Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Click the link for his “The Other America” Speech.

“Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter.”

Don’t go silent.  

On this day, we remember the power of dreams.  We remember the power of a great many good people all coming together for a just cause.  And we remember that the right words, symbolic actions, and a refusal to back down from demands for justice can remake the world.

Thank you, Dr. King. 

Christmas Rocks

In more ways than one.  For instance, I’m not at work.  Woot!

By the time you read this, it’ll be Boxing Day, so Happy Boxing Day!  That holiday always confused me as a kid.  I had no idea why there would be a special holiday for beating people up.  Then I found out it was an extra holiday lucky people in Britain and other such countries celebrated that had nothing to do with boxing, and I think this is where my anglophile tendencies began, because who wouldn’t want an extra holiday right after Christmas?  Even if it did have a funny name.

In fact, it seems no one’s quite sure why it’s actually called Boxing Day.  Who cares?  There’s sales on – reason enough to celebrate!

We have rather more luck with Christmas, where the name is obvious and the seasonal celebrations easily traceable.  Hudson Valley Geologist Steve Schimmrich has a good primer up on all that.  And Doctor Science points out that no, in fact, Christ is not the “reason for the season,” as so many fundies like to pretend (h/t).  And it wasn’t a foundational holiday for early Americans, either.  Our own national hero George Washington saw it as a prime time to launch a sneak attack, as the colonists who would become Americans didn’t celebrate Christmas but Germans did.  Isn’t there something in Sun Tzu about taking advantage of enemies’ hangovers?  I’m sure there must be.

Retailers would have us believe it’s all about buying shit, and giving and receiving gifties is awesome, but Doctor Science has some of the other reasons us secular types enjoy a good midwinter celebration:

To have a green tree in the house, filled with light, in the darkest and coldest time of year, as we feel the year turn from old to new — how can that not be numinous? When we decorate with green branches and red berries, this isn’t from Christian iconography –

“I remember hearing,” said Susan distantly, “that the idea of the Hogfather wearing a red and white outfit was invented quite recently.” NO. IT WAS REMEMBERED.

(from Hogfather, by Terry Pratchett). The rising of the sun and the running of the deer, seeing our families and having enough to eat: all of these things are worth celebrating. Such celebrations don’t have to be either secular or religious, in the usual sense: they are pagan in the sense of “rustic, countrified, what the common people do”. Human, in other words. 

Good reasons all.  And I’m not fussed about what our midwinter celebrations are called.  “Christmas” is a decent enough shorthand for all those midwinter celebrations.  But next year, I might start popping off with “Happy Boxing Day!” just to see how many Americans have no idea what I’m talking about.

But all of that’s just a long lead-up to what we’re really here for: the presents!  And thanks to our geobloggers, Christmas this year rocks!

Follow me after the jump for ye delights.

Let’s start with a sing-song, shall we?  Chris Rowan at Highly Allochthonous was kind enough not to actually sing the 12 Geological Days of Christmas, but he’s got the lyrics and we can carry the tune:

The words below are sung to the obvious tune, and (mostly) just about scans – although my festive gift to you is not to post anything resembling audio of me trying to sing it myself.

On the 1st day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
an APWP

On the 2nd day of Christmas, my true love sent to me:
2 concordant zircons
…and an APWP.

Enjoy all twelve!

And here’s another traditional carol, courtesy of Lockwood: “Deck Us All With Boston Charlie:”



Now we’ve got the music going, we can haz gifties!

Silver Fox sends us Xmas Greetings from Nevada:



Many more pretty pitchoors where that came from, o’ course!

Garry Hayes sends us a postcard from the edge!  The Christmas Gift: Storm Passes in the Grand Canyon.


 
Mmmm, home!  Love the stormlight in Arizona.  Love love love!

Erik Klemetti gave us his gift early.  Dr. Adam Kent answers your questions about Mt. Hood (and more):

Afters months of waiting, I have finally been able to get my act together enough to post the answers to questions you posed to Dr. Adam Kent. If you remember back to the beginning of the fall, Dr. Kent and his colleagues published a paper in Nature Geosciences about the nature of magma mixing and eruptions at Mt. Hood in Oregon. You sent in questions and now you get some answers. Enjoy!

Suvrat Kher has Recommended Holiday Reading:

A passage from Simon Winchester’s Krakatoa, The Day the World Exploded: August 27, 1883 -

(And yes, I’m gonna be mean and make you go to the link for your giftie!  Those of you who haven’t read the book yet may want to reconsider after reading it – I had no idea Krakatoa had so much to offer, and I’ve been eyeballing it for years now!  Might be getting meself a little Boxing Day giftie, in fact…)

Finally, we come to the huge package that’s been looming under the tree.  You know, the one that screams ZOMG OPEN MEEE!!! but everybody’s made you save for last because it’s that freakin’ awesome.  Callan Bentley went out and got us a fantastic Serpentite and Melange!

