Friday, March 27, 2015

Yes it is snowing right now but ...

This is U.S. Senator for Oklahoma James M. Inhofe ...

Apparently he thinks that being able to make a snowball in February means there is no such thing as global warming. So much so that it is even worth grandstanding on the Senate floor holding a snowball. He even wrote a book about it …

I don't recommend it. 

NOAA released some statistics about this winter. According to NOAA, globally …
  • this has been the hottest winter (Dec-Feb) on record, topping the previous record (2007) by 0.05°F 

  • it’s been the hottest start to any year (January-February), beating the previous records (2002, 2007) by 0.07°F
  • February Arctic sea ice extent third smallest on record

Also according to NOAA, this was “the 19th warmest winter for the contiguous US.”

Globally, February 2015 was second warmest February on record!

In fact, pretty much the only place (on land) in the whole world it was really cold this winter was the East Coast of the United States!

I told you last year that this weather was personal! 

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Great Discworld Re-Re-Read, update 1

Good grief!  I just wrote that giant The Great Discworld Re-Re-Read post when all I meant to do was create a short update post.

So - I have been re-reading books in the City Watch arc. To date I have read:

Guards! Guards! - Sam Vimes, Carrot, Colon and Nobby are introduced here. Vimes is an alcoholic - his way of dealing with being both an idealist and a cynic, and this is the start of his 'redemption' arc. One of my favorites.

Men at Arms - The Patrician has introduced the concept of 'diversity' and forced the watch to take some new recruits: a dwarf, a troll and a woman.  This book introduces us to Angua. Also one of my favorites. 

Feet of Clay - I love this one! One of my all time favorites. The golems are introduced, as is Cherry Littlebottom, a dwarf and first, and for quite some time the only, member of the forensics department in the watch. I adore Cherry. This book is an exploration of the concept of freedom, with several facets being worked at the same time. 

Jingo - Ankh-Morpork is going to war, but Sam Vimes is emphatically not a military man. His job is to maintain the peace. I can see where Pratchett was trying to go with this one, but I don't really think it worked out. Not a favorite, and in fact, mentally I keep mixing this one up with The Last Continent, which is part of the Wizards cycle and also not one of my favorites. I think roughly half the time Sam is rather out of character and while using Carrot as an ertsaz Lawrence of Arabia is kind of cool, it wasn't used as effectively as it could have been.  Lots of interesting ideas but overall the novel just didn't gel for me. Still, I am glad that I have taken another look at it.

... and now I am reading The Fifth Elephant 

The Great Discworld Re-Re-Read

When Terry Pratchett passed away I was in the middle of re-reading Going Postal because we had just watched the three-hour miniseries based on the book.

Mini-review for the mini-series:

I generally liked part 1. It took a bit of getting used to, but most of the cast worked for me. I think Stanley (Ian Bonar) was spot on (and that this guy should really get a turn at playing the Master of Ceremonies in Cabaret). David Suchet (Hercule Poirot!) did good work as a perfectly loathsome Reacher Gilt. Things jumped ship from the book, but in a mostly organic and livable way. We reached the fire with enjoyment still intact.

However - then we got to part 2. Part 2 was a tragic disaster. Things derailed into the completely ridiculous and characters were behaving totally out of character. For example Adora Belle Dearheart never, would never, did never, just jump onto the back of a horse with Moist. Just NO! NO! NO!

Some things were still mostly well handled but so much was just wrong that the adaptation totally lost my affection.  If you haven't read the book (like my son) the miniseries is still fun, but if you have read the books and have a sense of history and character, the second part is really jarring. Both my husband and I disliked the second half, though interestingly enough, we cited the handling of different characters as the reason.

So, as a remedy, I started re-re-re-...-reading the book. The book Going Postal is one of my favorite Discworld novels and I have loved it to pieces (literally, my copy is falling apart.) I was around 3/4 thorough when I got the news that Terry Pratchett had passed away.  (Still sad.) That made me decide to start re-reading all of Discworld.

The Discworld books are not like anything else I have ever found. They started out as a satiric take on sword and sorcery fantasy novels but over time evolved into much deeper social commentary, while still maintaing a sarcastic worldview. The Discworld itself is a flat disc that sits on the backs of four giant elephants, which in turn stand on the back of the giant space turtle, the Great A'Tuin. While the world is clearly a high fantasy creation with trolls, dwarves, and magic, the characters are well-rounded and much more realistic then you expect from fantasy - flawed, cynical and contradictory, the story arcs in the books are engrossing as you watch characters evolve and grow. Through the characters eyes, you see the world from several perspectives.

