GKC: Viva la Difference!

Some just so terribly non-PC stuff from the master, G.K. Chesterton, addressing the then-current (1930s) panacea of coeducational schooling in an essay titled Two Stubborn Pieces of Iron:

The school will never make boys and girls ordinary comrades.  The home  does not make them that.  The sexes can work together in a school-room just as they can breakfast together in a breakfast-room; but neither makes any difference to the fact that the boys go off to a boyish companionship which the girls would think disgusting, while the girls go off to a girl companionship which the boys would think literally insane.  Co-educate as much as you like, there will always be a wall between the sexes until love or lust breaks it down.  Your co-educative playground for pupils in their teens will not be a place of sexless camaraderie.  It will be a place where boys go about in fives sulkily growling at the girls, and where the girls go about in twos turning up their noses at the boys.

Now if you accept this state of things and are content with it as the result of your co-education, I am with you; I accept it as one of the mystical first facts of Nature.  I accept it somewhat in the spirit of Carlyle when somebody told him that Harriet Martineau had “accepted the Universe”, and he said, “By God, she’d better.” But if you have any idea that co-education would do more than parade the sexes in front of each other twice a day, if you think it would destroy their deep ignorance of each other or start them on a basis of rational understanding, then I say first that this will never happen, and second that I (for one) should be horribly annoyed if it did.




Book Review: Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin (Books of Unexpected Enlightenment Book 1) by [Lamplighter, L. Jagi]To sum up: Fun read. Buy this book, read it, then give it to a young woman, for example your daughter,  in the 13 to mid-20ish range. Lovable characters, fun adventures, suitably scary villains, wild speculations about how things are not as they seem, and coming of age issues dealt with frankly yet appropriately.

The Unexpected Enlightenment of Rachel Griffin is the first book in what is intended to be a fairly extensive Unexpected Enlightenment series. Following the current practice of listing the ingredients in the stew, let’s go surreal: In a Harry Potter style universe, Narnia meets the Matrix.  No, really. The wizarding school aspect is clear on page 1, while the everything is not what it seems, in both the existence of other  worlds (Narnia) and the everything you know is a lie (Matrix) is only glimpsed and hinted at in this first volume.

As in the Potter-verse, wizards use spells to shield their activities and very existence from the mundane. In such a world, what keeps wizards from blinding each other? What keeps the most powerful from keeping the true nature of the world (or worlds, as the case may be) from those they seek to control? If so, how would a victim of such deceit become aware of it and make their way free of it? (1)  Very grown-up issues, but not told in a way too overwhelming for younger readers.

Rachel Griffin is the youngest daughter of a large, ancient and noble wizarding family. She starts life with all the advantages: loving family, wealth, connections, looks (although she’s only occasionally aware of how cute she is in a barely pubescent 13-year old girl way). Plus, she’s sharp, has a photographic memory, and is a kind and polite (civilized!) young woman. So – the anti-Harry Potter in origin. The rags to riches role is given to a couple of her friends. (2)

She’s also precocious, starting Roanoke Academy a year early. Lamplighter is first of all spinning an adventure yarn, but is also exploring how the world looks to a well-bred, well-loved young woman entering the boyfriend/girlfriend arena, what goes on both good and bad, what sort of temptations a girl her age goes through, and how good and bad choices are made. Of this, the real drama in most young girls lives is made, and what they see around them is largely horror and ruin portrayed as ‘normal’. As a father of daughters, it is heartening to see such issues treated appropriately in an engaging piece of fictions. Girls can grow into women without caving to a out of control, narcissistic world.

Don’t get the impression that the story and action suffer from too much girly digression – not so. The author does a great job of simply acknowledging what Rachel is going through and following her thought process as she ponders her relationships – one of which is the attentions of a very attractive (and very well-behaved) older boy.

