Thursday, May 13, 2021

Quantitative and Qualitative

Cory Doctorow's latest LOCUS column analyzes the difference between quantitative and qualitative measurements and the pitfalls of depending solely on the former:


He begins with examples from the COVID-19 pandemic. The University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign became the epicenter of a COVID outbreak as a result of putting too much faith in an epidemiological model produced by "a pair of physicists." (The article doesn't mention why they were chosen to work the calculations instead of specialists in epidemiology.) The predictions didn't take into account the variables of human behavior, the "qualitative" element. The article cites contact tracing as another example of similar problems. Regardless of how accurate the math based on the data may be, do the infected people trust contact tracers enough to supply reliable data? Those who work with quantitative elements such as statistics and mathematical models have to restrict their research to elements that can be quantized. As Doctorow puts it, "To do math on a qualitative measurement, you must first quantize it, assigning a numeric value to it," a difficult and dubiously reliable process. (E.g., "How intense is your pain?" I never quite know how to answer that question on a scale of one to ten.)

Quantitative disciplines, as he summarizes the issue, "make very precise measurements of everything that can be measured precisely, assign deceptively precise measurements to things that can’t be measured precisely, and jettison the rest on the grounds that you can’t do mathematical operations on it." He compares this process of exclusion to the strategy of the proverbial drunk searching for his car key under the lamppost—not because that's where he lost it, but because that's where the light is.

Doctorow applies the principle to an extended discussion of monopolies, price-fixing, collusion, and antitrust laws. As an example of the potential injustice generated by "treating all parties as equal before the law," he mentions the designation of Uber drivers as "independent contractors." When treated as equivalent to giant corporations, those drivers are forbidden to "form a collective to demand higher wages," because that's legally classified as "price-fixing."

Although Doctorow doesn't mention writers, the same absurdly imbalanced restrictions can be made to apply to them. If an authors' organization promulgates a model contract and puts pressure on publishers to adhere to it, that's prohibited as "collusion" in restraint of trade.

While, according to Doctorow, "Discarding the qualitative is a qualitative act. . . . the way you produce your dubious quantitative residue is a choice, a decision, not an equation," that doesn't mean quantitative measures are useless or inherently evil. The quest for objectivity has its legitimate role—"just because we can’t rid ourselves of the subjective, it doesn’t follow that we must abandon the objective." Reliable empirically based outcomes result from balancing the quantitative and the qualitative components of the available evidence.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Reviews 65 Mercy Thompson novels by Patricia Briggs

Reviews 65

Mercy Thompson



 Patricia Briggs

Reviews haven't been indexed yet.  Search Reviews on this blog to find more.

Patricia Briggs has been mentioned in the following post on Theme-Worldbuilding Integration titled Use of Media Headlines.

The previous parts of Theme-Worldbuilding are linked at the top of the post and 21 parts of the Theme-Worldbuilding Integration series are  indexed here:

I've recently read STORM CURSED, #11 in the Mercy Thompson series.  Mercy is the lead, POV character, and could be viewed as a "Mary Sue" since she acquires the high regard of a vast variety of Beings as she plows through the obstacle course of her life.

She starts out as an underdog, well, under-were-coyote, and marries a werewolf Alpha, as she gains the high regard of a number of sorts of supernatural creatures.

In STORM CURSED, Mercy has to hammer her way through a major confrontation with Witches who she thought were "White" but turn out to be the worst of the "Black" magic users.

In other words, she has been hoodwinked, fooled, scammed.

We all know that feeling from all the spam phone calls and emails - some of which we (hopefully almost) fall for. You know what it feels like to be a Patsy, even if you've never been a Karen.

Now she knows the dangers and the bad actors, she has to vanquish them.

She gathers her allies (werewolf pack and all) and mops up the problem.

Why is it her problem? Because in a previous novel, she declared in public that she, and the Werewolf pack, would take charge of this Territory and forbid Black magic.

The objective is to be accepted by the human majority as a self-policing minority.  