After thinking about it briefly, I decided that while I did want to re-read the Discworld books, I didn't want to do it in chronological order (this time - other than Eric, the short stories and the illustrated novels I have missed out - I read everything in publication order the first time around and have periodically re-read favorites multiple times - usually whenever a new book came out.)

This time around I am reading story arcs. Roughly the books can be grouped as follows (note that there are several interpretations of this and many blog posts have been written arguing about the 'correct' classification and read order of the books.):

  • The Color of Magic, The Light Fantastic, Sorcery, Eric, Interesting Times, The Last Continent, The Last Hero, Unseen Academicals, (as well as the four Science of Discworld supplementary books)

  • Equal Rites, Wyrd Sisters, Witches Abroad, Lords and Ladies, Maskerade, Carpe Jugulum 

Tiffany Aching (YA-Witch associated series)
  • The Wee Free Men, A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, I Shall Wear Midnight

  • Mort, Reaper Man, Soul Music, Hogfather, Thief of Time*

History Monks (other than the first one, these are part of other arcs too) 
  • Small Gods‡, Thief of Time*, Night Watch° 

City Watch
  • Guards! Guards!, Men at Arms, Feet of Clay, Jingo, The Fifth Elephant, The Truth, The Last Hero, Night Watch°, Monstrous Regiment (sort of), Thud!, Where's My Cow (children's picture book which ties in with Thud!), Snuff

Industrialization/Modernization of Ankh-Morpork
  • The Truth, Going Postal, Making Money, Raising Steam 

Non-series titles:
  • Pyramids, Moving Pictures, Small Gods‡, The Amazing Maurice and His Educated Rodents (the graphic above puts this one in the Death cycle, but I remember it more as a stand-alone).
click to enlarge

I have written about this before, but figure this is a good time to go over this again. For people who are interested in trying Terry Pratchett but have either been scared off by, or were unimpressed with, The Color of Magic - the first published Discworld book - there are a few other good ways to become introduced. First, rather than starting with Discworld 'proper' you can come in with the Tiffany Aching books, which are considered Young Adult. The first is The Wee Free Men, followed by A Hat Full of Sky, Wintersmith, and I Shall Wear Midnight. There is one more on the way, which as far as I understand it, will be the last Terry Pratchett book to be published. 

The Tiffany Aching books take place in the same general region as the Witches books, but the stories are self contained and separate from events in the wider world. You get a taste of the Disc without getting overwhelmed by the huge cast of characters in the main series. While there are a couple of cameos it won't affect your appreciation of the books if you don't have their backstory.

Another way of getting into Discworld is to skip a few books (I know, I know - I am one of those obsessives who wants to start with the first book too) and start with a slightly later book. Pratchett's writing style evolves significantly from say the first five published books and the later ones. As one of the best starting points to one of the most popular story arcs I would suggest Guards! Guards! which is the first novel about the Ankh-Morpork City Watch. The writing is on even footing and you get introduced to several important characters in the Discworld universe. That is what I have decided to do this time around. 

Another approach is to start with Wyrd Sisters the second book in the Witches story arc. Skipping Equal Rites won't be a problem, it is really different from the remaining Witches books and Granny Weatherwax is almost a totally different character. Equal Rites was the third Discworld book Pratchett wrote and he was still working on hitting his stride. It is still very similar to The Color of Magic and The Light Fantastic, more focused on being satirical about common tropes than in making deeper commentary.  

Finally, if you are not sure about any of this, you might try starting with Small Gods, which is basically a stand alone "Ancient Civilizations" style book that gives you a taste of Pratchett without a huge investment in trying to sort all of the characters out. You can try other stand-alones, but honestly none of the others are as solid as Small Gods and don't really work as a good bridge to the wider Discworld. 

Ideally, I still think that people should read the books in publication order to see how Terry Pratchett grew as an author and to really get a handle on his vision of the social evolution of his invented world. 

However,  if the first book is giving you trouble any of these suggestions should work to give you a better entry into Discworld. You can always get around to reading them once you are hooked. 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Monday Manga Mailbox

The past few weeks we have been flooding the house with some manga - looking for series that are going to be fun for the kids (since I there doesn't seem to be much in the way of kid friendly comics being published these days).

