Reviews

A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Thursday, March 29, 2012

In 1961

...futurists imagined that the milkman would have a robot "dobbin" that would follow him as he made his rounds.  Courtesy of Paleofuture.
What they did not imagine was that kids today would wonder, "What's a milkman?" 

When I was a kid, the milkman and the eggman both made home deliveries.  They came down from the farms on the hill or from the co-op.  (My mother also took us on weekly hikes to the corner grocery story, to Korte's meat market, to Thatcher's fish market, etc.  There was also a weekly farmers' market in Centre Square.)  The milkman is long gone now, and from a confluence of multiple factors:
  1. Reliable electrical refrigerators meant that frequent deliveries of fresh milk were no longer necessary.  
  2. The movement into the suburbs meant more travel time between houses, adding to the cost of home milk delivery
  3. So-called "super markets" combining grocery store, meat market, fish market, bakery, et al. into a single establishment made milk available on one's regular market trips.  
  4. Stan Schmidt writes of the convergence
    of multiple strands of techochange
  5. The personal automobile enabled housewives (yes, housewives) to make such market trips to the central super market and carry large amounts of food on each trip.  
Futurists often see tomorrow's technology as merely enabling or improving today's practices and customs.  Whatever we do today, we will be able to do faster, cheaper, better tomorrow.  But in fact, we will generally do something else entirely.  The confluence of multiple changes creates complex feedback loops and synergistic effects.  This is also what makes central planning a mug's game.  Imagine government planning in the 1950s for the future of the home milk delivery process! 


[O]ne of the games to which [the human race] is most attached is called … “Cheat the Prophet.”  The players listen very carefully and respectfully to all that the clever men have to say about what is to happen in the next generation.  The players then wait until all the clever men are dead, and bury them nicely.  Then they go and do something else.  That is all.  For a race of simple tastes, however, it is great fun.
– G.K. Chesterton, The Napoleon of Notting Hill

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Agora, the Gift that Keeps on Giving

Catching up on tabs. 

A schlock movie
A scholarly source,
albeit secondary
Over at Armarium Magnum, an atheist blogger yclept Tim O'Neill, who often takes his fellow atheists to task for being, well, stupid and ignorant about history, returns to the movie Agora

Agora was a movie that purported to tell the life and death of Hypatia of Alexandria, and which hit all the expected tropes.  As Marie Dzielka pointed out in her seminal book (entitled, appropriately enough, Hypatia of Alexandria), the poor Neoplatonic philosopher has been roped in as a Symbol for whichever hobby horse the current age was riding.  To Gibbon's generation, she symbolized Classicism and the fine old Greco-Roman civilization.  To 19th centurians like Draper and White, she symbolized Science (vs. Religion).  More recently, she has symbolized Woman (hear her roar).  In each mythos, Hypatia was killed because she was a pagan, because she was a "scientist" [sic], or because she was a woman.  Better yet, because she was a scientific pagan woman! 

Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Universes for Nothing

Columbia University philosopher David Albert reviewed the latest book by science popularizer Lawrence Krauss in the NYTimes Sunday Book Review, 23 March 2012.  He was not kind.

The book is entitled A Universe from Nothing: Why There Is Something Rather than Nothing, and was described by well-known fellow science-popularizer Richard Dawkins with these words:
“Even the last remaining trump card of the theologian, ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?,’ shrivels up before your eyes as you read these pages. If ‘On the Origin of Species’ was biology’s deadliest blow to super­naturalism, we may come to see ‘A Universe From Nothing’ as the equivalent from cosmology. The title means exactly what it says. And what it says is ­devastating.”
This encomium alone should be sufficient clue that there is less here than meets the eye. 

Clearing the Tabs

A Threat to Learning that We Rarely Consider

On a blog entitled "A Corner of Tenth Century Europe" we find the following comment regarding the "active exchange of manuscripts among religious houses in the twelfth century."  Peter the Venerable wrote to the Carthusians in 1136/7 asking for a volume of the letters of St Augustine ‘because by accident a bear ate a large part of ours in one of our dependencies.’ 
-- Peter the Venerable, Ep. 25, ed. Constable, I, 47; see the notes in II, 112
And you thought "The dog ate my homework" was a new one....  And what sort of accident could lead to a bear eating a book of Augustine's letters anyway?

