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, November 27, 2014

Action Figure

Getting all medieval on your ass is..... Doc Angelic!!


h/t Mark Shea

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mottoes

Get your daily Calvin-Hobbs fix at http://www.gocomics.com/calvinandhobbes/

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Feast of St. Catherine of Alexandria

St. Catherine of Alexandria
Symbolism. The martyr's crown. The wheel on which
she was tortured. The sword by which she was beheaded.

The books and astrolabe for her erudition.
TOF's Faithful Reader may recall that the parish church in Oberhochwald/Eifelheim was the Church of St. Catherine of Alexandria, whose feast is today. She was one of the most popular saints in the Middle Ages, especially so in universities.


Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Clearing the Tabs

An informative potpourri today, O Faithful Reader.



1. Darwin Catholic reports on Slate's denigration of women and its desire that they be more like men, which is the only truly worthy aspiration. Motherhood, it seems, detracts from productivity in business, a cog in which machine is or should be the goal of all. The delight, as Brandon points out in the comments, is to see Slate acting as a shill for corporate interests.

2. Meanwhile, Wired lets us know that those people should not be allowed to "breed." One supposes that "everything old is new again" and the search for the superman continues. Why are they called "progressives" if they simply repeat century-old tropes? What judgment Darwin would make of this!!

3. An intriguing new blog in which issues of climate science are debated among professionals. Each "issue" starts with a statement of the problem followed by three to five "guest blogs" by scientists on one side or another. Best of all, the comments are in two buckets: one for scientists and the other for everyone else. That way the loonies can more easily be ignored. The linked issue regards the possible imminent occurrence of a new Maunder minimum.

4. James Bowman comments on the continuing vandalism of works of art by the barbarians of the New Age. Artists of the past must and will be brought into line with current goodthink.

5. The estimable John C. Wright points us to a video in which a woman walks along the streets of NYC and is accosted by all the usual suspects.This is a parody of another video by feminists which triggered an internecine battle between those wishing to expose the harassment of women and those concerned that all of the harassers shown were POCs.

6. Atheist John Gray on "The Closed Mind of Richard Dawkins." Gray's point is that Dawkins is not a very scientifical fellow and approaches atheism with the unfortunate pulpit-pounding of a religious zealot. Of course, that Dawkins is a Calvinist preacher has long been obvious. What is genetic determinism but predestination in a lab coat.

7. Our old buddy Aristotle comes in for some kudos from unlikely sources. Despite getting many facts wrong -- supposing our translations are accurate as to the meanings of the terms then in use -- his methodology was sound, and is used to this day. So, he should get a retro-Nobel Prize; or at least a reappraisal of his physics. Aristotelian physics, the author contends "is a correct and non-intuitive approximation of Newtonian physics in the suitable domain (motion in fluids), in the same technical sense in which Newton theory is an approximation of Einstein's theory."

8. Speaking of which, Hassing once gave a lecture examining the revolutionary nature of classical physics versus both the Aristotelian physics that preceded it and the quantum physics that supplanted it. He discusses the various shaky foundations that underlie the Newtonian world-view.

9. In line with which is a paper by Nancy Cartwright on How the Laws of Physics Lie.

ΨΦ

A new and curious magazine/journal has come to TOF's attention; viz., Sci Phi Journal, Issue #1 of which can be found here. It is a curious mixture of science fiction and philosophy. I mean, whoever heard of that escapist stuff taking on issues of high philosophy.

Issue #1 features four short stories and a novelette, plus five articles on philosophy. Each of the stories is followed by a short supplement on the philosophical issues it tackles. The philosophy articles are not supplemented by short stories tackling the issues raised, however.

The Table of Contents for Issue #1

FROM THE EDITOR
By Jason Rennie
 
SHORT FICTION
DOMO
By Joshua M. Young
FALLING TO ETERNITY
By David Hallquist
COSMIC FOAM
By Frederick Best
ABANDONED RIVER, DRY WATER
By Jane Lebak
ARTICLES
IN DEFENSE OF THE MATRIX SAGA: APPRECIATING THE SEQUELS THROUGH PHILOSOPHY
By David Kyle Johnson
STAR TREK’S PRIME DIRECTIVE: MORAL GUIDELINES, EXCEPTIONS,
AND ABSOLUTES
By James Druley
PERSONHOOD IN H. BEAM PIPER’S LITTLE FUZZY
By Stephen S. Hanson
“I AM GROOT”: AN ARISTOTELIAN REFLECTION ON SPACE ALIENS AND SUBSTANCE
By Daniel Vecchio
ENDANGERED SPECIES: EXPLORING ENHANCEMENT, GENETIC ENGINEERING, AND PERSONHOOD THROUGH THE WORLD OF SWEET TOOTH
By Ruth Tallman
NOVELLETE
THE IDEAL MACHINE
By John C. Wright
BOOK REVIEWS
LARRY CORREIA'S MONSTER HUNTER INTERNATIONAL BOOK 1
Reviewed by Peter Sean Bradley

All of the entries are quite good, but special mention must be made of the estimable Mr. Wright's "The Ideal Machine," which is delightfully Laffertyesque in its account of a First Contact in rural Virginia involving two military helicopter pilots, a priest, and the aforesaid machine.

