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, December 29, 2011

Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim!

So said Pope.  No, not that Pope.  The one who wrote poetry. 

In another venue, TOF chanced to encounter the following encomium to evolution:
The brain evolved in the same way the fins evolved: because their evolution conferred survival advantages in given situations.
Now the curious thing was that this statement was made by an individual (whom we will call "Adam Apple") who also asseverated that there was no τελος in nature.  I will wait a moment for my reader to stop banging his forehead against his desktop.  You could damage your computer screen that way.   

....(waiting)
....(waiting)

Monday, December 26, 2011

χmas Time is Here By-Golly

As dependable as holly and mistletoe are the old fundamentalist claims that Christmas is "really" just a pagan festival.  In a recent Letter to the Editor of our local paper, a writer whom we will call "Mr. G" called it "bizarre" to acknowledge a deity with a "mere human construct" like a calendar.  By this we must suppose that cathedrals, statues, stained glass windows, Handel's Messiah, and the designations BC and AD are "bizarre."  Well, tastes vary, we suppose. 

This post is a somewhat expanded version of my reply, which appeared a couple days later.  
 
Mr. G claimed that Dec. 25 was the pagan Roman celebration of the winter solstice.  But this cannot be true for the excellent reason that:
  1. the Romans did not celebrate solstices and equinoxes, and 
  2. Dec. 25 was not the solstice!  

Saturday, December 24, 2011

Friday, December 23, 2011

Science Fiction Theater

Hoo-ah.  This was a favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid.  When media science fiction was not all space wars and monsters.

It's also interesting to visit an alien civilization; viz., the 1950s.

The War Between Reason and Religion

Agobard of Lyons, "On Hail and Thunder" (9th Century)

A certain stupidity was spread a few years ago, when some cattle died, so that people said that Grimaldus, the Duke of Benevento, had sent men with powder that they sprinkled through the fields and mountains, meadows and springs – because he was hostile to the most Christian Emperor Charles, and cattle died from this sprinkled powder. We have heard of, and seen, many men seized for this reason, some of them struck down and slain, but most of them tied to boards, thrown into the river, and killed. And, what is truly amazing, the very ones who were seized would give evidence against themselves, saying that they had such a powder and they had sprinkled it. For thus the devil, when his power was received into them by the secret and righteous justice of God, was able to enter them to such an extent that they became false witnesses against themselves to the point of death. And neither instruction nor torture nor death itself deterred them from daring to speak this falsehood against themselves.

This was believed by everyone, so that there was scarcely anyone to whom it seemed absurd. They did not consider rationally, how such a powder that would kill only the cattle and not the rest of the animals could have been made, or how such stuff could have been carried across regions so broad that people could not have sprinkled them with powder, not even if all the Beneventan men and women, old and young, had come through the region with three full carts of powder.

So much stupidity has already oppressed the wretched world that Christians now believe things so absurd that no one ever before could persuade the pagans to believe them, even though these pagans were ignorant of the Creator of all things. On this account, therefore, we have brought this last incident into the midst to our discourse, because it is similar to the topic on which we are speaking and can give an example of inane seduction and true impoverishment of sense.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Flynn in the Window

No, I don't know why it appears sideways.  But the Barnes and Noble at PA 33 and Freemansburg Ave. in Easton will be hosting your humble servant for an afternoon of reading and signing.  We can only hope my fan shows up.
The photo was captured by my daughter with her phone as she was walking by. 

Fun With Statistics

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Steven Pinker, whom we last saw here making a hash of the mind-body "problem" and earlier denying the existence of human dignity, is a Public Intellectual.  Now, someone who intellectualizes in public may have other bad habits, and here we find him setting eyes rolling among both statisticians and historians with a book entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature

Dr. Pinker sometimes presents as a scientist, but on closer examination, we find he is only a psychologist.  (Yes, yes, I know; but for me the touchstone is physics.)  It is unclear what aspects of training in the psyche provides expertise in historical analysis or even in statistics.  Psych majors often take Stats-for-psych-majors, but this ought not be confused with the true quill.  Certainly, any author who gets his name in larger type than the title of the book is an Important Author. But perhaps this is no more than a distinguished expert in one field trying to import that distinction to an alien field, with indifferent results.

(Yes, yes, I know.  But TOF does not pretend to be a Public Intellectual or even an Important Author.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sometimes the Mask Slips, Just a Little

In A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism, by Al Gore and David Blood, we are struck by a vital question: How long did Gore have to search for a co-author named Blood? 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Clearing the Tabs

The First Sorrowful Mystery
What does a society do when it has devalued children, gated their communities, disparaged "breeders," and slaughtered the unwanted? 

Ans: Pretend pregnancy.

The Second Risible Mystery
Is Star Wars actually a deeply hidden allegory for niche neep?  Exspecto quod animadverto!

The Third Logical Mystery
When is a confirmation of the multiverse theory not a confirmation of the multiverse theory?  Pretty much anytime, but in particular here

The Fourth Statistical Mystery
When is correlation not causation?  Bzz!  Trick question.  Correlation is never causation, though TOF wishes the New Breed of scientist would ponder this more closely.  Some examples, h/t to Alert Commenter Aaron.
TOF stands in silent awe at the knowledge that there are people in the world with sufficient time on their hands to put such things together. 

The Gandersauce Society

On the lookout for special pleading and double standards everywhere. 
Our motto: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

Our entry for the day:
  • Pity the first lady. Every time she pulls a frock from her closet, changes her hairstyle or raises a well-groomed eyebrow, someone somewhere not only parses her decision and weighs its symbolism but also attempts to give it a whiff of scandal, back-room tumult, or something equally unseemly."--Robin Givhan, TheDailyBeast.com, Feb. 2
  • "Style can be used to break down barriers. It can show stature and authority and also exude commonality. But when it is too perfect, too formal, too stiff, it sets one apart. In Mrs. Gingrich's case, style implies a social hierarchy that, far from exuding empathy, reflects the haughty airs of noblesse oblige."--Robin Givhan, TheDailyBeast.com, Dec. 12

h/t to WSJ Best of the Web

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is Kool


h/t Mark Shea

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie

TOF is pleased to announce that his story "The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie" has been accepted for publication at Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact.  The story describes an adventure undertaken by Teodorq sunna Nagarajan, whom my perceptive reader will recognize as a player in the novel Up Jim River.  This story takes place on his home world, called World, well before he finds his way to the Spiral Arm and the company of the harper and the scarred man. 

