Geology (Let’s Explore Science): Now We’re Getting Somewhere

Cover of Geology (Let's Explore Science) by Tim Clifford
Geology (Let’s Explore Science) by Tim Clifford

If you’re looking for a simple, inexpensive book to introduce geology to young readers, Geology (Let’s Explore Science) by Tim Clifford is a quite decent choice. It was like the freshest summer breeze after the two duds I’d read before it, for sure.

It packs a lot of information into its short length! Readers are introduced to geology, the earth’s layers, and soil, which is a subject I haven’t seen covered in other earth science books for kids. Soil scientists will love that! Then the book explores plate tectonics, rock types, how land forms, the rock cycle, fossils, and the age of the earth. (No worries on that last bit: there’s not a young earth creationist in sight.)

The photos are absolutely breathtaking and do a great job showing what the author is describing. There’s an especially good one that shows a selection of sedimentary layers that includes a mouthwatering bed of river cobbles. That photo alone justifies the purchase price! It’s suitable for framing.

Like with any children’s book, topics are simplified, sometimes to the point of inaccuracy (the rock cycle description implies metamorphic rocks melt to become igneous rocks only, rather than sometimes being uplifted and eroded to form sedimentary rock). But overall, the information is accurate and well-presented in a way that won’t leave kids confused.

The most glaring flaw is when the author claims coal is a mineral. This is the only time a mistake was that groan-worthy, though, and it’s less egregious than saying pumice forms in water, so I’ll forgive it.

You’ll want to have some tape handy, as the binding won’t hold up to rough treatment. It’s worth the extra effort, since it’s much better written and more factual than other books in its category. This is one you can feel good about giving to the young proto-geologist in your life.

Geology (Let’s Explore Science): Now We’re Getting Somewhere
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Always Check the Copyright Date: Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth

Cover of Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth
Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth by Herman and Nina Schneider

I done screwed up.

I was looking for good geology books for my young nephew, who is 8 and currently enjoys investigating rocks. Ya’ll, I was SO EXCITED when I found this book on Amazon. It seemed so perfect. It explored a wonderful variety of geologic topics. It promised to explain how mountains form and fall, the hydrologic cycle, soil formation and erosion, minerals, the rock cycle, and why ocean sediments end up in weird places like the top of mountains. Fantastic!

And the Amazon page said it had been published in 2014, so it would be pretty current. Double fantastic!

Thankfully, I read books before passing them along. It turns out this book is not current at all. It’s over 60 dang years out of date. The bloody thing was published in 1952. And this isn’t a revised or updated version of the original – it is the original.

I hadn’t thought to look closely at the copyright page before I dove in, unfortunately. And since so many kids’ books oversimplify things to the point of inaccuracy, the little hints that something wasn’t quite right didn’t ping my radar at first. The language was a bit too flowery, but again, lots of kids books are like that. The basic information about the hydrogeologic cycle was generally okay. So I read on … and then it got weird.

In their suggested experiments, the authors didn’t seem to have heard of plastic bottles. And they appeared to assume milk still comes in glass bottles, which often freeze. Strange. Still, too many adults come across as woefully antiquated when writing for children, so no big.

Then I reached the end of the “Mountains Unmade” chapter, and got smacked in the face by oblivious racism.

Just think of what that apple may have been before it became part of you! Once it may have been in the autumn leaves that fell and crumbled into the soil near the trunk of the apple tree. Years before it may have been in the shell of a robin’s egg. And once it may have been part of a stalactite in some dark underground cavern. Perhaps for a short while it sailed high over the earth in a butterfly’s wing. Long ago, it may have been in a kernel of corn planted by an Indian.

Um.

Look, you really shouldn’t be calling Native Americans “Indians” in anything, much less a childrens book. And what the bloody heck is up with implying they haven’t planted corn for a long time?! The authors make it sound like Native Americans no longer exist! I guaran-dang-tee you First Nations farmers still exist, and still plant corn. My Navajo neighbors, in fact, planted lots of corn, and I’m pretty sure they didn’t stop when I moved away.

