Reading: Alastair Reynolds — Redemption Ark

The sequel to Alastair Reynolds’ rather bloody good Revelation Space. He’s a dependably hit-and-miss for me: Pushing Ice I seem to have found deplorable (pre-book blogging, and only vague, obnoxious references in a couple of old posts); Slow Bullets I loved everything except its too short length; and Revelation Space, well that had much to do with the chronological format, and reminded me of Iain M. Banks’ Use of Weapons, with narrative streams spliced together actually in chronological order but accounting for slower than light travel, without such a device the story would have probably had me not so committed to the very small type of the mass-market print; got enthusiastic enough to order the sequels before I was finished.

Redemption Ark, then. Not as good. If Reynolds had kept the subjectively non-linear narrative order, I’d have liked it more. As it was, the linearity didn’t give me a sense of uncertainty, of not knowing what was going on. Things marched predictably towards the inescapable end—which was jumped over and merely in the epilogue summarised, a better choice than pages of planetary destruction—an end which marked the conclusion of the dark Act II, setting up things for Absolution Gap. (Yes, ordered. At least I want to know how it ends.) Plenty of morally ambiguous female characters I was happy to see a return of; a bit of a tendency for heteromonotony; no denying the civilisation-chewing billion year old robots swarm’s stated justification for said chewing doesn’t make sense: is it to annihilate all interstellar life to prevent war (or something) or to save life when Andromeda and the Milky Way merge in 4 billion years. The former is the claimed reason for a dandruff of extinguished cultures across the galaxy, but the latter, a subsequent rationale that never seemed plausible, took over somewhere in this novel.

I unpacked all my books a couple of weeks ago, re-boxed a tenth of them to send off to the book slave markets and exchange for a better class of book. I’m keeping this one for now but can easily imagine sending it off also. I’m not used to reading an author who goes from absolute fave in one book to wtf in the next, but Alastair Reynolds dependably manages that.

Reading: Randall Monroe — What If? Serious Scientific Answers to Absurd Hypothetical Questions

Relativistic Baseball! Spent Fuel Pool! A Mole of Moles! Machine-Gun Jetpack! FedEx Bandwidth! Exclamation key broken1

Those are some of my favourites from the utterly brilliant xkcd‘s What if? And then there were ones I’ve never read! Periodic Wall of Elements! Orbital Submarine! Lost Immortals! Plus Weird (and Worrying) Questions from the What If? Inbox!

This is probably the most un-obscure book I’ve bought in almost forever, so there’s not much I can say that’s new, especially as the internetz went into meltdown when it was published. Still, xkcd I’ve been reading for ages and is one of my favourite webcomics, and buying this was a bit impulsive but also like going to see a show of an old friend. I was expecting something not as … well, wow, it’s a beautifully presented book. Large, hardcover, with a very touchable dust jacket, really attentively and attractively laid out (it’s far, far from just a reprint of every What If?), a lot of little details (like the inside of the dust jacket) make it a pleasure of a book. I single-handedly (the other hand was busy eating) devoured it (metaphorically; there was already food in my mouth) in an evening. And had planetary surface-sized sadness when I turned the page and it was already the end.

I seem to read so many books that I think, “Kids would love this!” They’d probably think I’m wholly and embarrassingly out of touch old person. But in the small event I’m not, this is the kind of thing to make someone go off and become an astrophysicist, or geologist, or make comics.

Reading … A 7th Anniversary

It turns out I’ve been blogging about reading for around 2/3 the age of supernaut. It still feels like something I’ve only recently begun. This year I’d taken a slight pause from my intense reading bouts, so in part this is a reminder of what I read in the last 12 months, that I was reading, and what I thought then and now.

Yes, I’ve read less than last year, 40-ish books compared to last year’s 54-ish. This has been obvious to me in recent months with my pile being added to but not depleted, not so much reading as chiseling away. Anyway, no more blathering. The books:

The non-fiction, serious stuff:

Half of what I read was superb. When I was performing in Parsifal, I got to read William Kinderman’s Wagner’s Parsifal, a glorious book, which made me love and appreciate the opera even more. I paired that with Dayal Patterson’s equally magnificent Black Metal: Evolution of the Cult, a must-read for anyone interested in the history of the genre, and it supplied me with a mass of new listening. It was on my Book of the Year list until shunted off by a couple of exceptional works. Michel Serres’s was not one of those, but Variations on the Body is a beautiful, poetic work by one of Europe’s most profound and little-read philosophers, who understands corporeality in a way largely lacking in western philosophy.

