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, June 24, 2018

This is Way Kool

The Earth at various epochs. Get rid of the clouds. Your mouse or touchpad can make the Earth rotate to different positions. A dialogue lets you set a locator for your hometown so you can see where it was when e.g. dinosaurs walked the land.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

Keeping Tabs on Things

Many unposted items

1. Remember Çatalhöyük?

Who could forget that remarkable discovery that gave Anatolia pride of place for the world's first big city? It turns out that one of its investigators may have fudged a bit. A bit of a Piltdown situation, eh what? Though a bit more clever. Now, like the DNA lab that faked some of its results or the detective that planted some of his evidences, all of the data now needs to be revisited. What a bummer.

2. The Outlook for Russia and China

Is not so rosy, according to the Manhattan Contrarian, especially now that they can have a president for life.
Yes, it's the old Roman Empire model for governance.  It seemed like such a good idea when Octavian/Augustus took over in 27 B.C. and ruled gloriously for 41 years of unprecedented power and stability.  But within another couple of decades you had Caligula, followed shortly by Nero, and on downhill from there.  Soon enough, emperors were being assassinated every couple of years by a new guy trying to take over.  Or maybe we should call it the Venezuela model for governance; or the Zimbabwe model; or the Cuba model.  Each of those places had powerful leaders who swept in to great excitement and seemed to many to be by far the best guy to lead the country.  But as dictators the leaders clung to power for life, ran their countries into the ground in their later years, and left no means other than a power struggle to choose a successor.  And, at some point these guys can't quit, because their personal safety is in huge jeopardy as soon as they lose control of the state security mechanism.
 In Russia, the population is stagnating, the economy is stagnating, investment is stagnating. Who's going to invest money in a country where it could get stolen by the kleptocrat the moment you fall out with him? The US, with a population about double that of Russia, attracts ten to twenty times the foreign investment. 

China's economy is up to two-thirds the size of the US, but it has four times the population, so its GDP per capita is smaller than Mexico's or Brazil's and less than one third the size of Taiwan's. On a per capita basis, China is doing worse than Russia at attracting foreign capital. (This is because of their habit of first requiring a Chinese partner for the investor then then appropriating the foreigner's share.)

3. Hail Caesar! Now Buzz Off.

The good news, at least regarding Roman Emperors is that they never had the kind of power that the rulers of our modern scientific states wield. One reads of imperial edicts all the time and they sound very wise or very cruel depending on whether the imperator's wind blows our way or not, but these edicts are really just proclamations of what the emperor said, and whether anyone else in the curia or imperial administration goes along with the gag depends on how persuasive ol' Caesar is -- and how much of a hassle compliance is.
Despite the increasing attempts by later emperors to control affairs across their domains more closely, the Roman Empire was still rather ramshackle in its administration of laws compared to later states. Laws of this kind usually began as a suggestio: a report or statement of a situation needing attention. Officials in the Imperial consistory would then meet and frame a response and, if this response was acceptable to various counsellors and advisers, it would be submitted to the emperor for approval. It would then be distributed to the praetorian prefects, who often added amendments and additions, and then distributed by them to regional governors, who in turn could add to it or amend it to fit local conditions. Finally, it was up to these local officials to see the edict implemented and to enforce it as much as they could. This all meant that what began as a statement of the emperor’s desire could get watered down as it passed down the administrative chain and could also be largely unenforced if the local prefect or diocesan governor was not enthusiastic about the decree. And even if he was, many of these broad statements were very difficult to enforce with any uniformity. As a result, what various laws and decrees said and what actually happened on the ground were often two very different things. The fact that some laws of this kind had to be repeated several or even many times shows that subsequent emperors recognised that previous decrees had gone essentially unenforced and there was often little they could do about this.
Tim O'Neill, Review – Catherine Nixey “The Darkening Age”, History for Atheists (29 Nov 2017)
For example, the edict of persecution against Christians issued by Diocletian and Gratian was mostly ignored by vice-Emperor ("Caesar") Constantius, the father of Constantine. This is a very different milieu than the modern State, whose enforcement tentacles are ubiquitous and rationalized and winked at only at hazard by either subjects or bureaucrats.

 Speaking of ancient emperors and modern tyrants.

4. Sociopaths Rule!

H. sociopatheticus
The estimable Joseph Moore points out the key role of sociopaths in today's society, one of whom he tags as Mr. Zuckerberg, founder of the Book of Faces. Really, sports fans, can anyone suppose that this device was ever intended as anything other than a vehicle for delivering personal information to various advertisers, commercial and political? How do we suppose they made their billions? Remember, the product is that for which someone pays cash money; and where Facebook is concerned, advertisers pay cash money for the eyeballs of the users. You, mi amigo, are the product.

