even all of the movies. But I haven’t stopped loving Star Trek.

I’ll always want my tea. Earl Grey. Hot.

I’ll always want to see them boldly going where no show has gone before, even if I’m not along for every voyage.


This Student Gives Me Hope

I don’t know who she is, only what she has done. And what she has done is this: become a banned book library. When her school decided upon a list of things the kids absolutely must not read, due to parental outrage and a belief kids can be kept from great literature and harsh truths, she tested their limits by bringing in a copy of The Catcher in the Rye. When it caught the eye of a fellow student, she lent it out. And then things snowballed, and she now runs a clandestine locker-library full of banned books, which kids who had no interest in good books until they were forbidden to read them are now thoroughly enjoying.

Firstly, we have a young woman who’s passionate about books. I already love her.

Secondly, we have a young woman who’s not prepared to be told what she can and cannot read. Love kicks up a notch.

Thirdly, we have a young woman who’s getting other young men and women reading intensely. Love shoots through the roof and becomes adoration.

I have news for parents and school authorities who believe they can shelter children from things they think are too awful for young minds: you’ll fail. You have failed. You’ve always failed. Unless this was a very clever reverse-psychology ploy to get kids interested in books, in which case you’ve succeeded brilliantly. Bravo. A cunning plan – quite evocative of the way the potato was introduced to Greece.

Too bad I doubt the administration was that smart.

We jaded adults may believe kids these days are incapable of deep thought and literacy and scholarship, and we are so very, very wrong if we believe that. Look at this student. Look at what she and her fellow students are doing. Look at how much books matter to them. Enough to take not-inconsequential risks for. And they are smart enough and confident enough to decide what they can and cannot read, all for themselves, to hell with the naysayers.

I love this to pieces. It tells me that, despite rumors to the contrary, we’re not raising a nation of apathetic know-nothings, although we’ve been trying very hard to do so. No, we’ve got a crop of brilliant, bold, and brave kids coming up, and the world will be better for them.

I just hope that once my books get published, they’re summarily banned. I’d like to have this kind of readership. I want kids like this at my signings. Unleashing that wise, unruly literary mob upon the unsuspecting citizens of this increasingly stifled country would make me twelve kinds of happy, and prouder than I’ll ever have words to express.

This Is Madness

I’ll be driving down to Burien, WA tomorrow night to take part in some serious insanity: Burien Little Theatre’s 9-10-11 fundraising event. 24 hours of delightful chaos. I shall be liveblogging it from around 10pm to the wee hours.

If you’re round Burien tomorrow, I beseech you, come down! Join the chaos! Be entertained! Support community theatre! And goggle at the poor souls who won’t sleep and will barely eat for 24 hours so that the show can go on.

Yeah, About That Lighthouse….

It was barely bloody visible. No matter. We had one of those glorious, rare, clear, and very warm days that would have led to some spectacular views. Only, those glorious, rare, clear and very warm days have led to quite a lot of forest fires, so there was a remarkable amount of smoke in the air, cutting visibility considerably.


Still. ‘Twas lovely. The sun shone, waves crashed, and I got me feet wet. Not bad as far as possibly last adventures of the summer season go. I’d been missing the Sound. Our adventures this summer involved more fire than water, and it just seems obscene to live half an hour from one of the most beautiful bodies of water on earth and not get out to see it.

We went to Alki Point. From there, you can see just about everything round Seattle that makes it so geologically interesting. Shall we take a tour? We don’t even have to walk about much.


We saw a lighthouse. Sorta. If you enlarge this photo by lots, you’ll see the lighthouse at Discovery Park standing at the very end of land, there. And you can see those wonderful bluffs I’m so enamored with.

Continuing on…

As we walked toward the sandy part of the beach, the Space Needle caught my attention, and then this set of steps with waves splashing exuberantly up against it, and the visual artist part of my soul grabbed my throat and said, “You will stand here and take five billion pictures of this until you have one you are satisfied with.”  So I did:

Splash and Space

If you look closely, just to the left of the Space Needle, you’ll notice the Cascades are visible. They’re mere shadows through the haze on the horizon, but they’re there. Seattle is a city surrounded by mountains, and sometimes you even get to see them.

Speaking of Cascades, we got a rare view of Mount Baker:

Mount Baker

It’s still weird to me, living in a city with views of so many stratovolcanoes that look like nothing so much as ice cream cones. It doesn’t matter how hot the summer gets, they’re always coated in snow, and they’re so adorably round. They probably won’t look so round and innocent when they erupt, but at least they’ll put on a good show. If Baker goes boom, I’ll probably hare off to Alki to enjoy the fireworks, weather permitting.

I mentioned smoke. It clung to the horizon, and at times did some very fascinating things, like stream up islands:


And yup, the Olympics were out, too. They’re big. You don’t get a sense of how big most days, with most of them hidden by clouds, but here on a clear day, you get a sense of their enormity. And we saw a fire start up there. Observe:

No fire

No wildfire up my sleeve, ladies and gentlemen. Now I’m going to perform a distracting little gesture with, oh, say, my foot, and then poof!


We watched it grow from just a little wisp of a hint of smoke to this mushroom cloud. Here’s a better view:

Boat and Blaze

This appears to be the Big Hump fire, caused by some idiot, and busily munching along in the understory. It still amazes me that anything at all burns on this side of the state, but we haven’t had rain for a bit. Hence all the bloody fires, most of which are burning on the dry side of the state. Oregon’s got its own excitement as well. That’s what you get when all the biology dries out and things spark. So let me just say this right now, folks: no matter how damp a place seems, please be ultra-careful with any burny things. I know we geo-types joke about napalming the forest, but we don’t really mean it. Much. And we’d rather it not burn down, thanks ever so much.

Here endeth the PSA and the obsession with fire. Let’s feast our eyes on some color, shall we?


This is one of the things I love about the Sound: when it’s blue, it’s blue – but also green, all these lovely bright jewel tones that make the whole world seem just that much more brilliant.

It looks all inviting and stuff, but be careful if you can’t resist and dive in. This is northern Pacific water. That means it’s capital-C cold.

Moi getting cold feet

That’s why you’ll only catch me in it up to my ankles. I am a wuss. But a very happy wuss.

On the way back to the car, we noticed an extraordinarily fat seagull on the prowl. Do not leave bags unattended unless you want them filched by a fat bird:


I don’t know why, but I find this kind of behavior hilarious.

On the other side of the point, I caught sight of a cute little diving bird. I have no idea what it is, but did I mention cute?

Diving bird

How do I know he’s a diving bird? Because I watched him dive a few times. They stay under a rather long time, actually, and then pop back to the surface like ping pong balls.

The sun was starting to get a bit low, and you know me – I can’t resist a good glitter:


Nor a majestic mountain. Mount Rainier completes our collection of Cascades volcanoes visible from Seattle:

Mount Rainier

The views round here really are remarkable.

And, if you try hard enough, and go to the end of an alley, at last, you will see a lighthouse:

Alki Lighthouse

And with that, summer adventuring season is pretty much finished. Nice enough finale. And don’t worry – there shall be plenty more pictures – we’ve had enough adventure to keep us in write-ups all winter long.