I like this series because Mercy is a genuine person with depths who seems to grow through surmounting her challenges. There seems an underlying thematic reason why she, of all people, SHOULD run "point" on these operations.

Part of that reason is her ability to be open, emotionally bonded to people through her admiration of their better traits and opposition to their lesser propensities.  She improves people she befriends -- and all these "creatures" are people to her, complete people.

I think this series is popular because we see these issues of polarization of society, separating mixed-bag-type-people into camps or teams in order to stage a fight which is a distraction from the real issues underlying the conflict.

Mercy is aswim in the pea-soup mess her world is in, but forges a path toward unifying the disparate factions. 

I highly recommend this series.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Saturday, May 08, 2021

Geeks Doing Good #SFWAauction

Science Fiction Writers of America is partnering with Worldbuilders to hold a week-long silent auction starting on May 10th from 12:00 pm Pacific and the auction site:

A promotional graphic for the SFWA Silent Auction with details, SFWA and Worldbuilders Logos, and a green & black background featuring a fantasy-style forest.


The SFWA Fundraising Committee welcomes questions at Funding, and gives permission for all comers to share auction details with non-members, in fact with anyone who would like to bid generously on auction items such as virtual kaffeeklatsches with Patrick Rothfuss, Brandon Sanderson, Amal El-Mohtar and many more.

Also being auctioned: one-on-one virtual career sessions with authors such as N.K. Jemisin, Holly Black, Maurice Broaddus and Catherynne M. Valente.  There are also career sessions with literary agents such as Seth Fishman, Sara Megibow and DongWon Song!

One can bid on virtual or written manuscript critiques for authors, agents and editors, for instance Lucienne Diver, Jason Sizemaore, Arley Sorg, Tobias S, Buckell, or Lynne M. Thomas.

And, much, much more.   If you don't plan to bid, but do wish to be supportive, please use #SFWAauction on social media to spread the word.

All the best,

Rowena Cherry

Thursday, May 06, 2021

Me Tarzan, You Jane

Recently I've watched several Tarzan movies, including two of the classic Johnny Weissmuller films. It's always annoyed me that this version of Tarzan is so inarticulate, speaking in broken English although he seems to understand the nuances of standard English as spoken by Jane. The 1984 production GREYSTOKE: THE LEGEND OF TARZAN, LORD OF THE APES portrays him as eventually learning to speak grammatically, although he remains reserved and laconic. In Edgar Rice Burroughs' novels, Tarzan not only learns French and English in the first volume (TARZAN OF THE APES) but also becomes fluent in multiple other languages over the course of the series. Moreover, while still living with his ape tribe, he teaches himself to read English from children's picture books found in his dead parents' abandoned cabin. Which of these representations of Tarzan's language acquisition is more realistic, though?

Real-life "feral children"—those who've grown up with limited or no normal human contact—seldom acquire fully developed language skills in later life. (From my cursory skim of Wikipedia entries on the topic, possibly some do, but that's uncertain.) The majority consensus among linguistic scientists maintains that human children have a critical period for learning to speak normally. The innate "language instinct" needs material to work with during that window. Everyone knows the story of Helen Keller's childhood and how she learned language from her "miracle worker" teacher. Keller, however, didn't become blind and deaf until the age of nineteen months, so she had been exposed to the spoken word and had probably started learning to talk. Therefore, she didn't totally miss the "window" of the critical period. In recalling the moment when she realized the meaning of the sign for "water," she wrote that she experienced "a misty consciousness as of something forgotten — a thrill of returning thought; and somehow the mystery of language was revealed to me." The concept of language, then, wasn't completely new to her but came as a "returning thought" of "something forgotten."

