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

Friday, September 25, 2015

“In Panic Town, on the Backward Moon”

From Publishers Weekly's Sept. 28 issue:

Mission: Tomorrow
Edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt. Baen, $15 trade paper (336p) ISBN 978-1-4767-8094-8

What happens to the final frontier when corporations replace NASA? These 19 often satirical, sometimes hopeful stories (17 original to this volume) depict a variety of near futures in which “outer space technicians” replace astronauts (“Ten Days Up” by Curtis C. Chen) and work-from home asteroid miners fight off claim-jumping hackers (David D. Levine’s “Malf”), while eccentric billionaires promise the stars (Jay Werkheiser’s “Around the NEO in 80 Days” and Christopher McKitterick’s “Orpheus’ Engines”). While there is some variation—China is the last to launch in “Tribute” by Jack Skillingstead, but the first to capitalize on space in “Rare (Off) Earth Elements” by Ben Bova—most pieces revolve around small-time operators and their struggles to survive the oncoming corporate space race. Readers looking for a solar system tour from Mercury to the Kuiper Belt will be entertained by Old West–style marshals rounding up the usual suspects (Michael F. Flynn’s “In Panic Town, on the Backward Moon”) as well as robots seeking justice and battling loneliness in the great dark night (Brenda Cooper’s “Iron Pegasus”). Editor Schmidt adds grandmasters to a mix of newer established names and balances the tragic with the humorous. (Nov.)


A stellar list of contributors, sez TOF, among which TOF was inexplicably included.

Thursday, September 24, 2015

Yet Another Gotcha Question


Dastardly People Screw Syrian Refugees

The Washington Post running ahead of the TV news, illustrates the primary distinction between print news and video news: viz., the latter needs visuals, not noodle tapping thought and words.

No, the screwers are not the Hungarian police. (Recall that if there are 700,000 migrants as claimed, that equals 7% of the entire population of Hungary -- and 3% of the population of Syria. The magyars simply do not have the infrastructure to handle such an influx. As it is, a substantial number of people are arriving at the Westbahnhof in Vienna having never had to show a passport or be identified.) The ones screwing over the Syrian refugees are young men from Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and even from Iran, Albania, Kosovo, and India, who want to ger into the EU. To do so, they will bump desperate Syrians out of line.
“What we see here has nothing to do with seeking refuge and safety,” Austrian Interior Minister Johanna Mikl-Leitner said Monday. “It is nothing but opportunism.”
There are European States already in double digit permanent unemployment; so let's add a whole bunch more.

They are sometimes detected by interpreters who discover that the "refugee" does not even speak Arabic. ("Sorry, English only."), cannot name what neighborhood they came from in Aleppo or Damascus, or they speak Arabic with thick Egyptian or Maghrebi accents. Some indeed are using the flood to swim with the fish, as the WaPo notes:
Swimming in the river of humanity are shady characters, too, admitted criminals, Islamic State sympathizers and a couple of guys from Fallujah, one with a fresh bullet wound, who when asked their occupation seemed confused.
“Army,” said one. His friend corrected him. “We’re all drivers,” he said.
Forty-five years ago, historian John Lukacs wrote:
"[T]he time is coming when [States] will not be able to stop foreign incursions by land. I am not only thinking of guerrilla or commando raids, I am thinking of the sudden migratory pressure of large populations sloshing across frontiers."

-- John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age (Harper Torchbooks, 1970) p.50
 While sitting here at a comfortable distance, we Americans may sympathize, but Europeans may nor be able to help but wonder if this is an invasion-by-other-means, as recommended some ten years ago by a radical imam and used by the Moroccans to take over the Spanish Sahara. The basis of European States is nationality, and Americans (and even Canadians) may at times forget what that means. They are less afraid of refugees from the Middle East coming to Europe than they are that they will bring the Middle East with them.

More Fun With Statistics!

Fortune magazine tells us that The gender gap is especially high in the business of securing the world’s data.