Germanobeastnaming


German, the Legoblock language, can construct new words from old. For example:
Donaudampfschiffahrtsgesellschaftskapitän
is a fine example, should you ever need a single word to designate the captain of a Danube steamship for a travel company. He (or she, we hasten to add) would be a Danubicsteamshiptravelcompanycaptain. Think how this would reduce the word count in your latest manuscript!

Of particular interest are the names of beasts:

There is the appropriatelynamed skunk (Stinktier – stink-beast) and sloth (Faultier – lazy-beast) and the humourslynamed platypus (Schnabeltier – beak-beast).But what are we to make of the racoon (Waschbär – wash-bear) and the slug (Nacktschnecke – naked-snail). At least these keep genus or order straight. However, the porpoise is Schweinswal (pig-whale) and it is hard to see how pigs come into it, Linnaeus-wise.

Most puzzling of all is the squirrel: Eichhörnchen, which breaks down either as:
Eiche (oak tree) + Horn (horn) + -chen (little) or "little oak horn"
or more mysteriously as:
Eiche (oak tree) + Hörnchen (croissant) or "oak croissant"
Croissant? The Austrians, though Darwinianly challened, at least seem reaonable in calling the squirrel:
Eichkätzchen or Eichkatzerl, meaning "oak kitten"


Fun and Games on the Old South Side

Haven't seen this sort of action in the neighborhood since they tore down the Delaware Terrace projects. The cops raided a house about a block away from TOF, looking for a fellow who had been dealing heroin on a nearby playground. There is an alley running behind the duplexes shown in the picture, and the playground is across that alley. In TOF's youth, that playground was actually a cornfield, improbably surrounded by houses and (on one side) by a carpet factory. Every spring the farmer would drive his tractor down from the hill and plow it up and plant corn. Eventually, a new generation of kids arose who regarded the corn as free for the taking, so he gave up and sold out and the city built a park where people could pedal heroin. The carpet factory is also gone. There is a drug store on the site.

From the story:
Easton police served a narcotics search warrant and made one arrest Wednesday morning on the city's South Side.
Elijah Thompson, 23, was taken into custody as part of a Vice Unit investigation into heroin dealing at Milton Street Playground, police Lt. Matthew Gerould said at the scene.
Police obtained a search warrant for a car behind the home, Gerould said, and found $1,500 worth of heroin in the vehicle, Gerould said. Drugs were not found in the house but packaging materials were, Gerould said.
If you take a gander at the picture, you will see a big stone house in the background. This was the first house in the area and was built and inhabited by Francis Schwar (pron. Schwär), from an extensive family of stone masons. The area was once known as "Schwartown" for the large number of relatives scattered about. Their daughter was TOF's grandmother, who lived two houses to the left, off frame. Two houses farther down is the TOFian Fortress of Solitude.

Special Response Team action is actually rare these days on this side of town. But some years ago, before the projects were torn down, a dead body turned up at the intersection in the background. In another incident around the same time, a car full of urban youth pulled up to the red brick house across the street to the left from the Schwär house in the background, and took refuge inside. (That house, too, had once been a Schwar house.) Shortly after, another car pulled up and a hand emerged from the window with a gun, but found no target but a tree. That incident was captured on a nearby security camera. The first car, the one from which the youths had emerged, was being sought by cops for a drive-by shooting in the West Ward. Apparently, the cops were not the only seekers. The gun-brandishers were organizationally related to the targets in the original fusilade.


Saturday, November 15, 2014

Flynncestry: To the Shores of Amerikay

John Thomas Flynn (c.1841-1880)
Only known likeness; water-damaged

4. John Thomas Flynn

The search for the Flynns began many years ago when TOF was yet young and not yet as close as now to being an ancestor himself. TOF was the eldest of some twenty-odd cousins, some of them very odd indeed, and had lately come into the intelligence that not only did his father, Pere, also have cousins, but so did his grandfather, Pop-pop. The Flynns and allied families, while not so numerous as the descendants promised to Abram and Sarah, would have made a respectable turnout at any rowdy party, nor made it any less so.