With these principles applied to Tarzan's development, does he have the required exposure to a template for language during the critical period of infancy and childhood? In Edgar Rice Burroughs' original novel, Tarzan is orphaned when too young to start talking to any meaningful extent. Since he's about a year old when his parents die, however, he would have heard conversations between them and begun to recognize some words, maybe even say one or two. So, like Helen Keller, he's exposed to language during the early imprinting stage. After his adoption by his ape mother, he grows up learning the speech of the great apes—the Mangani. It seems likely that the Mangani aren't any known variety of ape (certainly not gorillas, as in the Disney animated movie, because gorillas are explicitly mentioned as different from Tarzan's tribe) but rather, as Philip Jose Farmer suggests, an almost extinct "missing link" species. As portrayed in TARZAN OF THE APES and its sequels, they have a language, but a rudimentary one. It seems to consist entirely of concrete rather than abstract words, have a simple grammatical structure, and focus on present needs. The limitations of Mangani speech, however, wouldn't necessarily prevent Tarzan from learning fluent English as an adult. He might be compared to the children of pidgin speakers (people with no language in common who invent a simplified mode of communication, a "pidgin" dialect). In many known cases, those children have used their parents' speech as the basis for a fully developed "creole" language. Tarzan's achievement of teaching himself to read with no prior knowledge of what books are might strain the reader's disbelief, but as we can tell from how easily he picks up new languages in later life, the author portrays him as a natural linguistic genius.

In the Weissmuller movies, Tarzan's ape friends are played by chimpanzees, which wouldn't have a true language. Therefore, it actually makes sense that this version of Tarzan might learn to comprehend standard English without ever gaining the ability to speak it fluently. He missed the critical window. In GREYSTOKE, he communicates with the apes by sounds and gestures, but there's nothing to indicate that they're speaking a language in the human sense. So it seems improbable that he'd master English as thoroughly as he does in this movie, especially since he looks well under a year old when his ape mother adopts him. Personally, though, I prefer an articulate Tarzan even if suspension of disbelief has to be stretched to accommodate him.

Robert Heinlein's STRANGER IN A STRANGE LAND, of course, reverses Tarzan's situation. The biologically human "Martian," Valentine Michael Smith, grows up among creatures MORE intelligent than Earth-humans, with a more complex and nuanced language. Mike, like Tarzan, has to learn to become fully human, but from the opposite direction.

Margaret L. Carter

Carter's Crypt

Tuesday, May 04, 2021

Reviews 64 - Transgressions of Power by Juliette Wade

Reviews 64

Transgressions of Power


Juliette Wade

Transgressions of Power is not a Romance, but it is intrigue with Relationships as the story driver, political revolution as the plot driver.  It is a suspense novel set amidst palace intrigue, and all about "power."  

Wade has spent the most time, words, and energy on describing and illustrating the social stratification of a civilization, rather than examining the human compulsion to acquire power over others. Power is the goal of the characters, and the author assumes the reader understands everything she wants to say about power rather than explaining and discussing power-mongering in the root theme.

The external "threat" is a species of flying somethings that kill people on the planetary surface but don't kill people who are in caves, underground.  So the civilization has built buildings in a large cavern with a river flowing through it (noise does not seem to be a problem).  

One (of several) lead characters is a woman who has excelled at killing the flying things on the surface, and loves the outdoors, but has been "rewarded" by being assigned a prestigious ceremonial guard position entirely underground.

Other characters are nobles of this civilization struggling over the succession for the "throne" or dictator position while engineering a revolution to overturn the caste stratification.  

Everyone we meet interacting with these characters seems satisfied with the caste system, but some nobles want to destroy it. There is no explanation of where the system came from, why it should be overturned (other than that it is a system, and one gains power by destroying systems) or what army will do the overturning and what that army will replace the caste system with that is better (and why it is better).

The author spends most of the book describing the involuted caste system with forgettable names and functions and never addresses any of the obvious questions.

Thus the married couple of nobles trying to overturn the system seem vacuous.  They intend to arouse a populace that is satisfied with their system (even when it leaves them trapped in poverty).

The highly skilled soldier is not satisfied with the ceremonial position, learns something odd is going on among the nobles, and gets herself appointed to be a spy on the nobles.  Nothing in her character makes becoming a spy any sort of triumph or defeat of her personal purpose in life. She's not made of the fabric of a Hero such as we have discussed previously:

The lack of show-don't-tell discussion of these points encoded into the worldbuilding and thematic underpinnings, illustrated symbolically, throws this novel into a category I could only designate as a polemic or possibly a screed.  The novel seems to be expressing disgust for a caste system, a disgust based on nothing. This makes it seem that the author doesn't actually have an opinion of her own on the topic of caste-structured-society, but has simply adopted someone else's opinion.

