More Lying With Graphs

Wow. If you squint a little, this looks pretty damaging to the argument that innate sexual difference are a factor in the career choices men and women make:

Image result for what happened to women in computer science graph

What this purports to show: in the 1960s, a small percentage of women pursued majors in Medical School, Law School, Physical Sciences and Computer Science. Starting around 1970, the percentage of women majoring in these 4 fields started to increase, and, with the exception of computer science, leveled off around 2000. The percentage of women majoring in computer science peaked around 1985 and began to fall, then it leveled out around 2007.

Proposed conclusion: difference in career choices can’t be based on sex, because the sexes were as different in 1970 as they remain in 2000, yet the percentage of college women studying computer science fell even as the percentages in the other listed majors continued to increase or at least held steady. Or, a Twitterer put it:

Here’s a problem for those who say “biological differences” or “innate interest” explain why women hold fewer coding jobs than men.  

Well, that’s a big ‘maybe’. What’s wrong with this picture? Let me count the ways:

First, why those 4 fields and no others? As shown here, it’s not too hard to cherry-pick examples to show whatever you want to show. Also, aren’t we talking about very broad fields? Nobody majors in ‘Physical Science’ – they major in geology or chemistry or physics or some such. A better, if harder to read chart or charts would show the male/female differences across many majors at a level of granularity that means something. Does it make a difference to lump them all together? We don’t know, but it is something we would want to know.

Next, and this is the kind of reality check anybody paying attention needs to do: What kind of source data have we here? What do we mean by college students and majors? Med schools and Law schools are dedicated graduate schools attended by students who have presumably prepared and competed to get into them in their undergrad years, while the physical sciences and computer science are studied both in undergrad and grad environments.

Are we talking about majors these students were awarded their degrees in? Or just the ones they declared as pimply 18 years olds? Or something else? STEM fields, for example, have infamously high dropout rates: those 18 year olds, who have been assured for the previous decade and a half that they are the best educated people ever and often have all those Advanced Placement credits from high school to prove it, discover to their chagrin (with possible collateral damage to their self-esteem!) that they cannot in fact hack the math an electrical engineering degree requires – and that it’s a lot of work to catch up to the level of the typical college-bound high school graduate from 75 years ago. It seems the professors in these fields didn’t get the memo:

“A substantial grading differential exists between science and nonscience courses,” said presenter Ben Ost, a third-year Cornell economics Ph.D. student. “Even students who eventually become science majors receive much higher grades in their nonscience courses than their major field courses. This gap in grading standards discourages students from pursuing and completing a science degree.”

(The linked article also mentions that white males stick to it a lot better than women and ‘people of color’ – except for those pesky Asian people of color, both male and female, who do even better than white men but are not mentioned because mumble mumble…)

What difference does this make? As is so often the case, the correct answer is: we don’t know. Such information would be required before we could make much of anything out of this graph; it’s also possible that, given the required information, the point that the graph was concocted to make might become obscured or vanish entirely. Again, we don’t know.

What we do know is that plenty of students do not take ‘pre-law’ (if such a major even exists – didn’t in my day) as undergrads except informally – people with undergrad degrees in English, history, philosophy and maybe even computer science get into law schools all the time. Med schools tend to be more demanding, expecting a solid undergrad degree in some related major such as biology, with chemistry, biochemistry and the like, but still – there’s Group A – graduate students with some undefined undergraduate degrees, and Group B – undergrads and maybe grads in computer sciences and the physical sciences.

Double counting? We don’t know! Seems inevitable, since there’s no way of knowing what the statistics do with a Women Studies/Lawyer or Physics/Doctor or any of the other possible undergrad/grad combos. This would be good information to know.

It’s possible it makes no difference – the graph’s author could have developed a sophisticated and well-defined method that cleared this up and showed the graph to be a perfectly reasonable piece of information. But they didn’t show that information – or, at best, they did and the people pushing this on the web decided to leave it off.

What this does say: the presenter of the graph is much more interested in the particular message he wants to convey than in clear, well understood information.