Adam Minter writing on the recycling business in Junkyard Planet: Travels in the Billion Dollar Trash Trade is a book I’d recommend to pretty much anyone (being aware that much of what I read falls into the WTF? category), and he’s a rare, smart writer on the subject, presenting it in a way non-specialists can understand and enjoy, also a needed critical voice in the global trash industry and China’s role in it.

Another from China: Frank Dikötter is one of my favourite writers on 20th century China, and I’d been waiting for The Tragedy of Liberation: A History of the Chinese Revolution 1945-1957. I’d been interested in this period because of stories a friend in Guangzhou would tell me about her Tujia grandparents holding out for years in the mountains against Communists. I’d also been waiting for Liao Yiwu’s prison years autobiography, available in German for a year, For a Song and a Hundred Songs: A Poet’s Journey through a Chinese Prison System. There is hype around post-’89 Chinese writers, particularly the Beijing and Shanghai urban youth genre. I’ve yet to find a writer of that generation as good as Liao, and as necessary to read. All of his works are unparalleled documentaries.

Finally, there was Julia Serano, her sequel to Whipping Girl: Excluded: Making Feminist and Queer Movements More Inclusive. It’s odd to leave this off the Book of the Year list, as it’s undeniably a critical work and Serano is up with bell hooks and Judith Butler (among others) for her writing on feminism, trans, and queer politics and culture. She needs to be read; buy it and read it.

The reason why Serano got bumped is Afsaneh Najmabadi, whose Women with Mustaches and Men without Beards: Gender and Sexual Anxieties of Iranian Modernity was one of my Books of the Year last year. I heard about Professing Selves: Transsexuality and Same-Sex Desire in Contemporary Iran late last year and waited months for it. Considering the amount of attention works on trans people (particularly trans women) received in the last year, it’s baffling that Najmabadi goes largely unmentioned. For those engaged in this subject with no interest in Iran specifically, her documenting of the influence in Iran of Euro-Anglo-American ebbs and flows of political, social, medical, legal thought and practice on trans issues and identities is sufficient to make this required reading. Iran though is the dog that’s beaten irrespective of context, and successive Ayatollahs since the ’70s issuing Fatawa recognising trans people as legitimate and in need of help is presented in the west rather as the despotic Islamic dictatorship forcing sex reassignment on unwilling gays and lesbians. As with Excluded, buy it and read it.

Then there was H. Jay Melosh’s Planetary Surface Processes, which Emily Lakdawalla wrote about on The Planetary Society. Along with last year’s Colliding Continents: A Geological Exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, & Tibet, this one fills my need to look at massive contusions of granite and other rock. There’s a moderate number of formulae, and regular plunges into elucidations of those, placing this somewhere in general university-level and reference book. It is specific and not a casual read, and it’s the one book you want on the subject. Sometime soon I’ll pair it with one on planetary chemistry.

And finally for the non-fiction is Caroline Walker Bynum’s Wonderful Blood: Theology and Practice in Late Medieval Northern Germany and Beyond, recommended by a friend, and just one of those delightful, dense, heavy, demanding works written by someone so phenomenally talented and capable, and who simply loves her work. Completely a joy!

The fiction, also serious stuff:

I read less fiction in the last year, and tried new authors, some of whom I absolutely loved and are firmly helping me get over the absence of Iain Banks. Others … others who everything indicates I should love instead leave me cold, or worse, finding them actually not very good.

Let’s dispense with The Water Margin first. The second volume of five of John Dent-Young and Alan Dent-Young’s translation of Shi Nai’an and Luo Guanzhong: The Tiger Killers: Part Two of the Marshes of Mount Liang. This has to go on my list similarly as I have to have breakfast. Even if I read a hundred superior books, it would still be here. Some books are like that, you may never read them but they’re always around. The Water Margin is—as I keep saying—China’s Chaucer and The Canterbury Tales, or Marlowe’s riotous plays. I’d compare it to Shakespeare but it’s not equivalent: it’s bawdy, rough, uncouth characters and stories, and the writing itself is nearer the former two. Given its miraculous ability for genius turns of phrase, it’s perhaps comparable to Shakespeare for his wordsmithery. The Dent-Young’s translation is my favourite of the lot also, though the price per volume certainly isn’t.