In other words, the novel has no theme. It is a statement of opinion about caste and maybe somewhat about political power.  

Possibly future novels in the series could reveal that the author has thought all this out. Possibly these deficiencies could simply be lack of writing craftsmanship.  But this is the second published book in The Broken Trust series, and I expected more.

Jacqueline Lichtenberg

Sunday, May 02, 2021

In Your Teeth

If I were to suggest that you could whiten your teeth by gargling with your first-of-the-morning urine, and you decided to try it and it made you ill, you probably could not sue me successfully.

At least, not in Europe, and not for disinformation or misleading advertising, if I correctly interpret a recent case about applying horseradish to bare skin.
Legal bloggers Russell Williamson and Ayah Elomrani for the international law firm Bird & Bird ( explain the interesting issue of what happens if you believe everything you read in the media and are hurt by it.
Original link:

Lexology link:

By the way, for those who enjoy some of the strange law stories found on the best legal blogs, you might like the anthology "No Law Against Love" by Deborah MacGillivray, Jacqui Rogers et alia.

Which has very little to do with teeth.... or the dubious effectiveness of urine as a beauty regimen, but here are a couple of interesting links:

Dr. Charles Gemmi of Philadelphia gives us eight shocking facts about teeth:

Kristin Lewis, for Scholastic compiles dental stories from a three-thousand-years-old musician named Djed, who died of dental disease to more recent dentistry scams. It's a highly entertaining read.

For something more visually inspiring, Google "weird teeth". Speaking for myself, others may be more thorough, and with the exception of vampire romances, I've not noticed a lot of interest in alien dentition in fiction. Like visits to the bathroom once the seat is down, the contents of a hero's mouth are just not that romantic.
Teeth are deeply important to primates, and not just as a signal of a potential mate's health, strength, temperament, prosperity, ability to provide, pleasantness to be around, fitness as a mate.

As a matter of survival, primates have always had to read facial-grimace language for welcomes, warnings and other cues about how to stay safe.  There is a PEAK game where you have milliseconds to identify friendly faces out of a mass of questionable tooth exposure, and also closed-lip smiles. I am exceptionally good at it.
On "toothy grins":  
"Our results indicate that, contrary to previous assertions, detection of smiles or frowns is relatively slow in crowds of neutral faces, whereas toothy grins and snarls are quite easily detected." 

On "friend or foe" subliminal reactions (to teeth displays)
Ron Dotsch, formerly of Utrecht University in the Netherlands, describes how the unconscious mind processes human faces and the two types of faces it chooses to consciously see, namely: those associated with dominance and threat and, to a lesser degree, with trustworthiness.

Probably, if someone bares his or her teeth to such an extent that the molars are visible, that is a full-mouth snarl, and the onlooker should beware, particularly if there is no obvious provocation for the anger display.

It is weird that in many Western cultures, "toothy grin" is a pejorative. One does not see heroes described as having toothy grins. Yet, private and public figures undergo great expense and long term discomfort to achieve disproportionately large teeth.

The Cassell-published, 1981 version of Brewer's Dictionary of Phrase & Fable catalogues important cultural uses of "tooth" and "teeth" in the then-modern idiom.

This is not it, but it might be close:

By the skin of one's teeth.
From the teeth outwards.
He has cut his eye-teeth.
To draw one's eye-teeth.
His teeth are drawn.
In spite of his teeth.
In the teeth of the wind.  (In the teeth of opposition. "To strive with all the tempest in my teeth." Pope.)
To cast into one's teeth.
To get one's teeth into something.
To have a sweet tooth.
To lie in one's teeth. 
To put teeth into....
To set one's teeth on edge.
To show one's teeth.
To take the bit between one's teeth.
With tooth and nail.

So, dear reader, what's in your teeth?

All the best,

Rowena Cherry