So, on this lovely (okay, rainy) first day of April, I’m sitting at the computer (as I am wont to do, even when I don’t really want to do it) and taking a little wiki walk.  Come with me now…

This particular wiki walk was inspired by the new Google Nose.  I explored the delights of wet dog, fresh-mown grass, beer and

Lemonlemon.  I got interested in the botany of lemon, which led me to citron, which led me to wonder what succade was, which led me to succade made from angelica, which lead me to the Apiaceae family that is so widespread in global cuisine and folk medicine, including “Conium maculatum… used as a sedative and in treatments for arthritis and asthma in addition to its most famous use: as a “humane” method of killing criminals and philosophers.”

But then I got curious about coriander, and why so many people like its fresh leaves as cilantro (I tolerate it, but I’m not a huge fan, on account of the soapy taste… apparently I’m just a recovering one of those). I wondered whether there was any substance behind Dan Ackroyd’s line from Gross Pointe Blank about cilantro being good for the liver.  Among its health effects and medicinal uses, I did find that it appears to increase bile production, so sometimes you do learn things in by watching silly John Cusack movies.  Coriander is also described as a carminative.  So what the heck is a carminative?  It sounds nice enough, doesn’t it.

It turns out that the great Aldous Huxley (of Brave New World fame) had an extended rant about  this very word (Chapter 20 in a book called Chrome Yellow).  Huxley explores the phenomenon of our attraction to the sound of certain words, and the magic that beautiful words possess.  Even inaptly beautiful words like carminative.  Makes all those magic systems in various fantasy novels that focus on names and words make even more sense (I’m looking at you, Patrick Rothfuss).  It’s a great read for us word-fools on such a lovely (or not) April Fools.  Enjoy!


The Apocalypse of Eight Thousand Stings

In celebration of today’s apocalyptic mythos, here’s a story told by a wise crone in the village of Serena:

The Apocalypse of Eight Thousand Stings

a history of the Fall, as told by Ursula

It did not come as a surprise to those who had been paying attention.  It was not the sudden strike of the shark, the stealthy approach of the puma.  It was not one great bite that wrought destruction.  It was thousands and thousands of small stings, once the wasp’s nest finally fell.  And even that fall was obvious to those who were watching and warning.  But our civilization wasn’t taking those warnings seriously.  Shoring up or removing the nest before it fell looked like too much.

“Why get stung now?” we asked, saying, “after all, it might not fall.  We can’t afford to build a ladder to fix it, to get a bee suit to handle it.  It should hold.  It’s held for years and years without falling.  Even if it does fall, I’ve been stung before.  I can handle a sting here or there.  I can swat the wasps away.  No sense worrying now.”  And when the hive fell and split open on the ground, we swatted the first wasps away, but others stung us while we were doing it.  Then more came, and more.  After the first dozens, we knew we were in trouble, but it was too late to fix anything, too late to get away.  The stings weakened us further still, making it harder to swat any away, harder to run.  We realized that our strengths and confidence were not enough, that even the greatest bear would succumb to the thousands and thousands of wounds, this creeping doom.  Who were we against so many troubles?

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

For want of a shoe the horse was lost.

Sometimes, it looked like it was the fable of the nail:

For want of a nail the shoe was lost.
For want of a shoe the horse was lost.
For want of a horse the rider was lost.
For want of a rider the message was lost.
For want of a message the battle was lost.
For want of a battle the kingdom was lost.
And all for the want of a horseshoe nail.

In the cities surrounding the great bay to the north, there was a fire in the hills, as often burned in such dry Septembers.  Usually, homes were evacuated efficiently, and fires extinguished quickly.  But there had been a fire in the hills around a city to the south in August, and the cities by the bay had sent many of their trained firefighters and equipment.  The fuel shortage in the country meant that they delayed bringing the firefighters with the trucks and equipment back for two days until they could get them fueled.  So the firefighters caught the flu that was going around in the shelter where they stayed.  And it was a bad flu, with an incubation of a few days, then a sickness of two weeks, so they didn’t know they had it when they came home, and spread it to all the other firefighters who had stayed home, so that when the fire came to them, all the firehouses were empty, the firefighters all too sick to help.  But the first wave had infected their families, who had infected friends and neighbors, and as the fire threatened homes the occupants were there, and too sick to move far or efficiently without help, and there were so many deaths, and the fire spread and spread.

And yet, for Sequoia, it was more like Saio’s horse:

The myriad concerns of man are like old man Saio’s horse. (Fig. 7)

The myriad concerns of man are like old man Saio’s [horse]. from The Zen Art of Deiryu

In a small village lived old man Saio, who had but one horse.  She ran away one day.  Saio’s neighbors spoke their condolences for this loss, but Saio remained untroubled. “Maybe something good will come of it,” he said.

The next month Saio’s mare returned with a beautiful stallion.  Saio’s neighbors came by to congratulate him on his amazing good fortune, but Saio remained placid.  “Maybe it’s not so good,” he said.