As teaser, the story opens thusly:

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens When a Pair of Irishmen Go to France

In the early 800s?  The Monk of St. Gall (probably Notker the Stammerer) tells us:
Now it happened, when [the illustrious Charles] had begun to reign alone in the western parts of the world, and the pursuit of learning had been almost forgotten throughout all his realm, and the worship of the true Godhead was faint and weak, that two Scots came from Ireland to the coast of Gaul along with certain traders of Britain. These Scotchmen were unrivaled for their skill in sacred and secular learning: and day by day, when the crowd gathered round them for traffic, they exhibited no wares for sale, but cried out and said, "Ho, everyone that desires wisdom, let him draw near and take it at our hands; for it is wisdom that we have for sale."

Adventures in Statistics

The following graph was prepared by NOAA and presented on the National Public Radio website.  The gist of the accompanying article was OMG!!  WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! Or something like that.  In particular, weather ("which is not climate") has suddenly become climate again.   
at least until the last line of the article:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arab Spring

Egypt, We Hardly Knew Ye

Information seems to be that the Muslim Brotherhood received 45% of the Egyptian vote and an even more extreme Salafist party received 25%.  Were these early returns or final results?  In so, the clueless scions of Generation Tweet and the Urban Intellectuals have been snookered again, just as in Iran years ago.  They actually thought they were numerous and important.  Hey, we used social media to bring down the secular regime!  How kool is that?  Then they learned that others regarded them as part of the 1%. 

 
The question now is whether the Army will permit this to happen.  Even other Arabs notice that those countries run by strict shari'a tend to be the poorest and most repressive ones.  
 
Meanwhile, after
 
Occupational Autumn
 
The Los Angeles Times asked quondam occupiers "what message they hoped people would take away from it."  The following are the important messages:
  • "We the people are the powers that be."--Allen Lasley, 26
  • "We have to stop taking and start giving. That is the mind shift I am trying to bring to the world."--Matt Wegner, 53
  • "Government power is an illusion. We placed them there. We can always take it away from them."--Michael Basillas, 26
  • "Politics matters. It is not peripheral. If you want to build a better world, you have to engage in the political process. We need to build a kinder, gentler world."--Joseph Thomas, 50
  • "The major thing is that something is wrong with society."--Vivian Ortiz, 19
  • "The disparity in wealth is saddening. To do nothing is just not an option for my soul."--Gabriel Martinez, 25
  • "The government is totally messed up. Everybody here can agree on one thing: Things are not right."--Rachel Bulisky, 29
A great deal of that sounds like it could have come from a Tea Party gathering, albeit a highly disorganized, clueless, and extremely messy Tea Party gathering.  It makes me wonder why mostly  Democratic city administrations* moved so simultaneously to close down the "Obamavilles."  Perhaps comments like "The government is totally messed up" informed their choice.  Once it became clear that the Occupiers were not in the tank for the administration and resisted being co-opted by surrogates sent to address them, there was no political gain to be had.  On the positive side, they did not stain any tank treads.

Or is all that too cynical? 

(*) New York's mayor is a lifelong Democrat who switched to Republican because there was less competition on their primary ballot.  

Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle asks, amidst the usual boilerplate:
"As winter sets in and cities across North America clear Occupy protesters from their camps, many wonder what lies ahead for a movement without a geographic base, leaders or concrete demands."--Deutsche Welle website, Dec. 3

Let's see....
No leaders, no concrete demands, no geographic base...  What does lie ahead?  Ooh, wait.  I know!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Into the New Millennium

Analog Magazine's first enthology (that's Enthology, not Anthology) is entitled Into the New Millennium: Trailblazing Tales From Analog Science Fiction and Fact, 2000 - 2010.  It's available in Kindle format. 

Why do I mention it, you ask?  Because TOF is one of the authors therein, natürlich. And of course with a cross-grained story set in the 1300s; viz., "Quaestiones super caelo et mundo."  Some new millennium, right?  (Harry Turtledove has a story set in the 1600s, but I have him beat for retro.) 

The indicem contenta are

Outbound, by Brad R. Torgersen
The Universe Beneath Our Feet, by Carl Frederick
Quaestiones super caelo et mundo, by Michael F. Flynn
The Purloined Labradoodle, by Barry B. Longyear
His Hands Passed Like Clouds, by Rajnar Vajra
Sheena 5, by Stephen Baxter
Tine Berries, by Richard A. Lovett
Shed Skin, by Robert J. Sawyer
Fly Me to the Moon, by Marianne J. Dyson
Kyrie Eleison, by John G. Hemry
Pupa, by David D. Levine
Forget Me Not, by Amy Bechtel
The Night of the RFIDS, by Edward M. Lerner
Alphabet Angels, by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
But It Does Move, by Harry Turtledove
Chain, by Stephen L. Burns

which as you can see is an illustrious company with familiar names and excellent newcomers to the atriis analogia.  Buy early and often. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few Odds and Ends With No Apparent Connection

While cleaning out a folder of various snips and such, I ran across several items that seemed to concatenate and thought I'd try to stitch them together.

Which is the nutcase?
Which is the nutcase?
The first, by movie critic John Bowman, regards the connection between Charlie Sheen and Moammar Ghadaffi.  Both, he says, rely on the persistence in legend of a long gone bogey-man.  In Ghadaffi's case (as for many others), it was long-vanished Italian (French, British,...) colonialism.  But there is a Genesis narrative supporting Mr. Sheen, as well. 

Both [Mr. Sheen and Mr. Ghadaffi] were based upon a founding narrative of the culture that each man shared with his less addlepated fellow countrymen. ... For the founding narrative of today’s popular culture also involves a noble rebellion of the oppressed. Without the success of the free, egalitarian, life-affirming unofficial culture of yesteryear against the "uptight" and "repressive" official culture, Charlie Sheen would be unimaginable, and he depends as much on the pretense of this long-defunct cultural regime’s continued existence as Colonel Gaddafi does. It’s what makes him an interesting, rebellious, "transgressive" pop culture hero and not just a poor, self-destructive, strung-out nutbag. In this sense, his claim to be a "total rock star from Mars" with "tiger blood" had a certain truth to it, since rock stars who come from nearer to home and whose blood is anthropoid have been waving the same bloody shirt for almost half a century, ever since the official culture pronounced its dying benediction upon the noble cause of removing the stigma of hypocrisy from youthful self-indulgence and quietly gave up the ghost.

Head Lines

The Answer is No
"Have You Hugged a Port-a-Potty Lately?"--headline, San Antonio Express-News website, Dec. 1 

Hmm.  Well, It's Not the Beard...
"Why Egypt's Salafis Are Not the Amish"--headline, Council on Foreign Relations website, Dec. 1

This is Pretty Much the Definition of a Night Club, Isn't It?
"Cops: Drunk Man Annoys Women at Cambridge Nightclub"--headline, Cambridge (Mass.) Chronicle, Nov. 30

Monday, November 28, 2011

Firestar, redux

Fresh New Second Edition!

