Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, July 31, 2014

Dragons

TOF once listened to a discussion between Stan Schmidt, then editor of hard SF mag ANALOG, and George Scithers, then-editor of fantasy-horror mag WEIRD TALES. George told Stan that he did not think it was possible to write a story that would be acceptable to both Analog and Weird Tales.

TOF took this as a sort of challenge and wrote the story that appears today on the PREVIEW page: "Dragons." It is a story based on ecological predator-prey ratios and, well, read it. I sent it to Stan who said he would have bought it save that he had just bought another story with a similar theme (sic!) So we sent it to George, who bought it, thus demonstrating that it was possible to write a story acceptable to both mags. Although somewhat off the median in both cases. Heh.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

In Psearch of Psyche: Man the Vegetable




Psyche in search of you.

Quick Recap

This series began with a brief reflection on a comment made by Thomas Disch shortly before his tragic suicide. Disch had said that to "deepen his fiction into art," he would have to return to Catholicism, which he was unwilling to do. Wondering what Disch might have meant by this, and rereading (for the first time since college) Robert Brennan's text Thomstic Psychology, TOF speculated that he might have meant a "thicker," more insightful depiction of characters, for the modern view of human nature is astonishingly thin. You have no will, no mind, not even a self.

Jody Bottum, to whom the remark was made, informed TOF that the remark was more broadly meant:

Friday, July 25, 2014

The Circle of Life

SAMBBITU and her Nana
A few days back TOF was recruited into a rescue expedition. The TOFish granddaughter formerly known as the SAMBBITU* had obtained discount tickets to Great Adventures park and was taking her boyfriend and her two young brothers to the park. Alas, she had gotten only a few miles into the wilds of New Jersey -- just past Exit 6 on I-78 -- when her car stopped running. This is always a bad sign, and worse when you are already driving it. She was able to pull over to the shoulder and coast to a stop. She sent up the bat-signal, and The Incomparable Marge immediately did her Thing -- i.e., helping people. She hopped into the TOFmobile, with TOF in the right hand seat, and headed for the scene. TOF was along because someone might need to stay with the car and wait for the tow while she drove everyone else to the theme park.
(*) SAMBBITU: Smartest and Most Beautiful Baby in the Universe.

But when the grisly scene was approached, the flatbed tow truck was already mise-en-scène and ready to haul car. TOF at this point proved superfluous and was seconded to ride back with the truck on detached duty. To get home from the auto repair shop, he would have to call Pere for a pick up.

TOF climbed into the cab -- Those steps are steep! -- and the driver, disinclined to go to the next exit when he was just past this one, pulled the truck up and over the curbs and down onto the exit ramp.

As we entered the curve, the circle of life -- the part they don't show you on The Lion King -- played itself out before us.

Raptor en rapport
© Will J. Sooter Sharpeyesonline, CA, January 2009
The streetlamps along the interstate are the goose-neck sort that arch out over the road. They provide a superb view of the terrain below and have become a favored stalking site for the local red-tail hawks. As we drove down the ramp, an aforesaid red-tail hawk swooped down across the ramp and into the grass on the left side of the road. It paused a moment, then with a beat of its mighty wings it soared once more into the air with something in its claws. Raptors-1, Vermin-0.

The ones TOF sees are always atop the
lamp itself, looking forward to a meal.
TOF has often seen these sentinels of pest control, perching statuesquely atop the ends of the lamp arms, but this is the first time he has seen one on the job, as it were.

The driver was a fan of the hawk, despite Disney-conditioning to root for the vermin. TOF suggested that he was much like the hawk, swooping in to pluck cars from the roadside. Except that the mice seldom called upon the hawks to come and get 'em.

The driver then ruminated on time travel (sic!) and opined that he would like to go back to a time when life was simpler and more hassle-free. The late 1970s or early 1980s! He settled on the Reagan years.

TOF, having spent time there himself, was grieved to inform him that the 70s and the 80s were not so simple and hassle-free. For one thing, there was disco. The driver accepted this philosophically, and allowed as there was no golden age. TOF thought silently that neither was there time travel. So among the many things that life does, it does not circle.