Since manga is not a genre but rather a format, one has to be very careful about selecting books - since most of the manga that is in print in English is actually for teenagers or adult readers. Finding kid friendly or "All Ages" titles takes work.

I have already mentioned how much my son and I like Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma, even though the story is thoroughly packed with tragic backstories. Overall the series is amazingly sweet and hopeful. We are impatiently waiting for volume 5 to show up in the mail. The books are out of print, so I have been tracking down copies and they are arriving out of order. It is rather tough to have volumes 6 and 7 sitting there, giggling at you, while you have to wait for 5 to turn up.  So far though the story is very worth the effort.

Chi's Sweet Home by Konami Kanta is the story of a kitten that got separated from her kitty family and was adopted by a family that lives in a small apartment that has a strict no pet policy. It is just achingly cute - my daughter has been reading these on her own - a very proud achievement for her.

From the back of volume 1: 
Chi is a mischievous newborn American shorthair who, while on a leisurely stroll with her family, found herself lost. When we found Chi it was clear to us she was completely distraught as she longed for the warmth and protection of her mother. Feeling sympathy for the little fur ball, we quietly whisked her away inviting her into our small apartment home … where pets are strictly not permitted. While we dread parting with her, there is no way she can stay.
Little Chi is a happy and healthy litter-box trained kitten. And while she can be a little bit of a handful, she has been a great source of joy in our lives and a wonderful companion to our young son. Living with Chi has completely changed our lives, and we are sure she will have the same impact with whomever gives her a good home.

Both of the kids like Yotsuba&! by Kiyohiko Azuma. The title character is a rather unique little girl with green hair, always done up in four pigtails. Her name - よつば  - translates as "four leaved clover." よつば is the five year old adopted daughter of Mr. Koiwai - a single father who is portrayed as a bit of a slacker with a strangely laissez-faire attitude about his daughter's activities (like he knows she is going to be safe no matter what - it's rather hard to explain). Unlike Twin Spica (but similar to Chi's Sweet Home) there is no overall story arch. Instead, each of the stories is simply about Yotsuba learning something about everyday life - she is strangely naive about things that most children are well acquainted with - like how to use a swing or what door bells are for. The title comes from how the chapters are named "Yotsuba & something," where something is the new thing or concept she encounters that day (the first chapter is called Yotsuba & Moving), and the exclamation mark comes from her way of throwing herself enthusiastically into everything she does.

Apparently the stories were originally written for a more mature audience (it was originally published in Dengeki Daioh, a magazine intended for teen boys or adult men - there are conflicting descriptions of this - suffice it to say that American parents would be rather put off by the source) so there are a few occasional surprises in the language or behavior of the adult characters - nothing too bad and stuff that will sail right of the heads of children - just briefly off-putting for any adults reading the stories with their younger children. Definitely nothing that has struck me as totally inappropriate.

The interesting thing about Yotsuba, and Chi, is that the stories manage to capture the perspectives of both the innocent (like Chi and Yotsuba) and the adults around them. 'Slice of life is really' a good way to describe them.

This is the description from the back of the first volume: 
Hello! This is Koiwai Yotsuba, Yotsuba Koiwai…um, YOTSUBA! Yotsuba moved with Daddy to a new house from our old house waaaaaaay over there! And moving’s fun ’cos people wave! (Ohhhh!!) And Yotsuba met these nice people next door and made friends to play with (one of ’em acted like one of those bad strangers Daddy told Yotsuba not to go with, but it was okay in the end). I hope we get to play a lot. And eat ice cream! And-and-and…oh yeah! You should come play with Yotsuba too!

Finally - Sandland is a standalone (unfortunately) by Akira Toriyama (more familiar as the author of Dragon Ball and Dragon Ball Z - which no, we haven't read). This one was my son's favorite - he has already read it three times. I really liked it too, and am seriously disappointed that it wasn't a longer series.

From the back: 
In the far future, war has destroyed the entire Earth, leaving only a barren wasteland where the supply of water is controlled by the greedy king. In search of a long-lost lake, Sheriff Rao asked the king of the demons for help ... and got the king's son, Beelzebub, and his assistant, Thief. Together the unlikely trio sets off across the desert, facing dragons, bandits and the deadliest foe of all ... the King's Army itself! It's travel adventure and tank action in this new story from Akira Toriyama, the creator of Dragon Ball Z

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer will be on PBS!