Next, did anything else interesting happen to the college student population around the 1980s? Why yes, yes it did:

Women College Students

From the Boston Globe[/caption]

First: more and more people went to college. Second, a disproportionate number of those people were women (or are projected to be women – graph commits the sin of not distinguishing projections from statistics – the far right goes to 2023, which hasn’t happened yet.)

So, at least, we’ve spotted one big issue: the graph at the top shows percentages; those percentages are of ever-increasing numbers of women. Thus, for example, the raw number of women in these field could very well be increasing, just not as fast as the total number of women college students – looking at total numbers instead of statistics  might flatten out the apocalyptic-looking post 1985 drop-off.

Another thing that happened in the 1980s, or at least fully blossomed: the idea of college as a Holy Grail/meal ticket for everyone, especially for women. Instead of a college education being something people with certain specialized career ambitions would pursue, or even – *gasp* – something one would do to prepare one’s self for the duty of understanding and protecting one’s culture and Western Civilization in general (colleges being a Western Civ thing, after all), college became more and more exclusively a stepping stone to financial success.A generation of women came of college age who had heard from every direction that to be financially dependent on a man – you know, by marrying him – was demeaning and made a woman less than fully human. Therefore, if a woman was foolish enough to marry, she at least should get a career going first, so that she could walk out on him and maybe the kids if for any reason that whole ‘marriage’ arrangement proved unsatisfactory.

I’m just old enough to remember jokes about women college students – co-eds, they used to call them – attending school to get their Mrs. degrees.  That is not a joke one could assume one could safely make on campuses today, nor any that use ‘the ball and chain’ analogy for wives – because in all popular discussions of the evils of marriage, all husbands are assumed to be evil, and all wives innocent, at least, no husband is acknowledged to have taken on the burden of responsibility and no wife is acknowledged to receive any financial benefits from marriage. Because mumble mumble.

But I digress.

If you think you need to have a career to take care of yourself, might you not pick a field that is not too hard and yet promised good job prospects? In my experience, people who study computer science are, well, geeks and nerds. It’s a bit of an obsession, not something someone indifferent to the actual work would choose just because the job prospects are good. Why hang out with obsessives with whom do not share the interest? Why compete with people who are passionate about the work if you are not?

Next, look at this from the colleges point of view: the number of young  people who want a STEM-like career and are willing to pay the academic price – actually studying hard, skipping a few parties, preparing themselves in high school – is never going to be too large. So, if all you offer are hard classes – see the quotation above – then you’re going to lose all those students who can’t or don’t want to hack it UNLESS you have easier classes they can take instead. If they leave school, you lose the money those kids bring in, while if they transfer to an Applied Marxism(1) a studies major of some sort, or just to any other easier major, you keep them and the money they bring in.

Yes, yes, I know that the motives of college administrators are pure and high, and that it only appears that they are money-grubbing vermin indistinguishable in action from the snake oil salesmen they generally assume all business people to be. (Except you, donor with a building named after you! You are not like other men!) Whatever the motives, the effect can be observed: many majors have been dumbed down and a numbers of easy new majors have appeared over the last few decades – and women dominate those majors.

And why not? I myself got a graduate degree in business because A) I had a growing family to support and B) business is REALLY REALLY EASY,  at least compared to ‘real’ majors. Once you decide you’re going to college to further your career, why not do it in as pain-free a manner as possible, and leave the specialties to the specialist? I also once signed up for some programming classes at UC Irvine (elite tech school I just happened to be living near) in the mid 80s – and promptly dropped out. I was merely curious – the younger whippersnappers were playing for keeps. No way was I keeping up on the amount of time I had to invest in it. These dudes (almost all dudes) lived in the computer labs. I imagine my experience isn’t all that unusual.

Oh, look! Top majors for women, circa 2010:

No. 1: Business

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 164,276

Women in the major: 49% of total

Men in the major: 51% of total

Potential career paths: management, sales, consulting, finance

Here’s another. Wow, a lucrative growing field dominated by women!  