Tuesday, July 22, 2014

Woe for Nineveh

David Warren poses a thought-experiment:

The area and population of the territory the “Caliphate” now controls in Syria and Iraq being currently roughly equal to that controlled by the government of Israel, let us imagine what the “coverage” would be, had the Israelis told all Muslims to run for their lives; had they announced that everything Muslims owned now belonged to the Israeli government; and that any Muslim still found within Israel’s de facto borders after twenty-four hours would be put to the sword. Questions:
  • Do you think this story might make the front page?
  • Do you think the media would seek more information?
  • Do you think the matter might remain news for more than one day?

Now, what sort of coverage did the story actually get when it was muslims acting so to the Christians in Nineheh? "It would seem that for the first time in more than eighteen centuries, there are no Christians in Mosul..."  The Assyrian Church is being harried out of its homeland by the Arab invaders.

Friday, July 18, 2014

A Surprise Visit

The Lehigh Valley Express-Times runs one of those "On This Day in History" things, including 100, 50, and 25 years ago today in the Express and/or the Globe-Times, its ancestral papers.

In today's paper was this:
50 years ago today
1964: Just in from Virginia City: "Dennis Flynn, 15, a patient in Easton Hospital since June 30, is a staunch follower of television's 'Bonanza.' This morning he got a close look at one of the stalwarts of the Ponderosa. Little Joe Cartwright (Michael Landon), youngest of the Ponderosa brothers, strode into the hospital room, sank to one knee beside the bed and told Dennis about big Hoss Cartwright. 'You know how much he weighs?' he said wonderingly. 'Three hundred pounds. And he's six feet four, any way you want to measure him.' There was more talk of the Ponderosa. Then a big brown hand grasped a small white hand. 'Take care of yourself, Dennis,' said Little Joe. The tall tanned visitor then walked to the elevator. Dennis is the son of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Flynn, 518 Folk St. Little Joe was brought to Easton by Ann Brewster, of Hess's department store."
Landon had been making an appearance at Hess' Dept. Store in Allentown, which was in those days the "Macy's" of the Lehigh Valley. The woman who had arranged it knew my mother and mentioned that Dennis was in the hospital with terminal cancer. Landon immediately set out to pay the visit. His picture was taken by the newspaper at Dennis' bedside, but he never so far as I know exploited the visit for publicity. (The article as above and a picture of him kneeling at the bedside ran in a small-town paper that evening. We have a copy of the picture, autographed for Dennis.) Dennis was surprised and delighted by the visit. "Thanks a lot," he said. It was an unaffectedly kind act on Landon's part, and one for which I always afterward had a good opinion of him. He didn't have to do it, and no one would have known if he hadn't.

Bro K obtained a scanned image of the page:

That was fifty years ago today. Dennis would be 64 later this year, but he never reached 16.  He had four more days to live.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Just in Case You Thought It Was Something New

    War always brings with it an increased price of necessary living
commodities. The War of 1812 was no exception to this inflexible consequence.
Sugar reached thirty-five cents a pound, coffee was forty cents, and all classes
of cotton and woolen goods commanded prices as high in proportion. ...
  

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Life and Times of the Venus Fly-Trap

Co-editors of The Crusader(1964-65)
For this week's literary gem over on the Story Preview page, TOF reaches deep into the receding past and finds clutched in his hot little hands his very first published story: "The Life and Times of the Venus Fly-Trap," which appeared in The Crusader No.1, Fall 1964. That's right, it was TOF's high school literary magazine, in the issue of which he placed not one, but two stories! The fix was in, for he was especially close to one of the two co-editors.  (See right. Note that HS students in those days knew how to dress themselves. We carried brief cases, not back packs. In short, we were going to our "jobs" not to "play.")
"Editors" is too fine a point. The problem was actually to gin up enough material to fill 29 digest-sized pages. It was less a matter of winnowing submissions than it was begging for them. Hence, the two stories in one edition -- just to fill the page count.


The fly-trap story is reproduced in its original splendor. Only an illo has been added to spruce it up.

(The second story in that issue had the unassuming title "Sam" and concerned an individual reincarnated in age after age. Maybe TOF will do that one later.)