I almost gave up on the book right there. I don’t want to give my nephew casually racist stuff. But I decided to give it a chance – if this was the only real, glaring problem, we could always have a discussion about casual racism and colonialism.

The chapter on the ocean nearly ended me. It’s not until literally the last paagraph, after spending the whole chapter talking about how the ocean is filling up with various sediments, that they acknowledge the ocean won’t fill completely up. They never mention new seafloor being created. They don’t talk about subduction. They seem to think the oceans are just passive basins! But it’s okay, I thought. Maybe they’re saving that talk for the next chapter.

Hahaha nope.

As I read on, and they talked about rocks formed in the ocean ending upon mountaintops, a very bizarre thing happened: the authors assumed that if you were in a classroom, you had a real slate blackboard and actual chalk right therein front of you.

Look, I’m old, okay? By a child’s measure, I grew up in the damned Stone Age, back when we had to actually call places for directions and used ditto machines to make our worksheets. We did Mousercise, for crying out loud. And even then, we didn’t have slate blackboards! We had greenboards with yellow “chalk,” which wasn’t even made from chalk (it was probably gypsum). The few blackboards my school had were just wood painted matte black. And by the time I got to high school, those had been replaced by markerboards. Yes, even in Bumfucksville, Arizona. So no kid in the modern Us of A is likely to have a bit of the ocean at the front of their classroom in the form of a slate chalkboard!

Besides, slate is metamorphic, anyway. They talked about it like it’s sedimentary. Harf?

A short while later, they’re talking like the only way a building can be heated is with fossil fuels, and how we don’t know how oil (petroleum) forms. But … wind? Solar? Hydroelectric? Geothermal? And … we kinda do actually know how oil happens …? What the everloving hecknuggets is going on here?!

So that’s where I flipped to the copyright page and discovered that this book was written before the theory of plate tectonics came along and did for geology what the theory of evolution did for biology. That was it. No way I’m giving this book to an eight year-old who doesn’t yet have a solid grounding in modern geology.

But, of course, that means this book is a hoot for anyone who wants to know how we explained seashells on mountaintops in the early 1950s. So I read on.

Warning: you will die.

Their first hypothesis is that the Earth is shrinking as volcanoes erupt, getting all wrinkly like a baked apple. Shrinking. I mean, did we have any actual measurements to back that up? I think not.

Their second hypothesis is slightly more plausible: that since rock under enough pressure is ductile, it will be squeezed up as more sediment is deposited on the ocean floor, like toothpaste being smooshed into the end of its tube. It’s still quite wrong, but not as wrong as a shrinking Earth. After all, we do know that the mantle deforms, and the crust depresses under heavy things like big sediment loads or huge mountains.

In this world, giant mountain ranges like the Rockies aren’t formed by the pressure of great plates colliding, but by magma rising and pushing the overlying sedimentary layers up. Which, yeah, sometimes happens, but doesn’t account for the thrust faults and overturned strata we see in such ranges.

According to the authors, magma moves only because of pressure, not convection, and volcanoes are towers of lava with a hollow tube up the middle. No side vents here, nossir. At least they do acknowledge fissure volcanoes are a thing. And it appears this book was finished while Parícutin was still erupting, so that’s quite fun!

Some of the writing is beautiful. I really love this paragraph:

All the boiling, bubbling, and burning sounds as if volcanoes are altogether destructive things. But magma, when it pours out of the earth, brings important gifts. Many of the good and lovely things of the earth are the work of volcanoes.

Yes, thank you!

Unfortunately, their explanation of how gemstones form is frankly disasterous, even for the 1950s. They believe diamonds form right from lava instead of being carried to the surface by it – I’m pretty sure we knew even then that pure carbon and enormous heat and pressure were required! They don’t seem to know hydrothermal fluids exist, implying gemstones and precious metals are deposited directly from lava as it cools.

Another disaster is their section on earthquakes. All earthquakes are caused by magma. The ground either rises or falls. It doesn’t ever just move horizontally- sorry, San Andreas!