A box full of author's copies arrived today. 
The first book of the Firestar series is back in print.  There is no change from the first edition, which means it is now mostly alternate history.  Back then, 1999, 2000, 2001 etc. were all in the future!  One of the problems with near-future SF, I fear.  I suppose we could have bumped everything up a couple of years; but really, why pretend that this is an effort to predict the future, rather than the stories of a potpourri of characters?  The science and technology of SSTO is still there; but it's interesting to see what this future omitted or overlooked.

Anyhow, for people who missed it the first time around -- and judging by sales, many of you did -- now have a chance to make up for that lack.  Buy early and often!

It is my understanding that Tor intends to bring back the entire series: Firestar, Rogue Star, Lodestar, and Falling Stars.  I wonder if there will be a boxed set? Woo-hoo.

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving

was celebrated in the usual fashion by the 105th meeting between Easton Area (PA) High School and Phillipsburg (NJ) High School.  In anticipation thereof the Easton Red Rovers burned down Phillipsburg. 

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

In the Lion's Mouth

Two More Reviews heard from

First, from ConNotations:

In the Lion's Mouth
by Michael Flynn
Tor Books, 2012, $25.99, 299 p

When's the last time you were smitten with a writer's word-smithing? Which authors have the power to transport you? Patricia McPhillip? Emma Bull? Steven Brust? Lois McMaster Bujold? Well, if you haven't already discovered Michael Flynn, get ready to add him to that list. Flynn is amazing. I haven't gotten this drunk on sheer words since I read Bone Dance. And the story is dam' good - no lack of action here.

Donovan, the scarred man, was on his way home - sort of - at least, he has a daughter he rather wants to see again, and maybe, just maybe his daughter's mother won't kill him on sight. Unhappily, he got abstracted by Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow agent, under orders to bring Donovan to a planet - not his destination - to assist in a little matter of rebellion and war.

Donovan, like Odysseus before him, is a man of many tricks. He is also, thanks to the Confederacy, a man literally of many minds. So he is remarkably resourceful - but how can you trust a man with a personality like a dodecahedron?

Ravn manages to survive Donovan's displeasure - one assassin can recognize another's repertoire - and has come to tell the women Donovan loves why Donovan himself never arrived. She spins out a tale of exceptional violence, triple-treacheries, and the strange loyalties that turn war's outcome. Embedded in her narrative is a challenge, one which Bridget ban, a Hound with the authority to summon and command other Hounds, must decide how to answer. But quietly listening all the while, and drawing her own conclusions, is Mearana, Donovan's daughter, and she has a mind very much her own.

In the Lion's Mouth is a sequel to The January Dancer and Up Jim River, and it is of course best to read them in order. However, it is possible to start a series midway and made very good going; so, do as you will.

This is space opera at its best: it ranges across galaxies; it involves empires, political intrigue, thwarted romance, and heroic deeds. In addition, Flynn, whose name suggests Irish ancestry, uses his bardic talent to emulate Homer in some passages, to ravish your soul in others, and to play most exquisitely the polyglot game.     Characters frequently use languages as a kind of warfare or to test each other (when they aren't testing each other in more lethal ways). John M. Ford would have delighted in this. In fact, if you wish Ford had written sequels to Growing Up Weightless, you might consider this series the great-great, ever so great descendant, the distant future of that cryptic storyline. With more Gaelic. Flynn has the good grace to be prolific, with eleven-plus books published through Tor, so there is much, much more to enjoy of his imagination and craft. - Chris Paige

The second is from RT Book Reviews:

IN THE LION'S MOUTH
by Michael Flynn
Genre: Science Fiction, General Science Fiction
Description: http://www.rtbookreviews.com/images/star-3.pngRT Rating
Space opera is not usually rife with mythological references or Celtic-flavored fantasy elements, but this third installment in a trilogy that began with The January Dancer uses both to interesting effect. Flynn’s unusual approach adds a layer of interest to a rather standard plot of civil war and betrayal, but readers who like their science fiction straight up might grow impatient with his use of multiple dialects, poetic devices and ballads, and a narrative technique that relies on numerous points of view throughout.

In the long struggle between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, the Hounds and the Shadows are the secret agent arms of each power. Long enemies, when Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow, arrives at the stronghold of Bridget ban, a Hound, with the story of Donovan buigh, Bridget’s missing former lover, a truce is called. As Ravn relates the story of her capture of Donovan, Bridget learns of Donovan’s unwilling involvement in a civil war between rebels and loyalists in the Lion’s Mouth, the Shadow’s organization bureau. (TOR, Jan., 304 pp., $25.99)
Reviewed By: Donna M. Carter

(I suppose it's a good review when the only complaint regards the "use of multiple dialects, poetic devices and ballads, and a narrative technique that relies on numerous points of view."  I have actually gotten kvetches in the past that my books have "too much characterization" and that all he (the reader) wanted was "content."  This is much easier to do with a single POV, no differences in voice, and none of that poetry stuff.  I think it's called an "outline" or "cliffnotes.")

Monday, November 21, 2011

Starred Review

In the Lion’s Mouth received a starred review in today’s issue of Publishers Weekly!

Description: http://www.publishersweekly.com/images/star.gifIn the Lion’s Mouth
Michael Flynn. Tor, $25.99 (304p) ISBN 978-0-7653-2285-2
Description: http://www.publishersweekly.com/images/cached/INGRAM/978/076/532/9780765322852.jpgPrometheus Award–winner Flynn follows Up Jim River and The January Dancer with another powerful tale of far-future humanity. Donovan buigh, an amnesiac with multiple personalities, is en route to his lover and their daughter when assassin Ravn Olafsdottr kidnaps him. Ravn plans to make Donovan a rallying symbol in a secret rebellion undertaken by the assassins called Shadows against the Confederation oligarchy. Donovan reluctantly agrees, at first watching from the sidelines and then overturning all expectations in a glorious culminating firefight. The story, which Ravn relates with dramatic oratory, is a marvelously heroic ancient legend reborn in humanity’s future days. Space opera fans will be swept away by the poetic rhythm and subtle plot construction, and the open-ended conclusion will leave them clamoring for future Donovan buigh adventures. Agent: Spectrum Literary Agency. (Jan.)



Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Is This an Answer?

Recently, I had occasion to read two items in close mental proximity.  One was by a blogger who calls himself in a touching fit of Objectivist modesty Blazing Truth, which I stumbled across in the usual fashion while googling for something regarding Aristotle's potency/act distinction that I thought I might use in a PowerPoint presentation.  The other was an essay by the inimitable James Chastek continuing a discussion on the nature of the sensibles. 

