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

Sunday, October 4, 2015

TOF and the Ambo

The ambo at St. Jane
Today marked TOF's return as Lector. For a number of years, he was a lector at St. Joseph's church and then, after its dissolution and incorporation with St. Bernard's and St. Michael's, at Our Lady of Mercy. But then he was felled sick enough that, as one of the doctors put it, he was "this close to being on the wrong side of the grass." Faithful reader may imagine that "this close" referred to the thumb and forefinger held together like a micrometer, and not to the arms widespread by a fathom. After that, the leg pain from a pinched sciatic nerve seemed almost a blessing.

Later, when the old church building was closed and TOF's father went back to his childhood parish, TOF joined the Incomparable Marge at St. Jane de Chantal out in the wilds of Palmer Township.

Note the steps to climb
As tall as the steps to the ambo?
But as a result of his sciatica, TOF could barely hobble along, and the steps leading up to the altar at St. Jane's seemed in his eyes as improbable of climbing as the steps ascending to the shrine at Knock or perhaps the Bullman St. Stairs in P'burg. It just wasn't gonna happen.

However, nowadays TOF can walk unaided with little trouble and, having gone through the training program (held once a year), he was "installed" as a Lector and has now appeared on the Schedule in time to read just this morning, when he had the chance to regale folks with the story of Adam and his rib. Many people regard the story as a kind of failed biology lesson, as if the original compiler of the tale or the church that adopted the story gave a rat's patoot about biology! 

What some people fail to appreciate is how danged funny the story is. A fit companion, is it? How about the cattle? Hmmm, no. Birds of the air? Don't think so. Hey, what about a wild animal? Ah, no. TOF is convinced that properly told, this story should have the children laughing and the young men and women grinning, for they must know that when their beloved "fit companion" is absent they feel something missing under their heart; and if it is not the physical absence of a material rib, they story gets the point across.

However, TOF is grievously disappointed that he did not read last week from the epistle of James:
Come now, you rich, weep and wail over your impending miseries.
Your wealth has rotted away, your clothes have become moth-eaten,
your gold and silver have corroded,
and that corrosion will be a testimony against you;
it will devour your flesh like a fire.
You have stored up treasure for the last days.
Behold, the wages you withheld from the workers
who harvested your fields are crying aloud;
and the cries of the harvesters
have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.
You have lived on earth in luxury and pleasure;
you have fattened your hearts for the day of slaughter.
You have condemned;
you have murdered the righteous one;
he offers you no resistance.
Some of you will remember that this "day of slaughter" passage was a favorite of "Brother Angelus" during the Armleder peasant revolt mentioned in Eifelheim. And it actually was a favorite passage of the revolutionaries of that time.

Just in case anyone thinks Pope Francis was the first to point out the sin of greed.

Friday, October 2, 2015

We're Running Out!!

Los Angeles oil fields, 1935
 Courtesy of Paleofuture, a roster of Peak Oil predictions:

1909: until 1934-39
"Petroleum has been used for less than 50 years, and it is estimated that the supply will last about 25 or 30 years longer. If production is curtailed and waste stopped it may last till the end of the century. The most important effects of its disappearance will be in the lack of illuminants. Animal and vegetable oils will not begin to supply its place. This being the case, the reckless exploitation of oil fields and the consumption of oil for fuel should be checked."
— July 19, 1909 Titusville Herald (Titusville, PA)

1919: until 1921-1924
"In meeting the world's needs, however, the oil from the United States will continue to occupy a less and less dominant position, because within the next two to five years the oil fields of this country will reach their maximum production and from that on we will face an ever increasing decline."
— October 23, 1919 Oil and Gas News

1937: Gone in 15 years (1952)
Capt. H. A. Stuart, director of the naval petroleum reserves, told the Senate Naval Affairs Committee today the oil supply of this country will last only about 15 years.