I mentioned have mentioned Siddhartha Mukherjee's The Emperor of All Maladies before, but I know that some people find it intimidating not only for the subject matter but also due to its shear size. Well - good news !  Cancer: The Emperor of All Maladies, a three part documentary based on the book, is coming to PBS March 30, 31and April 1st (9pm).

THE STORY OF CANCER: The Emperor of All Maladies examines cancer with a cellular biologist’s precision, a historian’s perspective and a biographer’s passion. The series artfully weaves three different films in one: a riveting historical documentary; an engrossing and intimate vérité film; and a scientific and investigative report.

Thursday, March 19, 2015

A peak into Guards! Guards! and Merchants of Doubt

Since Terry Pratchett passed away a week ago (GNU Terry Pratchett), I have been re-re-re-reading Discworld books, so for Book Beginnings on Friday, here is the start of Guards! Guards! by Terry Pratchett (8th Discworld novel and the first book in the City Watch/Sam Vimes cycle) ...

This is where the dragons went. 
   They lie ... 

Not dead, not asleep. Not waiting, because waiting implies expectation. Possibly the word we're looking for here is ...

    ... dormant. 

And although the space they occupy isn't like normal space, nevertheless they are packed in tightly. Not a cubic inch there but is filled by a claw, a talon, a scale, the tip of a tail, so the effect is like one of those trick drawings and your eyeballs eventually realize that the space between each dragon is, in fact, another dragon. 

They could put you in mind of a can of sardines, if you thought sardines were huge and scaly and proud and arrogant. 

And presumably, somewhere, there's the key. 

And for nonfiction, in recognition of the film, here is the beginning of Merchants of Doubt by Naomi Oreskes and Erik Conway ...

Ben Santer is the kind of guy you could never imagine anyone attacking. He's throughly moderate – of moderate height and build, of moderate temperament, of moderate political persuasions. He is also very modest – soft-spoken, almost self-effacing – and from the small size and nonexistent décor of his office at Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, you might think he was an accountant. If you met him in a room with a lot of other people, you might not even notice him. 

But Santer is no accountant, and the world has noticed him. 

He's one of the world's most distinguished scientists – the recipient of a 1998 MacArthur "genius" award and numerous prizes and distinctions from his employer – the U.S. Department of Energy – because he has done more than just about anyone to prove the human causes of global warming.     

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is a bit from around page 56 of Guards! Guards! ...
It was the finger. The finger was a mistake. The Patrician was staring coldly at the finger. Van Pew followed his gaze, and quickly lowered the digit. The Patrician was not a man you shook a finger at unless you wanted to end up being able to count only to nine. 

"And you say this was one person?" said Lord Vetinari. 

"Yes! That is–" Van Pew hesitated. 

It did sound weird, now that he came to tell someone. 

"But there are hundreds of you in there," said the Patrician calmly. "Thick as, you should excuse the expression, thieves." 

Van Pew opened and shut his mouth a few times. The honest answer would have been: yes, and if someone had come sidling in and skulking around the corridors it would have been the worse for them. It was the way he strode in as if he owned the palace that fooled everyone. That and the fact that he kept hitting people and telling them to Mend their Ways.  

From page 56 of of Merchants of Doubt we have ...

Named for General George C. Marshall – the American architect of European reconstruction of Europe after World War II, which had been designed in part to head off the spread of Communism – the Institute was "intended to raise the level of scientific literacy of the American people in fields of science with an impact on national security and other areas of public concern." Jastrow raised initial funds for the Institute from the Sarah Scaife and John M. Olin foundations, well-known funders of conservative causes (until the mid-1990's, he avoided taking corporate money). 

The Institute would promote its message through the distribution of "readable reports, books, films, etc." They would also hold "training seminars" for journalists, on the fundamental technologies of Strategic Defense, starting with one in December 1984, and also for congressional staffers. In a letter to Nierenberg, Jastrow explained how he'd also been busy writing articles and op-ed pieces to get their views on the radar screen and provoke debate. 

Just FYI - since this is rather opaque - this bit is all about the jockeying around that went on around the Strategic Defense Initiative proposed by Reagan and the creation of the George C. Marshall Institute - a conservative "think-tank" that is decidedly anti-environmental in its views and was described by Newsweek as "a central cog in the [climate change] denial machine".