No. 2: Health Professions and Related Clinical Sciences

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 94,192

Women in the major: 85.4% of total

Men in the major: 14.6% of total

Potential career paths: nursing, physical therapy

Here’s another, a really hard one for brainiacs:

No. 8: Biological and Biomedical Sciences

Degrees awarded to women in 2008: 46,217

Women in the major: 59.4% of total

Men in the major: 40.6% of total

Potential career paths: research, teaching, medical technology

One might imagine a sane person choosing a major based on both personal interest and career prospects; one also can imagine an 18 year old choosing a major because it’s cool (raises hand. Great Books, baby!). Would one have any reason to expect any other behavior from the women who have come to dominate the college student population? Apart from the religious dogmas of Critical Theory, that is?

Conclusion: If there are nefarious forces keeping women out of Computer Science majors, this chart isn’t showing it. Cherry-picked majors, poor or no definitions of key terms, murky data. In fact, it’s misleading to the point of propaganda.

Bonus: here is a fun chart from NPR, which is not an official tool of oppression yet as far as I know, that gives both percentages and raw numbers (if you hover correctly) and the relationships between majors. It could have been improved if the graph were of raw numbers so as to reveal the upward slope of total enrollment, and the percentages showed when you hover. Big caveat: as is almost always the case in these things, the chart assumes a set of categories that existed in 1970 map meaningfully with categories in use in 2011. That’s plausible enough for math or chemistry – but is what they meant by sociology or psychology or cultural studies (?) in 1970 the same as what they meant by it in 2011? Bears thinking about. 

  1. Nothing is easier than Applied Marxism Studies, known as Critical Theory: pick somebody unhappy; ‘discover’ who is oppressing them, because all unhappiness results from oppression; let your imagination run wild as to how awful those mean oppressors are, and how we need to exclude them from even opening their mouths and probably need to kill them. Doesn’t have to make sense or even be internally consistent. Easy-peasy A+

 

 

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July 20, 2017: 5th Anniversary of Our Son Andrew’s Death

In the early morning of July 20th, 2012, our son Andrew was struck by a car and killed while walking along a rural highway in Indiana while taking part in a Crossroads cross country pro-life walk from San Francisco to Washington D.C. May he rest in peace.

I’m writing today because of something remarkable, something I would never have even dreamt of: a friend of Andrew’s, a retired fireman who taught him as a small child in faith formation classes at Queen of All Saints parish and prayed with him on occasion in front of the local Planned Parenthood, will be filing the paperwork with the diocese to petition to get Andrew declared a Servant of God.

 

Andrew, taking a break on his Crossroads walk. 

5 years after death is the minimum required waiting period. As his father, I am far too close to make any sort of judgement at all either way. All I know is that Jim – that’s the gentleman doing the paperwork, who is a very good man – seemed to get pretty enthusiastic responses when he talked to people who knew Andrew, and that his confessor for the last few years of his life sought us out to tell us we had nothing to worry about over the state of his soul. So I ask for your prayers that God’s will be done.

Book Review: Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels

Short & Sweet: Buy and read Dawn Witzke’s Path of Angels – it’s fun, cheap at the moment on Amazon, and different. I liked it quite a bit, and it’s a quick read. Support indie. Support superversive.

All in all, a fun read, good characters, and the action both physical and spiritual never stops. It reminds me a little of two very different authors’ works – Jagi Lamplighter and Robert Hugh Benson. Both these authors are very successful in very different ways at portraying the inner workings of their characters’ minds and souls. Witzke is likewise able to describe how things look to a 17 year old girl trying hard to be good in a world set up as an attractive slip-n-slide to evil. Everywhere, her world is ready with both pleasures and pains to push you down the wrong path. Benson derives his force by austere and deep insights into three different souls. Lamplighter puts her lead characters in fantasy world’s emotional and spiritual  blender where decisions good and bad have to be made with never enough time or calm. Witzke put her heroine on a journey paced more like real life, with decisions big and small coming at the most awkward and dangerous times.  All three capture an essential truth: we can only find our true selves in this world when we are not of this world.

