21 May 2013
I’m dismayed at the news yesterday out of Oklahoma – the violent storm that ended lives.
This morning on Facebook, I noticed that many of my pious friends were letting the rest of us know that they were praying for Oklahoma, or more specifically, for the victims of the storm. At the same time, the hashtag #prayforoklahoma is trending on Twitter with all sorts of people dropping that phrase into their communiques, including the official White House account.
It perplexes me why anyone would think prayer would do a bit of good when it comes to tornadoes, physical phenomena that occur in certain areas under certain conditions with a high level of predictability. Meteorologists identified this storm as being dangerous, then saw (via physical instruments) the tornado form, and predicted where it would go with accuracy. They warned people in the path, and many of them heeded that warning and sought shelter. Science works well in dealing with physical phenomena like storms. But what about gods?
When it comes to the influence supernatural deities have on storms, there are three possibilities of which I can conceive:
- The god cannot control or influence the storm. In other words, the god finds it impossible to ‘reach across the void’ and perturb the physical world.
- The god can control or influence the storm, but is indifferent as to its effects. In other words, the god can’t be bothered to mess about with the physical world, for instance for the sake of saving human lives, though it is in the god’s power to do so.
- The god can control or influence the storm, but opts not to, intentionally. In other words, the god takes a ‘hands-off’ approach to the physical world out of principle, or the god intentionally sent the storm for some purpose.
If a storm is bearing down on you, and you are praying, which of these options is it you’re looking for? Certainly there were prayers being desperately generated by the people of Moore, Oklahoma, as that monster tornado was bearing down on them. Some of those who were praying were lucky enough to survive. Some were killed outright.
Another possibility occurs to me. That is that the prayers of one person or group of people worked. These prayers were effective enough to push the storm on a different track, and divert it from the humans who generated the effective prayers. Perhaps it was the strength of the prayers in a location a half-mile south of the elementary school that diverted the tornado over the elementary school instead. Is that how the power of prayer plays out? That is, it saves the pious prayer-makers, but kills innocent children instead? Or does it just not work at all?
Praying for survivors in the aftermath of a storm like this is even weirder. Now that the damage is done, what role would prayer have on influencing the outcome? Again with my three possibilities:
- If the god cannot control or influence the aftermath due to a natural / supernatural barrier, the prayer is worthless.
- If the god can control or influence the aftermath, but is indifferent, then the prayer is worthless.
- If the god can control or influence the aftermath, but opts not to out of intentional pursuit of some godly goal, then why would a devotee think their entreaties could change the god’s mind? If the god has intentionally chosen to kill a group of innocent people, is prayer the day after really going to convince that god to switch up their lesson plans? It seems astounding that a person could convince their god that the god’s murderous actions should be changed. If I were the god of such a devotee, I’d probably find that galling. Maybe the person’s prayer isn’t “worthless” per se in this scenario, but it certainly seems presumptuous. It implies that (a) the person who is praying thinks that they can change the god’s mind (i.e., that they know better than their omniscient deity), and that is worthwhile to attempt “making the case” via prayer because (b) their god is really into killing people, including elementary school children. This is a tacit admission that they are worshipping a murderous god.
Either prayer is worthless, or else the aim of the prayers is to get the god to stop acting like Adam Lanza. Either way, that’s pretty bleak.
Scientists watched for the tornado, spotted it, and raised the alarm. Those scientists saved lives. The members of the media who communicated their message saved lives. As far as I can tell, those who prayed added nothing of any value. The prayers may well have made those who whispered them feel better, but that’s a self-indulgent delusion, and it appears to be logically incoherent that the prayers would influence the physical course of events in any positive way.
If you want to help the survivors in Oklahoma, they can use some money. Money can buy them food, water, shelter, and materials to start putting their lives back together. Two places where you can donate to relief efforts are the Red Cross or the Foundation Beyond Belief. If you want to influence events so they save lives, write to your elected representatives and encourage them to fund NOAA’s National Weather Service as fully as possible. Encourage your local politicians to invest in disaster preparedness. But when it comes to influencing your preferred god, it seems to me that you’d be better of saving your breath.
20 May 2013
Spring is back in the Fort Valley, and that means many serendipitous bug encounters. I think it’s safe to say that the Monday Macrobug is back as a regular feature on Mountain Beltway for the foreseeable future! Today, I give you…. a weevil!
17 May 2013
The broad symmetry (with smaller-scale variations) of this fold caught my eye as particularly artful when I saw it (at Howard’s recommendation) last summer in the Canadian Rockies:
Kootenay National Park, British Columbia, Canada.
I see a butterfly. What do you see?
16 May 2013
Kilbourne Hole is the crater of a maar volcano in southern New Mexico, just across the state line from El Paso, Texas.
I went there the weekend before last with a team from El Paso Community College, led by Joshua Villalobos. This is the place where xenobombs come from!
If you go to the right area, you can find dozens of these mantle xenoliths sheathed in fine-grained basalt, like chocolate-coated peanuts. There are also lower crustal xenoliths; gneisses and stuff like that. But nothing beats peridotite for sheer ‘otherworldly’ beauty and awe.