But that’s getting ahead.  The adventures and mysteries start on page 1, when Rachel awakens from her first night at Roanoke Academy, and never stop. She awakens to overhear two animals – a tiny lion familiar and a huge red-eyed raven – talking about something that makes no sense to her. She then takes a broom flight around the grounds – she’s an elite flyer – and sees the statue of an angel, something she has no word to name and has never seen before in her life. She runs afoul of some crass girls, give a famous boy a ride on her broom, spots an impostor pretending to be a wizarding police officer, and helps save a girl’s life. All this before breakfast.  Action hardly lets up. And this first book only covers the first week or two of Rachel’s first year!

Rachel, tiny, young,  precocious, shy and and inexperienced, wants to make friends. She has poor luck at first, then finds Siggy, an over-the-top, dragon-owning orphan boy, and Nastasia, a prim princess, as her besties, and a circle of other remarkable friends. They are all trying, in addition to learning to be witches and wizards, to make the treacherous journey from children to adults.

In this first book, mysteries are introduced and deepened – a little – but not resolved. There are two more books out already, and many more on the way, so this is to be expected.

As a man pushing 60, I’m hardly the target audience for the Rachel books, except in the sense where good fiction should work anyway (Narnia and Have Space Suit, Will Travel are among my favorite books – because they’re great, regardless of what age the target audience was). And I never made it past about book 3 in Harry Potter – not my cup of tea. Yet, these stories work for me.

I’ve read the next two installments as well, The Raven, The Elf, and Rachel and Rachel and the Many-Splendored Dreamland, and found them also good and engaging, and plan to read the additional volumes as they come out. Will review as time permits. 

  1. Aside: have wondered if anyone ever asked Alinsky, who taught that believing one ought to tell the truth was a stupid bourgeois bias, that one needs to do and say whatever is required to move the revolution forward, when he was going to stop lying to them? One would have to concluded that Saul was telling his audience only whatever he thought would advance the ball, with no regard for the truth. You know? Using them as he was training them to use others. Similar issue.
  2. Now I’m really getting out there: Given the way he was raised, Harry Potter would have been much more likely to turn out as a craven weedler or even  a sociopath – a Tom Riddle – than a decent little boy – ya know? Rowlings is playing somewhat with the rough life/different outcome thing, of course, but really – 11 years of the Dursleys is not going to produce a bitter little boy? More bitter, I mean. But I digress. Rachel represents the issues facing a kid raised with love facing a world sorely lacking in love, which makes these very different stories.

Weather Update

Well, this looks scary:

I personally will be avoiding wind prone

The thing is, as often mentioned here, we Californians keep our snow up on the mountains, where it can be admired from the much warmer afar. My little piece of ‘afar’ is 54F and sunny at the moment. So, except for truckers and people who absolutely have to cross the mountains, this warning means little. I’m assuming people who live in the mountains are set up to deal with this – hot coco, Netflix, backup generator, that sort of thing.

But there will be some people who try, Donner-party style, to cross anyway, so we will see pictures of overturned trucks in blizzard conditions, etc. You’ve been warned.

Meanwhile, down here in afar, we’ve been averaging about an inch of rain per day for the last week. We get some sun today, a little more rain tonight into tomorrow, then a whole 4-5 days of 60F and sunshine before it may start raining again. One or two more decent storms over the next 3 months will put us over season average rainfall almost everywhere. Anything over that is gravy (well, not literally – that would be gross).  Similar for the mountains – 2-3 more good-sized storms should push the snowpack up to season average.

Since we are/were in a drought because of Climate Change, I await with eager ears to hear how we are now not in a drought due to Climate Change.

NASA satellite image of CA snowpack today.
Snow up in the mountains where it belongs. As you can see, we also keep some in adjoining states, and go visit it there as well, if we must. 


Bombe Chests & Writing

Ships, bricks and bombe chests – the stuff of my obsessions. Did you know YouTube is lousy with videos showing you how to build boats? I’m partial to wooden boats, as the craftsmanship involved in building a large wooden thing with few if any right angles or straight lines that has to withstand all sorts of intermittent and rapidly changing stresses while remaining watertight is awesome to behold.