If you had to categorize it – and you don’t – this would be a distopian YA story with a twist: it’s full of virtue, hope and heroism by characters who – gasp! – are Christians. This short (199 pp – in the range of all those 1950’s Heinlein books!) stands all those Post Apocalyptic Preludes I was on about on their heads:  After the end of the world as we know it, religion is outlawed because nobody would ever fight and steal and murder and bully if it weren’t for religion. Religion here meaning, of course, not atheistic communism (100 M murders and counting) nor Islam (14 centuries of uninterrupted bloody conquest, slaughter and slavery) but Christianity, specifically Catholicism, which, while hardly violence free, pales in comparison to those last two. Hey, it’s just history.

Path Of Angels (Underground Series Book 1) by [Witzke, Dawn]Back to the book. The characters are hardly goodie-two-shoes. The book opens with some rather shocking violence in the name of Christ – understandable as you read the story, but hardly cricket. As the book progresses, Aadi and Mischa, two young people living under an atheist regime in a partly ruined world, are given a task: bring a relic of Mother Theresa to a priest in a distant town.  After many adventures and narrow escapes, and seeing both friends and foes suffer horrible fates, they reach their destination, only to run into their greatest spiritual threat so far. They suffer temptations like those suffered by our teenage children (of all ages) and even fail – but that doesn’t destroy their faith or make them surrender to evil.

The ending is a bit of a cliffhanger, because you strongly suspect that they’re not getting away *that* easy! But the story stands.

If you decide to give it to your kids to read, be advised: there are some scenes that will make anybody under, say, 15 or 16 blush. They’re done tastefully enough, but I’m just thinking how *I* would have blushed reading these scenes to my kids, and – no.

So, good book. Yard Sale of the Mind says: check it out.

 

Book Review: Belloc’s Europe and the Faith

Short and sweet: Read this book. It is available free through Project Gutenberg. It’s only a little over 100 pages – a long essay, really – in which the conventional presentations and meanings of many central European historical events as understood by those educated in the second half of the 20th century – me, for example – are convincingly challenged. Think you understand the Fall of Rome, the Dark Ages, the Saxon and Norman conquests of England and the Protestant Reformation? Even if you disagree with Belloc’s take, you’ll never think of them the same way again.(1)

Image result for Europe and the Faith by Hilaire BellocHis main premise: Europe is the Faith, the Faith is Europe. What he means – and here’s where conventionally educated Americans of the 21st century are likely to recoil –  is that all those things, those institutions, habits of thought, habits, indeed, of soul, that make Christendom special and – hope you’re sitting down – superior to all other civilizations are features of the Church, of the Faith. What positives we see in Protestant and decayed nominally Catholic Europe are the embers of that fire that welded the lands of the Roman Empire into a Civilization, the greatest the world has ever known.(2)  Belloc, being Catholic, understands greatness to necessarily include the welfare of the weak.  He argues that the fracturing of the Faith and Europe lead to the peasants getting a much more raw deal.

Hillaire Belloc might be remembered today more for his friendship with Chesterton than any of his writings. Based on the small sample of his works I’ve read, there is a lot more of fire and less of that pervasive good cheer that characterizes Chesterton’s works. He sees and cries doom, and is ready to take up the sword to die defending the good, the beautiful and the true. It’s not that Chesterton is any less willing to defend the Truth that is a Person, it’s just that in his mind he sees banners, knights, and glory even in defeat – and that cheers him, and comes through in almost everything he writes.

Published in 1920 immediately after the first World War,  Hillaire Belloc’s short Europe and the Faith is, most simply, a defense of Europe’s fundamental Catholicism. Such a defense necessarily must often take the form of  a counterargument to the way history has been told or mis-told for the last 4 centuries.  The long essay covers the period from Rome to the fall of England to Protestantism, with a concluding chapter describing how this history has shaped the choices faced in Belloc’s day.