In this article, we are breathlessly told that:
Women represent more than half of U.S. college graduates, yet they account for only 11% of today’s cybersecurity workforce. 
The non sequitur should be obvious to anyone, even without a technical degree. That was a hint. How many of those woman college graduates take degrees that would prepare them for a career in cybersecurity? How many, for example, major instead in education, English lit, law, or medicine.

 We are also told that that 11% is
even lower than the 26% of IT professionals who are female, according to a report from the ISC Foundation. 
This is more pertinent, but we need to know what being an "IT professional" means operationally. What percentage of such "professionals" are also qualified for and interested in careers in cybersecurity?

Now, if the writer simply wanted to pump for more women to enter the field, well-a-day. Why not, sez I? But citing the %-ages given does not make the case. Perhaps, more women can be drafted and forced into cybersecurity, whether they are interested or not? They darned well ought to be interested!

Anyone who actively discourages women from entering the field should be penalized an appropriate number of strokes -- with a cat-o-nine-tails. But you cannot legislate interest.

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Quote of the Day

In human affairs whatever is against reason is a sin. Now it is against reason for a man to be burdensome to others, by offering no pleasure to others, and by hindering their enjoyment… [A] man who is without mirth, not only is lacking in playful speech, but is also burdensome to others, since he is deaf to the moderate mirth of others. Consequently they are vicious, and are said to be boorish or rude…  
-- Thomas Aquinas, Summa theologiae II-II.168.4
 
 
 So killjoys are guilty in some fashion of a kind of murder, and those who seldom crack a smile and see everything through the lens of a dead seriousness are to some extent sinful.
 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Party Time at the "Shipwrecks."

An excerpt from the so-far unfinished novel, The Shipwrecks of Time.  The TOC for Part I is as follows:


[Dedication]
Prologue:  Old Times
I. Old Books
1.      The New Station of Francis Delacorte
2.     The Short Walk of Sister Mary Barbara
3.     The Slow Burn of Wilma Masterson
4       The Jingled Bells of Carole Harris
5.     The Fierce Combat of Ogier the Dane
6.     The Faint Smile of Gustav Sorgensson
7.     The Heroic Deeds of Arthur the Soldier
8.     The Flames of Louvain
9.     The Triumphant Homecoming of Francis Delacorte
10.   The Blackened Eye of Leo Pearson
11.    The Front Yard of Judge Robert Cannon
Entr’acte
12.    The Awful Letter of Magda Mauer
13.    The Strange Bequest of Gustav Sorgensson
14.    The Safe House of Francis Delacorte
15.    The Long Walk of Carole Harris
16.    The Flames of Milwaukee

The last two chapters are not written yet. TOF proposes to post for a short while on the Stories and Preview Page an excerpt from the current draft, from chapter 11.

If there are requests for other snippets, let TOF know.

Monday, September 21, 2015

This cracked me up

when I saw it on David Warren's blog. He wrote:
I know a lady who, while working in “public affairs” on behalf of a large, soulless, multinational corporation, did something clever. The eco types were planning a big demonstration for the extensive car park in front of the building where the shareholders would be meeting. Learning of this, she sent her office staff to rent all the bullhorns from all the Rent-a-Bullhorn shops for a hundred miles around. This made for a fairly silent demonstration.
A brilliant girl, she also cordoned the shareholders with an all-female security detail, so that when the thugs from Greenpeace came to push their way in, they could all begin crying, “I’m a woman and you’re hurting me!” This mantra was sustained for the duration of the encounter — leaving the frustrated CBC film crew with no footage whatever that could be used for the usual leftist propaganda purposes on the evening news.
So that by end of day the score was: Corporate Scum 2, Commie Scum 0.
TOF does not care which side of whatever fence you are on. That was funny. Especially, the all-female security staff and their jujitsu defensive tactics.

