Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Break

It's like, what, the second day of Spring Break here?

And raining, raining, raining.

And cold.

Not that I mind, exactly.  I love rain.  We did plan to hike Yellow Rock Trail, up at Devil's Den, but, you know, I'm sure the rain will stop at some point.

We're also going to see the Van Gogh exhibit up at Crystal Bridges, and maybe I will clean this house a bit in advance of Passover (all our friends are coming to be afflicted with us a Passover again this year).

So if it did stop raining, at some point, that would be pleasant.

Meanwhile I am drinking PG Tips tea and writing a new story which might come to something.

Hard to ask for more.

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

New Grounded Parents Post: Helicopter Parent

I have (finally!) written a new Grounded Parents post.

This one is On Being a Helicopter Parent.

I hate the art with this one tons, so instead of using it, I have used ENTIRELY DIFFERENT art instead.

Why didn't I use this art at GP?

Excellent question, to which I have no answer.

Sunday, March 15, 2015

What I'm Reading

As always, these are just the books I'm currently reading which I like a lot -- you may assume the presence of several (even possibly several dozen, since I don't usually finish books that bore me) books I read that are not on this page, for some reason or the other.  These might be books that made me go meh.  They might be books I found annoying or silly.

Books I find actively horrid or harmful I will often blog about, OTOH!

A Jane Austen Education, William Deresiewicz.

This is the book I am currently reading, and I do recommend it, though with reservations.

The plus: Deresiewicsz provides a readable, engaging text, and it is filled with genuine insight about Austen and her novels.  If you are an Austen fan (as I am) you will find this book a wonderful and worthwhile romp.

My own favorite chapters are those on Mansfield Park and Persuasion, no doubt because those are my two favorite Austen novels; yet the opening chapter, in which Deresiewicsz recounts his own reading of Emma, and how it taught him to read Austen -- or rather, how Austen's brilliance taught him to read the world in a new and better way -- is as deftly constructed as a detective story.

So, you know, so much fun.

And yet.  And this isn't even a big problem.  You can get past it.  But holy hell, the sexism.

You'll be glad to know, for instance, that Jane Austen can play with the big boys.  That she's worth reading, even if she's a woman.  That her style -- girly though it is -- is "every bit" as good as anything the men write.

Some of this is probably exaggeration for effect.  Let's hope.  Nevertheless, it does grate on the nerves.  And I could have done with hella less of it.

Mars Evacuees, Sophia McDougall

This is a middle-grade SF novel, which as long-time readers of the blog know is not a problem for me.  That is, I read books at every level, from picture books aimed at pre-school kids, up through grade school books -- Hilary McKay's books are among my favorite, not just kids' books, but books of all kinds -- and on through Very Serious Books Indeed, Middlemarch being one of the books on my Top Ten list.  (Well -- top 20 list?  Top 50 list?  Who can narrow it down to ten?  Seriously?)

Anyway!  Mars Evacuees, aimed at middle-grade readers, is a romp, more than a Very Serious Book Indeed, though it has its serious bits.  Its main character, Alice Dare, is caught up in a long-term war, between Earth and alien invaders who have taken over the planet after fleeing their own set of alien invaders.  As the book opens, Alice and several hundred other children are being evacuated to Mars, to be trained as the next generation of soldiers to fight the alien invaders.  Alice doesn't especially want to be a soldier, but is realistic enough to know she doesn't have much choice.

Plenty of good details in this (somewhat) episodic novel, which really took off for me when Alice and her friends met up with one of the alien invaders, lost in Mar's outback.  (No spoilers, but very cool.)

Saga, Brian Vaughn and Fiona Stapes, Book 4.

Also very episodic, as it would have to be.  It's a graphic novel.  We're well into episodes.

This has beautiful art, and great characters -- I think The Will might be my favorite, though who knows, it's hard to choose, Izabel (the adolescent ghost who is only half a girl, due to being killed by a landmine in the planet's war) is great, and you gotta love Sophie, and Lying Cat -- who can't love Lying Cat?

Not much advances in the plot in this episode of the book, but nevertheless we have a lot of fun.  And I am always willing to spend time with these characters.

This is Book 4.  If you haven't read Books 1-3, what are you waiting for?

Old Venus, Ed. George R.R. Martin, Garder Dozois

TBH, as the kids say, I only bought this one because it had a story by Eleanor Arnason in it.

Still, well worth the ticket, if only for the Arnason story, which -- as you can count on when Arnason is writing the story -- is wonderful.

