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

Monday, May 4, 2015

Quote of the Day

We aren’t in a “marketplace of ideas.” If they are true, they are not fungible; if they are false, they are worthless.
++++
Violence is also a currency, as Messrs Daish, Qaeda, Boko Haram, &c, remind us every day. It can be more efficient than money in getting what you want, and is quicker than queueing, though like money it requires good management to get the best results. Which is just where psychopaths most frequently go wrong: they do not think ahead.
++++
-- David Warren, Marketplace of ideas

Saturday, May 2, 2015

Friday, May 1, 2015

TOF in Örnsköldsvik

A fair number of years ago, TOF awoke one May Day morning to the sound of a brass band tuning up outside his hotel window. However, said window was in Örnsköldsvik, Västernorrland County, Sweden  while TOF's brain was somewhere over mid-Atlantic, so however welcome the sound of brass bands might be in the early morning, it was not so much so under the jet-lagged circumstances.

Now the Swedishly challenged among TOF's readers may have noted an unconscionable concatenation of consonants in the name of the town Örnsköldsvik (which means "Ox-shield-bay"); to wit rnsk and ldsv. These might challenge even a Russian, the mightiest consonant cruncher this side of Polish. So even the Swedes care for their tongues by calling the town Ö-vik.

TOF does not say that the town is remote, but there is not much north of it except lots of north. On the road out of town -- TOF is not making this up -- there was a sign with an arrow pointing north reading "Santa Klaus".

But TOF, I hear you say, what were you doing in such a remote location as Örnsköldsvik, Västernorrland County, Sweden on such a nice May morning?

Catherine of Siena and Deaconfest '15


Deacons R Us
Yesterday was the Feast of Catherine of Siena, a Doctor of the Church. Not coincidentally, five days earlier, the Bishop of Allentown ordained 47 deacons, the largest class of permanent deacons in the US at St. Thomas More. See above.

The Cathedral church of the diocese is St. Catherine of Siena, which possesses a relic of the saint.David Warren write a nice encomium to the Doctor, one of four women with that distinction. (The other three are  Hildegard of Bingen ["The Sybil of the Rhine"], Teresa of Ávila, and Thérèse of Lisieux ["The Little Flower"]. Mr. Warren writes:
She is among the largest figures in Church history, but also in worldly, political affairs; a paragon for sanctity in absolute terms; a font of spiritual knowledge communicated in hundreds of extraordinary letters, prayers, meditations — and her Dialogue of Divine Providence, a formative work in the Tuscan vernacular. She stands astride the fourteenth century as a beacon to all ages: patroness of Italy (with Saint Francis Assisi), mystical counterpart to Dante, and angel of reconciliation across Christendom.
Yet more extraordinary, to us glib moderns: everything she accomplished remains within sight of the demonstrable historical record; everything witnessed with conventional human eyes, and surviving in evidence still physically available.
Were nothing holy allowed to her — nothing the agnostic historian will recognize as miraculous — she must still be admired for having, often single-handedly, by the boldest imaginable acts of persuasion, on the basis of no formal authority or title, achieved astounding things.
These would include healing the Great Schism of the fourteenth century; bringing the papacy from exile in Avignon home to Rome (with Europe-wide ramifications); negotiating peace between warring Italian states; quelling insurrections; reforming the incorrigible; and turning the whole worldly activity of the Church once again healthily outward — back on mission and crusade, after a period of institutional self-immolation almost as shameful to recount as our own times. And this before she died, “under the whole weight of the Barque of Peter,” at the age of thirty-three.

Wednesday, April 29, 2015

Oddities

Sometimes, things are just odd.

There is an apartment complex along the way we take to go out west of town that bears the unlikely name of "Robin Hood and His Merry Band." There are eight buildings, four on each side of the road. Each building looks to contain four apartments, two at garden level and two above. Each building bears a name on its wall: Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck, Little John, Alan a Dale, Will Scarlett, Fair Annette, and hmmm. Me forgeteth the last one.

To complete the oddity: the street that runs between them, connecting Freemansburg Ave. with the William Penn Highway, is called "Greenwood Ave."