Some advertising guru once noted way back in the days of Mad Men, in between sleeping with their secretaries and each others wives, that only about half of all advertising was effective. The problem was that no one knew which half. And so the public was spattered with twice as many ads as necessary in the hopes that half of them would stick. In the Fifties, it was believed that the sight of a man in a white lab coat using approval-words like "scientific" would entice people to purchase the desired shampoo or toothpaste; but this has changed to images of alluring models clinging to the product and using the approval-word "sexy," thus signalling a new mode of processing sales pitches.

The Lost Generation discovers
sex right in their back yard
A hundred years ago, advertising contained thick blocks of text with complete product specifications. Ho ho. How naive our great grandfathers were! Or else they were more hard-headed and no-nonsense and preferred their sexy babes live and in person rather than in magazines. (There were no televisions.)

The genius of the Book of Faces was to replace broadcast with narrowcast. People hated getting flyers and brochures for crap they didn't care about. So by carefully sorting through people's interests as expressed by themselves, advertisers could ensure sending adverts pretty much to people who had some interest in the material to begin with. So far, so good. No need for Big Brother to spy on us when we could spy on ourselves for free.

Well, you can't expect politicians to pass that up. After all, they are also in the advertising business, and this would enable them to spend their campaign money sending flyers, info, robocalls, and all the rest of that welcome and heartwarming outreach to people who might actually be inclined to listen. (TOF pauses to clean up the hot-beverage-snarfed-out-the-nose from your keyboards.)

So the Great Scandal of Cambridge Analytica was not that they scraped Facebook Data, but that they did so for the purpose of helping the Devil Incarnate, i.e., Donald Trumphiltler and/or Brexit. Had they done so to benefit Hilary Clintonstalin, we would never have heard squeak about it, for then it would have been in aid of Heaven's Purpose, i.e., the Worker's Paradise, or Venezuela. (We know this because no one had a cow about the Obama campaign scraping customer data back in the 2008 election, indeed they were lauded for being "tech-savvy.")

The one thing we have not heard is whether anyone paid the slightest attention to any of the ads that were intended to move them to get out for Trump. Indeed, the fact that people's eyeballs cruise over nasty (or nice) ads seems to have very little influence at all, despite either the boasts of providers of these services or the apocalyptic warnings of the fear-mongers. We are only told that folks were "exposed" to them, as if people were particles devoid of will, moved by mechanical forces. But since the whole purpose of the exercise was to identify those who were inclined to Trump in the first place, it's hard to see the horror of it all. Unless there is Something we're not being told beyond the "boo words" of our information being "weaponized."

Of course, the real danger of the giant rumor mill/echo chamber known as "social" media is that it is simply a set of bubbles and not very social at all. It's a way of sealing ourselves off under the illusion of being "connected." At least, in the old "broadcasting" paradigm you ran the occasional risk of a chance encounter with something that you were not already interested in. A point of view that was not already your own. A product or book or movie that was not already on your radar screen -- and you might, might, decide to give it a shot and find that it wasn't half bad. Or that what the Other Side said about itself was not the same as what Your Side told you that They had said. And your bubble might expand, even if just the tiniest bit.

Or not.

5. Speaking of Russia

Which we were, sorta.

What exactly was the "meddling" which the Russians were supposed to have done? It's not very clear, only that it was surely nefarious, it involved the infamous Internet. and it was engineered by people who do not use articles or the present tense of the verb "to be." Despite all the news stories about how bad the meddling was, it has never been made entirely clear to TOF of what the meddling exactly consisted. Was it like, say the meddling in the Iranian election of 1953 when the CIA helped overthrow the elected government; or the interference in the Chilean election in 1973 with the overthrow [and killing] of Allende.  Or Italy in 1948, or the Clinton-assisted election of Yeltsin in Russia?

No one has ever accused the Russians of being more deft than the US, but it seems that the Russian interference has created barely a ripple on the surface of a still pond, while sundry US interferences have created choppy waters indeed. Surely, the CIA is more adept at this sort of thing. Or is this more like pranking than serious "interference"? To TOF, the term "interference" implies a perturbation in the outcome of the election, or at least in the process. As far as we can tell, the only ones trying to alter the election outcomes are Tammany Hall and its allies in media, academe, and the Deep State.

The Nation, a somewhat left-of-center journal, notes:
A $100,000 Facebook ad buy seems unlikely to have had much impact in a $6.8 billion election. According to Facebook, “the vast majority of ads…didn’t specifically reference the US presidential election, voting or a particular candidate” but rather focused “on amplifying divisive social and political messages across the ideological spectrum—touching on topics from LGBT matters to race issues to immigration to gun rights.” Facebook also says the majority of ads, 56 percent, were seen “after the election.” [emph. added]
-- Aaron Maté, "Russiagate Is More Fiction Than Fact" The Nation (October 6, 2017)
As nearly as TOF can tell, the Russians -- TOF fondly remembers when they were "the Reds" and the Republicans railed agin' them and the Dems favored detente -- supposedly hacked the emails of the Democratic Party and gave them to Wikileaks and furthermore -- and this is the connection with the previous item -- placed Fake News™ on Fakebook in order throw Shade on the Election.