The next month, Saio’s only son tried to ride the stallion.  The young man was thrown, and his leg was broken. The neighbors came by to offer sympathy, but Saio merely nodded his acceptance.  “We shall see what comes to pass,” he said.

The next month, the army came, and conscripted every sound young man in the village.  Saio’s son was lame, so he was not taken. The other villagers’ sons never returned from the war.

As the Firefighter’s Flu became an epidemic, the hills around Sequoia began to burn, and no one traveled over the passes with the sickness when it was at its worst.  But our redwoods survived the blaze, and once people started to move about, the Flu was extinguished, and a milder version had taken its place.

Perhaps it was surprising how suddenly it all collapsed, all the fictions of civilization.  And yet, it was so revealing of which parts of that civilization were fictitious, and which were immutable truths.  The loss of order meant that cruelty, vengeance and the will to dominate by force were much more open and in evidence, but kindness and empathy did not disappear, even amidst the chaos.  On the contrary, kindness and compassion became more potent and precious as we here in the Sequoian communities had to rely on one another even more.

Make no mistake, avarice and hatred were manifest.  It started with acts of sabotage.  Some claimed it was foreign terrorists who began the attacks.  Others said it was a rebellion of the marginalized and impoverished from our own cities.  Another rumor was that it was fanatics, seeking to abruptly halt the destruction wrought by increasingly powerful corporate interests.  Perhaps there is some truth behind each of these tales.

We know that the great urban centers around the globe became ever more restive, with riots over access to food, water and warmth.  Many cities were disrupted by floods as the seas rose and storms grew more ferocious.

Soon, attackers targeted the infrastructure that made the vast and complex global civilization possible.  Where power grids were still huge and vulnerable, and people had only a limited capacity to generate electricity locally, millions went without main power.  Fuel shipments and pipelines were disrupted.  Communications hubs and trunks were systematically disabled.

And the Great Global Civilization might have survived all this, were it not for the poisons and disease.  Again, there are competing stories for how these horrors were unleashed.  Some tell of high-tech saboteurs who designed and unleashed the Last Plagues in all the world’s great metropolitan centers.  Others say they accidentally escaped research facilities when power and communications broke down, or when terrorists unthinkingly bombed them, or when unprecedented storms and floods overwhelmed them.  But whether by arson or accident, these biological wildfires spread quickly wherever there was fuel in sufficient density, rendering most urban lands uninhabitable.

What wasn’t ravaged by the Plagues was ruined by poisons, again potentially by deliberate acts of terror, or just by mistakes in the chaos of the times.  Aquifers and reservoirs were rendered unpotable, and more millions died of toxins or thirst.

Few successfully fled the great cities, as outlying communities saw the chaos coming and girded themselves against the human storm front.

Legend says that those who still had the skills and land to grow food, those who had access to clean water and air, took up arms against any strangers who lacked these things, stranding them in the wastelands between the cities and the farms.  Certainly we know that some of this sentiment is what kept the communities of Sequoia safe.  We were oddly fortunate here, with only a few routes linking our lands to the cities beyond the hills.  These passes were sabotaged early in the chaos, perhaps by the Sequoian founders, or perhaps by unfriendly outsiders.  Many here had discussed and planned already for a loss of electricity and fuel from the larger civilization.  Some say the roads were already ruined by the great earthquake the first year of the Fall.  We do have stories from those of my great-grandmother’s generation, the children of the times of the Fall, that their parents reinforced the blockage of the roads, setting traps to prevent outsiders from entering Sequoian lands.  By these acts of seeming violence and paranoia, they did keep our great-grandparents safe from the Plagues.

People of the hill communities still speak proudly of the fierce protectiveness of their ancestors, and maintain their defensive traditions.  Our Cliff, here, was raised in such a village.

Singing Under the Sky

Here’s a snippet with the characters from my YA novel, inspired by the class I took with Mary McLaughlin:

The grass and low shrubs stretched on without relief, save for a few blue oaks.  Cliff paused and looked around carefully for a moment.  As he resumed the trek westward, he began a chant with a simple tribal beat, his baritone ringing sweetly around them:

 Earth my body
Water my blood
Air my breath and
Fire my spirit

On the third cycle, Laurel piped in with her birdlike soprano, starting with Earth as Cliff hit Water.  Reynard joined on the next cycle, a soft tenor Earth for Cliff’s crisp Air and Laurel’s warbling Water.  Solstice came in next, with a robust alto, as if it were a sea shanty.   As Cliff came around to Earth once more, he looked expectantly at Yasmina.  She arched one brow at him, lips pressed tight, then looked away.  He shrugged and carried on.

After a few cycles, Cliff began to improvise, first adding beats by thumping his chest and slapping his thigh. Soon he abandoned all but the initial words of each line, scatting around the melody.  Laurel began to improvise on her next round, weaving in and out with “lahhs” and “ohs.” Solstice’s grin widened, as she and Rey kept to the simple and straightforward chant.

As far as I can tell, this is a traditional chant, and not under copyright.  Anyone have any idea about its origin?

