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, December 27, 2010

The Decline and Fall

An alert reader at First Things magazine did a Google search on the frequency with which two words appeared in books in various periods: "virtue" and "sex".  While the decline of one and the increase of the others is no surprise -- we'll leave it as a surprise to guess which declined and which increased -- it was startling to see how quickly they flipped.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

Just in Time!

Expectations high for panel targeting teen pregnancy;
Critics fear emphasis on condoms

Byline: Cheryl Wetzstein; The Washington Times


Leaders of a new national campaign against teen pregnancy say they plan to reduce the teen-pregnancy rate by one-third by 2005, although they're not sure how.

Well, they are never quite sure how; but intentions are all that matter.  It's all about feeling good about yourself. 

And just in time, too: 

US teen birth rate at all-time low, economy cited
-- headline, Lehigh Valley Express-Times  (et al.) 

Okay.  I know pregnancy rate > birth rate.  The difference is largely in the abortion rate, though there are also miscarriages and things of that sort.  Even so, the target of my wrath is this tidbit:

The U.S. teen birth rate in 2009 fell to its lowest point in almost 70 years of record-keeping — a decline that stunned experts who believe it's partly due to the recession.

Due to the recession?  Due to the recession??  The recession!!!?  A wet towel, please, until the anguish passes. 

Don't these people look at the data?  The article in the local paper included a graph and reprinted the wire story as if the graph did not exist.  I was unable to find the graph in on-line versions of the story in the Express-Times, the Washington Post, and a couple other spot checks; so I recreated it myself from the Statistical Abstracts of the United States.  There is this caveat: the birth rates for any given year sometimes change in the tables from later years.  I did not have time to resolve that point and in most of the cases I glanced at, the adjustment was not very large. 

OK.  Here it is:

Monday, December 20, 2010

Irony Award of 2010

"Lawyers for Julian Assange have expressed anger about an alleged smear campaign against the Australian WikiLeaks founder," the Australian reports:
In a move that surprised many of Mr Assange's closest supporters on Saturday, The Guardian newspaper published previously unseen police documents that accused Mr Assange in graphic detail of sexually assaulting two Swedish women. One witness is said to have stated: "Not only had it been the world's worst screw, it had also been violent."
Bjorn Hurtig, Mr Assange's Swedish lawyer, said he would lodge a formal complaint to the authorities and ask them to investigate how such sensitive police material leaked into the public domain. "It is with great concern that I hear about this because it puts Julian and his defence in a bad position," he told a colleague.
"I do not like the idea that Julian may be forced into a trial in the media. And I feel especially concerned that he will be presented with the evidence in his own language for the first time when reading the newspaper. I do not know who has given these documents to the media, but the purpose can only be one thing--trying to make Julian look bad."

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Interchangeable, Suburban Men

John Lukacs wrote in The Passing of the Modern Age (1970):

Except for two republics [France and Switzerland] as late as 1910 every European state was still a monarchy, but the actual political power of the monarchs was dwindling everywhere.... 

Of course it is very often true that officials of a central government, sitting in their capital, gravely and injudiciously interfere with the lives and property of citizens in distant provinces or towns, without having consulted them at all, and without either considering or understanding their particular problems.  But there is no longer any guarantee (if there ever was) that people elected or appointed locally will be more capable or even more considerate...

Why is the election of supervisors of townships, or mayors of small towns, an even less inspiring exercise of one's civic duties than the election of a governor or a president?  Is it because people feel... that these locally elected men have little power?  Not necessarily: the budgets that local governments and school boards handle nowadays are enormous, their powers of regulating properties are very large indeed.  The answer, I submit, is to be found elsewhere.  People have become distrustful of the kind of men and women who are interested in holding this kind of power at all. 

In the long run the rule of aristocracy has been succeeded not by the rule of democracy but by the rule of bureaucracy.  Let us examine this pallid aphorism a little more closely.  If one does not like aristocracy one is, most probably, a democrat by preference; or the other way around.  But one's exasperation with bureaucracy is a different matter: it is at the same time more superficial and more profound than our dislike for either form of government.  The democratic exercise of periodic elections does not compensate people sufficiently against their deep-seated knowledge that they are being ruled by hundreds of thousands of bureaucrats, in every level of government, in every institution, on every level of life. 

These bureaucrats are not the trainees of a rigid state apparatus, or of capitalist institutions, as their caricatures during the nineteenth century showed them.  They are the interchangeable, suburban men and women of the forever present, willing employees of the monster Progress

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Christmas Time is Here, By Golly


Yesterday, Margie and I wended to the wilds of Manhattan, where we had lunch at Rolf's German Restaurant, with its tastefully understated Christmas decorations (see left).  We were hosted by my esteemed editor, David Hartwell of Tor.  I had Jäger Schnitzl mit Spätzl with creamed herring for appetizer.  I asked if anyone wanted to help me eat the fish, but I had no herring aid. 