The conceit of this anthology seems to be that we re-imagine a Golden Age Venus, from SF of the 1930-1960s, before we knew what Venus was actually like.  The writers have found various ways of doing this.  Arnason postulates an alternative history, and includes -- as she did in her Women of the Iron People -- a (slightly) more successful Soviet Russia to go along with it.  The tension between Capitalist and Communist ideology playing out in the company towns of Venus gives force to Arnason's story, "Ruins."

The story also features the group of characters which is her forte -- Arnason does this multi-character story really well.  My favorite character here is probably the baby pterosaur, named Baby (really a pseudorhamphorhynchus, though he disputes the pseudo bit); though Arkady is a close second.  And who could not also love Maggie, our Autonomous Leica?

Other stories I liked a lot in the book include Tobias Bucknell's "Pale Blue Memories," about why you can't just start a slave revolt or run off from slavery (I am probably not wrong in reading a reference to Heinlein's "Logic of Empire" here); Gwyneth Jones' "A Planet Called Desire"; and (mostly for its ending) Joe Haldeman's "Living Hell."

Terry Pratchett, Thud. 

“Vines had never got on with any game much more complex than darts. Chess in particular had always annoyed him.  It was the dumb way the pawns went off and slaughtered their fellow pawns while the kings lounged about doing nothing that always got to him; if only the pawns united, maybe talked the rooks around, the whole board could’ve been a republic in a dozen moves.”

Right now I am just reading a lot of Terry Pratchett, that's all.

(O wailey, wailey, wailey.)

Edited to add: Here's Sir Terry with his famous sword, the one he forged from a meteorite.  (Photograph by Adrian Sherratt/Rex Features.)

Sunday, March 08, 2015

Sex and Tea: A Lovely Analogy

As much as we all hate analogies, here's lovely one, from over at Rockstar Dinosaur Pirate Princess:

Consent: Not actually that complicated.

If you’re still struggling, just imagine instead of initiating sex, you’re making them a cup of tea.
You say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they go “omg fuck yes, I would fucking LOVE a cup of tea! Thank you!*” then you know they want a cup of tea.
If you say “hey, would you like a cup of tea?” and they um and ahh and say, “I’m not really sure…” then you can make them a cup of tea or not, but be aware that they might not drink it, and if they don’t drink it then – this is the important bit –  don’t make them drink it. You can’t blame them for you going to the effort of making the tea on the off-chance they wanted it; you just have to deal with them not drinking it. Just because you made it doesn’t mean you are entitled to watch them drink it.
If they say “No thank you” then don’t make them tea. At all. Don’t make them tea, don’t make them drink tea, don’t get annoyed at them for not wanting tea. They just don’t want tea, ok?
(More over at the original blog.)

Tuesday, March 03, 2015

Issue #27 of Crossed Genres: Ensemble

The new issue of Crossed Genres is up!

This month's issue, Issue 27, is Ensemble.

From Elizabeth Beechwood, we have a lyrical tale from a novel point of view -- the mountains speak to us about those who live on their slopes and in their valley, in "Stone Dove."  (See an interview with Elizabeth Beechwood, here.)

From Peni Griffin, a magical story about family and families, of all kinds: "Quiet Hour."

And from one of my favorite writers, Tais Teng, a tale of life in the near future, "Any House in the Storm."

Monday, March 02, 2015

Why [Some of] Your Students May Have Trouble With Facts

Or rather with telling fact from opinion.

If your education was like mine, your grammar school teachers spent a small amount of time teaching you the difference between fact and opinion.

You probably remember, as I do, the worksheets and the games.

Chocolate is the best ice cream -- fact or opinion?
Kansas is a state in America -- fact or opinion?
Wood will burn in a fireplace -- fact or opinion?
Crash is the worst movie ever -- fact or opinion?

What could possibly be controversial about this, you wonder?

Ha.  This is because you are not a Far-Right Religious Conservative.

Rod Dreher explains to us that this is a very offensive and incorrect division, which will teach our young students to think "chaotically."

Why so?

Well, he says -- or at least links to Justin McBrayer (a perfect name) who says, and then agrees with McBrayer -- that this fact/opinion division is incorrect.

First, you see, it is scientifically incorrect.  Think of science, this gentleman exclaims.  There are things that could be true in science which you could not prove, and yet --

The example he gives is life on other planets.  You can't prove that there is (or is not) life on other planets, and yet there may well be (or not be) life on other planets.