A similar, though more fraught incident in mob control occurred in Amman, in Jordan, years ago when the Palestinians made their bid to take over the country. They gathered in the main square and began the usual anti-Hashemite chants. The mob got riled up and some in the crowd began shouting "On to the Palace! On to the Palace!" Now yer talkin. The crowd set off chanting, waving flags, and the "On to the Palace!"folks led them down a broad avenue to a wall where the gates hung open. With a cheer, they rushed inside.

It was the main Jordanian prison. The gates slammed shut.

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Argumentum ad vultum

Dr. Boli makes the following observation:
In debating his opponents, Mr. Trump uses a particular style of argument that is enormously effective on the third-grade demographic:
OPPONENT. I believe you are mistaken in your inference.
TRUMP. You’re ugly.
OPPONENT. What I mean is that there is overwhelming scientific evidence to support my assertion that vaccines do not cause autism.
TRUMP. I mean, seriously, who puts a face like that on network TV?
Because it is not usually encountered outside the playground, this rhetorical figure does not have a common name. Dr. Boli will therefore give it one, and call it the argumentum ad vultum, the argument against the face or countenance. 
 Some years ago, when the Incomparable Marge took our daughter to see The Nutcracker at Lincoln Center, she found herself two rows directly behind the Donald and his then-wife. They spent the performance in serious smooching, ignoring the dancing on-stage, and chowing on snacks. An altogether cringe-worthy performance.


Fun With Statistics

A recent Pew Research Center survey of Catholics regarding their views on the family announces "U.S. Catholics Open to Non-Traditional Families."  Among other things, the Center announces:
  • "45% of Americans are Catholic or connected to Catholicism." 

This would be quite astonishing, if true. Turns out it is only "true" with quote marks. The key phrase is "connected to Catholicism," which allows one to include just about everyone. TOF knows a nice woman who insists that she is an ordained priest in the Catholic Church. It is actually a schismatic sect. "Connected to Catholicism" includes people who:
  • have left the Church
  • have a Catholic spouse or a Catholic parent
  • consider themselves “culturally Catholic” but do not attend church or practice the faith
  • attend Catholic churches but are not members. 
That leaves 20% of the population who actually identify themselves as Catholic. Why the razzmatazz? Who knows? But notice that "connected to Catholicism" includes atheists who had one parent who was once Catholic but fell away.

Among the Great Peculiarities of Life

TOF has lately been binge-watching a TV show called The Listener which, as it turns out, bears a passing resemblance to a trope he was using in "Nexus." But he noticed a peculiarity. The closed captioning does not always match the spoken dialogue. This is fairly common. Usually a shorter word or phrase is subbed for a longer one, probably on the theory that it takes less time to read and they have to stay more or less in synch with the audible show. But in this case, there is a consistent alteration.

The show is filmed in Toronto (and was in fact aired on CBC in its original life). But on Ion Television, where the reruns are rerunning, every Canadian reference has been excised. A suspect who the captioning said was "born in Nova Scotia in 19...:" becomes "born in... 19..." in the sound track. References to "Toronto" are unspoken. "Nice, safe Canadian prison" became "nice, safe ... prison." And so on. It has become oddly distracting because the references always appear in the captioning but are missing from the sound track.

Why the showrunners on Ion thought it needful to pretend the action was not taking place in Canada, TOF does not know. Where they thought the viewers would think the show was taking place, given the trolley cars, street names, uniforms, insignia, and other cues, is also a mystery. One suspects "executive decision" since no ordinary worker could be so asinine.

