Yes, There’s a New Theme. No, It’s Not Perfect Yet

Things look different today, yes. Thank our tech guy that nothing seems to have gone missing, and that the thing actually functions.

For those of you who like the see the most recent posts on the themes that interest you most, this new design should work wonderfully.

Yes, it could function better. Yes, you can tell us what you love, and hate, what works for you and what’s horribly broken, and what improvements you’d like to see. Here’s the link to report tech issues. Use it to report all your wants and needs. You can report them to me, but I may be too busy howling my lungs out over the fact I can’t simply click a button on the main page to see our blogs neatly listed with their most recent posts to hear you. So I’d suggest rather than leaving a comment here and hoping I’ll remember to pass it along, you use the tech support link.

I’m going to go back to demanding a more versatile front page now. Among other things…

On The Necessity of Geology

There is an urgent need for talking and teaching geology.

Many people don’t know it. They think geology is rocks, but if they’re not rock aficionados, it’s nothing to do with them. So our K-12 schools inadequately teach the earth sciences (pdf). People don’t learn about geology, and they grow up to move to hazardous areas without being aware of the risks. They grow into politicians who feel it’s smart to sneer at volcano monitoring. They become people who don’t understand what geologists can and cannot do, and imprison scientists who couldn’t predict the unpredictable.

L'Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment's office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake. Image and caption courtesy The Wiz83 via Wikimedia Commons.

L’Aquila, Abruzzo, Italy. A goverment’s office disrupted by the 2009 earthquake. Image and caption courtesy The Wiz83 via Wikimedia Commons.

So we need to talk geology, anywhere and everywhere we can.

A while ago at work, we got on the subject of earthquakes. I don’t remember how it happened, but suddenly, I was surrounded by a gaggle of people whilst I pulled up a diagram of the local subduction zone and delivered a mini-lecture on how it works.

You’d think such pontification would drive people away. It didn’t. They were riveted.

Cascadia Seismogenic Zone. Image courtesy R.D. Hyndman, Geological Survey of Canada.

Cascadia Seismogenic Zone. When it finally comes undone, the Pacific Northwest will experience catastrophe on a scale that will make Mount St. Helens look like a sneeze. Image courtesy R.D. Hyndman, Geological Survey of Canada.

Granted, it’s a fascinating subject. But there’s a huge amount of misinformation floating about in the aether. I had to do some gentle correction – and a bit of putting the fear of Cascadia into folks. It reminded me how critical it is to be aware of what’s going to hapen here – and how few people realize it.

One of my coworkers had vaguely heard that there was a dangerous fault that could lead to a big earthquake near Oregon. He didn’t realize Washington was also at risk – and we’re not ready for something so huge. Everyone I was speaking to looked extremely surprised when I told them we will get hit with a subduction zone earthquake on the order of the Tōhoku Earthquake that devastated Japan in March 2011 – and that we are far more vulnerable than Japan was, because we haven’t done what they have to prepare.

A close-up view of the ripped and twisted metal on a Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach, OR. The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami ripped this 47 ton concrete and metal structure from its moorings and sent it to sea. It floated across the Pacific to land in Oregon over a year later. Author's photo.

A close-up view of the ripped and twisted metal on a Japanese dock that washed ashore at Agate Beach, OR. The March 11, 2011 earthquake and tsunami ripped this 47 ton concrete and metal structure from its moorings and sent it to sea. It floated across the Pacific to land in Oregon over a year later. Author’s photo.

That’s when the fear started. It’s a healthy fear, a realistic one I wish more citizens shared. We don’t need paralyzing fear, but the galvanizing kind, the kind that forces us to get informed and do what it takes to prepare for the inevitable.

We discussed some of the risk we’d face here in our particular corner of the Seattle area. We’re far enough inland and high enough in elevation that we won’t have to worry about being washed away by a tsunami. But some folks were under the impression we’d be safe from earthquake damage here. That’s not true. We won’t suffer the worst of it, unlike the coast, but a look at the shake map shows we’re going to get a shaking strong enough to cause damage; we’ll experience several minutes of severe shaking, and those earthquake waves have a terrible potential to get trapped and amplified by the basin we’re in, making that shaking worse. We are going to get hit: that’s a certainty (pdf). It could be today, tomorrow, months or years, but the Cascadia subduction zone will eventually slip catastrophically. And many of the residents don’t even know it’s there. Most of our emergency services aren’t prepared for an event of that magnitude (pdf). They don’t realize that “The Big One” isn’t going to be a single event, but a series of severe shocks that could go on for years after the 9.0. Ignorance of geology will lead to a greater catastrophe, because we didn’t know enough to prepare our cities against seismic threats.