David indicated that he had finished reading In the Lion's Mouth and in his opinion, it was "magnificent." 

Now I am not one to disagree, but I thought it was crap.  Of course, that's what I always think when I have gotten to the end of a book.  All of its flaws are so glaring!  But there you have it.  He said he especially liked the linkage to Huizinga's book, which he had sensed in the Shadow culture even before he got to my acknowledgments.  How did he finish it so quickly, I asked.  He said he couldn't stop reading it. 

On the Disappearance of Science Fiction

Kirkus Reviews has revealed the Best SF of 2010.  I am sure that all the books they list are very good, but I was interested to note the virtual absence of SF from the list.  As near as I can tell only two of the fifteen books are SFnal, and there is something very borderline about the last one. 

How much of this is due to the collapse of the Modern Ages?  Recall that the modern ages were bourgeois, industrial, and scientific, and it is no surprise that a type of fiction developed that featured imaginable technological innovation as a key background element.  In early genre fiction, it even comprised the foreground! 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

Odds and Ends

Quick on the Uptake

Our ever-vigilant Congress has come down hard on that great vexing issue of our times: TV ads that are louder than the programs they pay for.  Yes, we're talking about the Commercial Advertising Loudness Mitigation Act, or CALM Act.  (The Honorable Members invest a great deal of effort in devising apposite acronymable titles for their Acts.)  Sponsoring Rep. the Hon. Anna Eshoo (Gesundheit, D-CA) announced, "Consumers have been asking for a solution to this problem for decades, and today they finally have it."  For decades?  There is no stopping the blitzkrieg of the congressional juggernaut.  "[The bill] gives consumers peace of mind, because it puts them in control of the sound in their homes."  Anyone with small children at home realizes how elusive that control is. 

Of course, all this is after pretty much everybody has a TiVo or a DVR and hence the ability to skip commercials entirely.

Next up: "The pressing problems of junk faxes..."
(h/t: WSJ Best of the Web)
+

Saturday, December 11, 2010

Words of Wisdom

Quote of the Day

If you never feel stupid, you're an idiot.   -- Brandon Watson

Looking for Space Aliens?

Here's a good candidate.  Pretty eerie-looking critter.  And what are those balls atop its thorax for?


Help Me Bubba-wan! You Are My Only Hope!

And who better than The Man from Hope?  Yet there is something ineffably sad about this scene.  The president, hopelessly out of his pay grade, calls upon the Pro from Dover, who delivers as always.  And then, in media res, simply wanders off because he has, well, other things to do.  Everything may be factual.  He may very well have had other things to do.  But there is an odd tone-deafness to the imagery in this, the post-modern Age of Image.  Visually, he seems to announce his own irrelevance.  This is not what his supporters thought they were electing; and in a way it is not what his opponents thought they were resisting, either. 



(h/t The Anchoress; Instapundit)

Give us Reagan or give us Nixon!  Give us FDR or give us LBJ!  Our presidents should succeed greatly or fail gloriously.  Give us Jesus or give us Barabbas!  But don't give us the smoke. 

Friday, December 10, 2010

Sometimes, the Mask Slips, a Little

A quote that is disheartening to read:

Then, in 2003, the same data set, which in their [IPCC’s] publications, in their website, was a straight line—suddenly it changed, and showed a very strong line of uplift, 2.3 mm per year, the same as from the tide gauge. And that didn’t look so nice. It looked as though they had recorded something; but they hadn’t recorded anything. It was the original one which they had suddenly twisted up, because they entered a “correction factor,” which they took from the tide gauge. So it was not a measured thing, but a figure introduced from outside. I accused them of this at the Academy of Sciences in Moscow—I said you have introduced factors from outside; it’s not a measurement. It looks like it is measured from the satellite, but you don’t say what really happened. And they answered, that we had to do it, because otherwise we would not have gotten any trend!
-- Dr. Nils-Axel Mörner

Klimaschutz hat mit Umweltschutz kaum mehr etwas zu tun, sagt der Ökonom Ottmar Edenhofer. Der nächste Weltklimagipfel in Cancún sei eigentlich ein Wirtschaftsgipfel, bei dem es um die Verteilung der Ressourcen gehe.
-- Klimapolitik verteilt das Weltvermögen neu
(Climate policy has almost nothing to do anymore with environmental protection, says the German economist and IPCC official Ottmar Edenhofer. The next world climate summit in Cancun is actually an economics summit during which the distribution of the world's resources will be negotiated.)
 ...