While Belloc makes no effort to hide or soft-pedal his Catholicism, his most pointed criticisms are most often launched from his position as a scholar. One recurring theme is how it is always wrong to read history as if what happened next, and especially what is happening now, is inevitable, and that the past is to be understood as merely a preface without much meaning independent of those modern inevitabilities. Thus, the great Reformers must have intended to fragment the Faith (and thus fragment Europe) because that is what happened. Belloc points out that there is no contemporary evidence they thought anything of the kind. Rather, the Reformers imagined the uniform and united world in which they found themselves to be a sort of permanent state, not something made by men as the very broad and universal philosophy of the Catholic Church informed their lives.

He denies that Rome fell in the sense of being overrun and replaced by barbarians, and makes the point that the transition from central Imperial rule to decentralized rule under kings was a gradual and to a surprising extent superficial change. The procedures, organization, political assumptions, and most important the Catholic spirit remained Roman even as small numbers of already Romanized peoples – the barbarians of history – fought over who got to be the local king.

He goes into no detail here, but Lafferty’s description of Alaric comes to mind: he was a Roman general of largely Romanized Gothic troops, who, when he was crowned king of the Goths, became the first Catholic king ever so crowned.  He followed in the footsteps of Stilicho, in many ways his model and teacher, another Romanized Catholic ‘barbarian’ general whose life was dedicated and spent to preserve the Catholic Roman Empire. Even as far back as the sacking of Rome in 410, the ideal of a Catholic Empire given the divine duty to preserve and promote the Faith had taken hold – and nothing that happened in the next few centuries changed that. Rome gradually became the feudal society ruled by kings, governed through a complex hierarchy of personal relationships and obligations, and animated by the Catholic faith.

He denies that England was invaded and conquered by Germanic tribes – Angles and Saxons – pointing to the complete lack of historical evidence that such a thing ever happened. Instead, he notes that historian, backfilling from their own biases about what they’d like to have happened, fill in a 150 year gap in the written record with an invasion that never took place. Belloc instead appeals to what we know about what was happening in the neighboring areas, what the people wrote before and after the gap, and how things proceeded after St. Augustine of Canterbury arrived and the writing of history resumed.  He asserts that, just as in all of the rest of the Empire, auxiliary troops made up of barbarian recruits were settled in England prior to 410 AD, and remained behind after the Legions left. Then, constant piratical raids along the coasts and navigable rivers of England’s east coast drove the native populations westward, cutting them off from commerce and communication with the mainland and allowing for some settlements of the pirate peoples. But in no sense did these ‘invaders’ conquer – when St. Augustine arrived, he found Germanic pagan peoples in tiny kingdoms along the coasts and rivers, and more Celtic Catholic peoples inland. In one of those historical quirks, St. Augustine and his missionaries worked with the Germanic peoples they converted to re-evangelize the rest of Britain, leading to the oddity of Germanic languages coming to dominate, instead of Celtic or Latin.

And so on, through a number of other critical events. Belloc wants us to understand what Rome was, how it became Catholic, how it fought off would-be invaders throughout the Dark Ages, how it flowered in the Middle Ages, how it has persisted to this day, and what price we pay for rejecting it. He aims to provide a framework within which to understand the history of Europe and the world.  There can hardly be a more noble and needed goal for a historian.

It also helps that Belloc includes philosophy in this discussion, both from an historical perspective, and by including basic metaphysical and epistemological considerations in the discussion:

There are three forms in which the human mind can hold the truth: The form of Science, which means that we accept a thing through demonstration, and therefore cannot admit the possibility of its opposite. The form of Opinion, which means that we accept a thing through probability, that is through a partial, but not complete demonstration, and therefore we do not deny the possibility of the opposite. The form of Faith, where we accept the thing without demonstration and yet deny the possibility of its opposite, as for instance, the faith of all men, not mad, in the existence of the universe about them, and of other human minds.

When acknowledged and defined Faith departs, it is clear that of the remaining two rivals, Opinion has no ground against Science. That which can be demonstrated holds all the field. Indeed, it is the mark of modern insufficiency that it can conceive of no other form of certitude save certitude through demonstration, and therefore does not, as a rule, appreciate even its own unproved first principles.