Then there’s Ysabeau S. Wilce, who I discovered mid-this year, ordered the first of the Flora Segunda trilogy, promptly ordered the other two when barely past the first chapter. Flora Segunda: Being the Magickal Mishaps of a Girl of Spirit, Her Glass-Gazing Sidekick, Two Ominous Butlers (One Blue), a House with Eleven Thousand Rooms, and a Red Dog. Yes, that’s the title. Children’s book indeed. Would that some of the adult authors I read be capable of imagining and telling a story as this. I loved all three, though the first the most. It seems to me in trilogies where the protagonist starts almost from nothing, that the first part establishes the significant growth, and the remaining two are more working with what they’ve already learnt (the Matrix and Star Wars trilogies, for example), and it may be unreasonable to be irritated by this, but it does—books two and three are still wonderful and had I only read either of them I’d be frothing as I do over book one. It’s not in the same league as the two big ones below, but I did love the world and characters.

Another new author was K. J. Parker, who has written quite a bit. It was The Folding Knife that piqued my interest, and I enjoyed it enough that it gets a second mention here.

I almost forgot Imogen Binnie’s Nevada, neither sci-fi nor fantasy, something of an autobiography, a little like reading my own life, rough, punk and trouble. The ending I hated, but the rest, she deserves awards for this and to be read a fuck-ton load.

The two big ones then, and colossal they are.

One the Skiffy side, channelling Iain M. Banks: Ann Leckie’s Ancillary Justice; and on the Mediæval Fiction side (I keep imagining her and Caroline Walker Bynum together in a bar): Nicola Griffith’s Hild.

Buy these books. Read these books. These are incomparably the best sci-fi/fantasy of 2014. If you’re swayed by other’s opinions, between them, they’ve won or been nominated for more awards than I have fingers and toes. Both of them have my favourite covers of the year. Honestly, if you don’t like either you should give up reading; books are wasted on you.

I cannot say enough good things about either of these two books and their authors. It’s an extraordinary time for sci-fi and fantasy with writers like Griffith and Leckie. It’s unlikely I’ll ever have an experience like my reintroduction to sci-fi via Iain Banks a few years ago, but to utterly give myself over to the author and story as with these two and to be rewarded for that is beyond compare.

An aside: you may notice that many of the writers are female. It’s intentional. A while ago, I decided to put my money where my feminist mouth is. This is easier in fiction because the two genres I read, sci-fi and fantasy have many talented female writers and the genres are going through a renaissance due to these and non-white, non-western, non-straight authors (and a definite shift by the publishing industry to promote them). It’s brilliant. In non-fiction, it’s not so easy. In part this is because I want to read particular authors; in part particular subjects that are dominated by white male authors in the english language sphere. I consciously balance these two biases by seeking out and selecting female authors, and when it comes to a choice I’ll put the female author first. The result of my extraordinary and hegemonic discrimination is that the first twenty books on my wish list are split almost 50/50 between male and female authors.

There follows two salient points: first, on any subject or genre, despite their being anywhere from an abundance of quality women writers all the way down to an equal number as there are men, by comparison it requires sustained effort to find them. Secondly, women writers—or at least the ones I read—tend to take for granted aspects of society that male writers mostly consider irrelevant. (This is my “Easy A vs. Superbad” theory.) Not only do women authors tend to not make assumptions based on contemporary, western ideas of gender, desire, ethnicity in society, they also regard these subjects as self-evidently present even if not immediately obvious and therefore critical to a proper understanding of the subject (or, as my wont, deserving of entire books on their own). Male writers on the other hand far too often see the world in terms of a narrow heterosexual and mono-cultural construction where men are doing all the important stuff.

This to me is the fundamental point in arguing for proper representation: it is simply not possible to otherwise understand a subject or imagine a world. And given that there has been prolonged underrepresentation, it follows that what is claimed to known on a subject can be reasonably said to be seriously lacking at best and likely suspect unless it can demonstrate adequate representation.

