Memorial Day

Wise words from Hilzoy, recalled by Steve Benen:

I’m also reminded of something my friend Hilzoy wrote last year at this time: “Every Memorial Day (and not only then), I try to remind myself of what it means that people who serve in the military are willing to fight and die when our civilian leaders ask them to, whether they agree with those leaders or not. That’s a stunning act of faith in American democracy. In return, we owe everyone who serves the effort to be the best citizens we can be, and to elect the people who are most likely to exercise good judgment about whether and when to ask them to risk their lives.”


Tomes 2010: Parte the Third

We have some catching up to do.  My piles of unread books are growing faster than I can read them, but I’m trying to keep up.  It’s only gonna get worse after I make my pilgrimage to Powell’s in a couple of weeks.

Without further ado, then.

The Making of the Fittest: DNA and the Ultimate Forensic Record of Evolution

I adore this book, not to put too fine a point on it.  It’s one of the best books on evolution I’ve ever read: clear, concise and beautifully written.  I know that other books make a strong case for evolution, but I found this one of the strongest.  And it’s full of things I never knew about, like “the bloodless fish of Bouvet Island.”  Yes, seriously, there are fish in the sea that haven’t got any blood.  They’re fascinating.

That’s just the beginning.  Sean B. Carroll goes on to explain “the everyday math of evolution,” which explained said math in such a way that even a complete math ignoramus such as myself could grasp it.  He made it easy to understand how even the tiniest advantage can, over evolutionary time (which is sometimes remarkably short), add up to big changes.  And he doesn’t stop there, of course – he shows us the immortal genes, which have been passengers in a great many species; how new genes can be created from the old; explores convergent evolution; sifts through fossil genes, and quite a bit more.

It’s not a huge book, but it feels like a huge book – there’s so much in here so clearly explained that it feels like taking a full semester of evolution, including evo-devo.  I plan to read this one again and again, not to mention recommend it to anyone who’s confused about how and why evolution works.

The Restless Northwest: A Geological Story

I’ve been trying to learn more about the crazy-quilt geology in my backyard, and Hill Williams’s little book is an excellent place to start.  I learned quite a bit in these pages, including about a tectonic plate I hadn’t known existed (it’s dead now, alas).  This book covers it all, from the time when the Pacific Northwest barely existed to the present, with a glimpse into the future.  It also got me more interested in the Glacial Lake Missoula floods, which led to more informed adventures in eastern Washington than I would have otherwise have had.

Helpful sidebars explore some geological concepts in greater depth, and there are plenty of diagrams, illustrations and photographs to support the text.  This book isn’t a big as Northwest Exposures, a book I read last year and found useful, but it feels more substantial and less hurried for all its brevity.  That, right there, is a sign of a writer who knows his craft!

Crater Lake: Gem of the Cascades

The link above is to the 2005 version.  I haven’t got that one.  I’ve got the one from 1982, which proved amusing, because plate tectonics was still a new and astonishing theory rather than a respectable middle-aged one.  I picked it up at Half-Price Books because it was cheap and it was about geology.  It’s a good guide to the Crater Lake region, although some of the science was rather obviously out of date.  There were also ten tons of typos and a horrible abuse of the comma splice, which actually made it more fun to read.  It’s one of those little guides that don’t get a lot of spit-and-polish editing, and the typeface made it look like it just came off the typewriter.  All of these quirks may have been remedied in the 2005 edition, alas.

For all its quirks, it really was a good introduction to Crater Lake, and you can tell that K.R. Cranson loves his subject.  He provides plenty of photographs and helpful information on how to find neat things, which will make my eventual trip to Crater Lake all the more fruitful.

Fossils: The History of Life

Richard Fortey is one of my favorite writers ever, and while this book doesn’t contain as much of his prose as Life or Earth, he more than makes up for that with his gorgeous photos.  Page after page after page of glorious, fantastic fossils in full, glossy color.  Yum! 

This is a kind of all-purpose book, which would be a good gift for anyone you know who’s just now starting to develop an interest in fossils.  It explores everything from how fossils are formed to how to recognize them, collect, clean and even use them.  Any good fossil guide does that, of course, but this one goes further, explaining what they tell us about life, the Universe and everything.  It’s even got a section on fossil DNA – not like Sean Carroll’s exploration, which talks about genes fossilized within genomes, but actual fossil DNA dug out of frozen mammoths and such.  That chapter alone is worth buying the book, especially if you have an older copy without it.