Well, this function of the isolated soul, inquiry and the necessity for demonstration for individual conviction through measurement and physical fixed knowledge, has occupied, as we all know, the three modern centuries. We all are equally familiar with its prodigious results. Not one of them has, as yet, added to human happiness: not one but has been increasingly misused to the misery of man. There is in the tragedy something comic also, which is the perpetual puzzlement of these the very authors of discovery, to find that, somehow or other, discovery alone does not create joy, and that, somehow or other, a great knowledge can be used ill, as anything else can be used ill. Also in their bewilderment, many turn to a yet further extension of physical science as promising, in some illogical way, relief.

There is much more worth discussing in this book, and resistance to the temptation to write a comparision of it to Lafferty’s Fall of Rome is only possible due to crushing time constraints at the moment. But do go read this if you wish for more knowledge of European history and a much needed antidote to modern critical theory style ‘history’.

  1. I am reminded of the aha! moment I had when discovering that Sir Francis Drake, never discussed without the ‘Sir’ here, is considered a bloodthirsty pirate in Latin America – because he was. Don’t remember where I finally read about his raids on coastal towns, a la Pirates of the Caribbean, but it wasn’t in any mandatory California History class.  Here, if any mention of Drake’s piracy comes through, what we hear is how he spared the civilians. Very comforting for the soldiers charged with protecting the ships he plundered, I’m sure.
  2. After reading this, it’s hard not to see the EU as feeble dream inspired by the half-remembered unity of the 15th century. Feeble, because that primitive unity was won by the sword against foes external and internal, forged in fire and loved with passion. The EU, attempting to rise from the ashes of twice-burned Protestant Europe, is built more on fear than fire, and is as feeble as fear in the face of fire. A Europe which held Islam at bay for a thousand years and more with the sword has now convinced itself that no slaughter of the innocents is too great an offering to make for ‘peace’, which only means to the weakened European mind the avoidance of war at any cost.

Review: Storyhack Issue 0

Short and Sweet: All 9 stories in this, the first issue of what is to be a new fun literary action and adventure magazine are at least pretty good, several are quite good, 2 or 3 are still rattling around in my brain – in a good way. This mag is available on Kindle for $0.99! I read it this weekend on a school camping trip while trying to avoid mosquitoes and too much sun. Perfect summer lakeside read.

With one exception, I will keep this review spoiler-free.

A Tiger in the Garden by the wonderfully-named Alexandru Constantin is a slight but entertaining story, perfect for a distracting vacation read. Valens, the sixth Marquess of Lahnsted, has fallen on hard times that have done nothing to curb his expensive tastes. While in Angkasa, a jungle trading port, he’s been indulging in the native ‘delicacies’ on credit – and the locals would like to settle up. Schemes, adventures, dark jungle magic and daring-do ensue.

The Monster Without by Julie Frost is a much darker story of a private eye who happens to be a werewolf. Eldritch creatures live among us – some are good guys, some not so much. The story hinges on a failed case where Ben didn’t get there in time to save a girl from starring in a snuff film – yes, that dark. But the bulk of the drama is internal – can Ben, who has seen horrors and suffers PTSD from his time in the army,  control his inner wolf enough to solve the crime without killing everyone involved in a rage?

I like this story for giving Ben a loving domestic life – a strong woman of a wife who supports and comforts him, a mother in law who runs the agency he works for, real sympathetic characters who worry about this guy. This touch of normalcy helps give real zing to the horror aspects of the story.

Hal Turk and the Lost City of the Maya by David Boop is a pure Indiana Jones style romp set in 1890: a bounty hunter and his loyal guide/sidekick track a very bad man deep into the jungle – where they find a lot more trouble than they’d anticipated. Very fun read.

King of Spades by David J. West is something I’d never run across before: Biblical Epic Horror. No, really: King David is living the good life after winning wars and slaughtering his tens of thousands, when the antagonist of his greatest victory comes back – and refuses to stay dead. Pretty good yarn.

Desert Hunt by Jon Mollison takes us back to all too real horror of the real world, where Karl, a vigilante, has dedicated his life to busting up child sex slavery rings. There’s a epic showdown in the desert when Karl decides he must save this one girl… Dark, but good.