Another year done, then. More shelves filled. More new, superb authors whom I’m able to enjoy because of the fortunate combination of being able to read, living somewhere I can make time to read, and where books are affordable and commonplace. So (as I said last year) here’s to the writers, and their publishers and proofreaders and editors and typesetters and designers and artists and agents and friends and families who make it possible for them to write so that I may read.

Reading: H. Jay Melosh — Planetary Surface Processes

So far this year I’ve had a bit of a lapse in reading. There’s been a pile beside my bed that I haven’t made much progress on despite being writers and subjects I’m dead enthusiastic over. I decided to order a few extra to add to said pile, hoping they would get me back on the goat-pulled reading cart.

Planetary Surface Processes by Distinguished Professor of Earth and Atmospheric Science, H. Jay Melosh at Purdue University has been on my want list for at least a couple of years. It’s a university-level textbook, with accompanying price (even for Germany), suitably thuggish weight and page count, and gets straight into formulae on the second page of Chapter 1. My first encounter with it was a review by Emily Lakdawalla of The Planetary Society (which is one of the very best space science news sites around, and Emily one of my favourite writers), late-2012. She said, “I could tell from the first page that this book was going to become a primary resource for this blog.” and I thought, “Oooh, ok, off to the bookstore!” She does point out it’s heavy on the physics and light on the chemistry, for which a commenter suggests McSween & Huss’ Cosmochemistry, now also on my list … nonetheless, her recommendation is good enough for me.

It fits in on one side with Mike Searle’s Colliding Continents: A geological exploration of the Himalaya, Karakoram, and Tibet, which I found a fantastic read, and on the other with my daily reading of space science, of which extraterrestrial geology and planetary processes, specifically those within our solar system, is a longterm interest for me. I’ve been following Curiosity on Mars (even getting up early for the Seven Minutes of Terror), Cassini around Saturn, New Horizons on its way to Pluto, Dawn on its way to the asteroid Ceres, and having a book like this is something of a necessary addition for me. So, I will be taking this brick with me on my upcoming travels, unportable as it is.

Zum Raum wird hier die Zeit

This morning I was reading once more about Stephen Hawking’s misinterpreted statement on the existence of black holes, which led to a blog I’d not read before. My great loss. I’ve since spent several hours catching up, and Backreaction is definitely my new favourite blog for all things physics, astro~, quantum~ or otherwise. And philosophy!

I’ve also been swirling around thoughts on Parsifal, which I haven’t blogged about as much as I’d hoped, and then read her post, A moment of silence replaces the big bang. She says:

A completely different approach to quantum gravity that we discussed recently is Causal Dynamical Triangulation which avoids singularities by discretizing space and time into chunks of finite size. In this approach it was recently found that space-time can exist in different phases, much like water exists in different phases. In the early universe, temperatures were high, and space-time might have been in a different phase, one in which space-time falls apart into causally disconnected pieces.

And then summarises the main conclusion from a paper by Jakub Mielczarek, Asymptotic silence in loop quantum cosmology:

The higher the density, the slower the speed of light. At half the critical density, the speed of light reaches zero – this means points become causally disconnected. But things become even more interesting when the density becomes larger than half the critical density and increases towards the critical density. In this range the speed of light becomes an imaginary number and its square becomes negative. This means that time stops existing and turns into space. Physicists say space-time becomes Euclidean.

“… time stops existing and turns into space.”

Parsifal: Ich schreite kaum, – doch wähn’ ich mich schon weit.
I barely step, – yet believe myself come far.
Gurnemanz: Du siehst, mein Sohn, zum Raum wird hier die Zeit.
You see, my son, time here becomes space.

Black Metal and Emergent Behaviour

Last night, while at Dasniya’s simultaneous departure gathering / private watching of the documentary video of Die Geschichte vom Soldaten, a friend remarked on how she needs to explain to over-enthusiastic lefties, brought on by a somewhat moronic person wearing a Burzum t-shirt at a queer shindig, that no, her Sunn O))) hoodie does not connote a crypto-facism. Oh, black metal, the empty signifier of all that is deliciously, seductively other.