That is an AMAZING thing to see — tectonically-rounded blocks of serpentinite, surrounded by a sheared-out, foliated paste of crushed serpentinite. That is a serpentinite mélange. Look at the way the foliation wraps around these lone survivors, like native prairie grasses swishing around the last two bison in South Dakota:



There are so many drop-dead gorgeous photos in there, so much astounding geology, I didn’t even know what to filch.  Twas the bison simile that did it!  ZOMG, Callan, thankyouthankyouTHANKYOU!

And thank all of you: my wonderful geobloggers, my science and political and melange bloggers, my Tweeps, my friends, family, and cat, and you, my dear, my cherished, my raison d’etre readers!  I love you all to pieces.  Happy hollydaze to you!

Kittehmas

Merry Kittehmas!  Or Cephalopodmas or Squidmas – really, you can choose any animal you like!

Gifts May Be Late – Kitteh’s Got Dem

This was the scene as I tried to wrap and pack my parents’ Christmas gifts.  She’s sleeping on the shot glasses.  How that can be comfortable, I don’t know and don’t necessarily want to ask.

Eventually wrestled them away.  But I’ve had to leave the green tissue, which she decided the instant I removed it from the box was the most awesome Christmas gift my mother’s ever sent her.

I Got Paper!  Ana Box!

She is, at this moment, sleeping on the green tissue once again.  Eventually, my living room is going to be filled with tissue, boxes, and other odd bits of packing material that my feline has decided make her life worth living.

So this is Kittehmas.  Ai hopes u can haz wunderfull wun!



A Special Holiday Message from Ricky Gervais

Happy Yule, my darlings!  Whether you’re celebrating Christmas, Hanukkah, the Solstice, or whatever other midwinter festival, I hope you’re having a blast.

And here, courtesy of Ricky Gervais, is a nice bit of ammunition for all of those relations who might be giving you guff for being an atheist at this time o’ year (h/t):

Wow. No God. If mum had lied to me about God, had she also lied to me about Santa? Yes, of course, but who cares? The gifts kept coming. And so did the gifts of my new found atheism. The gifts of truth, science, nature. The real beauty of this world. I learned of evolution – a theory so simple that only England’s greatest genius could have come up with it. Evolution of plants, animals and us – with imagination, free will, love, humor. I no longer needed a reason for my existence, just a reason to live. And imagination, free will, love, humor, fun, music, sports, beer and pizza are all good enough reasons for living.

Haven’t lacked in the reasons for living department myself.  If I want transcendence, I can wander off into the mountains and soak some right up.  A nice waterfall’s quite enough cathedral for me.  Communing with the universe via Hubble isn’t a bad way to spend an afternoon, either.  Crack open a book on science, and I have all of the wonder I need to sustain my soul for a good long while.

And I do believe that’s where all of those friends and relatives who give us atheists the old pitying stare and the firm lecture have an abject failure of imagination: they can’t imagine how a universe without god can possibly be enough.  I say the universe doesn’t need a god.  Gods are surplus to requirements.  It’s already got an embarrassment of riches.  Gods just get in the way.  The stories about them are fun, true, and I do enjoy a good myth, but as an explanation for how the universe really works, myths are poor substitutes for the real truth.  I’ve never yet come across a myth that astonishes me half so much as what physics has revealed.  The natural wonders around me don’t need a god to make them wonderful: geology, chemistry, physics and biology have done a good enough job of that – far better, in fact.  The stuff we humans make up isn’t a patch on the breadth, depth, and astonishing underlying simplicity of reality.  

As a bonus, science doesn’t require me to go sit in a church on Sunday mornings and condemn the unbelievers to hell.

For some people, I suppose, the world is not enough.  Something in their wiring requires a deity to make them feel like their life has meaning.  Sometimes, I wish I understood why.  I used to, until I gave up on the god thing and realized how very unnecessary that had been.  I suppose I used to have the same fear of falling that so many others do – felt if I didn’t have a god there whipping me, I might stray from the straight and narrow.  But morality hasn’t been a problem.  The opposite, in fact.  Morality’s easier when it just comes down to us.  We’ve got to treat each other well, help each other out, because we’re all we’ve got.  There’s no one coming down from Calvary to save us.  We’ve got to do it ourselves.  So unfold the hands, roll up the sleeves, and get to work.

We haven’t got dominion over the Earth.  We’re residents, and if we tear the place up, well, we haven’t got anywhere else to go, so best take care of it.  That includes our fellow creatures, who support our lives here in ways we’re only just beginning to understand.  Ecology is a crazily interconnected thing.  If you think that story about a missing horseshoe nail causing a war to be lost is a good proverb about the importance of the small details, well, you might want to have a look at what happens when something so seemingly inconsequential as an insect is removed from the food web.  Even bacteria matter far more than we might have cared to admit. 