The Chronicle of the Dark Nimbus by Keith West is a sword and sorcery story about Rodrik and his liege lord Prince Balthar. A vision predicts some disaster awaits the wizard Gaspar, and it is to befall him this night, unless Bathar and Rodrik can stop it. Magic, betrayal, a witch and battles in a tower keep.

Menagerie by Steve DuBois is set right after the Civil War, and involves a most unlikely set of heroes: a crusty Irish soldier, a London professor, a mulatto ex-slave genius, a Muslim giantess and Lady Basingstoke, a teenage noblewoman to whom all are loyal and who drives the adventure. Seems a Confederate officer who is not accepting the outcome of the war is deep in the Everglades plotting revenge – and enslaving any black he comes across. Lady Basingstoke & Co will have none of it.

[SPOILERS AHEAD!] Daughter of Heaven by Shannon Connor Winward is the one story which, for me, was not pure fun. It falls into the same trap as Clarke’s Childhood’s End, which trap unfortunately has snared the miseducated today as it has for the last century: that those with superior knowledge must sometimes cause or allow the deaths of millions so that Progress can be made. It is the Trolley Car Problem on a global or, in the case of this story, cosmic scale: that the enlightened see the inevitable with utter certainty, and therefore may need to condemn the innocent to death with, perhaps, a mitigating tear in their eyes. Such a view is a lie, and a pernicious one: no one in this world will EVER have anything close to that level of certainty about ANY human action, and thus it is with a bracing humility that we must and – important part! – always do act on principle. The principle might be that it is always wrong to kill an innocent man or allow one to die if by my actions I could save him, or it might be that my take on the universe makes it my high and lonely destiny to decide who lives and who dies – but it is NEVER, as in NEVER, an act from a pure foreknowledge – such certainty is a lie, and in any case is unavailable to human beings.

In this story, Cater, the first-person narrator, a dealer in antiquities, finds an inexplicable object on earth, and takes it to Mars to show to Zahirah, an expert he knows there, and for whom he has the hots. She takes the object, mates it to a similar object she wears in a chain upon her neck, and announces that this union marks the completion of a cosmic cycle of life and death, that this world will now pass away, and a new world will be born. And that she and he are to be the new Adam and Eve as it were. Zahirah is a priestess of the Handmaidens of Heaven destined to mother a new world – and Carter has been chosen as the father.

All hell breaks lose. Earthquakes destroy the martian city Arabia Terra as black demons descend and devour the inhabitants. Carter and Zahirah must flee to Tikhonravov Crater, and she will not pause to help anyone or even speak to them.

Just in case we missed it, and mistook Zahirah’s haste as merely a passive response, she murders an innocent guard at the airlock when he, just doing his job, begins to question them. As Trotsky said, the individual is nothing. She makes Carter hold a gun on the other guard, a woman, until a black demon devours her in utter terror. Then, Zahirah uses her magic juju to drive the demons away, and they make their escape.

And, sure enough, after the slaughter of billions across the galaxy, breathable air is restored to Mars, rains of biblical proportions refill the oceans and lakes, and Carter and Zahirah get down to repopulating the planet. Turns out 47 other people survived back in the city, and they join our new gods in remaking the world. Why, if any were allowed to survive, many were not, is neither explained nor even noted.

So: here is a story that must resonate well with Antifa, whose leaders recently mentioned the tens of millions murdered under Stalin and Mao as the template that must be followed in America – only once the evil, evil Other is destroyed will the magical flying unicorns of Marxism fart out the rainbows of the Worker’s Paradise.

Daughter of Heaven is a well written story, nicely paced, evocative – and, since it lays the emotional groundwork for the slaughter of millions as the unavoidable prelude to a new heaven and earth, I hate it. [SPOILERS OFF]

Dead Last by Jay Barnson is another romp, this time with zombies and way-cool mind powers. Nice set-up for a dramatic ending, so that you don’t see it coming yet it seems inevitable and satisfying when it happens.

Conclusion: for $.99, you’re not going to get much better entertainment value. Buy this magazine, and take it camping or to the beach.