This morning, taking the day off after absence of weekend, The Physics arXiv Blog brings me Moshers, Heavy Metal and Emergent Behaviour, where a bunch of researchers find that a mosh pit resembles a disordered 2D ‘gas-like state’, and a circle pit an ordered 2D ‘vortex-like state’. Though I’ll be picky and say I associate pits more with punk and hardcore, and various forms of headbanging and ‘hail satan’ arms with metal (I suppose the bro-ism of American nu-metal (hmm, should that have an umlaut? nü-metal … probably a ‘k’ or ‘v’ somewhere also. NÜ MKTVL?) crosses over substantially though being primarily concerned with appropriating displays of aggrotainment). Nonetheless, we shall overlook the link to the A7*cough*nümktxvl*cough*X moshpit … oh god fucking Hatebreed?). Maybe to say their physics is good but music preferences … This winter, I are mostly listening to Striborg.

(Parenthetically, I put Bolt Thrower and Crass on Dasniya’s iPod, in-between Munir Bashir and her ballet class music.)

And while mooching around in the early afternoon, Black Metal Theory gave Guido Seger’s master’s thesis, A Blaze in the Northern Sky: Black metal as an expression of extremist politics in modern day Europe. Oh dear, back to aforementioned empty signifier.

I was thinking of Žižek’s Tarrying with the Negative, the cover is a flag with a circular hole cut at its centre, where the coat of arms with red communist star had resided; the flag of the anti-Ceauşescu revolution. The hole is an absence of the prior, yet not yet reified into the (sadly predictable) subsequent; Žižek describes it as “‘sublime’ in the strictest Kantian sense'”, an open void where the “symbol standing for the organizing principle of the national life” once lay. It is both an inchoate sign of opposition, and a convenient dumping ground; that is to say, whether we wave the flag or interpret it, this empty signifier is the ideal repository for all meaning; it is never full, nor, curiously, contradictory.

Guido says his thesis asks the question, “What does black metal tell us about the resurgence of nationalist politics and racial violence that emerges under pressure of the European Union and what is the underlying cause of these sentiments?” A pertinent question, and to be unfair, I’ve not read it yet, and this isn’t a commentary of his thesis. Rather I’m stringing together a few things from the last few days which have metal – specifically black metal – and neo-nazism in common.

“What does x tell us about n?”, where n is ‘plague of fucking nazis’  and x stands for the unknown quantity, an empty signifier. Why, specifically, black metal? What is fascinating, enchanting about it that, say, the nazi skinhead/punk scene isn’t? Both are established around an identification with a particular culture where music, bands, record labels, venues form the locations in space through which the protagonists move. Both also have clearly delineated visual codes, either overt or subtle; clothing, appearance, demeanour as pictograms or acronyms that are not legible to outsiders: an anarchist punk might have a Crass bum flap, while a nazi skinhead white laces in their steelcap boots. Both nazi skins and black metallers have engaged in arson; the latter of churches, the former of immigrant asylums.

Perhaps more germane is that irrespective of the culture, various forms of fascism, extremism, and bigotry reside latently within, and simultaneously the culture as a whole is always ripe for appropriation and acquisition by these forms. How these manifest, and how they are discerned from outside is perhaps a function of the theatrical and symbolic within the culture. And black metal has both in abundance.

Conversely, the further ‘right’ one goes, the greater the uncritical and unreconstructed flirtation with symbolism becomes (I would say that certain aspects of the ‘left’ are also prone to this, which is perhaps a symptomatic of how close they are to their supposed opposites), which goes hand-in-hand with a peculiar appropriation of symbolism rather different from the one that cut the hole in the flag.

Metal again. Christian metal this time. Stryper anyone? To Hell with the Devil illustrates for me horribly and enthrallingly these internal and external forms. Without their christianity, they would likely still be metallers, perhaps not as famous. Regardless, as much as they were manufactured, their ‘metalness’ is is genuine, in that they came from within the culture. Their ‘metalness’ is simultaneously false, the visual codes wrong; it looks right, but then it doesn’t, and the demeanour of the music similarly so.

Perhaps a better illustration – back to fucking nazis, and German ones at that – is a recent piece in Der Spiegel, YouTube Neo-Nazis: The Far Right Updates Its Online Image. Ignoring Spiegel’s usual sensationalism, and regarding solely the accompanying image, we see a group of burning torch-wielding, black-clad marchers wearing expressionless white masks. There’s a lot of acquisition of symbolism going on here. Aside from the tired cliché of burning torches and their history with nazis, romanticism, and 19th Century nationalism, the black is specifically appropriated from anarchist / antifascist, Black Block / Autonomism, while the masks copy a far more recent socio-political movement, Anonymous and V for Vendetta.