Thing is, I can see those things, now that I’m not worried about the afterlife and all.  Far from contracting, my worldview has expanded since getting rid of gods.  Anyone else experienced the same thing?  Anyone else found a universe of possibility opening up before them once they’d taken the god-goggles off?  Wonderful, isn’t it?

And like Ricky said, I no longer need a reason for my existence.  I know, roughly, why I’m here: there’s a whole story of evolution and reproductive biology behind that, a history of contingency and coincidence and one damned thing after another that led to the person typing this.  I don’t need any more reason than that.  It doesn’t concern me.  It’s an inane question, really, asking why I exist and not some other combination of genetic material, what reason I was put on this earth – I’ve come to find out that not everything needs the kind of reason religious people mean.  I’m here.  The important question is, what am I going to do now I’m here?  And that I get to decide for myself.  There’s no one set path I must follow.  I can explore, let my imagination lead me around by the nose, let curiosity drag me from one adventure to the next, without ever worrying whether it’s the right thing to do.  “An it harm none, do what ye will.”  I have filched that from Wicca and live by it daily, happily.

Do I feel like I’m missing something?  Yes, all the time.  I’m missing those years I wasted chasing after religion when I could have been chasing after science instead.  Aside from that, no.  There are no gaping holes left in my life, no god-shaped gap demanding to be filled.  I can’t even imagine wanting a god to worship anymore.  I’m filled to overflowing with the wonders of the universe: there’s no more I desire.  Well, that’s not strictly true.  A bank account full enough to live off of for the rest of my life wouldn’t go amiss.  More time to explore the universe, then, you see!  But that’s just a fancy, nothing more.

So sorry to disappoint those fundies who love to dream and tell tall stories about those sad, crying, empty atheists who sit around miserable and alone at Christmas.  The reality’s quite different.  Oh, chances are, I am alone – but that’s not because I’m an atheist, it’s because I’m a writer whose family lives out of state, and hence I can plead inability to get time off work and money for travel in order to squeeze out a little extra time with ye olde scribbling.  Blissful, that.  So yes, fundies, there’s one consolation for you: I’m alone.  But sad, crying and empty, I am not.  How can I be?  There’s too much wonder in the world for me to ever be miserable for long.

My darlings, atheists and believers and all in between, I do hope you’re putting this holiday to great good use.  There’s food, family, friends, fun and loot to be had.  Whatever your reason for the season, just pause for a moment to reflect on how many reasons we have for living.  There are so many, great and small, that we’d be here well into the new year before I got done listing them all.

Here’s to you, and here’s to life, and here’s to another shopping season successfully survived!

Ding, Dong, DADT Is Dead!

Finally!

I am petty much dying of shock, because somehow, six Senate Republicans managed to do something right for a change.  Drugs?  Blackmail?  Vestigial human decency?  Who knows?  All I know is, 57 Dems, 6 Republicans, and 2 Independents pulled together and

DADT IS DEAD!

Huzzah!

You may ask, why not 58 Dems?  Well, that’s because Sen. Manchin seems to find holiday parties more important than voting for legislation that restores civil rights to those who serve in our country’s military.  When it comes to lead, follow, or get out of the way, he apparently chose option 3. 

Would’ve been a perfect day if the Senate hadn’t been busy killing the DREAM Act earlier.  Sens. Lugar, Bennett and Murkowski deserve no blame on that one – they did the right thing, it was five defecting Dems who decided children who got dragged into this country illegally don’t get a chance to go to college and get decent jobs in the only country they’ve ever truly called home.  You can find the offending dumbfucks at the link, and add them to your list of Dems who deserve to get primaried when next they beg for our votes.

Still.  Banner day.  I have no idea how the hell this happened – I expected Senate Cons to stand united against teh gayz, considering what frothing insane Tea Partiers are likely to do to the Republicans who try to take even small, popular stands for basic rights and freedoms – but I’m so glad DADT is dead.  Let’s hope Gates et al work quickly to get the new policy in force.

And should you get a chance, give an LGBT servicemember a hug today.

She’s My Girl

And I love her:



(Click for clearer image.  Don’t ask me why Blogger’s suddenly decided to display sub-par crap in the post proper.)

Credits:

Toyota of Kirkland ensured I got the car I wanted at the price I wanted.  Barry Glenn, my outstanding State Farm agent, made sure financing was available and, as always, did a brilliant job setting me up with the right policy.  Chris saw to it that I had the right info.  And, vitally, my intrepid companion chauffeured me around and waited in dealerships without complaint. Thanks, guys!

Apologies to my favorite dealer.  I wanted to buy a car from him.  He didn’t have this car.  But if any of you are in the market for an extremely sweet Nissan Sentra SE-R Spec V, or indeed a Hyundai of any description, call Hyundai of Seattle and ask for Peter.  You’ll not only get an excellent car, you’ll get some of the best customer service in the industry at a price that will leave you very pleased indeed.

Regular blogging will resume tomorrow night.  But don’t be surprised if there’s the occasional gush over how amazed I am that I own a car this sweet.  ;-)