If it's not one thing, it's another.  First, the one thing.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

The Only Thing Necessary to Say

 “The only thing necessary for the triumph of evil is for good men to do nothing.”
- Edmund Burke

Friday, November 11, 2011

The Eleventh Hour

of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.


First day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
26 Sept. 1918
"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 oclock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ... 

Harry Singley, 304th Engineers,
Rainbow Division

It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..." 



"Somebody will wake up soon when the boys get back to the States..."

Wednesday, November 2, 2011

The Feast of All Saints


 




This is a reprint of a post from two years ago in Live Journal.

Everyone thinks this is the Irish Feis Samhain, which began at sunset on 31 Oct and that the Church co-opted the date.  However, the  feast "in honor of all the saints in heaven" was originally 13 May, and Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to 1 Nov to mark the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome.  There was no connection to distant Irish customs, and the parishioners of St. Peter would not likely have been beguiled by it.  Not until the 840s, did Pope Gregory IV declare All Saints to be a universal feast, not restricted to St. Peter's.  The holy day spread to Ireland.

The day a feast is the "vigil mass" and so after sunset on 31 Oct became "All Hallows Even" or "Hallowe’en."  It had no more significance than the "Vigil of St. Lawrence" or the "Vigil of John the Baptist" or any of the other vigils on the calendar.

In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for "the souls of all the faithful departed." This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.

That took care of Heaven and Purgatory.  The Irish, being the Irish, thought it unfair to leave the souls in Hell out.  So on Hallowe'en they would bang pots and pans to let the souls in Hell know they were not forgotten.  However, the Feast of All Damned never caught on, for fairly obvious theological reasons.  The Irish, however, had another day for partying.

Sunday, October 30, 2011

History Repeats Itself -- a second time?

Nancy Kress has posted an excerpt from sir John Froissart, about the Peasant's Revolt in response to the Statute of Labourers (1351). 
Occupy London, 1381

Saturday, October 29, 2011

What Hath Global Warming Wrought?

Snow near my brother's house by Philadelphia
It is snowing here in the Lehigh Valley.  Forecasts are for 4-8 inches.  It is not yet Hallow E'en.

Now, the IPCC models were always in agreement that most of the warming would take place in Northern Hemisphere winter nights (which actually doesn't sound so bad), so the trend toward colder over these past ten years or so is whiffing a lot like Popper.  But never fear: weather is not climate!  (Except when it is: cf. Katrina, Irene, Texas drought, etc.)  And it ain't global warming no more; it's climate change!  So any time the climate seems to change, it is due to climate change.  And never mind the dizzy spell from circular reasoning.  I suppose the orbits of the planets can now be explained by location change, too. 

Wednesday, October 26, 2011

TOF Translation Service 

Current global warming appears anomalous in relation to the climate of the last 20000 years
Svante Björck
Department of Earth and Ecosystem Sciences, 
Division of Geology, Quaternary Sciences, Lund University, Sölveg. 12,
223 62 Lund, Sweden

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Odds and Ends

Only in Pennsylvania
In New York City, when someone wants to sell you a bridge, it's a fraud.  In Pennsylvania, they actually go out and get a bridge - and it's theft. 

Does This Bother Anyone?
Should it? 
a) Lead Author on definitive paper
b) is president of a consulting firm
c) That makes its money on the fruits of such papers.

Caesar omni suspicione maiores debent esse uxorem. 

Fossil Genes, OWS, Precognition, and Intrepid Pathfinders below the cut

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Stand-Up Mathematics


  • I went to the restaurant and ordered a prime rib.  But then I discovered I could not divide it.   
  • When Heisenberg visited the Institute for Advanced Studies, a state trooper stopped him on the Jersey Turnpike.  He came up to the car and said, "Sir, do you know how fast you were going?"  Heisenberg answered, "No, but I can tell you exactly where I am." 
  • They try to tell you πr² but pie are not square.  Pie are round.  Cornbread are square. 
  • If you go on vacation, ask Erwin Schrödinger to house-sit, because he can watch your cat,. 
  • The integral ∫1/(cabin) d(cabin) equals ln(cabin)
  • The formula for the standard deviation is complex enough that many people have a deep and unreasoning fear of it.  This phobia was intensively studied by the great Viennese psychiatrist Sigma Freud. 
  • The mode is the most frequent number in a sample.  So in the sample 2, 2, 3, 3, 3, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, π, 4, 4, 5, we have π a la mode. 
  • Say...  How exactly can a deviate be standard
  • We should build a gambling oasis in the desert near Las Vegas and call it Möbius just so on the Strip we can truly say that what happens in Möbius stays in Möbius. 
  • I met a girl once who was in a complex relationship.  She gave be her imaginary number. 

A smutty mathematical story:
Once upon a time pretty little Polly Nomial was strolling across a field of vectors when she came to the edge of a singularly large matrix.
Now Polly was convergent and her mother had made it an absolute condition that she must never enter such an array without her brackets on. Poll however, who had changed her variables that morning and was feeling particularly badly behaved, ignored these conditions on the ground that they were unnecessary, and made her way amongst the complex elements.
Rows and columns enveloped her on both sides. Tangents approached her surface; she became tensor and tensor.
Sordid details here

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Best Selling SF Paperbacks

I am informed by my agent that:


Below is the Locus paperback line-up of bestsellers, in the October issue.  THE JANUARY DANCER is #6 -- and considering that the George R.R. Martin fantasy series takes up the first four slots, that makes you, #2 on the bestseller list after the HBO-related works.
Congratulations!
 


1)     A Game of Thrones, George R.R. Martin (Bantam) 13, 2
2)     A Clash of Kings, George R.R. Martin (Bantam) 10, 1
3)     A Storm of Swords, George R.R. Martin (Bantam) 10, 2
4)     A Feast for Crows, George R.R. Martin (Bantam) 9, 4

5)     Heartless, Gail Carriger (Orbit US) 2, 9
6)     The January Dancer, Michael Flynn (Tor) 1, -
7)     The Fuller Memorandum, Charles Stross (Ace) 1, -
8)     Imager’s Intrigue, L.E. Modesitt Jr. (Tor) 1, -
*)     Kitty’s Big Trouble, Carrie Vaughn (Tor) 1, -
10)   Mission of Honor, David Weber (Baen) 1, -


And so it is with a hearty vote of thanks to my dedicated fan that he (or she) has ventured forth and purchased so many copies. 