"We have been making estimates for the last 15 years,' Stuart said. 'We always underestimate because of the possibility of discovering new oil fields. The best information is that the present supply will last only 15 years. That is a conservative estimate.'"
— March 9, 1937 Brooklyn Daily Eagle

1943: Peak oil has been reached
"There is a growing opinion that the United States has reached its peak oil production, the Oil and Gas Journal pointed out in its current issue. Since 1938, discoveries of new oil have not equaled withdrawals, in any single year, although there is a very good chance that 1943 will see enough new Ellenburger oil in West Texas to provide an excess."
— June 7, 1943 Bradford Evening Star (Bradford, PA)

1945: Just thirteen years left (1958)
"Faced with the threat that our nation's petroleum reserves may last only thirteen years, geologists are striving to tap the almost limitless supply of oil located beneath the seas off our coastline. The first attempt to get oil from the depths of the Atlantic Ocean was begun this month near Cape Hatteras, North Carolina, and Secretary of the Interior Harold L. Ickes revealed that the scientists are making progress in their efforts to reach the underwater oil."
— December 10, 1945 Times Recorder (Zanesville, Ohio)

1956: Ten to fifteen years until peak oil (1966-1971)
"M. King Hubbert of the Shell Development Co. predicted [one year ago] that peak oil production would be reached in the next 10 to 15 years and after that would gradually decline."
— March 9, 1957 Corpus Christi Times (Corpus Christi, TX)

1966: Gone in ten years (1976)
"A geologist stuck a figurative dipstick into the United States' oil supplies Tuesday and estimated that the country may be dry in 10 years."
— August 3, 1966 Brandon Sun (Brandon, Manitoba)

1972: U.S. oil depleted in twenty years (1992)
"At any rate, U.S. oil supplies will last only 20 years. Foreign supplies will last 40 or 50 years, but are increasingly dependent upon world politics."
— May 1972 Bulletin of the Atomic Scientists

1977: Oil will peak by the early 90s
"As a nation, Americans have been reluctant to accept the prospect of physical shortages. We must recognize that world oil production will likely peak in the early 1990's, and from that point on will be on a declining curve. By the early part of the 21st century, we must face the prospect of running out of oil and natural gas."
— 1977 US Department of Energy Organization Act

1980: In the year 2000
"Stressing the need for conservation, [physicist Dr. Hans] Bethe said the world will reach its peak oil production before the year 2000. Production of oil worldwide will then drop to zero over about 20 years, he said. Rigorous conservation could stretch the world's oil supply to the year 2050, he said.
— October 17, 1980 Syracuse Post Standard (Syracuse, NY)

1996: Peak oil likely by 2020
"Unfortunately, oil production will likely peak by 2020 and start declining. Without a change, developing countries will ultimately be left in the dark, and developed countries will struggle to keep the lights on. Conflict is inevitable. My guess is that this won't become a big issue unless there is a thalidomide event. We will have to see in the rear-view mirror that we are past the peak in worldwide oil production."
— Richard Smalley, Nobel Laureate in Chemistry, 1996

2002: Global peak by the year 2010
"Global supplies of crude oil will peak as early as 2010 and then start to decline, ushering in an era of soaring energy prices and economic upheaval — or so said an international group of petroleum specialists meeting Friday."
— May 25, 2002 Index Journal (Greenwood, SC)

2007: Sometime between now and 2040
Most studies estimate that oil production will peak sometime between now and 2040. This range of estimates is wide because the timing of the peak depends on multiple, uncertain factors that will help determine how quickly the oil remaining in the ground is used, including the amount of oil still in the ground; how much of that oil can ultimately be produced given technological, cost, and environmental challenges as well as potentially unfavorable political and investment conditions in some countries where oil is located; and future global demand for oil.
— February 2007 GAO Report

So buckle up sports fans. The oil is gonna run out Real Soon Now. Unless it already did and we're living in the Matrix.

Yet each time one of these predictions comes along, we still take it seriously.

Balticon 50: Bring 'Em Back!

For its 50th anniversary, Balticon is trying to bring back all her previous guests of honor, one tenth of one being TOF himself. (He was one of the "Ten Previous Compton Crook Award Winners" who were GoHed at Balticon26:

In aid of this, Balticon is raising funds to pay the hotel rooms of these Special Guests. Please help fund TOF! Donate to the BOOSTER CAMPAIGN! Get Kool Swag!

 Give early and give often. What more Star-Studded cast can you ask for than those noted above (who are the past guests who have already expressed their willingness). Even the presence of TOF does not detract from its lustre.

Gene Wolfe and Jodi Lynn Nye already have their hotel cost covered. TOF travels cheap and needs no subsidy for that, but Don't let TOF go homeless!
Gimme Shelter!

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.