The Bear Ate My Test Questions

Saturday, March 24, 2012

Sometimes, the Mask Slips, a Little

In another sweeping triumph for bioethics -- and striking a blow for terrasoteria -- Matt Liao (NYU) and Anders Sandberg and Rebecca Roache (Oxford) have decided that human beings are too contrary to do what they are told; so in order to Save the Planet™ we have to bioengineer humans to be more environmentally friendly.  “Human Engineering and Climate Change” to appear in the journal Ethics, Policy and the Environment. Among their progressive innovations: 

Wednesday, March 21, 2012

The Talkies

Some of you may have seen the recent silent movie The Artist about a silent movie actor who resists the move to the talkies.  It's a very good movie,and if you have not seen it, you should.  One of the interesting aspects (aside from ironic dialogue bills in which, e.g., the wife tells the actor, "We need to talk" or the actor declares "I will be heard!") is how very different the acting protocols were for silent films.  They were, in essence, recorded pantomimes, and whatever the actor had to convey was conveyed through posture and facial expression.  Usually, these were exaggerated compared to what we are used to and seem now to be hamming and mugging.  (Something similar, though opposite, can be said regarding radio acting protocols, in which everything had to be conveyed by voice or sound effects.)

Monday, March 19, 2012

Slippery Slope? What Slippery Slope?

Unthinkable!
There is a useful distinction between unthinkable and implausible.  The latter has to do merely with probabilities (whatever they are).  The former has to do with actionability. 


For a very long time, the idea that Rome might be sacked was unthinkable, and only partly because for much of that time it was also implausible.  Sulla or Caesar might cross the Rubicon, or they might compile proscription lists*, but there were some lines they would not cross.  Rome herself was sacred.  Even while Aurelian was burning Alexandria to reunite the Empire, the idea of burning Rome (by then an Imperial backwater) remained unthought. 


Then, one day a Gothic mercenary in arrears on his protection money salary decided to come collect along with a couple thousand of his close personal friends; the sister of two emperors, Galla Placida, "seized control of the Roman Senate and the City and represented the defiance in the last one hundred days of the world"**; and all of a sudden Rome was smoking. 

At which point everyone shook themselves and looked at each other and said, "Hey..."  What had been unthinkable was now thinkable; and before you knew it, everyone and his great aunt Matilda was sacking Rome, or trying to. 
*proscription lists.  The rulers would make secret lists of Roman citizens who could be killed without trial.  Fortunately, America doesn't have...  um, err....
**Galla Placidia.  The quote is from R.A.Lafferty's idiosyncratic Fall of Rome

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Political Joke of the Day

A liberal, a moderate, and a conservative walk into a bar.  The bartender says, "Hi, Mitt." 

The Curmudgeon is Back

TOF will be released into the wild Real Soon Now; and except for some residual weariness, is almost feeling like his Old Self.  Considering how his Old Self was feeling a week ago, this may not seem much; but...

Status report on skiffiness:  

Sunday, March 11, 2012

TOF On the Borderlands of Death

TOF could not get up.  It is bad enough to have fallen and not get up, but he had not even the excuse of having fallen.  Earlier he had napped with the chills, shivering under three comforters.  "This can't be good," he thought.  Indeed, it could not.  Nor could he be pulled from from the sofa by main force.  "Perhaps I am sick," he suggested.  From his lurking place near the floor, Death cackled, "Aye.  Perhaps." 

With a great cry, the Incomparable Marge sprang into action and, tucking TOF under one arm flew him off to the emergency room.  There may have been an EMS truck involved, but this would have been a mere instrumental cause.  Tests were done.  The t-shirt and pillow case on which TOF has sweated green were displayed, and all marveled.  Green sweat, forsooth!  Words like "septic shock" were bruited.  The ER Nurse said to the Incomparable Marge: "When it's all over, I'll come out and give you a big hug." 