We also saw these beautiful outcrops of volcanic blocks that got ker-plumped down into the pyroclastic surge deposits:
Ron Schott produced a wonderful overview GigaPan of the site back in 2009:
So rather than the broad landscape, we concentrated our efforts on smaller outcrops, like this informative scene:
Same place, zoomed out a bit, and from a higher perspective (and a bit overexposed):
Now for the really sexy stuff! Here is one of those volcanic block plopped like a dropstone into the pyroclastics:
Another, similar scene…
And closer in:
I trained Josh and his students on the use of their new GigaPan, and we had a great time. Here’s the El Paso CC / UTEP team on the rim of the Hole:
15 May 2013
The week before last, on the flight home from Texas, I finished reading Dark Star Safari, Paul Theroux’s 2004 account of traveling overland through Africa from Cairo to Cape Town. I’ve enjoyed Theroux’s traveling writing very much over the years, and although he’s written some great novels (I’m thinking of Mosquito Coast), most of them don’t appeal to me as much as the travelogues do.
I’ve been reading a lot lately, but most of it has been for book reviews that will be published in upcoming issues of Earth magazine. But this one has been on my shelf for a while, and I’ve been meaning to read it since it was published nine years ago. I enjoyed it. I’ve taken three trips to Africa in my life: Namibia in winter of 1996-7, Tanzania and Kenya in summer 2002, and then South Africa most recently in the winter of 2011-2012. Three of those four countries were on Theroux’s route south (see map below).
Why read a travelogue like this? For me, it’s an easy way to dip into the experience of travel (the good, the bad, the ugly) without any of the hassle or risk. Theroux gets into some hairy situations, and he ventures to inhospitable places – the real Africa, off the tourists’ well-beaten path. I like reading about decision-making as to logistics of how to get from point A to point B, or solving the problems of being away from home, out experiencing the world. I like the commiseration I feel when I read of Theroux crammed into a matatu with a dozen other people, of dealing with intestinal distress abroad, of arguing with mean-spirited people. All are familiar experiences to the traveler in Africa, and the great thing about a travelogue is that you can close the book and turn out the light when you want. Unlike actually being there, there’s nothing to compel you to resolve things ASAP, and for some reason, I like that.
The chief take-away message from the book is one of policy. Wherever Theroux traipses in East Africa, he finds do-gooders from the West mucking things up. He concludes that Western aid to Africa ultimately does more harm than good, as it enables corrupt government and encourages a “handout” mentality. Whether you agree with that assessment is of course up to you, but I’ve got to admit that he makes a pretty compelling case, with anecdotes and interviews aplenty as evidence. The most heartbreaking part of the book is when he revisits his former Peace Corps site in Malawi. There, he finds his old school in ruins, ransacked and gutted by thievery and disrespect. Some of his former students are now government ministers, and he gets together with them to bemoan the country’s descent into squalor. He effectively conveys the sense of how the good work he thought he was doing in the 1960s — the promise he felt, the sense of hope and forward momentum — is totally lost, and the country’s economy and character have become mired in a lack of ambition, victimization by the world economy, and drained of vitality by the too-close association of neighbors. As a returned Peace Corps Volunteer myself (Mongolia, 1998-99), I found this fascinating. As a traveler to Africa, I found it dispiriting and authentic.
Overall, the book wasn’t as fascinating a journey as some of his other books, and I think that’s because it was a more personal book – a return to one of the formative experiences of his own life, and thus there was a modicum of navel-gazing in Dark Star Safari that I didn’t get from The Great Railway Bazaar or The Happy Isles of Oceania. I don’t feel like I learned much that was ‘exotic’ and interesting about Africa (history, anthropology, geography), but instead the book does an effective job painting a picture of sad stasis and decay, of failed policies and crowded conditions in the cradle of our species.
14 May 2013
Found this small, flat brachiopod fossil last fall just down the road from my place in the Fort Valley. Lovely little thing…
That’s all I’ve got for you today!
13 May 2013
Termites can fly.
But not all termites.
Around here, the only flying termites are the reproductives – the fertile males and females that a termites colony produces periodically. It seems to be associated with the advent of spring.
I spotted this group a couple of weeks ago, when I noticed the sunlight catching in their diaphanous wings.
They hatch, emerge en masse, and take to the air, seeking a partner of the opposite sex.
It’s a busy scene when they emerge – lots of termites, lots of wing fluttering.
Once they have mated, they jettison their wings, and the female crawls underground (or into a suitable piece of wood?) to inoculate a new colony.
Stay away from my house, termites!
11 May 2013
We had another flood on Passage Creek on Wednesday, and into Thursday morning. Here are a few photos and GigaPans for those of you who like flood imagery:
Making GigaPans of the scene:
Some images of the flood itself:
http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/129490 http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/129543 http://www.gigapan.com/gigapans/129569
10.3 feet was the maximum gauge height this time (6 is bridge level), which means the stream is putting out 4200 cubic feet of discharge per second.
10 May 2013
Happy Friday! Here’s a view of the folded contact between the (older, lower) New Market Formation, and the (younger, upper) Lincolnshire Formation, as exposed in Staunton, Virginia:
The contact has been folded, pretty intensely:
The New Market Formation is massive, light-colored, and exhibits fenestral texture here. The Lincolnshire is darker, more thinly-bedded, and is chock full of fossil invertebrates.
Explore it for yourself in this M.A.G.I.C. GigaPan:
A closer look at the folds is next…
And now, some close-ups showing the fossils in the Lincolnshire Formation:
Mostly bryozoans, as far as I can tell…
9 May 2013
This is my final post on the pre-GSA-Minneapolis structural geology field trip to the Superior Province. The photo above shows a roadcut exposure of boudinage in xenolith-bearing Vermillion Granitic Complex.
Here’s another, smaller, more brittle example of boudinage, from another site, the following morning:
Gee, it only took me 1.5 years to blog that trip in its entirety… Sheesh!