What’s striking and material is how it is unsettlingly wrong. The components somehow do not sit properly together. Perhaps also there is a sense it is too serious, lacking in humour, self-aware irony, or just a certain lightness. This, I think, demonstrates one part of what separates right extremism from the culture within which it seems to reside.

The second part is that contrary to the culture itself, the comparable nazi version always comes after. That is to say, whether it is punk, skin, metal, or any other genre and its associated culture, irrespective of any always already present and latent fascist tendencies, in no case have these emerged from a prior existing right wing or nationalist music; the nazification always comes after and always requires this sub-genre to build an ill-fitting appropriation of and affinity with the existing theatre and symbolism.

Black metal has perhaps become ideally suited for this at the moment, as the empty hole into which all fears are dumped. Nazi skins, however much they dominate the stereotype are just that, and their imagery is tired, as evinced by the pseudo-Anonymous Immortals, (Die Unsterblichen – sounds like a German Evanescence bland metal band) and similar attempts to remake the not-so-far right. In black metal our desire for a perfect right-extremist Other can be found, and does not all the symbolism, all the acts prove this? After all, is Burzum not the perfection of black metal in its entirety, made explicit? The propaganda of his deeds preceding the manifesto.

Perhaps too, there is a fear of the theatrical, the corpse paint, the hair and clothing; the peculiar, almost embarrassing obsession with satanism, paganism, and romanticism that disturb maleness in a way the hypermasculine of skinheads, or the anonymous normality of Die Unsterblichen doesn’t and can’t. And let’s be clear, even the queer left privileges certain masculinities over femininity, the former always more genuine, more real, less troubling than the latter.

Well yes, there is something inherently untrustworthy in black metal, exactly as there is in industrial music with their crypto-fascist costumery (Throbbing Gristle and Laibach are obvious examples), which slithered uneasily over into either genuine neo-nazism, or ‘taking it far too seriously with an absence of critical distance given the subject matter’ (Death in June), and the commensurate hysteria of the media, government and left groups in response.

There is also something entirely unsurprising that music and its surrounding culture can produce Crass or Wolves in the Throne Room on one side, and Skrewdriver or Burzum on the other. A more realistic attitude might be then to maintain a certain scepticism towards all music and its surrounding cultures; an expectation that all will always at some place devolve to result in a nationalist sub-genre, and indeed from even before the ur-genre always already have.

Which is a very unsatisfactory place to finish.

It might be worthwhile to note that black metal is not unproblematic within the right extremist, national socialist world either.

What still troubles me is why specifically black metal? Why over all other genres is the real and presumed neo-nazism such a site of critical importance? And why now? It’s not as though it’s new, Varg Vikernes and the original Norwegian black metal scene is 25 years in the past. It’s also abundantly clear if, for example, I say I like punk or ska I’m not talking about the nazi offspring of either, and there is no confusion – whether or not such an absolutist statement is true – that the former is to its core opposed to the latter. The obverse in respect to black metal, and metal more broadly is curiously also the case. To say, “I like black metal,” is to be held suspect, it requires of me an explanation that is never sufficient; there always lies suspicion that I’m going off to burn down a church, and light a burning swastika off the embers.

Admittedly I do this also. Hold black metal slightly suspect that is, not burn down churches, etc. Perhaps because the signifiers of National Socialist Black Metal are not so clear for me, in the way that, say nazi punk is. Though come on, Google NSBM, if the heavy-handed ‘Nordic’ symbolism doesn’t immediately give it away, the obvious band names or album titles will; that’s if there isn’t an swastika or some other silly neo-nazi sigil. As with Stryker there’s predominately some subtle or glaring identification which doesn’t allow much confusion. So despite the clarity of NSBM signifiers, guilt still spills out and accrues across not just black metal, but all metal.