Looking toward shore on Agate Beach, it becomes obvious we haven't prepared for the 9. Note the shiny new hotel nestled right in the low point of the tsunami hazard zone. This is why we need to talk geology: so that people don't risk their lives and fortunes by building in the path of inevitable destruction. Author photo.

Looking toward shore on Agate Beach, it becomes obvious we haven’t prepared for the 9. Note the shiny new hotel nestled right in the low point of the tsunami hazard zone. This is why we need to talk geology: so that people don’t risk their lives and fortunes by building in the path of inevitable destruction. Author photo.

Ordinary people who are not rock-obsessed have a need for geology. It’s a necessity, not a luxury. Here’s what a basic knowledge of geology can do for a person:

Those of us who know geology need to talk about it, write about it, wax lyrical over it and fight for it. And for those of us who’ve given it short shrift in the past, it’s time to reassess our relationship to the rocks beneath our feet. It’s never been more important than now.

USGS National Seismogenic Hazard Map. Image courtesy USGS.

USGS National Seismogenic Hazard Map. Image courtesy USGS.

 

Previously published at Scientific American/Rosetta Stones.

Cryptopod: Lavender Eyes (With Bonus UFD!)

Let’s break out of the North American rut, shall we? Here’s a gorgeous moth from Latvia, sent by our own RQ:

Image shows a moth on a brick sidewalk. The wings are red-orange, with black and purple eyespots.

Cryptopod I by RQ

I’m in love with those eyespots. I’m a sucker for the cool colors, blues and greens and purples, and that lavender eyespot fills me with all kinds of squee. It also vaguely reminds me of Drizzt Do’Urden – lavender eyes and all, you see.

Image is a crop of the previous photo, allowing the moth to be seen closely.

Cryptopod I by RQ

RQ says of her wonderful moth, “The colouring’s pretty fantastic, but it’s a common one around here. I’ve come to realize that, while they come in a different range from tropical nature, the colouring of northern hemisphere birds and insects is by no means boring or monotonous (see also: the [redacted], appended).”

Yep, RQ and I know what this UFD is already, but I figured I’d throw you an extra challenge, because why not?

Image shows a pinkish-brown bird with a dark stripe near its short beak, zebra-stripes on the wings, and dark flight feathers with a white throat and rump.

UFD I by RQ

There you are, my darlings. Two lovely creatures for your identification pleasure.

Plenty of room on this blog for more, you know, and I love it when we go worldwide. Got unidentified biological entities? Send ‘em to me! dhunterauthor at gmail will do.

“A Simple Answer”

What Avi said about the “Why don’t X produce Y” questions that clueless privileged people ask about the horribly disadvantaged. This is in context of Israel’s current enthusiastic killing of Palestinians, but with minor modifications, it applies to just about every sort of people who have a hard time producing the kinds of artists and intellectuals and so forth that we so admire:

I remember Dawkins and other atheists asking question once. Why does Israel produce so many people who are smart and productive while Palestinians do not.

And to that I have a simple answer.

There are no mathematics lessons in a fox hole.

Why is it that people who live in societies and bits of societies where they are largely (or completely) not forced to divert all of their physical and intellectual resources to mere survival so surprised that people not similarly advantaged can’t produce what the advantaged can produce? It’s like some jackass growing a garden in rich, rockless loam marveling that their neighbor can’t grow prize-winning zucchini on a cracked concrete slab.

