Adventures in local politics: the ranked-choice roller coaster

What an Election Day it’s been! National politics, of course, continues to be a tire fire, but I got to enjoy some excitement at the local-politics level–in a good way! I feel like I just watched a come-from-behind sports victory.

(A disclaimer: these are only the preliminary election results. Who knows what might change once absentee and auxiliary ballots are in; in the wacky world of ranked-choice voting, a few votes can have a big ripple effect. I just felt the need to recap the ups and downs of the results.)

First, some necessary background information: I live in Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses ranked-choice voting. Voters rank the candidates in order of preference. When the results are tallied, votes are first distributed to each voter’s first-choice candidate. Anyone who exceeds a certain vote quota is immediately elected; above that number, any further votes for that candidate are distributed to the voter’s next available choice. Then one by one, candidates with the fewest votes are eliminated, and their votes are redistributed to the next available candidate on each ballot. This continues until all seats have been filled. In the case of the city council, there are nine seats available.

The top issue for Cambridge voters is affordable housing. I support the plan put forward by the political action group A Better Cambridge Action Fund (ABC AF), but currently only five of the sitting city councillors are in favor, and apparently six are needed to get anything done. ABC AF has endorsed nine candidates, and needs at least six to be elected.

Now, fast-forward to round 13 of the vote-tallying. Two of the three councillors elected so far are ABC AF’s candidates. We’re now down to eight candidates competing for six seats, with five ABC AF candidates left in the mix. We need at least four of the five to be elected. Unfortunately, the candidate with the fewest votes now is the ABC AF-endorsed Burhan Azeem, so he’s eliminated. And the two next-lowest are fellow ABC AF candidates Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler and Alanna Mallon, so one of them is probably next. It’s not looking good.

But! Remember what happens when a candidate is eliminated? Their votes go to the voter’s next choice.

It turns out that supporters of ABC AF candidates tend to overlap… so Burhan’s votes go primarily to Jivan and Alanna! In round 14, thanks to Burhan’s redistributed votes, Jivan and Alanna both leapfrog to the top of the pack and are immediately elected. With fellow ABC AF candidate Marc McGovern also making his quota in this round, the count of ABC AF candidates elected rises to 5.

With Jivan and Alanna safely elected, the lowest vote total now belongs to non-ABC AF candidate Craig Kelley. He becomes the last candidate eliminated, guaranteeing a seat to ABC AF-endorsed Tim Toomey. And… that’s six! We did it!

I don’t know if this sounds as exciting when told secondhand. The vote tables I linked to probably don’t look all that exciting, without the context. Plus, you know, who knows how the affordable housing plan will actually turn out. But it was nice, for once in the past three years, to be excited about politics and feel like we won something.

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The Muggle gene, or Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Population

I’m certainly not the first to speculate on the genetic inheritance of magic in the Potterverse, but I think I’ve found an angle that the articles I’ve just linked gloss over, or at most mention in passing. And it ties in nicely with my old post on the division between wizard and Muggle societies.

First, the genetics. The simplest model of genetic inheritance of magic that’s consistent with canon is magic as a recessive allele. Rowling is on record somewhere referring to magic as “a dominant and resilient gene,” but I’m writing this off as her being only passingly familiar with Mendelian genetics. If magic was the dominant allele, two Muggle parents could only produce a wizard child through a genetic mutation, and it should be more common for two wizard parents to produce at least one Squib (nonmagical) child. We know that Muggleborn wizards are relatively common and Squibs are rare, which is much more consistent with magic as a recessive gene.

Let’s review the possible pairings in more detail. We’ll call the Muggle allele M and the magic allele m. Suppose two wizards have a baby. Both parents would have the genotype mm, therefore any offspring should also have genotype mm and be wizards. Squibs would have to be the result of a genetic mutation, but they’re rare enough for this to be plausible.

Now let’s consider two Muggle parents. The possible genotypes for a Muggle are MM and Mm, with the latter being a carrier for the magic gene. If either parent is homozygous dominant (MM), then all offspring will be Muggles. However, if both parents are Mm, there’s a 75% chance of a Muggle child and a 25% chance of a wizard child. Of course, there must be many Mm couples who have only Muggle children and remain in blissful ignorance of the wizarding world. But while there’s only a 25% chance of a wizard on the first try, with two children there’s a 44% chance at least one is a wizard. (Including a 6% chance that both are–hi, Colin and Dennis Creevey. Though we don’t know if they had any Muggle siblings…) The probability of at least one wizard rises to 58% for three children, 68% for four, and so on.