The Incompleat Flynniana

For some reason, only the first 72 were published.
The remainder:

The Compleat Flynniana

I spent most of the afternoon straightening out files, in the course of which I produced a list of opi, which I thought to share with you Faithful Reader.  Each story is given an opus number when the first page is written.  These numbers do not correspond to the order in which they saw print (or not, as the case may be) and some are blank because the story never went anywhere and was either abandoned or is lying in abeyance for possible new look.  In one case, a story was substantially rewritten twice and wound up with three opus numbers, a practice which I discarded.  Also, for some novels where a self-contained chapter was sold as a stand-alone story, it has been designated with a letter suffix.  (A couple such chapters that did not sell are not listed.)

Novels and Collections are bold faced.  Unless designated Baen or Arc Manor, these were all put out by Tor.  Stories are in normal face, with no distinction as to length.  Unless designated otherwise, these were all first published by Analog.  Non-stories: poems and fact articles are designated.

Story Mosaics are designated by color: Babbage SocietySingerLabs/Nanotech/Neighborhood, Firestar, Irish Pub, Spiral Arm.  There are a few minor tie-ins.  There is a minor connection between the Irish Pub stories and "Mammy Morgan."  Sharon Nagy from Eifelheim is mentioned in "On the High Frontier."  Sarah Beaumont and Red Malone from Country of the Blind makes a cameo in Firestar and Ned Dubois' daughter refers in passing to Sarah's dump of the Babbage Society files when she was a kid.  Jacinta Rosario from Rogue Star et seq. is mentioned in Up Jim River.  It is likely that there are enough connections between the Babbage Society, Firestar, and Spiral Arm series to make the whole thing inconsistent!! 

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Feast of Ignatius of Antioch

Iggy
A pot of miscellany today. 

1. Like his good bud Polycarp of Smyrna, Ignatius of Antioch was a disciple of the Apostle John and was appointed by Simon Peter to lead the church at Antioch after Evodius, who had been one of the Seventy-Two.  Early writers stated that Iggy was the young child in Mark 9:35:
And taking a child, he set him in the midst of them. Whom when he had embraced, he says to them: Whosoever shall receive one such child as this in my name receives me. And whosoever shall receive me receives not me but him that sent me.
But their reasons for saying so (and we must suppose they had reasons) have been long lost.  Still, it's one of those things that really ought to be true, but Ignatius was probably born about 20 years too late. 

Iggy wrote several letters prior to his death ca. AD 100 that used to be read in the churches: to the Churches of Ephesus, Magnesia, Tralles, Rome, Philadelphia, and Smyrna; and to his friend Polycarp.  These epistles have sometimes been counted as among the "lost books of the Bible," but of course they had never been lost by the traditional churches -- the Orthodox, the Catholic, et al.  (Other letters read publicly included those of Polycarp and of Clement of Rome.  The Bible, as such, had not yet settled down, and there is at least one such early compendium that includes I Clement (to the Corinthians).)

As an aside, a disciple of his buddy Polycarp was Irenaeus of Lyons, who died in the late 100's; so we see that on the eve of the third century, there was still someone kicking who was connected to the Apostles by two degrees of separation: Irenaeus ← Polycarp ← John ←Jesus. This is why one does not get too excited to learn that, say, Mark's gospel was not written until AD 60!
Below the cut: stem cells, teleology/evolution, anti-science, and Occupy Something

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironarm

The reader of Up Jim River may recollect a wildman, Teddy Nagarajan by name, who figured in the storyline.  This eager reader may be longing for a story about the aforesaid wildman.  Well, shortly he may long no longer, or perhaps a short while longer, inasmuch as yr. obt. svt. has just finished a short story featuring an adventure of his on his home world, known in humble simplicity as "World."  Whether this story will find favor in the eyes of editors, or indeed in the eyes of the author after he pauses to regain sanity and rereads the draft, is another matter entirely. 

The story is entitled "The Journeyman: On the Shortgrass Prairie" and is, to fuel your sense of dread, the first in what I hope may become a series of stories.  "In the Houses of Stone," "On the Ocean Shore," "In the Contending States," "In the Ice Mountains," and "In the City of Fire and Steel."  Whether I can in fact deliver on this plan, who knows?

Captive Dreams

Arc Manor will be publishing a collection of my stories at some indeterminate time in the near future.  This collection will consist of three old stories and three brand new ones.  I just got word that the editor has decided that the three new stories are not so irredeemably lacking in merit as to reject them out of hand.  IOW, he is paying me good cash money for the exclusive right to publish them.

The collection will be available in both dead tree and e format.  It may even be that, as he did with The Forest of Time et al., he will make the individual stories evailable at lower prices. 

The stories are to be:
  1. Melodies of the Heart
  2. Captive Dreams
  3. Hopeful Monsters
  4. Places Where the Roads Don't Go
  5. Remember'd Kisses
  6. Buried Hopes

The stories are listed by internal logic/chronology and those in boldface are the new ones.   The ties that bind them is that the protagonists in each story live in the same neighborhood, an oval made by two roads enclosing a woodland inside the loop.  Characters in one story may make cameos in another. 

The stories are set in the world of The Nanotech Chronicles, so one cameo is Charlie Singer, who with Jessica Burton-Peeler, is the protagonist of "Soul of the City" and "The Washer at the Ford."  He appears in "Hopeful Monsters."  

Excerpts below the cut

Sunday, October 9, 2011

The Arab Spring in New York

Afterward will come the attack on Coptic Churches, the burning of the Israeli embassy, and the armed attack on Egyptian soldiers.(*)
Okay, maybe not attacks on Copts:



(*)ADDENDUM: (10/11) Some commentary on the attacks on the soldiers at the Maspero state TV and radio station can be found here.  The native Egyptians have been demonstrating there on a regular basis to protest the silence in the government (i.e. "only") media regarding Arab muslim attacks on Egyptian churches.  During the 6 October demonstration, "elements" within the crowd fired on the soldiers guarding the stations.  

The Arab conspiracy machine went into high gear, and muslim mobs across Cairo rallied to the cry that "the Copts are killing muslims."  (One thing an Egyptian must never do is to kill an Arab.  Well, that and look funny at an Arab woman.)  The body count is thus primarily Copt.  
(Note: the term copt is the arabic word for "egyptian."  Soften the c to a g and "copt" is (E)gypt.)  

Speculation may now commence as to the "elements" responsible.  
1. Coptic demonstrators gratuitously fired on the only force within Egyptian state society that stands between them and the muslims.  
2. Brotherhood provocateurs infiltrated the demonstration in order to provoke fighting between the Copts and the military.  
3. The military's image in Egypt has been tarnished by the tardy arrival of Heaven-on-Earth that was supposed to follow the ouster of the appeaser-of-Israel, Mubarak.  Hence, the military staged the events in order to appear as the protectors of order.  
(These are small potato conspiracy theories for a region where that is a growth industry.  The military has cited "foreign elements" as responsible.  This may refer to Israeli, American, European, or even Chinese agents.)  