Metamorphic rock is only formed by magma, not the enormous heat and pressure at the roots of great mountain ranges, because of course there’s magma at the center of those mountains. Magma does it all. Do we ever find out where magma comes from, though? Nope.

Despite these limitations and errors, the book ends strong, tying geology into the journey of water, the soil, our buildings and our bodies, including the trees we build with and the teeth we use to chew. I absolutely love the conclusion. It’s marvelous, and would translate well to any geology book written today.

This was quite the time capsule. It’s incredible how much geology changed in the course of just a couple of decades. Our understanding went from rudimentary and fragmental to advanced and unified with breathtaking speed, leaving this poor book wallowing in suddenly outdated ideas. The basic shape and sentiment of it is so good though. If the publishers had bothered to update it, I could have recommended it wholeheartedly. Unfortunately, as it is, I can only recommend it to those who are interested in the history of earth science education.

Always Check the Copyright Date: Rocks, Rivers, and the Changing Earth

Geology Genius: Igneous Rocks is Terribly Misnamed

Cover of Geology Genius: Igneous Rocks, showing a rough basalt flow
A very inaptly named book

You know what? Don’t bother.

This is a tiny, 24 page book. Now, some books pack a lot of information in 24 pages! But not this book. Chapter 1 has 153 words in it – if you count words like the and and. There’s an average of 25.5 words per page. They’re not inspiring words. They’re dryly informative. They’re too complex for little kids, and there are too few of them for not-so-little kids.

But I wouldn’t have minded so much, cuz at least the pictures are nice. Then I came across their explanation of pumice:

Why does pumice have holes in it? Lava comes into contact with cold water. Rapid cooling creates gas bubbles. The holes are left behind.

Look. I did not pay $6.99 for a book to be that spectacularly wrong! Pumice floats in water, but it sure as heck doesn’t form in it! Rapid cooling doesn’t form the vesicles! Criminy. Listen: We’re talking about a rock that forms from very gassy magma. The gasses are there to begin with; they don’t come from the outside. While basalt magmas can sometimes trap enough gas to erupt as pumice, it’s much more usual for thick, sticky magmas like dacite or rhyolite:

This rock is a trap to volcanic gases that tried to escape from magma but were unable to do it because they simply could not break out and formed many gas-filled vesicules instead. Trapped gases occupy much larger volume than they did when dissolved in magma. Hence, it is perhaps needless to say that it forms as a result of explosive volcanic eruptions.

Nota bene: this is not bloody happening because magma is being erupted into cold water! There are other forms of lava rock that result from that, such as pillows and hyaloclastites.

There’s a grand total of maybe 41 facts in this book. You’d think the editors could have managed not to miss one, but here we are today. Faboo.

If you want to pay $6.99 for a handful of correct but rather blandly-presented facts and about 20 Shutterstock photos, this is the book for you. Otherwise, skip it. Kids deserve better, and so does your wallet.

Geology Genius: Igneous Rocks is Terribly Misnamed

One Heck of a Ride: Church of Lies by Flora Jessop

Cover of Church of Lies
Click image for Amazon book page.

Let me preface this review by saying that reading books had been something of a struggle for me over the last two years, and I’d been lucky to manage a chapter or two a night. So when this book came, I thought it would last me a good while.

Ha ha ha nope. I read it in one night.

This is a fast read; that does not make it an easy read. There are graphic descriptions of child abuse, child sexual assault, and child rape. There is truly horrific religious abuse, and infant death, and a suicide attempt, and forced medical procedures. There is an appalling unwillingness on the part of authorities to do anything about the above. Triggers abound. And Flora Jessop pulls not a single punch. Kid gloves are absolutely never worn. So be gentle with yourself, and probably skip big parts of this book if you’ve suffered the above abuses. And consider that paragraph the content warning for this review.

Continue reading “One Heck of a Ride: Church of Lies by Flora Jessop”

One Heck of a Ride: Church of Lies by Flora Jessop

Fireworks, Horror, and a Few Glimmers of Hope

Agent Orange busily goes about turning America into a cheap tin dictatorship, complete with totalitarian military parades for a holiday that’s supposed to be about liberty from tyranny. America isn’t great right now (unless you think kids in cages and treating homeless people like vermin is great, which apparently evangelical Christians and white supremacists do).