If this last were the Russians' objective, then we must ask ourselves who has been running about casting doubts on the legitimacy of the recent Election, because they are the ones furthering the Russian agenda. But no one seems to be asking that, so we are cast back on wondering anew at the incredible subtlety of the Russians.

Feel the Bern
No one, least of all when they were embarrassing George W. Bush by leaking all that stuff about the Iraq war, suspected that Wikileaks was a secret tool of Russian intelligence. Wikileaks itself claims that the emails came from a disgruntled Democratic insider. (From the appearances, it would seem to have been a Bernie supporter who was disgusted at the way the Party had, against its own rules, taken sides in the primaries against the Bern and for the Hill.) Consequently, enough Democratic Socialists sat on their hands during the elections that the Blue Wall cracked and Mr Trump, after completing his assigned task of wrecking the Republican Party, found himself in unexpected possession of the oval office and to all appearances unsure what to do with it. Mrs Clinton, deceived into expecting a petal-strewn coronation by a worshipful media, found herself gobsmacked by flyover country and unable coherently to account for it.
The "Blue Wall" -- the "reliably Democratic states" -- cracked red in 2016:
A few hundred kilovotes shifted WI, MI, PA. Even MN stayed blue by a mere 44,765 votes.
Darned clever, those Russians, I say. Or was it Comey?
The Russians also apparently planted false or slanted stories in Fakebook -- quelle surprise! -- although TOF has not seen any illustrative examples cited. Since more than half of these ads appeared after the election had already taken place, we are doomed. The Russians have already violated causality. They have found a way to meddle largely after the fact!

However, planting false or misleading stories is a fine old tradition in US politics. Remember when the Democrats (the president of Yale University, no less) spread stories that John Adams was a "hideous hermaphroditical character"? Or the Federalists told us that Jefferson would create a nation where “murder, robbery, rape, adultery and incest will openly be taught and practiced” by Jefferson's Democrats? [OK, so the Federalists came close...] TOF suspects any fables of specific Russian origin would have been lost in the chum of those planted by Democrats, Republicans, news reporters, bloggers, and other free-lance operatives. Any spurious stories about Mrs Clinton, we suspect, would be swallowed only by those already inclined to swallow spurious stories about Mrs Clinton. IOW, not likely to shift any votes. (BTW, the converse is true of spurious stories about Mr Trump. But this is harder to perceive because you already believe those stories and don't realize they are spurious. You are probably still hiding your wimmin from the notorious Mr. Jefferson.)

But no one has provided evidence that anyone previously inclined to vote for Mrs. Clinton voted for Mr. Trump instead as a result of any of these ads, let alone as a result of a specifically Russian ad. Or vice versa. IOW that, as a practical matter, there was any effective meddling by anyone except the DNC, who apparently very effectively torpedoed the campaign of Mr. Sanders.

6. Numbers, We Got Numbers.

Or not.

You have to remember that biology is sorely deficient in numbers when compared to physics or chemistry, and is therefore a sort of Junior Varsity member of Team Science -- at least from the 18th century Scientific Revolution perspective. You may recall that one of the pillars of the Revolution was the privileging of Mathematics as the language of discourse in Science. And so we have equations for Newton's Theory, Maxwell's Theory, Boyle's Theory, Einstein's Theory, and sundry others. But we have, alas, no equations expressing Darwin's Theory.

Well, fair is fair. Math does show up in places in biology, usually in biophysics and biochemistry; but also in genetics and in biostatistics. Although statistics is not the same thing as mathematics. A topic for another day, except that the softer the science, the worse its praxis in statistics. And when the science is social it gets downright mushy.

Case in point, as Rod Serling used to say: correlation. Ever since David Hume (or perhaps since al-Ghazali), correlation has held pride of place over causation because of the inability of inductive reasoning ever to establish causation with any certainty. Correlation establishes only a co-relation between two variables measured on the same unit. This requires:
  • measurements
  • on the same units
An example recently promoted by "The Gift that Keeps on Giving," a.k.a. Jerry Coyne, is that "the happiest countries are the least religious." It is a happy¹ illustration of Thucydides' dictum that people will swallow anything if it accords with their prior beliefs.²

We first note that the Coynester has committed the scientific crime of reifying an abstraction. Countries cannot be "happy" (or "religious"), only a human being can be either.