SECOND ADDENDUM: Regarding the You-Tube clip above.  Unrelatedly, David Brooks in the NYTimes notes that "the Occupy Wall Street movement... was sparked by the magazine Adbusters, previously best known for the 2004 essay, “Why Won’t Anyone Say They Are Jewish?” — an investigative report that identified some of the most influential Jews in America and their nefarious grip on policy."  After all, the demonization of "international bankers," "plutocrats" and "the 1%" is familiar to anyone recalling the anti-Semitic images of Europe.

Wednesday, October 5, 2011

De evolutione evolutionis

Contents: A Ramble Inspired by a Passing Remark
  • Peas Be With You
  • Evolution Without Mendel
  • Darwin without Evolution
  • Natural Selection vs. Evolution
  • Origin Without Species
  • Species Without Origin
  • The End of Evolution
  • The Principle of Proportionate Causation
  • Where Has All the Telos Gone?  
  • Efficient Causes Without Telos 
  • That Which Does Not Kill Me Makes Me Stronger
  • Revenge of the Stagerite

Mendel, monk-eying with peas
In the December issue of ANALOG Science Fiction/Science Fact, Dr. Stanley Schmidt, in the course of addressing a broader issue, quotes one E.W.Howe as saying, "one of the great discoveries in science was made by a man cultivating the ordinary garden pea."  This makes it sound like the discovery was a backyard happenstance by an amateur.  But it was not an ordinary pea garden, nor even ordinary garden peas.  It was a set of greenhouses specially constructed to carry out a series of carefully planned scientific experiments, and pea strains carefully cultivated to breed true.  (Howe also fails to mention that Gregor Mendel, O.S.A., was an Augustinian monk.)   

Peas Be With You

Mendel chose pea plants partly because they i) had easily identifiable features, ii) could self-fertilize, and iii) were easy to protect from cross-fertilization.  But before he could even start, he needed true-breeding plants; that is, plants that when self-crossed would always produce the same phenotype. This took two years of preliminary work.  Mendel then spent years making thousands of crosses, discovering that
  • traits were inherited whole and
  • traits that seemed to disappear in one generation could reappear in another generation
He described these observations in a set of mathematical relationships (laws) regarding the inheritance of dominant and recessive traits.  (These were similar to Darwin's mathematical laws of natural selection setting out the relationship between fitness and reproductive success...  Oh, wait.  Never mind.) 

People sometimes wonder where Mendel found the time to do all this, considering his monastic responsiblities.  I have even seen it alleged that the abbot shut him down, a nice example of "model-based history"*.  But the answer is easy.  His research was one of his monastic responsibilities.  The monastery had been conducting hybridization research even before Mendel arrived.  The Augustinians freed up his time for the research, allocated large plots of land for his research, and built a greenhouse where he could establish a control group for his studies.  The Order did not sorta kinda "give Mendel a research grant" to pursue his personal hobby as some historically ill-informed have grudgingly allowed: The research was part and parcel of the Order's program.  Mendel himself had trained as a physicist, not a biologist, so this would not likely have been his own personal choice.  Mendel was simply doing the scientific research that his Order asked him to do.**

Mendel's results were published in the Proceedings of the Natural History Society of Brünn in 1866. No-one noticed.  Over the next 35 years, his work was cited... three times!  Oh well.  In the early 1900s, Mendel's work was rediscovered by Correns, deVries, and others, and developed into an entirely new discipline within biology -- genetics.

*model-based history.  This is where one starts with an idee fixe and deduces "what must have happened" in the light of that prior assumption.  This dispenses with the laborious requirement for actual empirical evidence. 


** Oddly, Mendel's work and the support from his Order are seldom mentioned during debates about church-science relationships.   See first note (*).

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Climbing the Ladder of Inference


A commonplace in management training is The Ladder of Inference.  The ladder was described by Chris Argyris, and later included in The Fifth Discipline: The Art and Practice of the Learning Organization, by Peter Senge. The ladder is used when teaching problem-solving, management decision-making, and similar skill sets.  The awareness of the ladder and the errors it leads to serve to warn against "jumping to conclusions."

A better phrase, in keeping with the metaphor, might be "climbing too fast."

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Cleaning Out the Tabs Day

Good Thing it Was a Controlled Experiment
"In a controlled experiment carried out by Alcoa Aluminium, 20 kilos (44 pounds) of molten aluminium was allowed to react with 20 litres of water, along with a small quantity of rust. 'The explosion destroyed the entire laboratory and left a crater 30 metres (100 feet) in diameter,' [scientist Christian] Simensen said."
--Agence France-Presse, Sept. 21
(h/t WSJ Best of the Web)
+ + +

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Finality vs. Efficiency

Updated. 

Once Upon a Time in the West
There was this little thing called the Scientific Revolution.  This tends to loom large in a number of areas, like Science Fiction and tendentious web sites where Science!™ is worshiped as a god, used as a club, but seldom discussed as such.  

Friday, September 16, 2011

Amish Desperados and Shwantzendongles

Fear Not
Your government is protecting you from these scofflaws

who did not affix orange safety triangles to their buggies.  The Swartzentruber Amish in Kentucky evidently consider the bright orange devices hochmutig, or "showy," and prefer to use more humble reflective tape.  They look like hobbits.  Note the height of the desperado in the lower left.  Personally, I think they are being hochmutig about not being hochmutig, but then my ancestors were regular church, Gott sei dank.
+ + +