There is the trailer for the film

Tuesday, March 17, 2015

Twin Spica by Kou Yaginuma - mini gush

Twin Spica - volumes 1 - 3
by Kou Yaginuma

Published in English by Vertical 

Format: paperback - my daughter has us calling these backwards books

Published: 2010
Pages: 192 pages (vol 1 & 2), 190 pages (vol 3)

Genre: Manga SciFi/Fantasy
Source: own book

Summary from Amazon:
In a Tokyo in the not too distant future a young girl studies deligently with ambitions of soon attending space academy. If things work out just right, her future may very well be among the stars as well. And yet, every time she looks up to the stars there is a sense of melancholy in her heart. A sadness surrounds Asumi, as space exploration itself has profoundly impacted her life for as long as she can remember.

But she is not alone...A young man wearing a lion's mask is always beside her. He speaks of the constellations and galaxies as if he they were like home. He knows what it is like to love the stars--slightly bitter and yet always so warm and inviting. Truth is he has gone through much of Asumi is just experiencing. And now in spirit he will forever be with Asumi guiding her on her path to space.

So, due my son's interest in learning Japanese and reading manga I have been on an epic (well - with a little "e" but still) quest to find age appropriate stories for both of my children. I picked up Twin Spica because a) my daughter loves space and b) the idea of going to school to study to be an astronaut would be of interest to both of my kids. 

I pre-read the story to see what I thought and OMG! - it was complex, deeply melancholy and absolutely fascinating.  I was blown away and immediately set about trying to get the rest of the series. 

The main character is 13-year old Asumi, a quiet and self-contained dreamer.  The "sadness" that surrounds not only Asumi, but pretty much all of the characters is due to the fact that ten years earlier the launch of the first Japanese built space ship was a catastrophic failure. Not only was the ship destroyed, it crashed into a city, resulting in death and destruction from which the country is only just starting to recover. (This isn't a spoiler since it it pretty much spelled out in the first pages of the book). 

Despite the fact that Asumi's mother was one of the casualties, she still dreams of flying to the stars.  

And I am not even going to try to explain Mr. Lion - that would be a spoiler. 

The isn't much in the way of action, but the stories are emotionally gripping. My son grabbed the first book - read it in one gulp, and looked at me with tears in his eyes asking for the next volume.  Just wow!  

We are on volume three and I have used copies of the next couple on the way.  

At the moment, I am totally invested in this story and want to know how it is resolved. I just hope that the emotional ride has a solid, and uplifting, finish.  My son is fairly heartbroken for Asumi right now and is also waiting to see what happens next. 

Thursday, March 12, 2015

Terry Pratchett has died

Not really a surprise but I am still incredibly sad. Now I have to do a massive re-read of his books.


Tuesday, March 10, 2015

Larsen C is apparenlty destabilizing

Senators with snowballs notwithstanding, there are plenty of reasons to be concerned about climate change...

You might remember from An Inconvenient Truth that back in 2002, over the course of about a month, the Larsen B Ice Shelf of the Antarctic Peninsula disintegrated.  It was a section of ice roughly 3,250 square kilometers, or 1,250 square miles, in size. (You can read more about and see the NASA satellite images here )

February 17, 2002 image of Larsen B ice shelf as it breaks up

Ice shelves are floating bands of ice that extend out from glaciers that are located on land. Glaciers, by definition, are formed of ice that is flowing from a zone of accumulation to a zone of ablation (loss or removal), so they are constantly in motion. Ice sheets gain mass from ice flowing into them from their on-land glacial sources, from snow accumulation and from ocean water freezing to the underside. They lose mass by calving icebergs (i.e. pieces break off at the outer edge), melting along their outer margins and sublimation (ice going directly into water vapor phase). Usually all of this is a relatively ponderous process - with ice sheets advancing or retreating slowly over time. 

A collapse is much more dramatic - occurring over a relatively short period of time as a result of long term environmental changes that thin and shrink the ice. At some point, a tipping point is reached and rather than icebergs breaking off the toe of the ice shelf, the entire shelf fractures and falls to pieces. 

It looks like Larsen C is now showing sign of potential collapse. Researchers are reporting that a rift in Larsen C advanced rapidly last year (see the magenta dots on the figure below). Further, they state that this rift "is likely in the near future to generate the largest calving event since the 1980s and result in a new minimum area for the ice shelf."  The paper concludes "It seems inevitable that this rift will lead to a major calving event which will remove between 9 and 12 % of the ice shelf area and leave the ice front at its most retreated observed position. More significantly, our model shows that the remaining ice may be unstable. The Larsen C Ice Shelf may be following the example of its previous neighbour, Larsen B, which collapsed in 2002 following similar events."