Second issue: how do you measure "happiness" even on an individual? With a hap-o-meter? (Preferably one calibrated to a standard certified by NIST). This is perhaps more evident a problem to a physicist than to a biologist or a social scientist. The latter in particular is conditioned to accept a questionnaire as an "instrument."

More particularly, did respondents mean the same thing by "happiness" in Bhutan as they did in Tanzania? Was a person who scored a happiness of 6.4 on the "happiness scale" twice as happy as one who scored a 3.2? That is, is the happiness scale a ratio scale? If not, the whole procedure of averaging and correlating is illegitimate to begin with.³ Did happiness ratings within a country form a single statistical population? If not, there may be no average for that country. (What is the average number of testicles possessed by a human being?)

All of the same questions apply to the religiosity scale. What exactly is "importance of religion"? What us meant by a religion? Is shamanism even the same kind of thing as Buddhism?⁴ In those countries possessing established churches, citizens are enrolled in the approved churches for tax purposes, whether they attend that church or not. Does this count? Does pro forma attendance? Does the devoutness of attendees? Who measures such subjective attitudes? How do they do so? With what precision? Does "religiosity" mean the same thing in China as it does in Bolivia?⁴

1. happy. Lucky, fortunate. See also may-hap, happen, happenstance, hapless.
2. Thucydudes, History of the Peloponnesian War, IV, 108
3. ratio scale. See Deming, The Statistical Adjustment of Data.
4. Buddhism. Yeah, we know which religion they really mean; but let's go with the flow.

A vital issue: Were the happiness and the religiosity "measured" on the same units (people) or only within the same geographical region (country)?

Imagine trying to determine the relationship between nitrogen content and tensile strength of steel if the two properties were measured on different heats. Even a biologist might hesitate to rely on such results even if he did not notice the metallurgist rolling on the floor laughing his guts out. As a thought experiment, imagine Coyne's reaction to a correlation across US metropolitan areas of the cancer rates in census districts versus the usage of lawn services in those same districts, with no attempt to discover whether the households experiencing the cancers were the same households employing the lawn services!

Another issue to be considered is whether one should treat all countries as equal units when they vary widely in size: Singapore is small and compact; Brazil is not.

The reported correlation coefficient is r= ‒0.58. No self-respecting engineer would entertain such a value or r for a New York minute, although TOF has been told that soft "scientists" put much stock in any r greater than zero, provided they have wee p-values. This can be ascribed to their training in "cookbook statistics". But let it be said that you can have a very high "confidence" around a completely wrong value. An r= ‒0.58 means an r²= 0.34. This means that only about one-third of the
variation-in happiness among-countries is "explained" by its association with religiosity of those countries. (Whatever that means.)

But is that even the correlation? A good correlation will often form a 'hot dog' pattern on a scatterplot; a poor one, a 'hamburger.' It is not clear that the scatterplot here is a hot dog or a hamburger with a tail. That is, the weak appearance of a correlation may be due to multiple clusters of points. See below, right. The vast majority of points form an amorphous ball on the right. A second cluster in the northwest consists of Western Europe and a third cluster in the southwest consists of Eastern Europe and East Asia. This is a common pattern on scatterplots: several hamburger clusters so arranged that they line up as a hot dog.

Apparent correlations between X and Y can indeed come about when:
  1. X is a cause of Y
  2. Y is a cause of X
  3. Z is a lurking cause⁵ of both X and Y
  4. coincidence

A hot dog [l.] is actually tow hamburgers [r.].
The correlation in the left hand plot apparently shows that errors decrease with increasing workload on the clerks. The managers were delighted. To reduce errors we will give the clerks more work! But wait. There were two clerks: Adam and Betsy. Betsy was more experienced. She got more work done and made fewer errors than Adam. There was a causal relationship, but it was not between X and Y! It was between Z and X and between Z and Y. (In the actual case, there were four clerks. The case has been simplified for presentation purposes.)

These are all technical issues associated with the use of the statistics; but there are also substantive issues associated with the hypothesis supposedly being tested.

A flawed hypothesis

 Everyone gives lip service to the fact that correlation is not causation, but then turns around and acts as if it were. The Coynester is no exception to this rule and chortles over the "fact" that religion does not result in happiness for its practitioners. (Notice the leap in logic here. That is not even what the data is supposed to show. These are countries, not people.)  But why should anyone suppose that "religiosity" however defined should be expected to entail "happiness" however defined? It may be the opposite case: unhappiness may entail religiosity, at least of certain types. Recall that the Church is sdaid to be a hospital for sinners, not a country club for saints. One would no more expect religious people to be happy than hospital patients to be well.

Furthermore, the original UN survey on happiness concluded that happiness was correlated with other vatiables like social support, GNP, and other factors.People sampled from Western countries were happier because they were wealthier and had more Stuff. not because they were less religious.