Over?  In what way? 

As TOF was wheeled off, Death slithered behind, saying, "Can I come along?"  But the Resident turned and barred the way, saying, "There is no place in here for you." 

In a series of procedures the like of which are fuzzy to TOF, holes were drilled into his right side into the kidney and duct.  These had been blocked by a misfortunate kidney stone, resulting in infection by no less than three infections, turning the emesis into a bloody, poisonous pus.  "A good touch," said Death, "don't you think?  And three infections!  Three!" 

In his delerium, TOF heard some one say that what the ER surgeon had done was "the next best thing to saving his life."  And TOF was not so far gone in delerium as to note that grammatically the statement made little sense.  What exactly is "the next" best thing to that?  You've either saved it or not. 

The Call went out to the International Team of Top Physicians and they flew in from India, Nigeria, sundry European countries, all located within Easton Hospital.  There, they joined in their
Fortress of Solitude and drew on their Spandex uniforms while they Consulted.  Okay, they drew on their Spandex gloves.  There was THE INTERNIST, the MAN OF HEART, KIDNEY-MAN, DR. P., and the dreaded STONEBREAKER.  "My time is not yet," this latter told the others.  "KIDNEY-MAN and DR.P must first clear up the infection before I may use my sonic powers."  "Alas," said KIDNEY-MAN, "the blocked kidney is not working, observe the pus from the shunts."  They rushed TOF into the fortress of the ICU, whose walls were commanded by a formidable Sikh warrior and manned by an array of dedicated fighters name Robin, and Ken, and Angel, and others.  Death tried various stratagems, but the Sikh cried out "Il ne passeront pas!"

And Death turned back sulking, and said, "I bide my time." 

TOF became delirious from the infection.  The MAN OF HEART appeared before him and TOF noted that he had a regular appointment scheduled for that very day, "but I will have to reschedule it." 

Also in his delierium, TOF composed a fantasy epic poem that began
Three knights pledged to the Gates of Garth
Came in search of the Jewels of Jazz.
It originally ran longer and ended in a horrid joke; but fortunately TOF's delirium has obliterated most of it. 

He also wrote several scenes in THE SHIPWRECKS OF TIME but these, while potentially more useful, also went down the memory hole. 

Later came a fighter of another sort: Rev. Elias D. Munyanexa, A.J., who has the ministry to the sick and is resident at the parish TOF afflicts.  "I'm scheduled to be lector tomorrow," TOF said.  "Let them know I won't be there." 

"Mwahahah," said Death.  "Shut up," said Fr. Elias, and he led the Incomparable Marge and TOF in prayer.  Now those who are not connouseieurs of such things believe that prayers are petitions to suspend the laws of the universe.  But Catholics believe the laws of the universe are in fact God's rational will; and this was a Catholic prayer.  After the Pater Noster, Fr. Elias prayed that the doctors would find the knowledge and wisdom to learn the path through the rational working of the body to health.  Some will recognize this as an appeal to the Three Intellective Virtues.

The kidney was still not working, so they moved TOF to the room used for dialysis preparation, which was scheduled for the morrow. 

Later that day, the delightfully-named pastor, Rev. Deogratias Rwegasira, A.J., visited and prayed in much the same manner, adding a Hail Mary because of his special devotion.  In between a Eucharistic minister has visited, too. 

Thus well-fortified, TOF went to sleep. 

In the morning, he awoke and KIDNEY-MAN entered the room.  "The kidney began working overnight!" he cried.  Preparations were already underway to move TOF to normal care facilities.

The struggle is still underway, and it is still uphill; though yesterday it was announced that "the kidney has turned a corner," a good thing provided you turn with it.  Today, TOF felt well enough to essay this account, whimsical as it is. 

"I am not defeated," said Death, where he lay supine on the floor.  "You may have defeated me with the heart attack, and now with the septic shock.  But in the end, I always win." 

And I learned over and whispered maliciously in his horny ear.  "Easter is coming."