Thursday, September 17, 2015

TOF Among the Politicos

TOF throws his hat
in the ring
A long time ago, in a country far, far away, there were "primary elections." These were also known as "beauty contests," polls taken among party members for the purpose of flagging potential candidates for the party's nomination. In most instances, the results of the primary did not bind the party bosses or the assembly-and-convention delegates to choose a particular nominee. It was well known that primaries favored the well-known, popular, and good-looking at the expense of the more obscure. competent, and plain-featured. So the politicos met in their proverbially smoke-filled rooms and tried to pick a nominee that would carry their party to victory in the general election.
It was sort of like the Nebula Award in SF. Many years ago, TOF's novella, "Eifelheim," received the third-highest number of recommendations from SFWA members, and did so in two months between its appearance and the close of nominations. Yet, it did not make the Ballot. TOF does not complain: the story generated a lot of recommendations because it was perceived as a novel idea (and it did make the Hugo ballot, which was more like a People's Choice Award in them thar days) but it was basically a talking-head kind of thing, with little in the way of action or evocative prose. Even TOF did not think it deserved an award. 
This vetting by the party had two important effects. First, they helped ensure that the eventual nominee would not be such a fool that he would embarrass the party through incompetence on the stump or in office. And second, they provided a buffer between the candidate and the special interests that competed for his favors. That is, the Party served as a kind of broker, balancing the cries of the various interests into a perhaps metastable alliance.

Starting especially in the late 1950s, this began to give way to a new system. When JFK ran for the nomination of the Democratic Party, he did not have the favor of the party bigwigs, who tended toward Estes Kefauver, Adlai Stevenson, Hubert Humphrey, and others. So he ran in all the primaries, where his aristocratic good looks and accomplished speaking style gave him a leg up. And he (or rather, his father) then played up his showing in the polls to make the point that he could win in the general election. State governments began to play along with the gag by passing laws that required delegates to be apportioned according to the primary results. In some states, California being the 300-pound gorilla, they required all the delegates to vote for the winner of the primary. Since primary voters had little notion of who these candidates were except what they had seen on television, the new system tended to favor those with well-known names or a lot of media exposure, such as incumbents. It thus magnified the role of the media, as well, and tore down the brokerage that shielded candidates from the winds of campaign money -- so much so, that in later years money donated to the Party became referred to as "soft" money and was held to be somehow disreputable. "Hard" money was given directly to the famous-name, media-dazzling candidates.

When TOF entered politics in Colorado, things were nearing the tipping point. Colorado had a system of precinct caucuses followed by County Assemblies, District Conventions, and the State Assembly and Convention, all of which placed names on a primary ballot for ratification or final selection by the rank-and-file. The Incomparable Marge was sent as a delegate in the First District (which was Pat Schroeder's) because Party rules required a Byzantine allocation of delegates according to sex and race as well as such minor attributes as candidate favored, and the Marge counted as American Indian for nose-counting purposes.

Some while later, having moved to Jefferson County, we discovered that we could become precinct committee persons by the simple expedient of raising our hands in the caucus. That put us on the ballot where we could be fer shure elected by the voters of that precinct. We received certificates reading Congratulations! You forgot to duck!

Committee people were supposed to host the caucus for their precinct, either in their own homes or at a venue they arranged. They would take a vote and, depending on the top office being decided, apportion their delegates to County accordingly. Most precincts got to send three delegates and three alternates to the next level. So for example, one year about half our people favored Gary Hart for president, a couple of union people were for Mondale, and the rest were uncommitted, so we sent two Hart delegates, one Mondale delegate, and included the uncommitted among the alternates. Sometimes, we split a delegate so we sent him with instructions to cast half a vote for one and half for another. The committee people were also supposed to walk the precinct, knock on doors, hand out literature, get out the vote on election day, offer rides to shut-ins and all that stuff.

Later, TOF was made a District Captain by the County Party. This wonderful position made TOF responsible for four to six precincts with the responsibility of seeing that each received their voter lists, promotional materials, and held their caucuses. Sometimes, a slot was vacant, so the District Captain had to arrange for the caucus.  One year, we held two caucuses in our house, and a third showed up at our door, the committee people for their precinct having finked out.

