Mystery Flora: Floral Castanets

Discovery Park’s been on my mind, so of course I’ve gone there for our first mystery flower of 2014. These are actually 2013’s flowers, mind – these photos are from a hike we took in June last year. They remind me how much I miss the sun and wish I was good at flamenco dancing.

Mystery Flora I
Mystery Flora I

Don’t they look positively Spanish? They remind me of those lovely flame-like dresses some Spanish dancers wear, and they also remind me of castanets.

The bushes looked like they were dripping fire. Continue reading “Mystery Flora: Floral Castanets”

Mystery Flora: Floral Castanets

The Doxxing of Isis: Selected Links – UPDATED

There are few worse sins in cyberspace than outing a pseudonymous blogger. It’s barely forgivable to do it to someone who was using their pseud to break the law. Doing it to one who did nothing worse than harshly criticize you is roughly equivalent to the Unforgivable Curse. Henry Gee, an editor at Nature, apparently saw a few posts and the occasional sideswipe on Twitter as terrible persecution. I hope to contact Henry and get evidence of this defamation, persecution, and bullying very soon, as I was unable to discover any in several days of Googling. Certainly, it must be severe in order to justify giving a woman’s meatspace name to the public, therefore opening her private life to all of the lovely death threats, rape threats, and endless harassment enjoyed by women everywhere on the intertoobz. Would a white man with power punch down at a woman of color without suffering a campaign of harassment that would put Rebecca Watson’s stalkers to shame?

I wish I could say I think not. But perhaps he’ll surprise me. I live in (cynical) hope.

Whilst I search for evidence of this terrible persecution that was so, so horrible he had a right – nay, a duty – to dox a mouthy woman uppity female critic, I thought I’d share some recent musings on the situation. If you know of ones I’ve missed, please do include them in the comments.

And Nature? After at least three spectacular fails when it comes to the way your hallowed pages and your editors treat women, I’d be seriously reconsidering what one must do in order not to behave as raging sexist assclowns. I will here simply point out that two of the three incidents infuriated women in science and their allies involved your esteemed Henry Gee, and leave it at that. Also, I see Henry’s Twitter page was somehow tragically lost. If you need its contents from the time of the incident in question, I have preserved them.

On with the linkage, then… Continue reading “The Doxxing of Isis: Selected Links – UPDATED”

The Doxxing of Isis: Selected Links – UPDATED

A (Metaphorically) Magical Review of Dr. Offit’s Magnum Opus on Woo

Do You Believe in Magic? The Sense and Nonsense of Alternative Medicine by Dr. Paul Offit.

Cover of Do You Believe in Magic. It has got all sorts of herbs emerging from a top hat. Very cute and clever.
I have friends who drive me mad with alt med crapola. People who shun vaccines, people who chug mega-doses of Emergen-C (and catch colds regularly anyway – but still swear it worked!), who go on and on about natural this and herbal that, until I wish to scream. There aren’t enough links to enough studies to explain why I get heartily sick of this bullshit.

Fortunately, I can now direct them to download this quite-reasonably priced ($1.99 for Kindle, last I checked – yowza!) book by a man who 1. knows his shit, 2. thoroughly mucks out the bullshit, and 3. is just kind enough to the placebo effect of some alt med treatments to placate these people.

Those of you who’ve been in the trenches of the vaccine wars probably know Paul as one of the despised enemies of anti-vaxxers. This book is an excellent example of why they hate him: it’s clear, concise, and full of citations to studies that make it very, very difficult to counter him. Also, he’s fair almost to a fault. Alt-med? He’s tried it himself. He’s given things like glucosamine a spin. He’s had less-than-satisfactory experiences with conventional medicine, so he gets why you might like something different. Sure. But then he says, let’s look at the studies – and there we have bad news. No better than placebo. Oh, dear. Better stick with the stodgy stuff, then, unless your condition is amenable to treatment by placebo, in which case, alt-med yourself out (on the safe stuff, anyway).

That’s the book in a nutshell.