It’s hard to celebrate. It’s hard to do anything but stare in horror at the ever-worsening news.

But I’ve got an article about the geology of fireworks here, and some pretty fireworks photos, so let us have something a little bright to keep the despair company.

Green, blue, and red fireworks burst over a river at night
Colin Knowles (CC BY-SA 2.0)

For all those “America is a Christian nation!” screamers you’re likely to encounter over this holiday, I’ve got the perfect counterpoint. America, you see, can easily be shown to actually have been founded on Islamic values. Look:

The fundamentalist Christians have entered the Declaration of Independence into evidence. That means it’s fair game to further examine this document for clues. In fact, let’s take another look at that second sentence, specifically:

…with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.

“Unalienable Rights”. That’s an interesting concept. Where did it come from? The phrase is more commonly referred to as “inalienable rights”, about which Wikipedia says:

The idea that certain rights are inalienable was found in early Islamic law and jurisprudence, which denied a ruler “the right to take away from his subjects certain rights which inhere in his or her person as a human being.” [emphasis added]

That’s right. This most basic of concepts, declared as “self-evident” in our founding document, is based on Islamic law!

A pastel band of fireworks explodes in a dark sky, looking like a balloon bouquet
Anna-Louise (Pexels)

Heads are absolutely going to explode. You will have enormous fun.

It turns out Portland cops are liars and antifa are not putting cement in milkshakes. The lie may actually backfire on the people perpetuating it for once. This definitely calls for a celebration.

Magenta, cyan, and orange fireworks explode in a dark-blue cloudy sky. Silhouettes of two women celebrate on a slope.
Max Pixel

And keep some fireworks handy for Friday, because it looks like this federal judge is about to unload some righteous fury in court due to Agent Orange’s impulsive decision to spit in the court’s face over the census:

U.S. District Judge George Hazel is now giving the administration until Friday to decide whether it will enter into a written agreement that confirms it will no longer pursue including a citizenship question on census forms, plaintiffs’ attorneys Denise Hulett of the Mexican American Legal Defense and Educational Fund and Shankar Duraiswamy of Covington & Burling tell NPR. If the administration does not enter the agreement, the judge is prepared to start reconsidering recently resurrected discrimination and conspiracy allegations against the administration’s decision to add the question.

Remember: this country was founded by imperfect assholes, but they gave us a strong framework to build on, and we can and will fight back against this outrageous encroachment on democracy and human decency. We still have courts, a Constitution, a ballot box, and a lot of irate leftist citizens who’ve studied resistance movements worldwide. Gather your strength and resist in any and every way you can.

Fireworks, Horror, and a Few Glimmers of Hope

Welcome to the Unconformity

Kicks construction debris behind the boxes holding nine million rock samples that haven’t been put away

Drags a comfy chair over; dusts it off, sits down

Waves you all closer

Right. Well. Welcome to the new place! I’m Dana Hunter, and this is my Unconformity. At bloody last. Let’s get to it, then, shall we?

I’m sure you all know: this is no time for conformity. Hence, the new place. It’s rough around the edges. It’s something we’ll finish building together. It may change a lot over the years. But the basics will probably remain about the same: nice room, interesting rocks, comfy chairs, books, geology, resistance.

There’s many kinds of unconformity, and we’ll be exploring quite a few of them.

In geology, an unconformity is a break in the rock record. It may come about because deposition paused for a considerable time, or because strata eroded away before new sedimentary layers were laid down. We’ll see more than a few unconformities in our time here. Some of them are pretty great.

In human relations, unconformity* is an inability or a refusal to conform with the prevailing religion, politics, or social mores of the societies we inhabit. And in times when fascists have a strangleshold on our political institutions and religions drive bigotry, racism, sexism, and egregious human rights violations, it’s vital that we refuse to conform.

So that’s the Unconformity in a nutshell: we’re going to talk geology, and we’re going to talk resistance, and sometimes we’ll be combining the two. We are also most definitely going to be talking about a lot of books that relate to both, so I apologize in advance for the additional burden your bookshelves are about to endure.