Later still, he was exalted to the role of House District Leader, from which lofty pinnacle he oversaw the activities of four District Captains and their precinct committee people. The boundaries corresponded to the district for the State Assembly seat. One day, walking around by Larimer Square in Denver, TOF and the Incomparable Marge encountered the governor and his wife out for a stroll. He greeted us by name and stopped for a chat. Later, at a party at the governor's mansion, TOF discussed with him the book The Nine Nations of North America. TOF also had the opportunity to attend get togethers at Sen. Hart's place. And once at a banquet was seated next to a Missouri congressman named Dick Gephardt. There may have been an Arkansas governor there as well.
Thus, it is simple to get to hobnob with movers and shakers. All you have to do is show up and volunteer. Well, that's all you used to have to do. Things may have changed since then. And everything is now media-driven and advertising. The only mover and shaker TOF now knows is a Denver City Councilman named Kevin Flynn.
The County Assembly certified nominees for the primary ballot for county offices like sheriff. If more than one candidate passed the threshold of support, both went on the ballot for the voters to choose. But in the Jefferson County Democratic Party it was hard enough to find volunteers to run for office, let alone competition in the run. Republicans had the same problem in Denver County. One year we had two candidates running for sheriff, but only one racked up enough votes at County to make the ballot. Before the week was out, the loser's wife showed up on the campaign for the Republican candidate. We had figured all along that he was a plant for the other party trying to copper their bets.

The County Assembly also chose delegates for the State Convention and Assembly and for the District Convention. (Assemblies chose State candidates; Conventions chose Federal candidates. Because Congressional districts did not coincide with county boundaries, they were held "off to the side," as it were.) The District Convention certified candidates for the Congressional district, which for the Second District at the time meant Tim Wirth. The State Assembly certified candidates for governor and senator (Dick Lamm and Gary Hart, resp., when TOF was active) and other state-wide offices. The State Convention certified candidates for President to send to the National Convention.
One year at the State Convention, Jimmy Carter controlled to rules committee for the Party and declared that no delegate who voted for him in precinct could ever be allowed to change his mind at State. Nothing could be more calculated to get Coloradans' backs up. Carter never did "get" the West. There was a great uprising at State, pushed in part by resentment at the autocratic Carter rules and in part by Teddy Kennedy's partisans. When the Convention divided into caucuses, about a third stuck with Carter (who was, after all, the incumbent) another third went for Kennedy and the remainder stood for uncommitted. TOF caucused with the uncommitted, which was chaired by Mo Siegel, the CEO of Celestial Seasonings Tea in Boulder. TOF was not elected as a delegate to National, thus sparing the country an electoral crisis. 
At an earlier point, he had been asked by the then-House District Leader to run for the State Senate. It was a great honor. It would have been a greater honor if the Party had been able to finance it, but as TOF would have had to cough up several thousand dollars he did not have he had to decline. Beside, it was a sacrifice pawn candidacy up against (IIRC) Sam Zakhem, a Lebanese immigrant who famously left the senate floor to take a leak but jammed a letter opening into his voting button so that he would be registered as voting "NO" on any votes held in his absence. He figured in any act of the legislature, voting no was the default option. This appealed to the Coloradan sense of humor. So the Party was not about to throw good money after bad.

One consequence of the rising importance of the primaries was the emergence of the Campaign as a rival to the Party. As in Alien, the Campaigns, originally nurtured within the body of the Party, grew and consumed it from within. When TOF was HDL, he had trouble one year securing people to work the neighborhoods because most had already been co-opted by one Campaign or another. Further, voters grew annoyed at the number of people who came to their door flogging different candidates. The Lamm Campaign, the Hart Campaign, and the Wirth Campaign had parallel and duplicate structures to the Party, with their own precinct people, district leaders and so on. The primary system more or less forced this; but it also meant that campaign donations would go directly to the Candidate rather than to the Party. (It also meant that the candidate was exposed directly to the pressure of pressure groups instead of the pressure being mitigated by the trade-offs of the Party.) It also meant that unglamorous candidates -- sheriff, assemblyman, state senator, etc. -- were shortchanged. People on the Lamm Campaign were not going to hand out literature for the sheriff's race, after all. (This further contributed to the breakdown of the Party.)