Within these pages, many darlings of the alt-med scene are given a harsh dose of reality. Fans of Dr. Mehmet Oz, Depak Chopra, Dr. Andrew Weil, Suzanne Somers, Stanislaw Burzynsky, Jenny McCarthy, Joe Mercola, and other such purveyors of woo will become distressed as their darlings are demolished. People who pop vitamins are in for some very severe shocks. Supplement sectarians are about to get a rude awakening. Most of the book is merciless, and rightly so.

Most of these fatal blows are delivered with calm precision and gentle reliance on the facts, but the message is driven home with the occasional zinger, like this (my favorite line in the book): “Unfortunately, Vitamin O [oxygen] users lacked the one thing necessary to extract oxygen from water: gills.” Beauty.

I felt he went a little – perhaps a lot – too easy on the purveyors of placebos at the end (a trait he shares, interestingly enough, with Mark Twain, who had a big softy for Christian Science for just that reason: the placebo effect). I’m afraid those prone to such things will seize upon this and shriek that their pet nostrum really and truly works. I would guide their attention to the paragraphs in the final section that throw a bucket of cold water over the love fest. These are the four ways Paul divides practitioners of placebo medicine from outright quacks. For those who are curious, or need the crash course as an immediate inoculation against woo for self or others, they are these:

“First, by recommending against conventional therapies that are helpful.” If it quacks that you don’t need that chemo, it’s a quack. Run.

Second, “by promoting potentially harmful therapies without adequate warning.” If it quacks that its horrid green goo is 1000% safe despite being full of arsenic, it’s a quack. Run.

Third, “by draining patients’ bank accounts.” If it quacks it can heal you, but needs extravagant amounts of money to do so, it’s a quack. Run.

Fourth, “by promoting magical thinking.” You know the drill by now.

After reading this book, I feel much better prepared for the next dissertation on the wonders of alt-med I’m subjected to. And I have a handy tome to hand them that may, just possibly, save their lives. At the very least, it should make them wiser about their medical choices, save them some coin, and promote some harmony between them and the skeptics in their lives. Not bad for one little book, eh?

Dr. Paul Offit is a gray-haired man with brainy-specs and a suit, posing at a podium, smiling the smile of a man who's quite famous and just a bit embarassed about it.
Dr. Paul Offit, bane of woo-meisters everywhere. Image courtesy Michael Spencer for the National Institutes of Health Record via Wikimedia Commons.
A (Metaphorically) Magical Review of Dr. Offit’s Magnum Opus on Woo

Transcending Transcendence

I saw dragons in the sky.

I was driving to B’s to watch the Silva-Weidman Tate-Rousey double-header. There’s a stretch of I-5 where I’ve a view of the mountains on a clear day, but this wasn’t one of those days. Clouds were roiling on the horizon, building over the mountains: a line of perfect Chinese dragons swimming the sky. One of them was especially clear, a magnificent snowy elder of a dragon, head rearing high and several coils of its serpentine body cresting the sea of the sky.

I laughed in delight, wishing I could pull off the freeway and capture them on camera. I love to show you such things. Alas, no chance. But there was a Chinese artist of the Song dynasty who saw dragons in clouds, and he captured some of the essence: Continue reading “Transcending Transcendence”

Transcending Transcendence

Adventures in Good Christian Education: A Preliminary Foray

This should be good. I’ve taken time off work. I’ve got nearly a full bottle of extremely yummy Columbia Valley winery late-harvest Reisling in me. And I’m shopping for Christian science textbooks.

Yeah, buddy!

The thing that got me started is ACE. I know from Jonny Scaramanga that ACE is not the place you go if you want good geology. I mean, seriously – vapor canopy? Yeesh. I’m delighted Jonny’s the second result that came up when I searched “Accelerated Christian Education Geology” on Google. Oftimes, the Christianist textbooks are the only things that appear in the first few pages of search results, and it’s depressing that the criticisms don’t appear sooner.

Anyway. Where was I? Oh, right.