Tuesday, July 15, 2014

First Way, Some Background

Sr. M. Amelia, IHM
explicator of logical thought,
or else.
Sr. Amelia: And so, class, as we see from Postulate 9 and Axioms 6 and 2, supplements of the same angle are equal. Yes, Billy?
Billy: But, Sister, I don't see how this proves that a point equidistant from the endpoints of a line segment lies on the perpendicular bisector of the line segment!
Sr. Amelia: It doesn't, Billy. That comes later. Now class, let us proceed to showing that the vertical angles of two intersecting lines are equal.
Billy: But, Sister! How will that show that a point equidistant from the endpoints of a line segment lies on the perpendicular bisector of the line segment!
Sr. Amelia: You must have patience, Billy. You can't prove everything all at once, so you must prove something first.
Over on Briggs' place a discussion of the so-called Argument from Motion is being served up piecemeal, literally a paragraph at a time. Thus, by the time the esteemed Statistician to the Stars completes his Herculean labors, the final proof will be obvious, inasmuch as the Second Coming (and/or Heat Death of the Universe) will have taken place and all will see clearly and not as through a glass, darkly.

Monday, July 14, 2014

Dispatches from the Age of Reason

Portions of a true exchange on another form where TOF was amusing himself one day:

Quora Question: Why do people disagree about whether there exists proof of God's existence?

[TOFNote: Notice the question is not whether these proofs are valid or compelling, but only why people disagree about them. However, the Usual Suspects immediately responded with reflex rejection of the conclusion.]

Frank Dauenhauer, literature lover
There can be no disagreement about whether there exists proof of "God's" existence -- because there is none. No proof at all.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

A Hobby? In the Lobby?

[Although] “the religious right views religion as a fundamental, and indeed essential, part of the human experience, the secular left views it as something more like a hobby.... [For the left, therefore,] “it’s as if a major administrative rule was struck down because it unduly burdened model-train enthusiasts.”
-- Megan McArdle, Bloomberg View blogger
How fitting then that the suit was brought by a place called Hobby Lobby. Were they indeed lobbying for their hobby?  Of course, some viewed the "administrative rule" as one that required people who do not care for model trains to pay for the equipment used by those who do. That is another pair of boots (as the Germans say)!

Friday, July 11, 2014

In Psearch of Psyche: Some Groundwork

A Psience in Psearch of a Psubject

Psyche retrieving a bit of Persephone's
beauty from the underworld.
Paul Alfred de Curzon, (c.1840-1859)
Psychology means "λόγος of the ψυχή," which is to say 'science of the soul.' Since many Late Moderns are too way kool and sophisticated to believe in soul, they aver that psychology is a science without a subject matter and have turned in their diplomas.

Ho ho. TOF jests. No self-respecting scientificalistic labcoater will ever admit that he spends his time studying something that does not exist.  Well, except for string theorists and exobiologists. But this raises an important puzzle.  If psychologists are not studying psyches, then what in blue blazes are they studying?

It depends on whom you ask. One school "restricts itself to consciousness and its immediate data."  Another focuses on human behavior and rules out any mention of consciousness. And so, "having lost its soul, its mind, and its consciousness, in that order, psychology is now in danger of losing its scientific standing." (Brennan, Thomistic Psychology).

You won't find such debates among "schools" of physicists or chemists. Physicists and chemists may have their own problems, like quantum gravity versus string theory, but not believing in chemicals or physical bodies is not one of them.  Biologists do sometimes deny that life exists, but usually they're okay with it.¹ Even sociologists, who otherwise practice a debased form of voodoo, do not deny that society exists. So psychologists are very nearly unique among scientists. O brave new world, that has such people in it!

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

The Longford Collector

Continuing our series of Early Flynn, we have "The Longford Collector" (Analog, Jul 1988) now appearing on the Story Preview page. The year 1988 was the annus mirabilis of Flynnic fiction, for no less than six stories and one fact article appeared that year in Analog, albeit two of the stories under pseudonyms. The fact article, "An Introduction to Psychohistory," was a two-parter. The four stories under the Flynn name were "The Steel Driver," "The Longford Collector," "The Adventure of the Laughing Clone," and "Remember'd Kisses." The pseudonymous works were "Throop's Revenge" and "Grave Reservations."