Saturday, September 10, 2011

On the pile

What Flynn is Reading
  1. Game of Thrones, etc.  Just finished the 4th volume of George RR Martin's Game of Thrones series.  Mr. Martin cannot write a bad story, but after a time I did become weary of the interminable comings and goings of various characters, and the odds-on bet that whatever a character sets out to do, he/she will fail at doing it.  There are actually multiple novels going on simultaneously, but many are not linked thematically, and the whole lacks the Aristotelian unity.  A little remorselessness goes a long way, I find.  
  2. The Scarecrow (Michael Connelly).  A thriller.  Mr. Connelly writes competently and creates well-realized characters in a common milieu, for example, his detective Hieronymus (Harry) Bosch.  I am about a quarter into it, and find it uses a trope I invented for In the Country of the Blind; viz., someone using the National Datanet Internet to watch for people who get interested in a Certain Topic.
  3. From Aristotle to Darwin and Back Again (Etienne Gilson).  This book explores the inherent teleology of Darwinism and evolution.  It provides a wonderful opportunity for folks to utterly misunderstand teleology.  But striving to reproduce to the utmost and the struggle for existence, the two pillars of natural selection are inherently teleological, as both striving and struggling implies an end or goal, a "towardness."  Just started. 
  4. Dogs (Nancy Kress).  Another thriller.  This was the book that was too distressing for the original publisher.  Ms. Kress is another who cannot not write well.  Just received; not started. 
  5. The Message in the Bottle (Walker Percy).  A series of linked essays addressing the role of language, sign, and symbol.  It's the sort of topic that gets people saying "But what about Koko!"  "What about Alex the Parrot!"  Or perhaps even "What about Clever Hans the Arithmetical Horse!"  
What Flynn is Writing
  1. "Places Where the Roads Don't Go."  One of a pair of old college friends wants to create AI and his philosopher friend does not think it is possible.  Turing tests and Chinese rooms and a dollop of topology...  What could be more exciting?  Currently undergoing major narrative surgery, removing some cancerous lumps of exposition.  This is intended for a collection of novelettes and novellas, #4.  
  2. "Buried Hopes." Rann Velkran is weepy and emotional and upset over the recent de-orbiting of the old International Space Station.  So he begins to dig a swimming pool in his back yard.  Currently steeping to await a re-read.  Also intended for the collection, #4.  
  3. "Hopeful Monsters." It was a brilliant spring day when Karen Sorklose brought home her perfect baby.   She had used a very reputable firm of baby designers.  Currently steeping to await a re-read. Maybe the collection; maybe I'll send it to ANALOG.  
  4. Captive Dreams.  This is the title for the collection consisting of "Melodies of the Heart," "Captive Dreams," "Remember'd Kisses," plus "Places Where the Roads Don't Go," "Buried Hopes," and/or "Hopeful Monsters."  The conceit of the collection is that the main character in each story lives along the same oval road encircling a woodland. The stories will be available in ebook format, collectively (and probably individually).  
  5. "The Journeyman."  Teodorq sunna Nagarajan is on the run, having killed the son of the Serpentine clan chief in a fair fight.  The Serps see matters differently.  In progress.  Teodorq has left the long grass prairie and entered the short grass prairie and is shortly to find a strange artifact supposedly from the days of the First Men on World.  His journey will eventually take him most of the way across World.  Readers of Up Jim River, if any there should be, will recognize the Wildman. 
  6. The Chieftain.  The world has a shortage of medieval Celtic fantasies.  No, really.  This one is set in Ireland in AD 1225, and is the same milieu as the alternate history short "The Iron Shirts," except it is straight, not alternate.  It was written long ago, in and shortly after college, as an historical, the market for which can best be described as multiples of SQRT(-1).  The writing is sucky because I was younger; but it is as capable of rewrite as The January Dancer was.  A bit of medieval magic should pepper it right up.  Don't usually see prayers instead of spells, or saints instead of imps to answer them; so we shall see.  And calling on God may not be quite as simple as calling on gods....
  7. The Shipwrecks of Time.  Back in the early 1340s, Heinrich of Regensburg was brutally murdered over a now-lost manuscript known as "The Peruzzi Papers."  In AD 1968, an historical researcher in Milwaukee becomes interested in the contents.  What could have been so dangerous to know that the author was so brutally killed?  Why did House Peruzzi keep the papers secret for 600 years?  Inquiring minds want to know.  But maybe they should not be so inquiring?  Later, a documentary film-maker in 1980s Denver and a small town police detective in the fictional 2010s Neston PA are also entangled in the mystery.  Some mss. are better left unread, it seems. 
  8. In the Lion's Mouth. 
    It’s a big Spiral Arm, and the scarred man, Donavan buigh, has gone missing in it, upsetting the harper Mearana's plans for a reconciliation between her parents. Bridget ban, a Hound of the League, doubts that reconciliation is possible or desirable; but nonetheless has dispatched agents to investigate the disappearance. 
    The powerful Ravn Olafsdottr, a Shadow of the Names, slips into Clanthompson Hall to tell mother and daughter of the fate of Donovan buigh. In the Long Game between the Confederation of Central Worlds and the United League of the Periphery, Hound and Shadow are mortal enemies; yet a truce descends between them so that the Shadow may tell her tale. There is a struggle in the Lion’s Mouth, the bureau that oversees the Shadows—a clandestine civil war of sabotage and assassination between those who would overthrow Those of Name and the loyalists who support them. And Donovan, one-time Confederal agent, has been recalled to take a key part, willingly or no.

    This is written and the uncorrected page proofs have been circulating.  The third book in the Spiral Arm series, it picks up where Up Jim River left off.   Scheduled for January 2012
  9. On the Razor's Edge.  This is written, but awaits editorial action and rewrites.  It is the finale to the Spiral Arm series that began with The January Dancer.   And you thought you knew what was going on.....

The Gift That Keeps on Giving

The French will be issuing a paperback edition of EIFELHEIM.  Perhaps winning the Prix Julie Verlanger was persuasive.

Friday, September 9, 2011

Passing the Turing Test

"Defense Cuts Spat Clouds Deficit Panel Debate"--headline, Reuters, Sept. 8

Now obviously Defense doesn't need spats, since they are long out of fashion; but cutting spats doesn't mean they have to cut the panel debate over the clouds deficit, too.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

The Product of Conception

A reader with the Davidic name of Jesse has asked a series of questions on the other site about our previous post. I'm bringing it up as a new post because his questions raise interesting points; and it's easier to handle than in the comm box.

Perceiving percepts.
Jesse wrote:
A "concept" itself seems not completely sharply defined, for example does it require verbal ability or could a highly autistic person who never developed the ability to understand language be said to have "concepts"?

Thursday, September 1, 2011

Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

Adam and Eve discover
they are naked. 
Human race follows.
John Farrel has written a column at his Forbes site entitled "Can Theology Evolve," quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:
"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness." 
Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.  I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion.  Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that).  I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth(^1) though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view.  You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or petunias.
It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall.  Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.(^2

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.
Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Not least is the common late-modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself."  Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages.  Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages.  With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.  Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer.  No.  Wait.  I mean the Summary. 
___________________________
(^1) storied youth.  Literally.  My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids. 
(^2) Makes you wonder what their actual reasoning was, if it was not some backwoods 19th century American reading an archaic English translation of some Greek texts.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Today's Headlines


Oh Well, Cross That Off My Shopping List
"Canada Warns Not to Buy 'Fresh' Semen Online"--headline, Agence France-Presse, Aug. 30


Coincidence?  I Think Not!  See Genesis 2:21-3:7
  • "Pennsylvania Man Charged Again for Putting Ribs in Pants"--headline, Associated Press, Aug. 29
  • "Police: Pantless Woman Arrested at Anti-Topless Rally"--headline, WYFF-TV website (Greenville, S.C.), Aug. 28
h/t to Best of the Web, WSJ blog.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

The Advancement of Science

27 Aug 1911, New York Times

MARTIANS BUILD TWO IMMENSE CANALS IN TWO YEARS;
Vast Engineering Works Accomplished in an
Incredibly Short Time by Our Planetary Neighbors
-Wonders of the September Sky.