Figure 2. Analysis of rift propagation using Landsat data. Background image, in which the rift is visible, is from 4 December 2014. Inset graph shows the development of rift length with respect to the 2010 tip position, and rift width at the 2010 tip position, measured from 15 Landsat images (crosses). Circles and labels on the map, and dotted red lines on the graph, show the positions of notable stages of rift development.
You can see the whole article here

This might help with orienting yourself ...

Monday, March 9, 2015

Musings on Best Feminist Books For Younger Readers Lists

BookRiot posted a Best Feminist Books For Younger Readers list and I am trying to figure out how I feel about it.

Here is the list ...
  1. The Princess in Black by Shannon Hale and Dean Hale, illustrated by LeUyen Pham (ages 5-8)
  2. The Case of the Missing Moonstone by Jordan Stratford, illustrated by Kelly Murphy (ages 8-12)
  3. Luz Sees the Light by Claudia Dávila (ages 8-12) 
  4. The Year of Shadows by Claire Legrand, illustrated by Karl Kwasny (ages 8-12) 
  5. Zita the Spacegirl by Ben Hatke (ages 8-12)
  6. Phoebe and Her Unicorn: A Heavenly Nostrils Chronicle by Dana Claire Simpson (ages 8-12)
  7. The Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis (ages 9-12)
  8. The Girl Who Circumnavigated Fairyland in a Ship of Her Own Making by Catherynne M. Valente, illustrated by Ana Juan (ages 10-14)
  9. The Last Dragonslayer by Jasper Fforde (ages 10-14)
  10. Brown Girl Dreaming by Jacqueline Woodson (ages 10 +)
  11. The Thickety: A Path Begins by J. A. White, illustrated by Andrea Offermann (ages 10 +)
  12. Etiquette & Espionage by Gail Carriger (ages 12 +)
  13. Delilah Dirk and the Turkish Lieutenant by Tony Cliff (ages 12-17)         
So, on the one hand, I have read 7 of the 13 books listed and for the most part really enjoyed them (the only one the list I am conflicted about is The Princess in Black and I will explain that in a minute). So, I plan to get the rest of the books on the list and look forward to when my daughter is old enough for me to either read some of these books with her or for her to read them herself.

On the other hand - the obsessive gendering of things has been making me nuts for years and I am not clear on how this list breaks the pattern or really upsets the gendered assumptions that seem to permeate everything these days.

The Princess in Black is actually sort of an example of this ... see the titular Princess "by day" behaves as a "normal" princess "should" - but by "night" (not actual night, but you know what I mean) is a ninja, monster-fighting, hero-princess. So it is cool that the princess gets to be the ninja hero in black, but on the other hand - the way the story is framed - being a ninja princess is out-of-the-ordinary and not normal.  We still have this background assumption that being the hero, wearing black and fighting monsters is not a normal girl thing to do. And that bugs me.

Girls and boys should both be able to be ninja monster fighters and it shouldn't be out of the ordinary. I also think that girls and boys should be able to like pink, tea parties and unicorns - and be the princess if they want (that one is even harder to manage).  (And yes, I understand that sex and gender go beyond girl/boy - male/female ... that brings a whole entirely different level of difficulty in terms of available literature and expectations that I am not equipped to discuss here. This has been hard enough to try to type out as it is.)

So, unless I am missing something (which I could be since I have only read seven of the books) - all of these books feature female protagonists - which is both cool ! because I love books with awesome female leads ... and troubling ... though this is really hard to put into words. And this isn't just about this list, which I do like better than most since it is based on the concept of feminism rather than gender, but more of a musing about all of these sorts of lists I have been seeing lately. 

Is having a female protagonist the main criteria ?  Even if the framework of the story concentrates on how the lead character is defying societal expectations ? I mean, on one hand, stories that celebrate differences are good, but on the other hand, do girls constantly need to hear the message that being the hero, or being the smart one, or whatever it is, means that you are not normal and that you are defying expectations?  (The worst of that sort of thing is the special-snowflake only one book - books were the lead female is the only nice, good, competent female in the whole book and all the other girls/women are bad, mean, or awful somehow. I hate that trope!)  Why can't female heroes be the norm too?