So no shit, there I was, trying to find ACE crap on Amazon, and Amazon made me love them so hard. Continue reading “Adventures in Good Christian Education: A Preliminary Foray”

Adventures in Good Christian Education: A Preliminary Foray

In Which I Find the Solution to a Martian Geomystery

Add Martian geology to the long list of upcoming topics (which also includes the Channeled Scablands, never fear). Ophelia put up this photo of some lovely Martian soil, which looks all the world like little pebbles in a stream bed. Several of you told her to contact me, which was perfect, because I’d already considered poking round. Yay, motivation!

I know very little about sedimentary rocks and even less about Mars geology, but after a few days of pondering it and then a night of searching, plus asking the author of the original piece for a link to the source photo, which he promptly provided, I’d got it. NASA captions are wonderful things, my friends! You can see the process unfold in the comments beginning here.

I’ll have a proper write-up eventually. And from now on, I’ll be keeping more of an eye on Martian geology. We’ve actually got some, now. I’m frankly in awe of the fact that we’re able to send robots to another world and do geology there. Another bloody world. What we learn will enormously expand our knowledge of geologic processes in the universe, and help us better understand our own particular rock in space. Oh, and did I mention: we’re doing geology on a different planet.

So yeah, what Ophelia said: “So, so amazing. Lucky us to be alive for it.”


Another image of the hematite concretions that so resemble river pebbles on Mars. This one hasn't had color added to it. Keep in mind this is all microscopic. They look like a scattering of fat round pebbles on sand. Three of them are linked in a row, looking like a large soap bubble that's captured two smaller ones. Image courtesy NASA/JPL.
Another image of the hematite concretions that so resemble river pebbles on Mars. This one hasn’t had color added to it. Keep in mind this is all microscopic. Click on the photo for further information. Image courtesy NASA/JPL.

In other news, we’ll have to set up some sort of Bat (or Popehat) signal for stuff like this. I can’t promise I’ll always be able to find an answer, and it certainly may be a while before I get to it (at least until I quit ye olde daye jobbe and have more time for such things), but it would be nice if we had our own special signalling system for stuff like this. Any ideas for what to call it/how to work it? Keeping in mind, of course, that I am the world’s worst correspondent, and frequently don’t check my email or Twitter for ages…

In Which I Find the Solution to a Martian Geomystery

Can Someone With Bollywood Knowledge Please Tell Me WTF’s Going On Here?

I miss Nami and Janhavi. They used to drag me to their houses to watch Bollywood films. I’d sit there watching people in very colorful costumes swirl around, and I’d listen to some very energetic songs, and be thoroughly mystified as to what was happening and why my friends were laughing their asses off. But then they’d pause the video and explain. For a few minutes, at least, I’d be able to vaguely follow the action, until it all got away from me again and I was left sitting like an ignorant lump until next they paused to enlighten me. One thing was for sure: anything I ever wanted or needed to know about Bollywood movies, I only needed to ask them.

But we’ve lost touch. And I haven’t many friends now who are in to Bollywood. And I haven’t been able to catch my friend R, who is a fan, outside of work for a while. So this video has thoroughly flummoxed me.

I know this must be several scenes from a film, but I haven’t the foggiest which film. I know there was a battle, and that was obviously Kali collecting blood in a bowl (hi, Kali! You’ll always be one of my favorite goddesses). I think the young dude looking on like a derp might be Krishna. And I know whoever the big brute at the end is got subjected to a mighty lecture before being finished off by the main goddess there. Outside of that, I can’t puzzle it out. I don’t know what events led to this, or what the lecture was about, or who everybody was. I have no idea if the song at all matches the clip. And I’m not sure why I’m intrigued, but I am.

So if any of you are Bollywood fans and can step in to take up Nami and Janhavi’s movie-‘splaining role, I’d love that very much. Also, you could, if you like, educate me as to your favorite films. Especially really good musicals.

Thank you, my darlings!


Goddess going after a god with a trident. I don't know who she is, but I bloody love her style.
Goddess going after a god with a trident. I don’t know who she is, but I bloody love her style.
Can Someone With Bollywood Knowledge Please Tell Me WTF’s Going On Here?