That’s just the sad coda to a tragic post about a horrific situation. Read the whole thing. And then consider a donation to Médecins Sans Frontières. Facing inhumanity with humanity seems the only thing to do…

Kelly, MSF anesthetist, in the intensive care unit of the burns service of Shifa hospital where two brothers, 8 and 4 years old, are hospitalized after being severely burned when a missile fell on their house. Image/caption credit: Samantha Maurin/MSF

Kelly, MSF anesthetist, in the intensive care unit of the burns service of Shifa hospital where two brothers, 8 and 4 years old, are hospitalized after being severely burned when a missile fell on their house. Image/caption credit: Samantha Maurin/MSF

And yes, I know the United States not only supports Israel so that it can bomb children on beaches, but does quite a lot of bombing children on its own. And no, I don’t approve when we do it, either.

Squirrel!

You’ve not seen anything in life until you’ve seen a squirrel dragging a hunk of bread nearly half its size up a tree.

Image shows a squirrel perched in a tree with an enormous hunk of bread

Okay, I may be exaggerating the size of the bread a bit, but still, it was at least the size of a softball. And that squirrel wasn’t letting go for anything.

I love wild critters, and the way some of them have adapted to urban life. I love the mallards along the stream behind the ballfields who shamelessly demand food, and the crows who remember neighborly acts and never forget (although they may, eventually, forgive) a slight. I adore the adorable things they do. And I admire their moxie.

I imagine most of you have got stories. Do share!

What “Religious Freedom” Looks Like

So-called “religious freedom” bills are springing up like maggots on corpses. Some of you may wonder what such freedom looks like. Zinnia can tell you: she knows just what that freedom looks like to a trans person.

Before this, I actually didn’t have a regular physician, largely because I just didn’t want to deal with doctors. It’s not due to some arbitrary aversion – it’s because receiving appropriate and sensitive healthcare when you’re trans, even healthcare completely unrelated to transitioning, is a minefield.

Trans people have often found that when they seek care for any sort of illness, their doctors advise them to discontinue HRT regardless of whether their current health problem has any connection to this. Some of us don’t even get that far – one of my friends was unable to receive any medical attention for her asthma simply because her doctor refused to treat trans people at all [emphasis added].

This issue is more than anecdotal: in a national survey of over 6,000 trans people, 19% reported they had been denied service by a healthcare provider due to being trans. 28% had been harassed in a medical setting because they’re trans. And 28% also reported that because of disrespect and discrimination from providers, they delayed or avoided treatment when they were ill.

That may not be wise, but when cis people go to a clinic for a flu or a broken toe, they generally don’t have to worry about being turned away just because of who they are. We do, so seeking care can be a difficult thing to contemplate. When going to a new and unfamiliar doctor, we never know what kind of ignorance or hostility we’re going to face. It’s an alarming unknown.

Think about that, the next time you blithely make an appointment, never once worrying that your doctor will refuse to treat you because you’re gay or a trans person or someone who makes their shitty little god angry.

Think about that the next time you see people legislating hate.

Image shows Morpheus from the Matrix. Caption reads, "What if I told you bigots are using freedom of religion to hide their bigotry in this issue."

 

Hey, Christianist Textbook Fans! Wanna Do Something Fun?

The FtBCon2 Panel on Religion and Homeschooling will be going on at 2pm Pacific – if you hate-to-love and/or love-to-hate our Christianist texts, you should come hang out! Just click that big red banner at the very top of the page to get there.

You can also use it to see the other awesome stuff going on today and tomorrow. I’d be all over everything if I didn’t have deadlines. You’ll have to rub some salt in my wounds by telling me what I’m missing.

***

Well, that was information-packed and a bit terrifying if you’ve not encountered the extremism in the fundamentalist Christian homeschool movement. Did you miss it? Not to worry! There’s a video:

For those, like me, who almost never watch videos, I’ll have a synopsis up a bit later.

Adventures in Biblical Literalism: Mountain Majesty

In the interests of thorough and unbiased research on the foundations of creation “science,” I recently subjected myself to the Book of Genesis. I had to clear my mind of all evidence – supporting or un- – and take the thing at face value for the purposes of my quest. I can now tell you from experience that a literal reading of the Bible is not half so much fun in the New Revised Standard Version. It’s no wonder fundies plump for the KJV.

Let us begin with mountains.

The NRSV assures us, in Genesis 7:19-20, that the waters of the Great God-Will-Fuck-Your-Shit-Up Flood were very deep indeed:

19The waters swelled so mightily on the earth that all the high mountains under the whole heaven were covered; 20the waters swelled above the mountains, covering them fifteen cubits deep.