This book is perfect: informative, with coffee-table quality illustrations in an actual readable size.  And it’s by Richard Fortey, who is not only one hell of a paleontologist but also one hell of a wordsmith.  I actually read this one very slowly, interspersed with other books, because I didn’t want it to end too soon.

Stories in Stone: Travels Through Urban Geology

I have one quibble with this book: it should have included color photographs.  That’s all it’s really missing, though.  David B. Williams, who ended up interested in urban geology because he got stuck in Boston after living in the wild, wonderful geologic paradise of Utah.  Buildings clad in stone became his friends, a link to the natural world.  This book eventually resulted, and you’ll probably never look at a city the same way after reading it.

Each chapter is about a different stone: brownstone, limestone, gneiss, marble, travertine and more.  Architecture connects to geology connects to oddball tidbits of history and human endeavor (and sometimes silliness) in one seamless whole.  And there’s a websiteAnd David sometimes does geological tours of Seattle.  I’m so there!

This is another book I didn’t want to put down, because it felt like it was introducing me to quite a few friends – the Getty Museum, the petrified log gas station, and others – that I didn’t want to part from so soon.  And it’s given me ideas for a great many more adventures.  Inspiring, informative, intriguing – perfect!

That’s it for the moment.  There’s going to be plenty more soon, though, one of which will occasion a discussion about the etiquette of cannibalism.  How’s that for a cliffhanger, eh?

Two Views on NOMA

For those of you who, like me, find the idea of non-overlapping magisteria laughable, some funny bits from Jerry Coyne

And Jesus and Mo

I’d say something deep, profound and possibly even meaningful on the subject, but I went to the mall this evening.  I am two pairs of jeans and a few bras richer, and about 40,000 neurons poorer.  This is why all of the clothes in my closet, aside from a few shirts picked up at concerts and tourist traps, are well over two years old.  Shopping sucketh mightily.  And yes, I’m a female and I’m saying I despise shopping for clothes.  There are a few of us in the world.  I was once tempted to convert to Islam just so I wouldn’t have to worry about it, but burkas aren’t very comfortable in the summer and there’s still the matter of the clothes under them.

Dumbfuckery du Jour

My darlings, I feel like dog meat, and I’m not talking the gourmet you-can-practically-serve-it-in-a-restaurant variety, but the cheap-ass Wal-Mart variety that’s likely got more bits of gristle, fat and bone fragments than existed in the actual animal kind.  Yup, Aunty Flow’s on the way, and bringing with her all of the aches, pains, hot flashes, and terminal exhaustion she can muster.  It makes it all too easy to look at the floods of stupidity pouring forth from our right wing and say, “Fuck it, I’m going to bed.  Forever.”

I’d meant to pull together the remarkable examples of utterly outrageous anti-gay rhetoric pouring forth like explosive diarrhea from the rabid right, but I didn’t have the energy.  Thankfully, Steve Benen did:

Unable to come up with compelling justifications for an expensive, discriminatory policy that undermines military readiness, religious right groups have gone off the deep end.

Here’s how the Family Research Council envisions things going if Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell is repealed: first, more straight soldiers, sailors, airmen and marines will be fellated in their sleep against their will. Then, commanders afraid of being labeled homophobes will refuse to do anything about it. Eventually, the straight service members will quit out of fear.

On a conference call with reporters today, FRC Senior Fellow for Policy Studies Peter Sprigg delivered the results of what he said was the first-ever study of “homosexual assault” in the military. Joined by several former military officers opposed to allowing gays and lesbians to serve openly in the armed forces, he warned Congress that the DADT repeal language currently under discussion with the agreement of the White House will turn the U.S. military into a terrifying free-rape zone where no heterosexual is safe.

The Family Research Council, which is a religious right powerhouse, has quite a case. As the right-wing group sees it, 8.2% of sexual assaults in the military were homosexual in nature. (I have no idea if that’s true, and it’s best not to take the FRC’s word for it.) FRC added that less than 3% of the national population is gay (again, a dubious number). Ergo, gay soldiers commit more sexual assaults than straight soldiers, and ending “Don’t Ask, Don’t Tell” would unleash a wave of gay sexual predators who will terrorize American fighting forces.
Who could argue with logic like this?
It wasn’t just the Family Research Council. The FRC’s friends at the American Family Association have begun pushing the line that Adolf Hitler was gay, and he recruited “homosexuals to make up his Stormtroopers,” because Hitler believed that only gay soldiers “had no limits and the savagery and brutality they were willing to inflict on whomever Hitler sent them after.”