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Headline of the Day

Just in Case You've Forgotten
"Three Suicides in Peoria in 24 Hours Prompts [sic] Police to Remind Residents Not to Kill Themselves"
--headline, Phoenix New Times website, Dec. 7


Irony of the Week Award
"It was 54 deg. F in Cancun this morning — a record low for the date."
http://www.drroyspencer.com/2010/12/gore-effect-strikes-cancun/

The Gore Effect is in full swing!  


 

Arsenic and Old Lace

Does a New Life Form Mean God Is Dead?

The recent NASA announcement of bacteria that use arsenic in place of phosphorous in their DNA chains has prompted the Usual Suspects to attempt a metaphysical conclusion from a tentative derivative measurement.  To wit:

http://www.politicsdaily.com/2010/12/04/does-a-new-life-form-mean-god-is-dead/?ncid=webmail

"The polite thing to say is that discoveries such as this don't really impeach the credibility of established religion, but in truth of course they really do," David Niose, president of the American Humanist Association (AHA), a leading secularist organization, said of this week's revelations about the microbes discovered in Lake Mono in California.

"The fact that life can spring forth in this way from nature, taken in context with what else we've learned in recent centuries about space and time, surely makes it less plausible that the human animal is the specially favored creation of all-powerful, all-knowing divinity," Niose said.

Why do people who proclaim the superiority of reason do such a persistently poor job of using it?  One expects poor reasoning from Young Earth Creationists, but at least they make no claims to worship at the altar of the cerebral. 

Friday, December 3, 2010

The Forest of Time

Free Story!!

Arc Manor, which has brought out my old collection, The Forest of Time and Other Stories, with some updates and enhancements, offers a story, selection or a book free as an ebook. 

They are offering the title story from the Anthology - "The Forest of Time" - as their free give-away in December.

The story is set in an independent, German-speaking Commonwealth of Pennsylvania, on the brink of war with her neighbors: New York, Wyoming Valley, the Long House, and Virginia.  The US never gelled and we have dozens of little quarrelsome principalities at about pre-WW1 level technology.  Machine guns but no airships or radio.  Into this mess steps Hernando Kelly, a cross-time traveler from our world-line, and in him Chief Scout Rudi Knecht, the Hexmajor, and Festungskommodant Vondervogel take keen interest.  Is he a spy for the yankees in Wilkes-Barre?  A madman?  Or exactly what he claims to be? 

http://www.graspingforthewind.com/2010/12/02/free-ebook-the-forest-of-time-by-michael-flynn/

http://www.sfsignal.com/archives/2010/12/free-ebook-the-forest-of-time-by-michael-flynn/

The coupon code is 9992374 and instructions and links are at our catalogue at
http://www.PPickings.com

Feel free to publicize this as you will. 

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Ye Olde Booke Store

Mailed a bunch of books off to a blogfriend, then strolled across the street to a little used book store I patronize.  Browsed a bit and fortuitously encountered A.C.Crombie's Medieval and Early Modern Science.  It's vol. ii, but that's the fun centuries: XIII - XVII cent.  Except for that Black Death thingie.  Then, a couple bookcases later, John Lukacs' Outgrowing Democracy, in which he describes the collapse of the American Republic: The Degeneration of Popular Democracy to a Publicity Contest. The Passage from a Democratic Order to a Bureaucratic State. 

I asked the proprietor, an elderly fellow - i.e., older than me - if he could secure some particular books for me.  It's worth a few bucks to me not to have to hunt around.  I've been looking for W. Edwards Deming's The Statistical Adjustment of Data, because I have become interested in how the climate scientists adjust the raw data they harvest from the surface stations.  My impression is that there are no statisticians on "The Team."  To my surprise, the proprietor knew of Deming.  It turns out his father had been good friends with W.Ed back in the 1930s.  The number of intermediate acquaintances is always smaller than people suppose.  I also asked for another Lukacs book: The Passing of the Modern Age, which I had read years ago in a library copy.  I wanted this to inform an article I'm trying to write on the end of the Modern Ages. 

Meanwhile, finishing up Harry Turtledove's deCampian novel, Owls to Athens, and still going back to Huizinga's The Autumn of the Middle Ages, which requires slower reading, as well as Gilson's tome on Thomistic philosophy, ditto.

All this made possible by the sending unto Tor of the ms for In the Lion's Mouth, after a second pass by yr. obt. svt. that left 8000 words of immortal prose writhing in the blood and sand. 

The War Between Fact and Theory

Another message board had the following exchange: 

A: So much of what is taught in school is still technically "Theory" even as it is being taught as fact - like The Big Bang, for instance.

B: The statement quoted above mostly just signals a rather low level of scientific literacy--a lack of awareness of how the words "fact" and "theory" are typically used in science and how that usage differs from the vernacular.