Well, gosh, that seems pretty deep. But how high were the mountains in those days? The NRSV provides no clude. And so, we turn to the Authorized (King James) Version for our answer, which I am assured by fundamentalists must be there.

19And the waters prevailed exceedingly upon the earth; and all the high hills, that were under the whole heaven, were covered. 20Fifteen cubits upward did the waters prevail; and the mountains were covered.

Now remember: we are reading literally. And the fundamentalists assure us the meaning of the Bible is plain and clear. You just read those words on the page, and they are the truth of God, who can’t ever be wrong.

And damn, does that water sound deep. Fifteen whole cubits, enough to bury the mountains. I mean, it says right there, the water prevailed upward fifteen cubits and the mountains were covered. So now we know how high the mountains were: just under fifteen cubits. Stands to reason.

Right. So what’s a cubit?

Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al'ain via Wikimedia commons. (It looks something like a metal Tootsie roll.)

Nippur cubit, graduated specimen of an ancient measure from Nippur, Mesopotamia (3rd millennium B.C.) – exposed in the Archeological Museum of Istanbul (Turkey). Image and caption courtesy Ana al’ain via Wikimedia commons.

Well. According to most young earth creationists, it’s about 17.5-18 inches. Let’s be all generous and use the larger measure. That means the highest mountains were – drumroll please – a whopping 22.5 feet (6.8 meters).

Short damn mountains.

“But wait!” I hear a creationist cry. “You’re so not fair. God obviously meant the long Hebrew cubit, not the short one!”

Fine. That’s 20.4 inches. Multiply by 15… calculating… and the mountains are: a whopping 25.5 feet high. A whole 7.8 meters. Wow. Jeffrey! Fetch me my mountain-climbing trousers! You can leave the oxygen tank.

It’s about now our dear imaginary creationist begins babbling about Babylonian cubits, and so I recalculate using that extra-long 24-inch cubit, and arrive at towering peaks of thirty whole feet (9.1 meters). Jeffrey, I’ve changed my mind – you’d best fetch that oxygen tank, too.

Now, the Ark was 30 cubits tall, so by any cubit measure, it towered to twice the height of the highest mountain.* Which, perhaps, explains this illustration from the Schedelsche Weltchronik.

Image of Noah's Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). The 14th century drawing makes the Ark look at least twice as tall as Ararat. A rather large dove brings an olive branch to the folks waiting on deck. Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.

Image of Noah’s Ark atop Ararat from The Nuremberg Chronicle (Die Schedelsche Weltchronik or Liber Chronicarum). Image courtesy Hochschul- und Landesbibliothek Fulda via Wikimedia Commons.

Not such majestic mountains, then. And lest ye think I’m being less-than-considerate of our Bible-believing brethren’s beliefs, note that many creationists like to say the world was different before the Flood – it allows them to avoid the pesky problem of Mount Everest. Also, they play with the idea that even a sloth could make it over the stubby mountains of Noah’s day in time to catch the boat, no problem.

You may also note in the above illustration the abundance of fishies beneath the Ark. If you read your Bible literally, you’ll not that God was rather forgetful of fish, neglecting to specifically mention them as passengers Noah should take on the Ark (Gen. 6:20, 7:8), even forgetting to murder the poor bloody things (7:21-22), until suddenly recalling them several chapters later, when he’s ttelling Noah & Sons that every single creature on earth, including fish, will be shit scared of them forevermore, not to mention there to be eaten (9:2). That seems kinda harsh, considering these blokes just spent over a year shoveling shit in a wooden box to keep all these poor animals (sans fishes) alive. I’d’ve thought a little universal peace, love and understanding, perhaps vegetarianism, would’ve been nice after a genocide of those proportions, but no. This is the Old Testament God, and he’s all about the fear, loathing, and feasting on flesh.

 

*It amuses me to consider that if Noah were building the Ark on the Earth’s current surface, God would’ve asked him to make it 58,058 feet (17,696 m) tall….

Many of Your Wishes Are Already My Commands

Many of you aren’t shy about letting me know what you want – and I sincerely hope you never will be, because it’s easier than guessing. I’m always happy to get meaningful nudges from you. I’m even happier when I can oblige.