Joss vs. Zomney

The most likely scenario for the zombie apocalypse?

Ponderings of a Perplexed Primate

Ah, Joss… so brilliant.


Paid for by the committee to learn parkour like,
really soon, like maybe take a class or something.

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Best Google Doodle Ever!

…today only at

Check it out, play with it, have the sound effects up.  46 years of awesome (with Gorn, no less).

Live long and prosper!

To learn more, see “Interactive Google Doodle Honors Star Trek: The Original Series,” or, “The Original Series –” or, ya’know, wikipedia.

Gawkin at Gawgeous Gams

Epic calves, heroic hammies, and the quads of destiny.


Think she biked here?


Of course she did.  It’s written all over her legs.

When in doubt, write about bikes.  Or, better yet, ride one

Us and Them and Allopatric Enculturation

From The Shared Dream at the Top of the Stairs:

Many science-fiction writers have said that the next logical step [to providing a “them” for “us”] is to have another “world” or “civilization” with which to compete.  They don’t need to be enemies, per se, just competitors.  Simple-minded creatures as we writers often are, this usually comes down to a fight, providing “entertaining” fiction for us to consume.  This is an option, admittedly with a low (though non-zero) probability of happening in the next century.

Option two, humans diversify by colonizing distant worlds.  This is another favored theme, be it in classics like Frank Herbert’s Dune or the latest Kim Stanley Robinson book, 2312.  My first-started-but-now-on-hold novel project works in this realm also.  Effective separation of different human populations over time and space leads to cultural diversification, somewhat like the way separation of different populations of one species can lead to their diversification into new species (this is called allopatric speciation in evolutionary biology).  Such projects are not impossible, though the likelihood in the next century is for very little of this (as much as I’m inspired by the call to Occupy Mars and support the 100 Year Starship program).

Option three, we re-entrench in smaller communities or tribes.  This is often the fertile ground in which post-apocalyptic fiction takes place, and my current novel project is rooted here.  Again, the most common scenario is that these tribes will fight when they interact, unless they’re forming alliances to fight off mutual threats.  I believe this option has much higher probability than the previous two, though I’m not ready to commit to a probability above 50% (take some time for Peak Prosperity’s “Crash Course”, and decide for yourself where you think we stand… and he didn’t even account for climate change).

Maybe there is a third way.  In the comments for the bold and radical article “Self-Evident Truths” by Derrick Jensen (comment 11 by mike k.), it is suggested

We can begin by coming together in small groups to deeply consider these things, and make truth, love, and beauty effective realities in ourselves and in our world.

…Can we rethink what that competition is? Could it be a competition between groups for the best solutions, the most vibrant, ecologically-integrated, just and regenerative communities?  Could local pride and tribalism work in way that didn’t invite violence, but instead amplified positive deviance?  Maybe these are the questions to explore via World Café. Such questions invite us to dissolve the self in the greater “we,” perhaps even at the global level, in a collective effort by humans to improve the well-being of all.

I wrote The Shared Dream at the Top of the Stairs for my science and sustainability blog, but it felt like this section belonged here, too.  I’m too far along in my current project to attempt to write it without the big crash that separates populations into distinctive tribes, but it is an intriguing project for the future.  The folx at io9 suggest that we need more optimistic speculative fiction, and they may be right.  It’s really the big challenge, but as I’m just starting out, I’ll stick to the better-blazed trails for my current adventure.  Next time?

Great Ape Haiku

I just discovered


and I thought I should give it a whirl, so I whipped together a handful of haiku on the  (now seven recognized) living species of great apes.

Pongo abelii

Orangutan asks
Why only use my two hands?
Feet are just as good

Pongo pygmaeus

Orangutan climbs
A good distance away from
African great apes

Gorilla gorilla

Gorilla ponders
When brute force fails to resolve
Perhaps more force works

Gorilla beringei

Mountain gorilla
Calmly chews wild celery
Peaceful times are rare

Pan paniscus

Bonobo grins big
The sweeter the fruit should be
The more sex required

Pan troglodytes

Chimpanzee hoots loud
In the driving rainstorm’s wrath
Why no umbrella?

Homo sapiens

Human walks away
From forest and savannah
Just sits in traffic

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Jurassic Avenue

For Josh, Zach, Lucian, the other ghosts, and for all of us still up on two wheels…

 June 7, 2012

Jurassic Avenue

So small I am on my bicycle

as behemoths travel beside me.

I braid the halting path of a diplodocus bus

its danger not in malice but mass.

The dull eyes of a charging stegosaurus fail to notice

my vivid display feathers as I wheel past.

An allosaurus pursues, then overtakes me

rumbling its contempt as it chases worthier prey.

I am too small to warrant attention

but if not quick and clever, I may still be crushed.

Fragile as I am

I may not survive this day

But I know

in the hollow spaces of my bones

That one day their kind will be fossils

       and my kind will fly.

One-liner: Disarray

I don’t just live in a constant state of disarray.  I’m the governor.

Hence the repeated delays on posting these things.