That last one really made me laugh, because I’d been under the impression that the FRC and its fellow travelers hated teh gayz because they don’t make bebbies and don’t act like manly men.  I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised that they also believe gays are killing machines par excellence.  After all, this is a crowd that has plenty of practice clinging to mutually-exclusive ideas and are experts in losing all contact with reality.

Steve, alas, missed some of the best hysteria on offer:

Today, right-wing hate-monger Cliff Kincaid’s group America’s Survival launched a repulsive fear campaign against repeal, warning that “disease-tainted gay blood threatens our troops.” The group’s abhorrent video — and the 60 page report that accompanies it — present ludicrous stereotypes of gay men and women, going so far as to claim that “open and active homosexuals into the U.S. military could very well result in the spreading of deadly HIV-tainted blood throughout the ranks”
Kincaid goes on to warn that repealing DADT will lead to “transgendered individuals who want to dress up as members of the opposite sex and would cry ‘discrimination’ if they are not allowed to do so.” Ignoring the fact that service members of both genders often wear identical uniforms, Kincaid’s only example of this allegedly real threat is a fictional character from the TV show MASH.

Those of you who actually watched M*A*S*H*will  recall that Klinger wasn’t even a real transvestite, but a man attempting to earn himself a psychiatric discharge:

Klinger first appeared in the episode “Chief Surgeon Who?“. In that episode’s original script, Corporal Klinger was written as an effeminate gay man. However, the writers subsequently decided that it would be more interesting to have Klinger be heterosexual, but wear dresses in an attempt to gain a Section 8 discharge.

So this fucktard not only doesn’t understand that gays openly serving in the military aren’t going to be rampaging around like vampires subjecting fellow soldiers to STDs (which he apparently thinks can’t possibly be introduced by regular ol’ heterosexual sex), but can’t even comprehend M*A*S*H*.  This is supremely pathetic.  I mean, for fuck’s sake, I understood two things about M*A*S*H* quite easily: a) it’s fictional and b) Klinger really wanted out of the war, so he paraded around in dresses.  Either I was a freakishly smart child*, or he’s far dumber than a five year-old. 

It seems that with majorities coming around to the notion that gays aren’t the epitome of evil, and with DADT on the verge of being dishonorably discharged from the military, the rabid right’s frothing even worse than usual.  If we’re lucky, they’ll give themselves apoplexy over this and leave the rest of us in peace.

*Those tempted to plump for the former should bear in mind the fact that math pretty much defeated me.

Oh, the Places We Will Go!

My heart sister recently commented that it looks like we’ll have quite a bit of exploring to do when her family’s up this way.  We certainly will!  And I know just the place to take my honorary nephew:

They’re standing outside the Ginkgo Gem Shop, which not only has the kind of statuary guaranteed to delight a kid, but a lot of educational toys that will edify and amuse at a reasonable price. 

Photos courtesy of my intrepid companion, who snapped these while I was making a beeline for the rocks.

Dumbfuckery du Jour

Heh.  Finally, someone so extreme the Cons On High are scrambling to ensure they don’t have to stand about uncomfortably pretending he’s not an outrageous fucktard, as they’re having to do with Rand “Liberty Means Segregated Lunch Counters” Paul:

North Carolina Republicans are circulating court documents that suggest a far-right Tea-Party-backed congressional candidate claimed to be the Messiah, tried to raise his stepfather from the dead, believed God would drop a 1,000-mile high pyramid as the New Jerusalem on Greenland, and found the Ark of the Covenant in Arizona. 
Tim D’Annunzio also has written that he wants to abolish several key government departments, including the IRS. But there’s more going on here than just another wacky conservative politician. The effort by GOP leaders to stop D’Annunzio at all costs offers an intriguing test case of their ability to keep control of the party in the face of challenges from the Tea Party wing. 

Good luck with that.  You know, this is what happens when you try to win the affections of the most extreme right-wing freaks after having fucked up the job of governing so badly that the vast majority of sane people want nothing more to do with you.  Eventually, you end up facing down the barrel of extreme insanity, and realize this nutjob may end up being your candidate.

Horrifying, innit?  Well, for Cons, anyway.  I’m just heartily entertained by their discomfiture.  The only thing that could amuse more is if D’Annunzio wins the runoff and ends up as the actual GOP candidate.  That’s a political contest I’d have to put on DVD so that I could enjoy it again and again.