"The Longford Collector" was supposed to be the first in a series of mystery stories, each named after an Irish tune and involving the Shaw-Locke detective agency and their artificial intelligence. For some reason, it never gelled and this is the only story that got written, though the main characters show up in a cameo in the story "Buried Hopes," which appeared in the collection Captive Dreams.

One of the things present readers will notice is that the Web did not then exist and our detectives had to arrange for modem links to access various data bases. [As TOF had to do while writing cross-country with Niven and Pournelle.] Also, this was just before neural nets became sexier than knowledge bases and decision trees as a foundation for AI. At one point Jamie has to explain to his relatives how a scanner works 'like a printer in reverse.' How times do change! Also the statement that "the price of gold is over $400/oz." seems a bit quaint, but it had been $35/oz. when it was liberated.  The Lt. Charles Schwar mentioned is the story was a cousin of TOF's grandmother. Back in the 1920/30s he was head of the Phila. Missing Persons Bureau, and is mentioned in two separate news stories found here and in another story here.

Luckin is real. TOF worked with Dick Luckin at the old Coors Container Company back in the day, and he really was a railroad enthusiast who made a catalog of railroad china titled Eating the Rails. By some weird coincidence, my brother Kevin was asked a couple weeks ago to address a railroad group in Denver about the extension of the RTD light rail system. Kevin is a spokesman for RTD. During casual conversation, Dick realized that Kevin was my brother and he mentioned this story, amazed that such an ordinary thing as railroad china could become the germ of a story idea.  Kevin called me just after I had prepped this story and staged it in the cue for posting today. Coincidence? Cue Twilight Zone music.
###

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

The Glorious Eighth

Centre Square ca. 1776
The Declaration of Independence was printed during the late afternoon on Thursday, July 4, by John Dunlap, a local Philadelphia printer. Congress ordered that copies be sent "to the several Assemblies, Conventions, and Committees or Councils of Safety, and to the several Commanding officers of the Continental Troops, that it be proclaimed in each of the United States, and at the head of the Army." By the next morning copies were on their way to all thirteen states by horseback and on July 5 the Pennsylvanischer Staatsbote, published by Heinrich Miller, became the new nation's first newspaper to announce that the Declaration had been adopted . On Saturday, July 6, the first newspaper print edition of the full text of the Declaration appeared in the Philadelphia Evening Post.  

On Monday, July 8, the Declaration of Independence was publicly read in Easton, Pennsylvania, (as well as in Trenton, New Jersey, and Philadelphia itself). A mural by Robert C. Burns, apparently unavailable in an on-line image, hanging in the Northampton County Courthouse depicts the reading in Easton from the steps of the old county courthouse in Centre Square. A large crowd had gathered. The colonel and field officers of the 1st Battalion were among the select group gathered about the entrance to the building. Just before the reading started, a company of Light Infantry marched down Northampton Street to the beating of drums and the playing of fifes. The Ensign of the company carried a flag, "the device for which is the thirteen united colonies."
The Easton Flag

As the company of infantry was drawn up in front of the courthouse and the new flag held at attention, Robert Levers, a member of the Committee of Observation and Inspection (and who had been in Philadelphia working on a new government for Pennsylvania), read the imperishable document to a large, attentive and serious audience. At the close of the reading the bell in the cupola pealed forth the glad tidings of the birth of the Nation and the spectators "gave their hearty consent with three loud huzzas and cried out "May God long preserve and unite the Free and Independent States of America." Northampton County's liberty bell which pealed from the cupola of the old courthouse in July, 1776, is now on display in the Government Center.

Centre Square today
One of the Pennsylvania representatives (John Dickinson) refused to sign the Declaration of Independence and George Taylor of Easton was appointed to replace him. He signed his name to the Declaration of Independence on August 2, 1776. His house sits at 4th and Ferry Sts.