Sometimes, I can deliver what you request nearly instantly. Sometimes, it requires research and takes longer. There are times when what you want and what I can deliver don’t mesh – but that’s not to say circumstances won’t change. There are things I can do now that I couldn’t do then, so one never knows. The point is, you should never fail to make your desires known. Just, y’know, prepare for a possibly long wait. And I’ll try to let you know if something is completely impossible for me. Like, for instance, answering email on time. (Look, I answer nearly instantaneously on a geologic timescale, right? So if we could all just manage to live for a few billion years…)

So a few meaningful nudges have been given lately, and I do want to assure you I’m headed in many of the directions indicated.

Image is a Siamese cat staring raptly at a bit of raw salmon being offered with chopsticks. Caption says "Yes, master... your wish is my command"

1. Yes, there will be a Mount St. Helens book.

In fact, you’ve been reading it. For the actual book edition, o’course, I’ll add in extra stuff, clarify bits, and polish things up nicely, so don’t ever be shy about leaving comments regarding the things that pass through your mind as you read the series: questions, wishes, anything. I’ll be collecting your comments and using them as a guide for what to add to the book.

And the damn thing will bloody well be eminently affordable, too. At least, I can promise the e-book version will be. All the photos may make the dead-tree version more of a pricey option, but we’ll see when we get there.

2. Yes, there will be another Catastrophe series after Mount St. Helens is done.

Several, actually. I love this format as much as you lot seem to, and it allows for wonderful deep-dives in to some truly amazing geology. Tambora and Pelee were mentioned as possibilities, and I may very well give them the treatment someday, but there are already several excellent and affordable books on Mount Pelee, and a brand-new one coming out on Tambora that looks quite excellent (I’ll review it for everyone).

So I’ve made an executive decision and decided to ask you if you’d be happy with Thera instead. Basically a Minoan Pompeii. It’s sweet, people, and I know someone who’s worked on the remains of that volcano (which is now the lovely Greek island of Santorini), so I think we could get a good thing going.

I also plan to do one up on Barringer Meteor Crater. Yes, I know, no humans around in northern Arizona 50,000 years ago to be severely inconvenienced, but enormous rock from space going smack and leaving a mile-wide crater that still looks fresh and awesome today? Yeah, I gotta do it. I hope you’ll love it. And I know I can mount an expedition (my parents will scream for joy, they live not far from there) in order to obtain very spiffy photos.

What do you think? Sound good?

3. Yes, I am going to give the movie Pompeii a thorough geologic inspection, and likely will find it wanting.

I’ve been planning that since I first saw the trailer several weeks ago. I nearly screamed with delight. There’s nothing like a really awful volcano movie for getting the old snark muscles warmed, is there? I’ve already got a piece on Pompeii under me belt, so I feel this is a task I can undertake with confidence. And I make just enough filthy lucre from this network’s advertising revenue that I can cover the expense without having to take you up on your kind offers of paying for my ticket. It’s even going to be tax-deductible! Dang, I love this job…

4. Speaking of filthy lucre, you don’t have to worry.

Many of you expressed disappointment that you couldn’t instantly help with funding the Fundies series. It’s okay! Your needs and expenses come first, always. We’re well-funded at the moment, so relax. Besides, this is going to be a long-term project, so there will come a time when you can pitch in with a few bucks for needed materials if you wish. There are non-financial ways you can help, too: assisting with research, for instance, or tipping me off to new creationist arguments, or helping me with technical questions in your areas of expertise. Some of you have access to professional journals that I don’t, and can thus obtain papers that will be needed. This is very much going to be a group effort, because it’s a huge, sprawling topic, and I can’t do it alone. Each and every one of you will have an opportunity along the way to do important things, up to and including keeping a beady eye out for any local creationist efforts to get myths taught in science class. (Also, shoulders. You’ve got shoulders, right? There will be times I need to cry on them. Oh, my fuck, some of this stuff is agonizingly stoopid.)

This community is amazing, and I meant it when I said I couldn’t do any of this without you. All of these things above: these are you. You make them possible. You make them worth doing.

So I’m off to go do them. Laters!