This was not unremarked, and Tim Wirth spent some time after one of the Congressional District Conventions decrying the situation, even though he was a beneficiary.

So the next election cycle, TOF made sure all his precinct committee people were signed up for each of the Campaigns, and when they went door to door they handed out literature for all the candidates and not just one.

Today, people have the weird notion that primary elections are like first-round votes and the general election is like a run-off. Or like the championship after the playoffs. There are elections like that, usually billed as "non-partisan," and everyone pretends to believe it. That was how the Denver council election was held. But the primaries are not the same kind of thing. They are party elections, intended to choose the candidate that the Party will put forward in November. Thus, we get absurd demands for things like "open" primaries in order to allow Republicans to vote in Democrat elections, and vice versa. Likewise, people who could not be bothered to choose a party demand the "right" to choose that party's candidate. Does anyone think that opening the gates like that will result in candidates that best exemplify the ideas of the Party? Or would Democrats, with no contest on their own slate, swarm the Republican primary in order to select the most embarrassing candidate for their opponent? Or vice versa, for the problem is structural, not partisan.

Then TOF moved to New Jersey, and that was a whole 'nother kettle of fish.
++++

Phooey, TOF forgot his Donald Trump comments. Maybe next time.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Help TOF's grandson raise money for Easton Area Middle School 5-6

TOF's grandson, Adam Al-Awamleh, is trying to raise money for his middle school. The link below allows you to purchase products from Gifts 'N Things, Inc. while providing financial benefit to his school.  It's win-win. You get gifts and treats, his school gets money, and he gets a chance to win a prize for participation!

Plus, purchasing gift items with this program helps the people at Humankind Water provide clean drinking water to those in need.

Buy early and buy often!

To view the fundraising site, please click here

If you have trouble connecting to the website using the above link, please cut and paste the following web address into your browser, then hit the "Enter" key:

https://www.supportmyschool.org/index.asp?PID=1081847

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

If You Are In the Neighborhood


    The well-known fantasy artists Boris Vallejo and Julie Bell will be guests at my cousin's place, The Art Establishment this coming October 3, at 2:00 PM, in Fountain Hill, PA.

Tom and Ellen built The Art Establishment as a venue where artists of various stripes can rent facilities by the hour to create their art: painting and drawing, pottery, photography, printmaking; or to teach classes. There is also an art gallery for exhibitions

Vallejo and Bell are famous for their paintings of mighty-thewed heroes and heroines found on fantasy book and magazine covers (as well as on record albums et al.).
   






Saturday, September 12, 2015

Dr. Boli Rides Again

The estimable Dr. Boli on political discourse:
We always tend to believe that we live in an age of uniquely debased political rhetoric: that we have descended from the high ideals of previous generations. Of course, that is because previous generations have passed down only the tiny fraction of their political rhetoric that stood up to high ideals, and thrown the rest into the compost heap where it belongs.
The whole thing is a hoot, although you may want to skip past the opening material extolling the writer Hugh Henry Brackenridge.
Dr. Boli was too young to vote in the 1800 election, but he vividly remembers the Adams camp circulating broadsides warning that Jefferson would burn your house and rape your daughters if he won. The horrors of the French Revolution would come to our shores, and the only way to prevent them was to vote Federalist. These, you must remember, were our sainted Founding Fathers. We have no right to say that our political rhetoric is uniquely debased.
 He concludes with a hopeful paean:
Do not our political arguments sound very much like this today? And is it not comforting to know that, though we were no better two and a quarter centuries ago, yet we have survived to the present day?

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Marilyn Monroe, melting glaciers, and aliens

We're Having a Heatwave



TOF thought it might amuse his Faithful Reader to post here an excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time, a novel in progress, in which characters mention things that were au courant back in 1966. There is a thunderstorm in Milwaukee and.... 

Whoa, What's This?