That flag.  Eastonians firmly believe that their city flag is the same as that displayed on the Glorious Eighth, although there is no chain of custody. Much like the Shroud of Turin, there is a gap in its history. 

"Just who retained possession of the flag is of course only traditional. Naturally, it may be presumed it was either Colonel Robert Levers or Lieutenant Valentine Beidelman, both of whom were trusted custodians of local affairs of the new government." -- History of Northampton County
 
On September 6, 1814, fourteen-year old Rosanna Beidleman presented a flag to Captain Abraham Horn's Company as they left for Camp DuPont, Marcus Hook, for service in the War of 1812. This is the present Easton Flag, and it is supposed to be the same as used by the earlier Easton Light Infantry. "The probability is that the flag presented to the emergency company was the original Revolutionary flag, on account of the presentation being made by a descendant of the trusted lieutenant of the county." (History of Northampton County)  It presents 13 eight-pointed stars in the blue field and 13 red-and-white stripes in the canton. Almost, it is the reverse of the "Betsy Ross" flag. If the flag dates only from 1812, it would likely sport 15 stars and 15 stripes as other flags of that time did.

At the conclusion of the war, the Company disbanded and returned home with the flag. Members of Captain Horn's Company, along with Captain Peter Nungesser's Company of Light Infantry, formed the Easton Union Guards in 1816. In 1821 they deposited the flag with the Easton Library Company for safe keeping in Library Hall on North Second Street.

At the time of the Sesquicentennial held in Philadelphia in 1926, the flag was removed from its pole, placed between two pieces of plate glass and framed for exhibition. On its return, it was bolted to the east wall of the Easton Public Library's marble stairway in the front entrance to the Carnegie building. After some repairs over the years, it remains on exhibit in the Library.

References

Friday, July 4, 2014

Over on Another Blog

The usual suspects are at work where the Statistician to the Stars is manfully working his way through Thomas' Contra gentiles, and TOF notices a peculiarity previously glimpsed on the blog of P.Z.Meyer: viz., so soon as You-Know-Who is glimpsed at the end of a syllogism based on causation, they will deny causation and declare randomness rules. But let randomness appear to make room for free will, and their universe becomes strictly deterministic with mechanical causes strictly propagating the past into the future. Often, the same person will make both claims, though usually on different threads. There is probably no solution to this game of intellectual Whack-a-Mole, but TOF was especially charmed by the notion that there is no cause for radioactive decay, which is said to be due to magical chthonic effects obtained by invoking "chthulu" or "quantum mechanics" or something.

One respondent even claimed that hurricanes were just as causeless as radioactive decay, despite the fact that meteorologists understand quite well the causes of hurricanes. That was when enlightenment descended upon TOF like little tongues of flame.

These people are confusing "caused" with "predictable". 

Because we cannot predict the time and place that a hurricane will form, hurricanes are "uncaused."
Because we cannot predict the time and place that an atom will decay, radioactive decay is "uncaused."
Because we cannot predict when a bird will strike a jet engine, the consequent engine failure is "uncaused"?  Say what?

But then, since Newtonian mechanics cannot predict which apple will fall from which tree at which time, let alone whose noggin it will bop (God playing Whack-a-Mole?), we would have to conclude that the motion of falling bodies is uncaused. Yet this was the very inspiration for the deterministic universe metaphor!

Perhaps we should let them continue until they have completely demolished the 19th century mythos, then pick up the pieces and rebuild a sane metaphysics.

Caused ≠ Determined ≠ Predictable

OTOH, once we have gotten beyond the cause=predictable myth and realize that apples fall because of gravity (in turn caused by the presence of mass, in turn caused by the Higgs boson, etc.) we can also grasp that radioactive decay is caused by the weak force, in turn caused by the W and Z gauge bosons. In particular, alpha decay is due to the repulsive electrical forces among the protons in the nucleus; beta decay is due to the absorption of a stray neutron; and so forth. That we cannot predict (and per Heisenberg et al, really cannot predict) when these things will happen does not stop them from being causes. The Insistors of When are trying to squeeze quantum effects into the Procrustean bed of classical mechanics.

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the spiral arm the writing life thomism thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play xmas you can't make this stuff up