Ramona Quimby and badass women

This scrappy little kid opened a whole new world for some girls. Back in grade 5, I told a girl in my class named Jenny that I liked her hair because it was cut like Ramona Quimby’s. Earned me a small smile and a followup punch in the chest. Sigh. So romantic.

In 1955, Ramona Quimby, a near American cousin of Pippi Longstocking, tumbled into the picture, all scraped knees and exuberant doodles. She and her creator, author Beverly Cleary, united with Pippi and Lindgren in literary confederation, bright beacons for little girls who have been variously told they are too much: too loud or pesky or hyperactive. Upon a cursory read, it might be tempting to describe Ramona as mischievous, but Cleary herself has protested against this accusation, and with good reason. Ramona loves the world with ferocity; she does not so much want to disturb it as she yearns to discover, to turn it over, examine every piece and crook and marvel at why each creature, commodity, and substance exists the way it does. “She was a girl who could not wait. Life was so interesting she had to find out what happened next,” explains Cleary in Ramona the Pest.

But when put in practice, Ramona’s philosophy stirs controversy, and all too frequently the intrepid heroine contends with indictments of her disposition. Her demure, long-suffering older sister, Beatrice— dubbed “Beezus” by Ramona when she is learning to speak— lobs them at her regularly. “Beezus felt that the biggest trouble with four-year-old Ramona was that she was just plain exasperating,” writes Cleary at the start of the series’ first book, Beezus and Ramona. “If Ramona drank lemonade through a straw, she blew into the straw as hard as she could to see what would happen. If she played with her finger paints in the front yard, she wiped her hands on the neighbors’ cat.”

The black speech of Mordor

You know how academics have that specialized language they cling to so they can talk to one another without the pleebs understanding? Silicon Valley tech nerds have the same thing. The former is called “jargon” and the latter is called “The Lord of the Rings”.

Pictured above: Mark Zuckerberg

As San Francisco marketing-tech start-up Fivestars struggled to raise money in late 2015, Matt Curl, senior vice president of business operations, gave his deputies three books as assigned reading to inspire them and keep them from despair.

The three books were “The Fellowship of the Ring,” “The Two Towers” and “The Return of the King,” collectively “The Lord of the Rings” by J.R.R. Tolkien.

“There are profound human truths that were written in those books,” said Curl, who first read the books when he was in middle school. “I’ll reference ‘Lord of the Rings’ things a lot, and I want them to understand what I’m saying.”

O apostrophe, wherefore art thou?

Do you see what I did there? Then you’re either a poet or an academic. Or one of those precocious novelists who is almost smart enough to be a poet. [ducks and runs for cover]. Why does it seem like the humble apostrophe is dangling over the abyss these days?

Of all the aspects of grammar and punctuation taught in schools, apostrophes seem to pose one of the biggest challenges, as evidenced by everything from apparent errors in texts and emails to signage on the street. Why do people struggle with the apostrophe in particular? Matthews describes it as “a difficult mark” because it has two uses. But the biggest problem with the apostrophe, he says, is that in its possessive usage, it makes a singular noun sound “exactly the same as the plural – and because there’s no difference when you speak it, you have to have the understanding of its purpose in order to get it right when you write it.”

Apostrophes’ silence is a big part of their trickiness, agrees MacKenzie. “We have nothing to go on when we want to write them down, apart from these arbitrary rules that we’ve been taught.” MacKenzie observes that we cope without apostrophes in spoken language. For example, if someone says ‘the king’s crown’. As the apostrophe is not pronounced, we don’t know if one was intended, yet we intuit that the possessive is meant, rather than the plural of kings, because it wouldn’t make sense otherwise.

Inconsistency is another reason we find apostrophes challenging. MacKenzie says there are some “weird little exceptions to the system”. For example, we’re taught to make a possessive by adding an apostrophe ‘s’, which works for nouns, but then the possessive pronoun ‘its’ prescriptively doesn’t have an apostrophe. She observes that “people love making fun of those people who mix up it’s with an apostrophe and its without – but, well, it is possessive so why doesn’t it have it have an apostrophe? It really should!” And as she says: “the more exceptions to the rule, the harder the rule becomes to learn.”

10 Story News pile up

It’s slick out there this Monday morning. Be careful, news junkies.

Public Enemy #Amazon

The Walrus gives us a tour of how Bezos made Amazon the second richest company in the world (spoiler: off the backs of everyone except Jeff Bezos).

Designer using Paint.net for hire. Here’s one of my “deep fakes”. Don’t rub your eyes. It’s all just the magic of graphic design.

As of this writing, Amazon is now the second-biggest company in the world by market value (behind Microsoft and ahead of Apple, Google, and Facebook), with $177 billion in yearly revenue and a few billion in actual yearly profit, thanks mainly to its remote-computing cloud-services unit. Amazon is among the leaders of the “optimization” of business processes, using metrics to evaluate every decision and then building preferences into the algorithms that run a large part of the day-to-day activity on the platform. Today, Amazon relies on these systems to regularly “scrape” pricing data from competitors’ sites and then automatically match or slightly underprice them in order to leverage its platform power into a greater market share.

Amazon has proven itself to be a true bully of the markets, with a long history of using its huge market weight to undo client after competitor after customer. It’s a fascinating story in which the company again and again justifies its ever-growing power using the laws of the jungle whose name it took.

The vagina rescue

Catherine Blackledge (ftr, that is a BADASS name, like, she might have some ancient magic or something) is trying to single-handedly rescue the word vagina from the bizarre way we’ve treated it over the years.

Blackledge, who works for a fertility charity, writes about how parents perpetuate the stigma around vaginas by refusing to use the correct language. “Most parents in the UK choose to use vaginal euphemisms such as flower, tuppence, fairy, bits or front bottom,” she writes. “Vagina and vulva are not the wrong words, or rude words, or too anatomical words, they are simply the correct words and it is only an adult’s own hang-ups that colours them otherwise.”

She believes parents should just say vagina and vulva, but suggests that “if the UK wants a new non-anatomical word, my vote is for verenda. It’s an old word for the vagina and means ‘the parts that inspire awe or respect’. Grace, gravitas and a great provenance combined.”

She also believes girls should be aware of the ancient stories about the power of female genitalia. “Imagine a world where as girls we’re told these incredible stories – in mythology about the goddesses raising their skirts, and in doing so making the world fertile again, or they raise their skirts and they can defeat armies,” she says. “We all know about Bellerophon and Pegasus the winged horse, but we don’t know about the women who raised their skirts to the hero and the winged horse and vanquished them. I tell my daughter all these things because I feel like it will make a difference.”