Consider this: (found at http://www.drakenexpeditionamerica.com/)

There are videos of this Viking dragon ship being made:

They use what is called clinker or lapstrake construction: each strake – the long horizontal pieces on the outside of the hull –  is individually curved and fitted, and overlaps the one below it. The lap is shaped to snug and the lower strake lined with tar and plant fibers. Then teams of people curve and fit it on top of the last strake. The strake is clamped and nailed into place, then reinforced from the inside. The ends are cut and carved to fit into the bow and stern. The end product, many tons of lumber with thousands of feet of seams, is supposed to stay in one piece and watertight out on the open ocean. Wow.

There are hundreds of videos out there on wooden boat construction, showing how to build everything from  a birch bark or cedar strip canoe to bronze-age stich-ships to East India Company ships. There’s even a lovely young couple building the ship of their dreams.

Anyway, watching these videos is hypnotic. My woodworking is almost always straight-line, right angle, stays put stuff – bookcases, tables, boxes, that sort of thing. I don’t have to consider the possibility that the next wave will twist a few tons of oak boat one way, then the other, within a matter of seconds – and not only can’t it break, its must stay watertight. Over and over. For years.

Now, that’s some serious woodworking. I almost wish I liked sailing, to have an excuse to build my own boat. I’d need a lot more room, a bunch more tools, and a lot better woodworking chops. And a cure for seasickness.

Or maybe I need to make a bombe chest:

It’s only a little curvy, and doesn’t go anywhere, so the requirements aren’t quite so high as with boats….

Getting real, though, way beyond my current skill level. I’ve never successfully (long story) cut dovetails, for example. So – maybe after I retire?

There’s also the whole design and planning aspect. With a bookcase, say, all the structural elements are straight and square. No need to layout complex curves that will need to fit other complex curves. With a bombe chest, you need to cut and fit a number of curvy surfaces – you’d better know how they are to fit together before you start sawing away! There is unlikely to be any recovery if you cut something wrong – you’ll probably need to throw the piece out and start over.

Writing, it seems, is getting to this point for me, the point of designing a bombe chest if not a boat. I see all the carefully fitted pieces, the caulked seams, the elegant lines – and the planning that went into it – and see that the story I’m working on needs that level of care if it’s not to sink under its own weight.

I understand and am even doing this. Progress is being made. It is slow. This piece by John C. Wright (h/t to the Puppy of the Month Book Club) pretty much sums it up.

The last thing (apart from time) that is a stumbling block: balancing the desire that this story be perfect with the need to just get it done while also not accepting anything less than ‘pretty good’. Very hard to judge from the inside, especially since, while I’ve written my 1,000,000 words of sundry blog posts, I haven’t written 10% of that in fiction. Just a newbie, really.

With boats, the masters made sure they would float, handle and not fall apart by sticking to traditions, building on the backs of centuries of empirical engineering. With this in mind, I’m planning on rereading a couple of my favorite novels just to see how they do it. (Aside: one of the things that made me want to write was Have Spacesuit Will Travel – because it’s obvious what Heinlein is doing! Very straightforward. In the hands of someone less skilled, it might even have come off as paint-by-numbers. Every chapter is Problem-Resolution-Bigger Problem until The Fate of The World! is in the balance. Then he gets even with the school bully. Marvelous!)

Popular Vote vs. Electoral College Explained

Impressive amount of stupid on the loose this morning, so let’s take this slowly:

  1. Campaigning works. Showing up and asking people for their votes tends to inspire people to vote for you – that’s why politicians do it. In general, a politician will get more votes in places where he actually campaigns.
  2. Individual states determine how their electoral votes are to be allocated to different candidates. California and New York, like all but two states, are “winner takes all” states.
  3. In winner takes all states, it doesn’t matter how many votes you get, as long as you win. If a candidate wins or loses 51%-49% or 85%-15%, he gets the same number of electoral college votes.
  4.  Now, putting the above points together – here’s the important part – if a candidate doesn’t think he has a realistic chance of winning a particular winner takes all state, he has little reason to campaign there
  5. If he doesn’t campaign in a state, following point #1, he will tend strongly to get fewer popular votes in that state.