Here’s where, to me, it gets interesting. What happens when a wizard and a Muggle have children? It depends on the Muggle parent’s genotype. If the Muggle parent is MM, all children will be Muggles, and if the Muggle parent is Mm, it’s 50-50. But how common are wizard children of such pairings? Half-blood wizards seem to be in the majority, but the term “half-blood” is freighted with wizard supremacy and includes anyone with any Muggle ancestry at all. For example, Harry is considered a half-blood even though both his parents were wizards, because Lily was Muggleborn.* We do know of a few wizards with one wizard and one Muggle parent–Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, Severus Snape, and, ironically, Voldemort. It’s possible that it’s just not that common for wizards and Muggles to interbreed; as I mentioned before, wizards and Muggles don’t seem to have much social interaction. But it’s also possible that there are more who just never mentioned it in the books.

So where are all the families with both wizard and Muggle children? Even if it’s actually rare for wizards and Muggles to interbreed, you’d expect it to be more common than not for Muggleborn wizards to have Muggle siblings–remember, the more children an Mm couple has, the more likely at least one will be a wizard. Of the wizard/Muggle offspring mentioned above, only Dean has any siblings–half-siblings, in fact, children of his Muggle mother and stepfather. Among Muggleborn wizards’ families, we know of Lily and Petunia Evans.** I mentioned that we don’t know if the Creevey brothers have any Muggle siblings–remember, we had no idea Colin had even one brother until Dennis arrived at Hogwarts. Do other Muggleborn wizards have Muggle siblings who just haven’t been mentioned? And if they do, is this another worrisome sign of how completely Muggleborns seem to cast off the Muggle world, family and all?

What must it be like growing up in one of those households? We know Petunia grew to hate and resent magic for taking her sister away. Are Dean’s siblings fascinated by their wizard brother, or jealous, or confused, or worried? We know Dean continues to follow soccer (sorry, “football”), which makes him one of the few wizards, even Muggleborns, who engage with Muggle culture at all. I wonder if having Muggle siblings has kept him connected to that world, more so than an only child like Hermione. And what’s it like for, say, Seamus, with one wizard and one Muggle parent? His father is absent when he and his mother go to the Quidditch World Cup. What’s it like for Mr. Finnigan, being cut off from the world his wife and son live in?

For that matter, what must it be like for a hypothetical wizard whose spouse and children are all Muggles? What must it be like to know that your parent is a wizard but you yourself will have to live your life in the Muggle world? Would the wizard parent use magic around the house? What if the wizard parent chooses to live like a Muggle in family solidarity? And if the parents conceal the existence of magic from the children, does it all come out if any of the grandchildren are wizards? (Which they could well be–the Muggle children of a wizard would carry the recessive m allele.)

This has been the thrust of a lot of my Harry Potter posts, I think: I get why the wizarding world is more spectacular and cool to focus the books on, compared to the Muggle world, but there’s a lot of storytelling potential to be had in the seam between the two.

*Note that genetically, half-blood and Muggleborn wizards have the same mm genotype as purebloods and the same odds of producing wizard offspring, which is a nice poke in the eye for pureblood supremacists. All that inbreeding for nothing!

**We don’t know Petunia’s genotype, but since both her parents must be Mm, there’s a 2/3 chance she’s a carrier for the wizard gene–which means at least a 1/3 chance that Dudley is. Higher if Vernon is also a carrier, which I’m sure would horrify him. I am so here for the narrative possibilities of Dudley having a wizard child.

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Martin Crieff, unlikely role model

Sometimes I get annoyed at fictional characters who always seem to win.

It makes sense. We’re set up to root for the protagonist, and their success is cathartically satisfying. In sports movies it’s a cliche: the plucky underdogs win the big game against all odds. And it’s fun to watch people do things they’re good at. But cumulatively, it means that lots of stories get written about winners… and that can get wearing when you’re a real person who doesn’t succeed at everything. Where are the stories for the also-rans, the second fiddles, the losers?

Well, a story about someone who fails at what they try to do is either going to be a tragedy or a comedy. Possibly both; look at Peanuts. It’s all about failure: all the crushes are unrequited, Lucy pulls away the football, the Great Pumpkin never comes. Even Schulz’s punchlines have a melancholy bent.

Then there’s the more comedic end of the scale. When I first thought “Isn’t there a character who’s just not very good at the thing they really want to do?” I realized immediately that I knew that character, and it was Captain Martin Crieff.