Saturday, April 25, 2015

Underdetermination

One hears much that scientific theories are underdetermined; that through any finite collection of facts, one may draws countless explanatory theories. The existence of at least four or five theories of quantum mechanics to explain the same body of facts is an illustration, even if one of them is more popular than the others.¹ ² The Copenhagen Interpretation insists that all potencies exist until the particle is actualized by measurement. The equations don't tell us how a particle’s properties "solidify" at that moment of measurement, or "how reality picks which form to take. But the calculations work."

Although in matters of religion the existence of multiple interpretations is said to prove that there is no "there" there, it does not do so in matters of Science!™ because Invisible Sky Fairies! It is simply in the nature of theories that there can always be more than one for any given set of data. Recall how, at the dawn of the modern age there were multiple theories explaining the motions of the heavens, with the Ptolemaic theory being the most popular, the "consensus science." The calculations worked, but they did not tell us how the planets moved as they did.

But "the quanta are a hopeless mess" and it is useful to have a more homey example of underdetermination. Detective fiction is good at this: maintaining multiple theories of whodunnit until the end, when a new fact or a new arrangement of the facts collapses the potencies into an actual. The new fact may be the discovery of stellar aberration or the Afshar Experiment.

But here is an example of how a fact may support multiple theories:

Matt Briggs, the Statistician to the Stars, recently noted a kerfuffle in the rarefied world of chess.
Chess Grandmaster Nigel Short caused a stink, reaching oooo-weee! but not quite burn-him! levels, when he said that men and women are different and that men are better at chess than women.

Female chess player Amanda Ross said in response that, it is “incredibly damaging when someone so respected basically endorses sexism”. Sexism is when a disparity of any kind exists between males and females.
Let's call these the Short Theory and the Ross Theory.
So let us appeal to the Facts! In a list of living Grandmasters, there are:
  • 1413 men 
  • 33 women.
This fact supports Short's theory that men are better at chess.

It also supports Ross's theory that sexism in chess suppresses women's achievement.

This is why proponents of a theory are seldom swayed by the facts. Facts alone have no swaying power, since they will (and must) be interpreted in the light of some theory.


Notes:
1. Further confused by the fact that the mathematical formalism common to them all is also referred to broadly as "quantum theory." But "quantum theory" as such is not a theory. 
2. For the record, four that come trippingly to mind are:
a) Copenhagen (Bohr, Heisenberg), which reifies Aristotelian potencies until measurement collapses reality onto one of them.
b) Standing Wave (deBroglie, Bohm), in which the particle rides on the wave.
c) Many Worlds (Wheeler) in which all potencies are actualized, but in different worlds.
d) Transactional (Cramer) in which the wave travels backward as well as forward in time, thus reifying final cause.

Friday, April 24, 2015

From the Corner of the Eye

The first of the Irish Pub stories, now up on the Story Page, was actually the second one written. "From the Corner of the Eye" appeared in Analog (Nov. 1993). Like all its successors, it is a frame story; that is, a story-within-a-story, amounting to some 3900 words. As such it is an heir and homage to Pratt and deCamp's Tales from Gavagan's Bar and Clarke's Tales from the White Hart as well as more recently, Spider Robinson's Callahan's Saloon. 

A frame device is distancing, so to maintain a degree of conflict, we have the denizens of the bar engaged in an argument, which elicits the story from Professor Cooker.

The regulars at the bar introduced in this story are O Daugherty Himself (the bartender), Mickey (the narrator), Danny Mulloney, Doc Mooney, and The O Neill. The latter has the habit of ducking out whenever one of these stories begins.

The compleat Irish Pub stories to date are:
  1. From the Corner of the Eye    (3900 words)
  2. Flame of Iron    (2200 words)
  3. Built Upon the Sands of Time    (6000 words)
  4. 3rd Corinthians    (3900 words)
  5. Still Coming Ashore    (11,000 words)
  6. Probably Murder    (930 words)
  7. Where the Winds Are All Asleep  (18,300 words)
Total: 46, 230 words. This is too short to interest publishers in a book length collection and, perversely, I have not thought of any further stories for the setting that would not feel forcibly shoved into it. In fact, #7 might have been better suited as a story without the frame.