This, of courses, misses the entire point of the exercise.  We don't need to be able to actually prove the thing; we just need to know whether we could prove the thing.

Let me give McBrayer an example closer to Earth.

My cat weighs 11 pounds -- fact or opinion?

Do y'all need to actually weigh my cat to know whether that is a fact or an opinion?  No, Socrates, you do not.

You don't even need to know whether it is true or not. Its truth is something we can determine, and will want to determine if we are good critical thinkers -- but whether it is a fact we can determine by its nature of being verifiable.  I can, that is, in some way, in the future, find out whether it is true.

Now it is true that at this moment we can't determine whether there is life somewhere else in the universe.  But I can visualize ways in which that question can be factually determined.

This is different from "My cat is the prettiest cat," which is opinion*; or "A beach vacation is the best vacation," which is a matter of taste, or "Jesus is God," which is a matter of faith.

None of those can we imagine any criteria, now or in the future, for factually determining.

Rod Dreher goes on to object to the fact/opinion binary, arguing that this division makes morals not-true.  But this too is specious.

The only one putting ethics and morality into the not-true* box is McBrayer and Dreher and, frankly, the other Far-Right Religious Christians.  I have never once heard an atheist or a Secular Humanist do so.

Far-Right Christians love to set up this dichotomy -- to claim that if you don't believe in their Jesus, you can't possibly behave ethically or morally, because without Jesus and God there with their Code Ethics and their threat of Hell, no one would ever behave.

And yet, children raised with reason and empathy tend to be just fine morally -- often, much better than children raised with the threat of hellfire.  They're almost always much better at critical thinking, also, which is no surprise, since they're encouraged to argue and talk back, to question authority, and to engage in reason-based critical thinking.

And no, they don't think "Treat others as you'd like to be treated" is "not true," or that "Don't kill people" is just an opinion, or that "Don't be evil" is something you can take or leave, depending on how you feel that day.

Though, frankly, from some of the posts Rod Dreher has posted lately, that does seem to be his moral stance.

*She totally is, though.

** How, I have heard Far-Right Religious folk demand, can we Secular folk know that our ethics and morals are correct, if we don't have a God to tell us they are correct?  This answer is simple.  It is the same reason we know that the cat is on the mat, or that gravity is true.  We know that our ethics and our morality are correct because they work.  This is also -- no big surprise -- how we can tell when our ethics are not correct.  We do what is right so long as it is right.  When it stops being right, this is a signal to us that we should stop doing it.

You will note that Far-Right Christians have a problem with the second part of this formula.  They will just keep right on doing what they have been told is "Right" even when everything around them shows clearly that it is definitely wrong.  And they will insist that it must be "Right," because their God and their Code Book says it is "Right," no matter how many people are being hurt, and no matter how badly those people are being hurt.  You would think eventually they would learn.  But not so far.

Friday, February 27, 2015

Not Spock

I have to say this one is hitting me hard.

Plenty of people loved Kirk, or Bones.

Spock was always my character, as I think he probably is for many writers and artists, with his backstory -- the perpetual outsider, with his inability to ever grok, exactly, this strange warm human world that intrigued him so much.

Hard to think of the world without him.

               He disappeared in the dead of winter:
               The brooks were frozen, the airports almost deserted,
               And snow disfigured the public statues;
               The mercury sank in the mouth of the dying day.
               What instruments we have agree
                The day of his death was a dark cold day.


Thursday, February 26, 2015


It is that time of the year again, when the thoughts of faculty turn lightly to WTF, why do we do this, WHY.

Faulty evaluation time.

Holy hell, why.

We must assess ourself, y'all.

We must set goals.

We must say what we hope to achieve with these goals.

We must say how we will assess those goals and achievements.

And -- but of course -- it must not be in English.  It must be in adminspeak.

We must create one document* for 2015 (the present calendar year) and one for 2014 (the completed calendar year), the former detailing what we hope to achieve, the latter assessing what we have achieved.

Due on Monday, in both electronic and hard-copy form.

These are the days when I wish I had chosen the life of a quarry worker instead.

*create a document = admin speak for "write."

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Destroying the World, One Analogy at a Time

Over on FB a little while back, one of my Grounded Parents compadres had a fight with an idiot an under-informed young man about why women's trousers don't have pockets.