Now, how hard did Trump campaign in New York and California? Not hard at all – because, even if he could convince several million more people in those states to vote for him, he was still almost certain to lose, just by a smaller margin, and would still get zero electoral college votes out of it.

Evidence suggests that Trump was a better than decent campaigner, meaning that he did in fact change people’s minds to vote for him when he showed up someplace and pitched hard. But he and Clinton both did the math, and spent the bulk of their time campaigning in places where such campaigning might make a difference in the actual election run under the current rules. In practice, this means a light touch and fundraising junkets to states you think you have in the bag or are sure you will lose, medium touch on states you think you’ll win but want to be sure, and heavy touch on states you think you might win but could lose. Thus, Clinton swings through California and New York to provide fan service and raise funds, but spends essentially no time in the South except maybe in (weirdo) Florida. Trump similarly will campaign hard in places he needs to win, show up to fire up the troops where he’s pretty sure he’ll win, and does the minimum in states where he’s sure to lose.

This is (evidently not so) common sense. When victory is defined in terms of electoral college votes, a candidate doesn’t even look at how the popular vote in general shakes out, except out of morbid curiosity. To then claim that losing the popular vote shows much of anything about the candidates relative popularity is is either ignorantly or willfully missing the point.

History: the electoral college was set up so that a few populous and rich states – say, like California and New York – would not easily be able to dictate to the other poorer and less populated states.

Subtract out California and New York from the popular vote tally (1) – and Trump wins the rest of the nation in a popular (and electoral college) landslide. More to the point, if we did not have the electoral college but instead relied on direct popular vote, Trump and Clinton would have campaigned hard in the cities on the coasts and Texas and in Chicago – and pretty much ignored all the rest of the country. With the electoral college system, candidates are forced to pay attention to ALL of the people – or risk having the rubes down in Florida or out in Michigan cost them an election.

Bottom line, something that we all should have learned in about 6th grade: If you want people who don’t live in a few larger cities to have some skin in federal elections, leave the electoral college alone. If you’d rather be ruled by rich city dwellers, go with the popular vote. If you live in one of those cities, you might feel all warm and fuzzy and involved. If you don’t, you’ll wonder how the President can be said to represent you at all.

  1. In fact, just subtract the votes of NYC, LA and San Francisco, and maybe Chicago and Philly, and you’d get the same result. The electoral college is intended, in modern terms, to prevent all of us from being ruled from a couple large cities.

Mall of America

First impression: this place will make an interesting ruin in about a decade or two.

Next: the “we are not in the bay area anymore” moment: had to hunt for a coffee place, and their question was “do you want light roast or medium roast?” While not having to deal with the guy in front of you wanting a half soy half 2% milk half caf no foam, light dash of almond latte is a relief, I kind of like my coffee strong. You know?

Haven’t spotted a good hat yet, but hey, I haven’t even had coffee yet! And one cup of medium roast may not be enough!

From the SFO International Terminal

For reasons unknown, some outfit called Sun Country Air, with flights into and out of Minneapolis, flies out of the SFO International Terminal. It seems a little odd that we humble people heading out to a lesser Mecca Ike the Mall of America are mingling with folks heading for Amsterdam and Abu Dhabi and, who knows? maybe the real Mecca – kind of like ending up on the group W bench for littering.

Although this is not strictly accurate because of the extensive Venn diagram overlaps, as I meandered around it seem the crowd is roughly 2 parts boring and one part each exotic and scruffy. We boring people are overrepresented in the crowd going to Minneapolis. I expected nothing less.

Boarding starts in 10 minutes.