Although he is only a biologist, Coyne acknowledges much of this scientific lore, and even admits that religious people may be unhappier because their unhappiness leads them to seek the consolations of religion rather than vice versa; and then suggests that, once their creature comforts are ensured, they can let go of religion.

Perceptive TOFians will realize that since religiosity questions and happiness questions were not asked of the same people, he can' even say that much.

4. (a)cross-country comparisons should be made with great care because different countries often use different operational definitions of the variables. Infant mortality is a well-known example. Even within a country, definitions sometimes change. See the Historical Abstracts of the United States for examples
5. lurking cause. A nice article on the subject is Brian Joiner. "Lurking Variables: Some Examples." The American Statistician 35(4): 227-233 (Nov 1981)

7. Instantaneous Propagation of Causation Without Violating Relativity

This is regarded as impossible by non-Aristotelians, but is trivial to Aristotelians. The example is derived from Matt Briggs, based on Heisenberg's interpretation of quantum mechanics.

Suppose you and your buddy Nathan Detroit have agreed to meet tomorrow evening at a social club run by Sky Masterson at six PM for beer and skittles. The probability that you will do so is now P=1.

However, unbeknownst to both you and Nathan, the IRS has raided the joint this very afternoon for running a numbers game -- i.e., something very like the state lottery, but not authorized by the State, and therefore unfair to the betting public -- and has closed and padlocked the establishment. The probability that you and Nathan will meet there tomorrow for beer and skittles has now become intantaneously P=0. There is no speed of light limitation on the propagation of this cause. It became effective immediately [no time lag] everywhere [even widely distant places] once it was served. (Of course, you will not know about it right away, but that is epistemic, not ontic.)

Spooky action at a distance? Who'd'a thunk it?

8.Foam armor

One of the cute features of the Spiral Arm series was a vault warded by a door of marshmalllow. Cf. The January Dancer and the excerpted short story, "Sand and Iron" [Analog, Jan 2008]. Now we have this announcent. Even SF set thousands of years in the future is not safe!
foam aluminum [Wikipedia]
Researchers have discovered that composite metal foam offers greater protection than traditional armor steel plate at a third of the weight. The discovery has broad implications for armored vehicles, and could result in stronger, lighter vehicles better able to protect occupants from the impact of kinetic weapons, explosive shockwaves, and fires.
Scientists at North Carolina State University and the US Army’s Aviation Applied Technology Directorate have invented what they call Composite Metal Foam (CMF). “Metal foam” is exactly what you think it is—metal with sponge-like holes in it.

Saturday, May 19, 2018

AnLab Awards


New York, NY—We are pleased to announce the winners of Analog Science Fiction and Fact’s AnLab Award. They are:

Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Analytical Laboratory Winners

Best Novella:               “Nexus” by Michael F. Flynn (3-4/17)
Best Novelette:           “For All Mankind” by C. Stuart Hardwick (7-8/17)
Best Short Story:         “Paradise Regained” by Edward M. Lerner (1-2/17)
Best Fact Article:        “The Quest for the 2:00 Marathon” by Richard A. Lovett (9-10/17)
Best Poem:                  TIE: “Barriers” by J. Northcutt Jr. (3-4/17)
                                    TIE: “Hypothesis/Assertion” by Daniel D. Villani (3-4/17)
Best Cover:                 July/August 2017 by Rado Javor

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mothers Day

Last year TOF featured the maternal lines of himself and the Incomparable Marge in honor of Mother's Day. This year, he will feature the Mothers of Flynn. This will involve a small amount of honorable overlap, starting with...

Marge, Mother of the TOFlings
1. The Incomparable Marge, TOF's First Wife and Mother of the TOFlings. A native of Oklahoma with ancestors going back on one side to colonial Virginia and on the other side to the end of the Ice Age. (She is part Choctaw.) Her ancestors fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War (Union) and did the whole covered wagon heading west thingie. One of her ancestors farmed next to Abraham Lincoln's father in Kentucky.

Her mother died when Margie was young and so she was raised by a single father. He drove an armored car and sometimes took her along and she sat in the back with the money bags; and so the Incomparable One was quite literally Rolling in Dough. More often, she stayed with her grandmother or with one or another aunt. Her father taught her how to gut fish and handle a rifle. This is a skill set that TOF keeps ever in mind. Dropping in at the Catholic Cathedral eventually led her and her grandmother to be received into the Church. When she transferred to the Catholic high school, she noticed an amazing thing. At the public high school, she stopped getting invited to the parties once the other kids realized she came from the wrong side of the tracks; but at the Catholic high school, no one cared whether her father was a teamster or an oil company VP.