And so, TOF, with a cassette tape recorder in hand -- you may recollect such devices from the Paleophonic Era -- went over the river and through the woods to grandfather's house, and there in the Sacred Kitchen, where Irish families always seem to congregate, he mercilessly interrogated his aged grandsire. Well, perhaps he was not so aged as he seemed at the time. In fact, he may have been about the age TOF is today. Any cousin happening to read this will recall the deep timbre of his voice, the precision of his speech, and the hatchet motions of his hand as he made his point. 

Family history is lived forward, but often discovered backward. So one starts with the living and peels back the onion generation by generation, overcoming curiosities and contradictions and resolving oral traditions along the way. Bits and pieces accumulate, not always in logical order. In the course of the interview, several things ancestral emerged.

  • Pop-pop had never known his paternal grandfather, who had died when his father was only ten.
  • He was no longer certain of that grandfather's name, but thought it might have been James or John.
  • His grandfather had been killed on the railroad when he was caught between two coal cars and crushed to death, sometime he thought in the 1880s.
  • He had married Anne Lynch, who had worked for "a miller and his wife."
  • They had all lived in Washington, NJ, where the railroad yards were.
  • He had come from Ireland, and there were two sisters and a brother who "went to California to look for gold."

Armed with this somewhat fluffy information, TOF wrote to the NJ Vital Statistics, and asked vaguely about Flynns killed on the railroad in Washington NJ in the 1880s. Bureaucrats were more nimble in those days and, after all, how many Flynns could have been killed in railroad accidents in Washington NJ in the 1880s? 

Ans.: Two.
But it may be best to let the story tell itself in the proper direction. 

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Veteran's Day (née Armistice Day)

Today is Veteran's Day (née Armistice Day) 

At the 11th hour of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war. In three-and-a-half years, the Allies in WW1 suffered deaths amounting to 103 Vietnam walls. That's just over 2.5 Vietnam walls every month.

Technically, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again; this time with massive civilian casualties.

Since then, Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and the Incomparable Marge's families. 

TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC (so he can call down shells on your location.  You have been warned.) but he was classified 4F by a wise military. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, to which TOF expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's insistence on micromanaging the war that irritated him the most, as well as Sec. McNamara's weird focus on corporate-like numbers crunching.

Note: TOF does not know why there are whimsical font and font size changes scattered throughout this post. He has tried several times to correct them but has been defeated by the daemons of the internet each time.

Werehouse

In the late 1980s I set out to write hard science fiction fantasy stories. These included pixies ("From the Corner of the Eye"), dragons ("Dragons"), ghosts ("Mammy Morgan Played the Organ; Her Daddy Beat the Drum"), mummies ("Flame of Iron"), demons ("The Feeders"). "Werehouse" is the  werewolf story.

It is very likely the most awful, hopeless, cynical, and depraved story I've ever written. In a strangely literal sense, it stinks. There is a rape and several murders. It uses some bad words and the future in which it takes place is one where things have gone not just wrong, but very, very wrong in multiple ways. It was inspired by the then-popular slogan "Sh*t H*ppens" and the mindset which that implies about agency and responsibility. What happens if indulging the appetites is given free rein. I thought for a time that I would not post it, and perhaps I shall only leave it up for a short time. Let's call it a cautionary tale. It's told in the first-person illiterate

At 11,000 words, it is novelette length. I sent it to Analog, which turned it down as too disgusting, then to Asimov's, which didn't buy the science. Omni also turned it down and Amazing responded that it was not accepting unsolicited mss. Finally, Toni Weisskopf told me about New Destinies, a Baen paperback "magazine" and it appeared in their Fall 1990 issue. It was included in my collection The Nanotech Chronicles and again in a Baen anthology titled Tomorrow Bites.

The carters in the story take the name from Henry Carter in "Remember'd Kisses" and the old newspaper headline Kops Katch Killer Klone refers to "The Laughing Clone," both also included in The Nanotech Chronicles. A close reading of the later Nanotech stories and the "Neighborhood" stories in Captive Dreams indicate an alternate history within the cycles. "Werehouse" is a darker future than the others.

To read the story, if you've the stomach for it, go over to the the story preview page.

Thursday, November 6, 2014

First Way, Part IV: The Cascades


Previous episodes in this exciting series, now drawing toward its thrilling climax:
  • Background lays out the history of the Argument from Motion and the impatience of those who demand that it prove more than it asserts to prove (e.g., that it prove that Jesus is Lord or some such thing, as if the objector were genuinely concerned about this shortfall).
  • Part I A Moving Tale discusses the concept of "motion" used in the Argument from Motion, and how this is persistently misunderstood today. 
  • Part II Two Lemmas demonstrate that 
  1. Whatever is being actualized right now is being actualized by another. 
  2. There cannot be an infinite regress of instrumental changers,
  • Part III: The Big Kahuna combined the two Lemmas into the first theorem and its corollaries
A number of objections and misunderstandings were also addressed in these prior posts.