Also - are there feminist male characters ? Is that a thing? It should be.

Can female characters be feminist in books with male protagonists ? I should think so. We need more examples of this too.

And of course, every time a list like this is posted, someone has to come along and ask "What about the best books for empowering boys?" ... which a) ignores the fact that boys can be feminists too and b) ignores the fact that the empowered male protagonist is the default. It doesn't actually take much work to come up with a list like that (though surprisingly, in a quick internet search haven't found any using that sort of title.)

After all - girls are not only allowed to read boys like Harry Potter, Percy Jackson, etc. which feature one or more male leads, they are expected and even required to in classes.  But I keep hearing more and more examples of how boys are expect not to even want to read books that feature female protagonists. The only cross-over that I remember seeing in the hands of boys in the recent past was the Hunger Games trilogy. This is bad.

Reading Shannon Hale's post No Boys Allowed: School visits as a woman writer made me absolutely livid. My son also likes Spirit Animals, he loved all of the Zita books - we have always told him that virtually any book in the house is okay for him to read at this point, because we trust his judgement. He  has zero interest in books like the Guys Read series or many of the books that are supposed to be "for boys." He obsessed over Harry Potter. He also reads all sorts of books that I picked up with my daughter in mind - and enjoys them. He has totally no problem reading books with female protagonists.

But (you knew this was coming) he has been getting more and more careful about which books he is willing to carry to school. Some of them, he only reads at home - or he hides them in his backpack only to share with a special teacher or two. This is painful to see. 

I can totally picture him wanting to attend a talk by Shannon Hale. Then - to be told by the school that the books are really for girls only - and that he is somehow strange for reading them! How confusing! Invalidating! Dis-empowering!!! Just Awful on so many, many levels !!!   I just - words can't express my outrage and disgust.

So... I have no idea what any of this means. And I don't know what to do about it. But I do know that this is a serious problem.

I also want more lists of "Empowering Books for Kids" - all kids.

I hate daylight savings time!

I hate it! I hate it! I hate it!  The kids were finally waking up in the morning and acutally moving of their own volition. Now - its pitch black again and they were dead to the world. ARGH!!!

Seriously - they keep telling us that it saves energy somehow but I have yet to see any serious proof of this.  How much energy do we waste with all the changing the clocks nonsense twice a year ? 

The only sensible thing I know of associated with the time change is the NFPA campaign to remind people to change the batteries in their smoke alarms at the same time.

Friday, March 6, 2015

A peak into Going Postal and Toms River

Okayyy - I just now realized that I haven't done one of these in a month! Wow -  I wasn't kidding about being crushed. Well things are not any better now that it is March (other than the prospect of getting above freezing - we set another record low this morning, sigh) but I am actively avoiding grading right now, so I want to participate anyhow.

OTOH - I can't even remember what I have been reading lately!

I have recently gotten into some manga - like Yotsuba&!  (too cute!) That has been about the limit of what my brain can cope with after work right now. I can't use it though since there isn't much in the way of text. (Plus part of the idea here it to help me learn Japanese - so I have an English copy and a Japanese copy よつばと! )

Itsudemo kyō ga, ichiban tanoshii hi
or roughly speaking - Enjoy everything - today is always the best day

Ah - for Book Beginnings on Friday, here is the start of Going Postal by Terry Pratchett (the, what 33rd Discworld novel) - I started re-reading it for the umpteenth time last night when I couldn't sleep...

The flotillas of the dead sailed around the world on underwater rivers. 

Very nearly nobody knew about them. But the theory is easy to understand. It runs: the sea is, after all, in many respects, only a wetter form of air. And it is known that air is heavier the lower you go and lighter the higher you fly. As a storm-tossed ship founders and sinks, therefore, it much reach a depth where the water below it is just viscous enough to stop its fall. 

In short, it stops sinking and ends up floating on an underwater surface, beyond the reach of storms but far above the ocean floor. 

It's calm there. Dead calm.

And for nonfiction, here is the start of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation by Dan Fagin

Who Tom was, if he ever was, is the first unsolved mystery of Toms River. He may have been an adventurer named Captain William Tom who helped chase the Dutch out of New Amsterdam in 1664 and then prospered as the British Crown's tax collector in the wildlands to the south, in the newly established province of New Jersey. Or he may have been an ancient Indian named Old Tom who lived on the cliffs near the mouth of the river and spied on the British or the Americans, depending on which side paid the larger bribe.