Flotsam, Update, Etc.

A. Politics has rarely been this bracing. I’m hardly able to form opinions about much of the current kerfluffles – too much smoke to see what, if anything, is on fire. My only advice: ignore polls. If the flawed reasoning and potential for manipulation don’t convince you that polls are worthless, the last election should.

B. Home ‘improvement’. Yesterday, my 13 year old son and I mixed and poured 26 60 lbs and 8 80 lbs bags of ready mix concrete, to the following result:

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A sub slab, to be covered in brick, creating a gentle slope up to the porch, continuing the brick walk at the bottom of the pic completed last summer. Still need to pull the forms and fill in some spots – all the curves and elevation changes made this tricky. 

So, let’s see: I lifted each bag at least twice (loading at Home Depot; dumping into the mixer; most also unloaded and stacked) so that’s minimum of 2.2 tons lifted, manhandled and poured. And the pedestal mixer I rented started acting up about 2 batches in, and totally failed over the last 2-3 batches, meaning MORE manhandling and manual mixing.

I’m 59 years old. At one time, I was a strapping young man who could do this sort of thing before breakfast, play hoops all afternoon, and do it again the next day. Now? Oh, I’m a little sore. Tylenol is a good thing.

Anyway, I am now prepared to while away a good number of long summer evenings on my hands and knees setting bricks. On the plus side, it will be very pretty. On the down side, living through it long enough to enjoy it is not a given. That’s probably just my arms, knees and back talkin’.

C. Then there’s the brick oven I started last summer. Really need to finish it. But had to set it aside because the hole where the path to the front door used to be was a hazard. On the plus side, at least it’s mostly to the standing up phase, needing only to bend over when mixing mortar or lifting bricks.

But all is not bad. The fruit trees got planted and are mostly doing well, the back lawn seems to be taking, and a number of small projects are getting done. So, yea, assuming I’m close to as healthy in 7 years when I can retire, home should be fun!

D. Next will read & review Belloc’s Europe and the Faith, which arrived two days ago. Commenter David Smith asked if Lafferty’s Fall or Rome should be read before or after the Belloc, and I sheepishly had to admit I hadn’t read it. It’s short! Should get through it pretty fast. 

E. The family is heading out to a school camping trip Friday at Del Valle reservoir near Livermore, CA. The trip would be fun, except for the packing up, setting up, sleeping on the ground, packing back up again, and cleaning and putting things away.  There’s been plenty of rain, so the reservoir should be full and the streams flowing – very pretty.

Blogging will be light.

F. Finally, our Chesterton Society reading group will be finishing up In Defense of Sanity next month, and moving on to The Everlasting Man starting in July. I cannot recommend either book too much. The more Chesterton one reads, the more dazzled with his brilliance one becomes.

Calla Lilies

On the north side of our house is a little concreted in area where we keep our trashcans (or, more accurately, this being California and all, our recycling bin, our yard waste bin and our landfill bin). There are a couple small areas up against the house, no more than a couple square feet each, where the soil is exposed. Why those little areas were not paved I have no idea.

We’ve lived here for over 20 years. In an exhibition of hope triumphing over reason, one of previous owners planted calla lilies in those areas. Somehow, they are still there. To recap: no sun, no care, poor clay soil. The only way they ever get watered is by rain or maybe when I wash off the patio in the back and the water accidentally makes into the beds. Note that I don’t wash off the the patio often, pretty much never when we’re having a ‘drought’, so called. So, for the past 5 years, those flowers have gotten by on only a tiny amount of water at highly irregular intervals. Yet, they will not die.

As you may have heard, it has rained a freaking lot (technical term, that) this year out here in California. It’s raining now. We’ve received well over a foot more rain than is typical, almost 200% of average.

The calla lilies liked it:

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Mrs Yardsale of the Mind cut a bunch for Easter and put them on the table, where I snapped these pictures. Over the spring so far, there have been maybe a couple dozen beautiful flowers, totally unearned and unexpected.

Sometimes, life is like that.

Happy Easter! All week!