If you don’t know who Martin Crieff is, he’s from a delightful radio sitcom called Cabin Pressure. He wants very badly to be an airplane pilot… and he is, but not a very good one. It took him seven tries to get his license, and even then he can only get a job working for free for a company in dire financial straits. And he has a certain general Charlie-Brownishness about him as well, especially when compared to his suave, competent first officer, Douglas. Martin losing games and bets to Douglas is a running joke, as is Douglas being mistaken for the captain whenever they meet someone new.

The thing is, though, Martin doesn’t let failure stop him. Even at the point when most people would have quite sensibly given up. He has a speech about it in a late-series episode when he applies for a new job, and the interviewer has asked what his greatest weakness is. Martin’s first answers go badly (including the old chestnut “I’m too much of a perfectionist”), and finally he says:

D’you wanna hear one you’ve never heard before? I’ll tell you one that I guarantee you have never heard before… My biggest weakness as a pilot is that I’m not very good at flying aeroplanes.
I mean… I’m good enough. Like the sim said, I’m adequate – adequate to the task. But I… I don’t do it easily. It’s not second nature to me. On your scale of one to ten, if one is the bare minimum of competence, I’m… about a four. And I used to be a one – no… I used to be a zero, and then I took my C.P.L. again… and then again… and then I was a one, and then a two, and then a three, and now I’m a four. And I’m not finished yet. And that’s why you should employ me. That’s why you’d be lucky to employ me, because if you’re not naturally good – if you can’t rely on just knowing how to do it like Doug… l-like some people can, then you have to… well, you have to be a perfectionist, actually – and I am one. And that’s why even when you’ve turned me down, I’m gonna keep on applying – because flying is the perfect job, and I won’t settle for a life where I don’t get to do it.

– Martin Crieff, “Yverdon-les-Bains”

And that’s why this post is called “Martin Crieff, unlikely role model.” Because if Martin’s weakness is that he’s not very good at his job, his strength is his growth mindset. He believes he can get better at being a pilot, and he works at it, no matter how hard it is or how slowly he improves. Douglas might be the “winner” to Martin’s “loser”, but he doesn’t voluntarily work hard at anything, and his confident exterior hides his own insecurities. Douglas is good at a lot of things, but he puts too much stock in appearing hyper-competent, even if he has to resort to deception to maintain that appearance.

And then there’s Arthur, the cheerful idiot steward, who’s good at almost nothing but doesn’t really mind. So I suppose you could call him an even unlikelier role model: someone who doesn’t need to be good at anything to be happy exactly as he is.

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Not queer enough

Sometimes I feel like an alien.

This isn’t necessarily a bad thing; it can be empowering. When I started to realize I might be asexual, and what that meant in a society so obsessed with sex, I liked to think of myself as an extraterrestrial anthropologist, observing the mating rituals of the Homo sapiens. If I was a different kind of creature, then there was nothing remarkable about not wanting sex. And I could be a cool kind of alien, like a Time Lady. Much better than being a human who just didn’t quite get it.

There was a particular social group I used to run with where everyone was… loud… about their sexuality, and I felt awkward and prudish because I was uncomfortable with all the sex talk and sex jokes and raunchy drinking games. I wish I’d had the anthropologist idea back then; the reframing might have helped me.

I wasn’t out as asexual at the time, because I hadn’t figured it out myself. A lot of people in that group were queer. I wonder how they would have reacted if I’d come out.

I hate that I have to wonder that. I hate that expressing ace pride on Twitter during Pride Month brings the aphobic assholes out of the woodwork: people who are queer themselves, gatekeeping and rules-lawyering whether aces should be allowed in the Queerness Club. I hate that those people can get in my head and make me doubt.

I’m a mostly-het romantic asexual. In other words, I can pass for straight like nobody’s business. I can pass so well that I passed to myself for 23 years, because the difference wasn’t enough to matter… until it was, and I couldn’t ignore it anymore. So I’m very vulnerable to accusations of “not queer enough”. I hesitate before going to queer meetup groups, because am I? Am I really?

It’s isolating. It’s worse than feeling like an alien. I’m stuck in the middle: different, but not really different, or not different enough to count.

I’m trying to fight that feeling. I march with an ace group in my local pride parade. I go to those queer meetups, and I’m so grateful to the people who have welcomed me when I questioned my right to be there. Because if other queer people validate my kind of different, maybe I don’t have to feel like an alien at all.

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My First Album

This year was my first crack at FAWM (February Album Writing Month) and I had a blast! A few of the songs may go up in the Filk section later, but for now, until FAWM scrubs the site for next year, you can hear my album here: https://fawm.org/fawmers/robotkitten/

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