The House
Eventually, she wound up in Milwaukee working for a life insurance company. There, she met Sally and D, who were members of a House on the west side where TOF also lived  When they invited her to dinner one time, Chance conspired to seat her directly across the table from TOF so that he spent the meal gazing into the Prettiest Smile on the Face of the Planet™. TOF became a professional writer of sorts and rebels against cliche, but is forced by his devotion to Truth to admit that it was Love at First Sight.

This was complicated by the fact that both were dating other people at the time; but difficulties are made to be overcome and, though not without difficulties, they were. Later, they learned that they had had two other friends in common, none of whom knew the others, and so they figured that thei eventual meeting had been inevitable from the get-go.

And so they wed and as summer waned, left Milwaukee for Colorado (where TOF has a graduate assistantship) in the back of a minivan courtesy of a friend who was heading in that direction. And so, they tooled down the highway surrounded by boxes of books and 33 rpm LPs that threatened constantly to topple and crush them.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Marge worked mostly in banking, both in Denver and later in the East with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She worked downtown for several years until transferred to the processing center in East Rutherford, but on occasion took the train into lower Manhattan for meetings. Had she been scheduled for a meeting that day, she would have been coming up the escalators at the World Trade Center PATH station at very much the wrong time of day. As it was, they could watch the whole thing from the window of their break room across the river.

Mut Mother of TOF, surrounded by her treasures
2. The Mut. The Mother of TOF picked up the name "The Mut" somehow or other from "die Mutter," German for "the mother."  She was descended from a nexus of Baden families running back to the butt end of the Thirty Years War. They departed the Grand Principality in the wake of the '48 Revolution and subsequent famine at various times in the 1850s and settled in Bucks Co, PA. Her father served in combat in the Great War.

Sweetheart of the 7th Fleet
Mut finished a two-year "commercial" course at the parish grade school and then attended the high school across the river in Phillipsburg, NJ. She and other Easton kids did this by walking across the railroad bridge that spanned the river, timing their trek to avoid the trains. [Them was different times, for sure.] At the high school, she met Joe Flynn, who took a shine to her. When he went off with the US Marines in WW2, she wrote him letters and sent him a cheesecake snapshot to keep up his morale. She also wrote letters to others in the service, becoming thereby the Sweetheart of the Seventh Fleet.

She worked as a secretary at Taylor-Wharton during the war. But Joe passed up two chances at Officer Candidate School in order to hustle home, beat out other potential suitors as Ulysses won Penelope, and get down to the serious business of becoming Father of TOF. Et al. Between kids, Mut worked as a proofreader at the Easton Express newspaper. TOF remembers her as the best mother he ever had; and Pere once said she was the best mother of boys he knew of. TOF still remembers her sage advice when we ran to her with complaints or whines: "Dry up and blow away." Many of her other words of wisdom, such as "Where are last winter's snows?" in response to pleas for the location of some favored toy, TOF learned later, were direct translations from the German. So were her pepper pot, her crumb cake, and other delicacies. She made her noodles from scratch, possibly the last generation ever to do so. Like chipping flint arrowheads, it is a lost art.

The only time TOF ever saw his mother cry was when she told him that his brother Dennis would probably not survive the cancer that he had contracted. Of all the burdens of mothers, the death of a child is the hardest.

Blanche (l) Mother of Pere (back center)
3. Blanche Jean Cantrel, the Mother of Pere, was the daughter of a French silk weaver and an Irish school teacher and midwife (and who delivered all her grandchildren at home.) She met Francis Joseph Flynn because their fathers were both in the Reliance Hose volunteer fire company.

TOF knows of little lore regarding her life, save that when young she lived in a wooden cabin in Harker Hollow, now a golf course. Her family was doubled, since her own mother was previously married and there was a whole collection of step-brothers and -sisters. Several of her brothers served in the Great War and one did not come out of it very well and died young as a result.

TOF remembers her as resilient and no nonsense. When Pere was born, a neighbor asked if she would give her the child to replace her own baby, who had died, since "you can always have another." Granny did not strangle her on the spot, because her own first-born had lived only a short time before dying.

One time when Granny was buying vegetables from the peddler from the wagon on the street and Pere's bedroom window exploded -- he had been electrolyzing water in his chem lab -- she calmly asked Uncle Danny to check and see if his brother had killed himself. When, during the Depression, her husband was forced to go on the road to find work, she took in laundry and ironing to make ends meet and later sent Pere down to West Virginia to tell him it was time to come home.

TOF has a cassette audiotape of Granny and Pop-pop in the kitchen at their home where they are looking at old photographs and talking about them. It's enough to make him wish there had been videotape cameras in those days.