Which still doesn’t address the questions, or come any closer to framing them coherently.

on science and ethics

Many of you who read my blog or know me personally know I am a bit of a lush for science. The astrophysics of monadologie came from my residency at Swinburne Centre for Astrophysics and Supercomputing, which in itself is part of a lifelong interest in astronomy in particular and other natural sciences.

My love of physics naturally leads into astrophysics at one end and particle physics, quantum physics and so on at the other, and to a slew of scientists and philosophers from Leibniz to Michel Serres, Isabelle Stengers, others… Geology and geophysics take me into my love of climbing, mountains and so into Central Asia and China, geography, culture, history, maps and topography… anthropology… names keep recurring in different disciplines, braids between the disciplines inside and out of science–the arts, philosophy are twisted upon themselves over and over; ah and the joy is the same.

Some people might find through religion some sense of marvel in the universe. I do not. To me, looking at the stars or the earth and forcing interpretation through faith is perhaps at best an elegant metaphor or story to be studied through anthropology (I do find of course the pantheon of demons in all religions quite fascinating), but mostly craven superstition that is no different to a perverse choice in favour of the detritus littering the floor, when a banquet lies upon the table above.

Over the years of blogging and reading blogs, many of the ones in the sciences had coalesced around Discover Magazine Blogs and the Scienceblogs communities, which of course has led me to new blogs, furthering my wanderings through the sciences. Volcanology and deep sea oceanography with excellent blogs written by passionate working scientists are two of the fields I currently have a fascination for.

Yes, there is a but.

Mostly I don’t reblog. As much as I’d like to–and have tried in the past to make weekly reading lists of whatever has really grabbed my attention, the most obvious place where my love of science is displayed is in the sidebar (yes, needs updating…). But the last couple of days have brought some troubling developments.

Scienceblogs allows their writers complete freedom, in exchange for advertising in the right column and above the banner–most of which I don’t see because I use adblocking. This division allowed for an integrity in the science bloggers’ often coupled with disclosures either by naming themselves or when anonymous listing where their funding comes from.

As a non-scientist and being aware of the deluge of pseudo-science — homeopathy, new age therapies and so on under the misleading guise and banner of ‘alternative medicine’, the constant misrepresentation of climate science by the media, corporate manipulation of public perception and outright lies, or just simple things like why would a volcano cause air traffic across europe to shut down – all these things in small ways I find myself talking about.

But when a community such as Scienceblogs provides a platform to a corporate entity under the guise of a blog like others, when it is patently advertorial, massaging of public image, when it is Pepsi given space to write a blog (I use that in the very loosest of senses) on nutrition science and how they are making the world a better place through their foodstuffs research…

Yes, the science blog world is in an uproar. It is a crucial issue of ethics, impartiality and most importantly authenticity and integrity. When science is routinely denigrated, used against the wishes of scientists for political manipulation, misrepresented in the media, when vital issues for the our immediate future are at stake, it is imperative scientists are able to be seen as trustworthy and respected.

Many of the science blogs I read are in the process of leaving Scienceblogs. Funnily enough it has also introduced me to new blogs–which are also leaving. The story in itself is worth an afternoon’s reading, but summarised at The Loom, along with a list of blogs on the move, and by GrrlScientist in Sucking Corporate Dick (read the comments to enjoy scientists enraged).

Maybe this is also to say for those of you who get as much pleasure as I do in reading and in reading science, there is a wealth of extraordinarily talented writers in many fields who I’m sure you’ll greatly enjoy. And perhaps too, this diaspora is a good thing. Blogs and blog communities have progressed to the point – thanks to the code they run on – where ad hoc communities are simple to set up and there is no real need to belong to somewhere like Scienceblogs if they fail to meet the requirements of their bloggers.

I shall update my links in due course.

double happiness

Two excellent things in the last couple of days I shall endeavour to celebrate. Perhaps with wine and peanut butter. mmm… that’s a rather undelectable combination. Maybe to say, not at the same time.

On Monday after much tribulation, quaking, apprehension and terror, with the delightful company of Trudel, I found myself at the Ausländerbehörde once more and departed €50 lighter and in possession of a 1 Jahr Selbständige freiberufliche Choreographin und Tänzerin Aufenthaltserlaubnis. And today by courier arrived Serway’s Principles of Physics – A Calculus-Based Text, because I had this idea I wanted to study Environmental Engineering, and thought I should remember how to do such things.