ACCORDING to a telegram dated Aug. 17, from Flagstaff Observatory,
Arizona, Dr. Percival Lowell announces the rediscovery of two new canals
of Mars, which were seen for the first time at the last opposition in
1909. The canals are now very conspicuous, and attracting world-wide
attention because of their startling significance.

New York Times Archives 27 Aug 1911

Irene Goodnight

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Odds & Ends

Krakatoa Day

27 August 1911
"At a convention of 13 suffragists at Ed. Stermer's store at Mauch Chunk, there was a lively discussion on women's rights.  The fat women concluded that they had the same rights as men, but the lean ladies argued the opposite, and on a vote being taken the fats beat the leans by one vote and the meeting broke up in a wrangle.  Stermer was chairman, but he had to leave via the back yard after trying to bring the two factions together."
-- The Easton Express
+ + +

Disaster Upon Disaster

Not only did we on the East Coast have to deal with the devastation of the 8/23 Earthquake, a portion of whose damage is shown below



but now we must brace for HURRICANE IRENE!  A Category 1 hurricane.  Granted, it is making landfall coincident with high tide, but still it seems a bit hyperbolic.  No one has mentioned Global Warming™ yet, and it is the only hurricane to make landfall in the past three years.  Perhaps they are waiting for people to forget when they were announcing during the Year of Many Hurricanes that the Global Warming™ computer models predicted more and stronger hurricanes; then shut up real fast when it became fewer and weaker.  Don't worry, though.  Models were made to be adjusted and, as my cosmologist friend is wont to say, "With seven variables I can model any set of data - as long as I get to choose the coefficients."  Thank goodness they changed it to Climate Change just in time.  That way it doesn't matter which way the wind blows.  The theory will swivel to point in that direction. 

Blaming weather on climate change is a bit like blaming motion on location change. 

Meanwhile, our intrepid TV meteorologists, having lacked for hurricane disaster stories for three years, are making the most of things, leaning into the wind and spray (against a backdrop of folks picnicking on the seawall), and speaking bravely and portentiously of dire things to come.  The Delaware, I have just learned is already 4 feet above normal, not far from flood stage of 22 feet. 

Okay, maybe a little far from flood stage.  My prediction: a usual amount of flooding as per the increased runoff since all the New Yorkers came out and paved over the Poconos.  But nothing like 1955, when the Portland-Columbia bridge (at 725 feet the longest covered bridge in the country) broke loose in the flooding after Connie+Diane and struck the Gibraltar of the Delaware - the Easton-Phillipsburg Bridge - like a battering ram, taking out the center span.  The water crested at just under 44 feet, five or six feet higher than the Pumpkin Freshet of 1903.(*)  And raced through a building with the boastful, if piquant ad: World's Fastest Car Wash. 

So, I laugh at Irene.  Ha-ha!  It is to laught.  You don't have a patch on Connie and Diane, the twin sisters of August 1955.  I laugh in part because I live high above on the Lehigh Heights, aka German Hill, perched on 300 feet of limestone and granite.



(*) The Pumpkin Freshet of 1903.  So called because somewhere upstream the waters scoured a pumpkin farm and the river flowed choked with pumpkins all the way to Philadelphia.  It was in the survival of this flood that the Easton-P'burg bridge was dubbed "The Gibraltar of the Delaware." 

Friday, August 26, 2011

On the Connectedness of Nature

That any two things in the universe are connected can be demonstrated inductively by the magic of Google.  It is not necessary that to be computationally tractable a process must be informationally encapsulated.  Take any two words.  The Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy uses "banana" and "mandolin" in an article on the Frame Problem.  If you google it, you obtain 2,690,000 hits. 

So I tried "melancholy" + "eels" and obtained 3,090,000 hits, including unlikely poetry precisely imagining melancholy eels, at a site yclept poetry-of-despair. 

Then I tried "elephant" + "petunia" only to discover that there is a plant called an elephant petunia along with 3,570,000 other hits. 

Then I opened the dictionary at random and got "theosophy" + "hemorrhage."  This yielded a mere 71,300 hits, including those with "theosophist" (at least one of whom appears to have died of a hemorrhage) and "theosophical." 

Then "canthus" (the corners where the upper and lower eyelids meet) + "deliverance."  After quote-enclosing "canthus" to avoid the homonymous "can thus," I obtained 4,240 freaking hits and learned that surgical management of carcinomas at the inner canthus involves rotation and deliverance of the flap under the glabellar skin.

Even "unobtainium" + "maple" harvested 45,300 hits. 

Your task, my devoted henchmen, is to explore this phenomenon yourselves. 

More on Consciousness

Quote of the Week

Sydney Eddison recounts [a story] of the violinist Itzhak Perlman, who as a boy was struck with polio and who as a man must walk with the aid of leg braces and crutches:

At a concert on the night of November 18, 1995, at Avery Fisher Hall in New York City, one of the strings of his violin suddenly snapped during the performance. Stunned, the audience held their collective breath, expecting Perlman to stop and leave the stage. Instead, he paused, then continued playing — adjusting, creating, compensating as he went along, and when he put down his bow at the end of the concert, a mighty roar of applause filled the hall. When it had died down, he spoke to the audience: “You know, sometimes it is the artist’s task to find out how much music you can still make with what you have left.”
+ + + 

The quote was found in this article that touches on consciousness. 

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

What is Consciousness?


At RENOvation, the World Science Fiction Convention held in Reno NV this past week, there was a panel with the title "What is Consciousness?"  The panel did yeoman's work without (as is customary at con panels) ever coming to a conclusion, let alone a consensus conclusion.  I was in the audience and did not participate, but a few points struck me afterwards. 

There were several initial attempts to define consciousness, though no one tried to define consciousness by negation in the obvious sense; viz., "whatever it is you have when you are not unconscious."  They seemed to get all mixed up with "sentience," "intelligence," "empathy," and so forth.  All these terms were used interchangeably by panelists. 

One of the participants proudly declared himself a materialist, but never specified of what material "consciousness" is made.  My theory is that it is made of the same 'material' as momentum, gravity, or reproductive fitness; viz., none.  Physics has been edging away from materialism for the past hundred years.  Quantum mechanics dealt it a deadly blow, leading Heisenberg to remark that "It has become clear that the desired objective reality of the elementary particle is too crude an oversimplification of what really happens."  IOW, materialism no longer accounts even for matter.  The preferred term is "physicalist." 

Whoa, What's This?