Tillie (l) Mother of Pop-pop (taking pix) and
Little Dan (in front)
4. Matilda Loretta Ochenfuss, Mother of Francis Flynn, was so far as TOF can determine raised by a single mother in South Easton, PA. She was born in South Easton PA in 1871 to Mary Ochenfuss. The family name has been spelled variously: Oukufuse in 1840, Aukofuss in 1850, also as Ackenfuss and Ockenfuss (in Windschläg in the Black Forest) so the name is not always as easy to find as its unusual nature might suggest. Mary (Maria) was the daughter of John (Johann) who had been born in 1795 in Baden. He worked for the Lehigh Valley Rail Road in South Easton for 15 years. 

 Mary married John Hetzler of Ackermanville in 1869, but in the 1870 Census, she is living with her parents in South Easton, PA under her maiden name, and Hetzler is nowhere in sight. A year later, Mary gives birth to Matilda. The baptismal record (at St. Joseph's Church, South Easton, PA) does not list a father, though Hetzler is credited in some other documents. However, he never shows up in any household records.

She met Daniel J. Flynn (age 21), originally of Washington, NJ, in Newark, where the Daniel had gone to work in the shoe factories. Possibly Matilda had gone there for the same reason. They were married in 1892 in St. Peter's Church, the German Catholic parish on Belmont Ave. (now Irvine Turner Blvd.) Newark, NJ. The only witness was Kathie Cassiday, who was Matilda's older sister. Shortly after, before 1900, they moved to Phillipsburg, NJ, where Dan went to work as a blacksmith at the Warren Foundry. That's him on the far right of the picture, above.

Although in theory, TOF should remember his great-grandmother, in practice he was too little for the memory to take and has no practical recollections and must rely on his own grandfather:
"My mother and her mother had a way with food. This priest... what was his name... Regnery from St. Joe's used to come on Sunday, cause if they had something special they used to let him know. 'So if you're interested, just stop by.' I heard my mother say the priest'd get up, walk around a bit, then sit down again and say, 'I'll have another helping of that.'
"And my mother [Matilda] and her mother {Mary] spoke German, especially when the 'big-eared Flynn' was around, because I didn't understand, y'know. The consequence was that when I did start school, my first nickname at school was 'Dutch.' 'Dutch Flynn!' Can you imagine that? 'Cause I got my wees and wubbleyous all fouled up from listening to my mother and her mother talk. For my 'w' I would say 'v' and the 'v' I would say 'w' until I got untangled. And that was my first nickname."
In 1913, Tillie's son, Martin, died of diphtheria a few weeks shy of his fourth birthday in the family residence at 161 Lewis St. The doctor had been called to the house, and after examining the child wrote a prescription and handed it to TOF's grandfather, then 13, saying, "Run as fast as you can to the drug store and bring this back." So Pop-pop set off down the block and reached the drug store out of breath, handing over the prescription. The druggist looked at it and rushed off to make the medicine. He gave it to Pop-pop, who then ran back to the house and breathlessly handed the medicine over to his mother, who was rocking Martin on her lap in the big rocking chair. Martin swallowed the medicine, coughed, and after a while he said, "Sing 'Pony Boy' for me." This was his favorite song. And so Tillie sang to him.

Partway through the song, she fell silent. Then still in silence, she rose and carried the child to his bedroom. He had died in her arms while she sang. Even many years later, Pop-pop could not help but wonder: if only he had run faster...

It is the hardest thing for a mother to see her child die.

Anne, Mother of Daniel
5. Anne Elizabeth Lynch, Mother of Daniel. The previous photograph actually showed three Mothers of Flynns. Left to right: Tillie Mother of Pop-pop, Blanche Mother of Pere, and the old woman in the center, Anne Mother of Daniel. But she was not always old.

She was born of Daniel Lynch and Bridget Barry six days after they set foot in the US. Said feet being set in Burlington VT, it is evident that the entry was through Canada during the Great Hunger and must have been off one of the first ships to reach Grosse Isle quarantine station after the ice broke up in the St. Lawrence that year. This was during the anti-immigrant fever of the Know Nothings. However, the railroads needed labor willing to work under harsh conditions, so the Lynches made their way to Washington NJ and the railyards for the Delaware, Lackawana and Western Rail Road. The Pop-pop of TOF recollected that Anne had worked "for a miller and his wife." Later research revealed this to be a farmer named "A. Miller." Anne was a servant or maid in their household. Thus does the oral tradition often preserve truths.

About 1865 Anne met John Thomas Flynn, newly arrived from Co. Galway to work in the railyards. One of her granddaughters, Anne Pippitt, later recalled how her grandmother had found John Thomas so very handsome leading the St. Patrick Day parade atop a white horse. Whether this is what originally attracted her is hard to say. All Flynns are handsome, no?