There’s going to be so much to see here, and so much to do.

I’ll still be blogging at Rosetta Stones, but here, I’ll be able to get a lot more parochial. I’ll be taking you on all sorts of adventures in Pacific Northwest geology, with occasional forays into my origins in the desert Southwest, and we’ll troop over to your local parts of the world sometimes. We’ll have volcanoes, and floods, and flood basalts. We’ll explore the best and worst of what a subduction zone has to offer. And we’ll go places that will leave us speechless with their beauty.

“I arise in the morning torn between a desire to improve (or save) the world and a desire to enjoy (or savor) the world. This makes it hard to plan the day.”

E. B. White

Oh, yes, we’ll definitely do both. I’ll be finding all sorts of ways for people of all ages and abilities to save and savor the world.

We’ll have book reviews galore. We’ll deconstruct the really terrible ones, and do chapter-by-chapter reviews of really good ones. For those who were enjoying the Escape reviews and fascinated by the horror show that is creationist Christian earth science, I’ll be bringing those over from ETEV and continuing them here. You’ll also get clean versions suitable for presenting to people who faint at four-letter words.

We’re going to have loads of fun (for certain values of fun) debunking all kinds of creationist crap. And we’ll explore how the same people who cling to young earth creationism and the fundagelical Christianity that typically espouses it also became the people shilling for a serial adulterer with a passion for dictators. We’ll even see how some of their top organizations jumped into bed with the Russians, and explore their white supremacist origins.

Fascism did indeed come to America wrapped in the flag and carrying a cross. It also uses school vouchers and homeschooling to indoctrinate kids with racism, bigotry, and misogyny, and is happy to jump in bed with anyone, even mortal enemies, who joins them in pissing on groups they despise, and helps them go from fringe to the highest offices in the land. There’s a hell of a lot to expose, and we have a lot of work to do opposing them.

We’re also going to be exploring a lot of other woo and religious bunkum, especially the bits that involve the earth sciences. Science denial hurts us all. It kills people, and it’s killing this planet.

Handling religion with kid gloves does tremendous harm. We’re going to explore how religion is used to cover up outrageous abuses, and how we can curb the excesses of religious groups and help people escape their clutches. But we’re not going to forget that religion doesn’t have a monopoly on evil doings, either.

I am, of course, an intersectional feminist and a social justice warrior. So you can bet we’ll be taking on sexism, racism, homophobia, and all sorts of other bigotries. We’ll be tackling a wide variety of inequalities, and exploding lies that tell us that inequality is sadly inevitable and intractable. We’ll see that women, people of color, and queer and trans folks have always been leaders and fighters, innovators and scientists, despite white straight cis men’s determined efforts to pretend otherwise.

We no longer need to conform to the myths that harm us.

Part of being an Unconformist is knowing that trans women are women (ditto for trans men being men, and nonbinary or gender fluid being totally valid choices), black lives matter, autism doesn’t need to be cured, disability is too often caused by failure to accommodate difference, inequality isn’t innate, religion doesn’t have the monopoly on morality or truth, and resistance isn’t futile, among many other things. We’ll be touching on all of it in time. Even if some of these notions don’t presently strike a chord with you, I hope you’ll listen. It’s important, especially in a time when so many vulnerable people are harmed by toxic beliefs we may not even be aware we’re harboring.

And because it’s important to take a breather from the heavy stuff from time to time, we’ll be doing plenty of fun things, too. We’ll take a look at pretty things. We’ll indulge in cooking and crafts. We’ll even have lots of Geocritters, because using animals to illustrate earth science concepts is a blast.

I know everything’s been rather hard on us lately. But we have each other, and we have the wisdom and knowledge of a lot of good people to draw on, and we have a world worth both saving and savoring.

Let’s start something great.

While time lasts there will always be a future, and that future will hold both good and evil, since the world is made to that mingled pattern.

Dorothy L. Sayers

*Technically, nonconformity, but this is my blog and we can call it what we want

Welcome to the Unconformity