The people of Toms River, in their infinite capacity for self-invention, prefer a different origin story, one that features neither taxes nor bribery. Despite some doubts about its veracity, the story is enshrined on plaques, in local histories, and even in a bit of doggerel known grandly as the township's "Old Epic Poem."     

HA - I should be mean and cut it off there !  Oh, here you go ...

 According to this version, a man named Thomas Lurker came alone to the dense pine forests of central New Jersey in about 1700 and settled near the bay, on the northern side of a small river that would bear his name. He lived peacefully among the natives, too the name Tom Pumaha ("white friend" in the Lenape language), and married the chief's daughter, Princess Ann. 

For The Friday 56 hosted at Freda's Voice here is a bit from around page 56 of Going Postal ...

"I think I get the picture," said Moist. You're lying, Mr. Groat. You're lying by omission. You're not telling me everything. And what you're not telling me is very important, isn't it? I've turned lying into an art, Mr. Groat, and you're just a talented amateur. 

Groat's face, unaware of the internal monologue, managed a smile. 

"But the trouble is – what's your first name, Mr. Groat?" Moist asked. 

"Tolliver, sir." 

"Nice name ... the thing is, Tolliver, that the picture I see in your description is what I might refer to for the purposes of the analogy a cameo, whereas all this" – Moist waved his hand to include the building and everything it contained – "is a full-sized triptych showing scenes from history, the creation of the world, and the disposition of the gods, with a matching chapel ceiling portraying the glorious firmament and a sketch of a lady with a weird smile thrown in for good measure! Tolliver, I think you are not being frank me." 

And from page 56 of Toms River: A Story of Science and Salvation ...

Almost no one drank from the fountains at Toms River Chemical – not more than once, anyway – and now the familiar smell was in their water at home, too. 

Jim Crane, the company's manager of chemical engineering, lived in the neighborhood and was among the first to notice the odor at home, while taking a shower on a scorching July day in 1965. It must have been supremely frustrating lavation for Crane; he had been trying to cope with an escalating series of pollution problems at the plant ever since 1959, when the production lines for azo dyes and resins shifted to Toms River. Crane had no special training in environmental matters; he had supervised DDT manufacturing in Cincinnati and his main job at Toms River was to make the manufacturing process as efficient as possible. Because Toms River Chemical had no environmental department, however, coping with the manifold consequences of the plant's burgeoning waste discharges was an unwelcome part of Crane's portfolio. 

Just FYI - the EPA was formed in 1970.    

 Have a Great Weekend !!!

Wednesday, March 4, 2015

Ha! I wasn't just whining - It was the coldest month on record!

The National Weather Service in Buffalo says that with an average temperature of 10.9 degrees February 2015 was the coldest month ever on record, beating the old record of 11.6 degrees set in February 1934. It was unusual that year too.

This means that it was twice as warm in Anchorage, Alaska (25 degrees) than it was in Buffalo last month. Eek!

Also - It never got warmer than 32 degrees all month (the only other time this happened was in 1978 according to WIVB).

Although this is officially the coldest month in Buffalo’s history, it’s not the longest cold snap. According to WIVB, before the month ends, it will have achieved 30 days of below freezing temperatures consecutively. However, that stretch is still eclipsed by four other records, the longest being 45 days below freezing.

(Yeah, I don't know what is up with the difference between the written report and the graphic. All I can say is that I am fervently thankful we aren't breaking this record too! )

Snow totals shattered some old records, but when snowfall tapered off after a few snowstorms, progress was lost on taking the top spot in snowfall, too. Buffalo in February took the third spot with 46.2 inches of snow, falling behind 1960 at 49.5 inches and 1958 at 54.2 inches of snow.

However, it still snowed almost every day -there were only two without measurable snow.

    Also according to WIVB - The last record of note is that Buffalo is tied in the top spot for numbers of days which the temperature has dipped below zero at 10 days which the thermometer has read subzero temperatures.

    Syracuse gets the idea though - we needed a graphic like this too!

    OTOH - If some idiot walks up to you with a snowball and tries to tell you that February being cold means there is no such thing as global warming - well - they are still an idiot ... or they are trying to sell you something. 

    Sen. Jim Inhofe Throws Snowball on Senate Floor

    NOAA doesn't have February up yet, but even in January you can tell - it's personal - the NE US is getting the cold shoulder while most of world is much warmer than average.