Since Catholicism had recently been legalized in New Jersey, they did not need to travel to Pennsylvania to marry, and set about effecting the usual large family. They lived in the railroad houses, an area known as "Dublin" for obvious reasons. In the 1870 Census, there were several boarders in the house with them, as well as John's brother Patrick. In 1880, the Census-taker had snarkily recorded Anne's occupation as "keeping shanty" rather than "keeping house" as was done for Sassanach women. Modern readers must understand that keeping house was a much more laborious task then than it is today.

John was killed in a railroad accident in 1881, and Anne was left a widow with seven kids. The older boys, then aged 12 and 10, hopped the freight as it rolled through the yards and went through the tunnel to Oxford Furnace, where they worked in the Nail Mill to help support the family. After the furnace "went dark," they went north and found jobs in a shoe factory. [One, Daniel, eventually found his way to Newark, where he married Matilda Ochenfuss, mentioned above.] The older daughter died young of Bright's disease. When the younger daughter married Tom Sawyer and moved to Trenton, Anne and her remaining sons moved with them and Anne became their housekeeper.

6. Honora Mahony, Mother of John Thomas Flynn. We know almost nothing of her save that she lived in Loughrea, Co. Galway, and married Martin Flynn. In the baptismal records of the parish, there are two records apiece for a Mary and a Martin Flynn born to the couple. Why two with the same names? The answer may lie in that the first two were born prior to the Famine and the second two after the Famine (and accompanying cholera plague). Every mother in this honor roll has lost at least one child prematurely, except the Incomparable Marge. We know nothing about their life in Ireland, save that Martin was probably not a landowner, since there are some lists where Martin should have appeared if he had been.

Her sons Patrick and John emigrated to America and later her son Martin and husband Martin, who died shortly afterward. It would seem that Honora had died sometime in between.


Martin Flynn & Honora Mahony

John Flynn & Anne Lynch
Dan Flynn & Matilda Ochenfuss

Francis Flynn & Blanche Cantrel
Joe Flynn and Rita Singley
TOF and the Incomparable Marge

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hillbilly Thomism

My brother Sean sent me this, for which I thank him.

No Question, These Dogs Can Bark
Washington Free Beacon / Micah Meadowcroft

Question. Whether Dominican Friars Can Play Bluegrass

Objection 1. It seems that a handful of Dominican friars (two handfuls on the album<>) should not be a bestselling bluegrass band. Bluegrass is Protestant stuff, soulful songs for whitewashed independent Baptist churches and big homey kitchens and not Latin nerds in white habits in Northeast D.C.

Objection 2. Further, bluegrass is as Americana as anything, and until John F. Kennedy bedded the White House and Bill Buckley built the conservative coalition, Catholics were not exactly accepted or accepting of the American thing. Americanism is a heresy after all.

Objection 3. Further, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White admitted in opening their concert near the White House this past week, bluegrass is as often about murder and unrequited love as it is about God. That a bunch of religious should sell thousands of copies of such music may strike as odd, considering their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

On the contrary, inspiring these good Catholic boys, Flannery O'Connor said of herself, "Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas . . . I'm a hillbilly Thomist," and band-member Br. Justin Bolger said in his original song "I'm a Dog"—after the traditional domini canis "hound of the Lord" pun on Dominican—"I’m a dog with a torch in my mouth for my Lord / Making noise while I got time."

I answer that, in an eponymous album and great live show under the watching eyes of the Catholic Information Center's wall-covering icons, "The Hillbilly Thomists" have marked their territory in the bluegrass world. To combine jargon hip both with the kids these days and with Dominicans—this music is fire.

Reply to Objection 1. They came to bluegrass and Thomism the usual ways, which is to say, through their culture—Catholics south of Dixie who love and play music. Fr. White learned mandolin in Kentucky while living in Cincinnati 16 years ago before moving to D.C., and with time, enough like-minded and like-voiced friars congregated here to make Hillbilly Thomists a going concern.

Reply to Objection 2. While bluegrass became what it is, adopting and combining English ballads and hymns and gospel and blues, Catholic sacred music was set in a traditional Latin liturgical context with Gregorian chant and all the other related resplendent smells and bells. But that hardly means when they take up the banjo that Thomas Aquinas's spiritual brothers are engaged in the—post-Vatican II—fairly common appropriation seen in singing a Luther hymn at Mass. For another influence on Americana is distinctly Catholic: Irish folk music.

Reply to Objection 3. The fathers and brothers of the Dominican House of Studies take a break from their scholarship to record an album of sacred music every year, to be sold to support the house's work and facilities, and the funds raised by this kitchen-table casual departure from convention will go to, apropos, a new kitchen. But homey as the music is, it is sacred nonetheless. Here's to hoping for more from the Hillbilly Thomists.

The post No Question, These Dogs Can Bark appeared first on Washington Free Beacon.

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