Now my own peculiar experience is that many folks who make the latter point understand the difference no better than those who make the former.  This includes scientists, who frequently make very poor philosophers.  (The distinction between theory and fact is a philosophical one, not a scientific one.  Neither theories nor facts are physical bodies measurable by science.)  There are those who suggest, for example, that a theory that has been verified a great many times becomes a fact.  This is a little like saying that a baseball team that wins a great many games becomes a base hit. 

The Layer Cake of Science

The distinction between Fact, Law, and Theory was laid out by the logical positivists of yore.  These were philosophers of science like Poincare, Mach, Duhem, and Einstein that P.Z.Meyers once derided as running alongside the mighty Locomotive of Science, hollering advice and observations to the likes of the puissant Baconian engineer P.Z.Meyers. 

Start from the bottom, at which we find Empirical Experiences.  Things that we see, hear, feel, etc.  Both science and philosophy start here, but move in different directions.  The scientific direction runs thusly:

1. Facts.  When these experiences can be operationally measured, they become facts.  Factum est being the participle of "to make," a fact is "something made," a "feat."  Measurement creates facts because the same thing measured in two different ways will often produce two different results.  The experiment is the premier fact-producing machine, but facts may also be made by meticulously described qualitative observations, such as those Darwin made.  (The distinction is oft expressed as between "active" and "passive" statistics.) 

2. Laws.  Regularities or patterns in the facts are called laws, especially when they can be expressed in mathematical terms.  But they can also be expressed verbally.  Newton originally did so.  The equations associated with his three laws came later - and don't quite correspond to the three laws as he actually stated them.  There is no math at all in Darwin, but he did enunciate some laws or principles of evolution. 
          
3. Physical Theories.  These are stories or narratives in the context of which a specified body of facts "makes sense."  Newton's theory of gravitation "made sense" of Kepler's astronomical observations and mathematical laws.  Given a physical theory, the natural laws may be deduced and the facts predicted.  When facts are predicted beyond those originally used to develop the theory and then are subsequently found, the theory is further supported.  But no amount of support will change a theory into a fact, as such. 

Stop the Presses!

Who Would Have Suspected?

An especially clueless atheist has discovered that a Catholic hospital endorses, well, Catholicism.

In a blog post, he whines: 
I am a strong atheist by definition, and I have a great job and love my profession except I feel completely stifled at work. I work for a private catholic hospital and they REALLY push religion down our throats as well as those that use the facility. There are pamphlets lying around everywhere about coming to christ and how the "good" lord will solve all the problems of the word-including the sick and dying patients. They broadcast a prayer twice a day and each time I hear it I simply become angry.

The On-going Collapse of the Modern Ages

Remember the people who married inanimate objects , like the Eiffel Tower (in a touching ceremony attended by a few close friends), and the woman who (possibly in a very expensive joke) married herself?
The on-going redefinition of marriage continues now with an Australian man who has married his pet dog:


"Puppy Love: Man Marries a Real Dog"--headline, Toowoomba (Australia) Chronicle, Dec. 1

A YOUNG Toowoomba man yesterday tied the knot with his best friend – a five-year-old labrador.
In perhaps a first for the Garden City, Laurel Bank Park hosted the wedding of Joseph Guiso and Honey, a labrador he adopted five years ago.
Thirty of the couple’s closest friends and family were in attendance for the emotional ceremony, held at dusk.
"You’re my best friend and you make every part of my day better," Mr Guiso’s vows read.
The couple decided on the location – and to tie the knot - after stumbling upon a wedding in Laurel Bank Park during an afternoon walk.
"I said that could be us," Mr Guiso said.
"She didn’t say anything so I took that as a yes."
That "perhaps a first" was a nice touch.  It's not clear if the bride's age is an issue under Australian law.  Nor is it clear how many of the wedding guests were from the bride's side.  But one imagines a sordid possibility in which a smooth-talking seducer, waving a porterhouse steak before Honey, entices her to leave her husband and get a divorce.  Would the she be entitled to a share of Mr. Guiso's property?  What if Mr. Guiso feeds another dog?  Would that constitute unfaithfulness?  If the marriage is not consummated, can it then be annulled?  The mind boggles!

OK.  No it doesn't.  But that's because everyone knows (except perhaps Mr. Guiso) that this is not a real marriage.  There are no potential offspring to protect; no family alliances.  It is only play-marriage, one more example of how the Post-Modern Age's use of the forms of Modern institutions without adopting the matter of the institution.  And form without matter is not substantial.* 

And isn't the emptying out of the substance of marriage the whole point? 

(* form without substance.  For another example, consider how Late Modern dictatorships and tyrannies employ the forms of democracy - elections, plebiscites, parliaments - without the substance.)