My compadre's position was clear and had the benefit of being correct -- women's trousers don't have pockets because those people who design, manufacture, and sell women's clothing have decided, for their own reasons, that women don't need pockets.  I suppose they are assuming that we don't need to carry money around?  That we all have giant purses?  Who knows.

The result is that women don't have pockets in their trousers or their shorts, and so we either have to carry giant purses everywhere we go; or we have to carry wallets and phones and keys in our hands everywhere we go; or we have to buy men's trousers (my solution).

ANYWAY.  My compadre raised this pocket issue.  Kind of off-hand.  As one does.

At once, this idiot this under-informed young man leapt into FB to inform her that it was her own fault.  See, it was simple economics.  See, if only she would not buy trousers without pockets, then women's clothing manufacturers would stop making trousers without pockets.  The simple fact that trousers appear without pockets proves that women want trousers without pockets.

The multitude of complaints you can find, online and elsewhere, in which women complain about the lack of pockets in their clothing?  Pssh.  You may ignore all that.  Women can't possibly actually want pockets, or they would stop buying clothing without pockets.

(What's that you say?  There are no trousers with pockets for them to otherwise buy?  Except over there in the men's department?  Which some certain portion of women do buy?  Or really expensive clothing, which only really rich women can afford?  I don't even know what point you could possibly be making here.)

What is my point?  (And I do have one!)

This same economic model is currently being aimed at our universities.

Which is to say -- our universities are more and more being redesigned into model that works only for a certain sort of student.

Not necessary a bad or wrong student.  Just one kind of student.

Vocational training.

Online classes.

STEM classes (and only certain STEM classes as well -- pure science need not apply).

Technical and "business" writing.

Business degrees.  Health science degrees.

Students who don't want this sort of education -- who want more from a university career than that -- well, when they come to the university, looking for an actual education, they will find they can only buy trousers without pockets.

What will they do, then, but buy trousers without pockets, since trousers without pockets will be the only trousers for sale?

Then what will happen?  Then the university administrators and the legislators and the assessment committees will declare to us that, obviously, trousers without pockets were what these students wanted all along.

Because, look!  They're signing up for those Trousers Without Pockets degrees!

Well, aren't they?

Friday, February 20, 2015

Attendance Policies: A Venting Post

Yesterday my kid was sick.

Okay, not very sick.  A slight fever, a sore throat, body aches.

The sort of thing my mom kept me home from school for, in case it might be flu or strep or something contagious, because why take chances, not just with your kid's health, but with the health of the herd?

It's a difficult call to make with my kid's school, though, because she only gets five absent days per year.  If she misses more than that, we run into trouble with school administration.  (The penalties that accrue range from in-school suspension up to failure to failure to be promoted to the next grade, depending on how many absences we're talking.)

Now I entirely understand the reasoning here, believe me.  We want kids in school, and we don't want parents (and kids) taking days off for random and frivolous reasons.

On the other hand, holy hell, kids do get sick. And they also need to visit dentists, doctors, and opticians.  (Yeah, medical visits also have to come out of those five days.) Leaving me with the choice of sending my (possibly) sick kid to school, or keeping her home and burning a sick day -- which we might need later -- just not cool.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Working up Reading Lists

So my reading lists for Fall 2015 are due Monday (yes, this Monday), believe it or not.

This is no issue for two of my classes, which don't really have reading lists -- the Fiction Workshop and the Comp Class.  In those classes, I rely on internet sources, mainly.

But this Fall I am also teaching Diverse Cultures: Working Class Lit, for the second time; and, for the first time, Popular Culture: Dystopian/Utopian Literature.

I'm using some of the same texts in Working Class Lit that I used the last time I taught, but I'm ditching the books that didn't work well and adding in new ones.  Here's the reading list as I've got it so far:

American Working Class Literature                         
Oxford UP

Coming of Age in Mississippi
Anne Moody

A Tree Grows in Brooklyn
Betty Smith

The Road to Wigan Pier 
George Orwell    

Junot Diaz

For Utopian/ Dystopian Lit, I have this so far:

Thomas More

The Just City
Jo Walton

The Female Man
Joanna Russ

The Moon is a Harsh Mistress
Robert Heinlein

The Dispossessed
Ursula Le Guin

Watership Down
Richard Adams

Comments or suggestions are appreciated!

I Won't Talk About the Past, Say Bush Scion

Jeb Bush won't talk about the past.

Because the Iraq War and the economic disasters caused by his family?

Yeah, those are in the past for him.

He can shake that shit right off his heels.

Lucky, lucky Bush family.