We are now ready for Thomas' throwaway teaser: "and this [the unmoved mover] is what all men call God." Folks who have never read any further (if they have even read that far) are often puzzled. How do you get God out of that? TOF hears them cry in bewilderment.

The answer lies in the several hundred further Questions and Articles in which these points are developed. In the interests of brevity, a few subsequent proofs will now be stated without extensive arguments, but ought to be intelligible in the light of what has already been said.

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

The Pennsylvania Election: 2014

Pennsylvania famously consists of three countries: Philadelphia, Pittsburgh, and All the Rest. Often, statewide elections favor Republicans because Pittsburgh Democrats (who tend to be guns-and-Bibles, working class economic liberals) do not always see eye-to-eye with Philadelphia Democrats (who tend to be Main Line, upper class social liberals). Since Philadelphia outnumbers Pittsburgh, they usually get the pick and sometimes manage to alienate their allies in the West.

Tuesday, November 4, 2014

Soul of the City

An old story from 1989 has gone up on the Story Page. "Soul of the City" is a short story in the Nanotech Chronicles cycle in which Charlie Singer, the main character in "The Washer at the Ford" and a bit player in "Melodies of the Heart" and (more recently) "Hopeful Monsters," makes an appearance. This story is set earlier in his career, before SingerLabs became the big deal it would later be.

One of the tactics of the SF writing game is to take a technological innovation, ask who it would hurt the most, and write that person's story. This might even be the definition of a large branch of SF. This is what makes the story of John Henry ("The Steel Driver") a retro-SF story. The converse story is that of the Wonderful Invention in which the protagonist uses the new tech to perform some heroic feat; for example: if John Henry had used the new steam drill to rescue friends trapped in a cave-in, and so comes to see tech progress as Good.

Dr, Boli's Top Ten

Dr. Boli's Celebrated Magazine informs us of the Top Ten Inventions of the Last Thousand Years, to wit:

  1. The top-ten list. This epochal innovation in philosophical method gave the ordinary thinking man or woman in the street a simple means of organizing all useful knowledge on any given subject, elevating common discourse to its present exalted level.
  2. Tomato sauce. It is hard to imagine, but before Columbus there was no such thing as tomato sauce in any European cuisine. The life expectancy in the Middle Ages was appallingly short, and many culinary experts believe it was because most of Europe’s favorite foods were barely edible without some form of tomato sauce.
  3. The newspaper. Until the advent of the newspaper in the 1600s, fish was sold unwrapped, and carrying it home from the market was a delicate and frequently messy business.
  4. The advertisement. Before the discovery of advertising, anyone who wished to purchase an item would have to pay a personal visit to the craftsman who made it. The craftsman would then be required to produce actual samples of his work to prove that his goods were satisfactory, depriving a great many incompetent craftsmen of the means of making a living. Today, the purchaser seldom handles the goods until after the purchase, and buying decisions are made on the basis of the seller’s claims rather than the buyer’s observations. The quality of the advertising, rather than the quality of the goods, thus determines the ability of the manufacturer to make a profit.
  5. The Jacob’s ladder. Until the invention of the high-voltage traveling arc, commonly called a Jacob’s ladder, it was impossible for a mad scientist to know whether anything electrical and sciencey was actually going on when he attempted to give life to the monster he had created.
  6. The greeting card. Today it is hard for us to imagine the primitive world before the greeting card, when correspondents who wished to communicate by writing were required to express their own sentiments in ink, which in turn necessitated their having sentiments to express.
  7. Homeopathy. Thanks to the pioneering discoveries of Samuel Hahnemann, it is possible to start with literally nothing and end up with profitable employment for countless thousands of homeopathic practitioners.
  8. The grant proposal. In ancient times, an artist soliciting a commission was forced to come up with a design, often one requiring considerable mechanical skill in the execution, that expressed some definite idea which was communicable by visual means to the viewer. The advent of the grant proposal made it possible for artists of any skill level to receive commissions for piles of detritus pulled from the Dumpster out back, as long as the proposal itself assigned a suitably fashionable meaning to the work.
  9. Pong. This wildly popular game showed the world that there is no activity so excruciatingly dull that it cannot be rendered enchanting by projecting it on a computer screen.
  10. The emoticon. Before the technology experts at Carnegie Mellon provided us with a means of expressing the intended mood of written communications, writers were forced to make precise choices of words and sentence structures to indicate whether a given statement was to be taken as cheerful, surprised, sarcastic, or sad >;K (winking cat).

Saturday, November 1, 2014

When is the Golden Age?

From the blog Mr. Magundi Speaks His Mind ("Discussing Politics in Mixed Company Since 2011"), part of Dr. Boli's vast publishing empire, the following post, reproduced without comment:

“So why is it so hard to tell whether you’re on the left or on the right, Magundi?” Mr. Bates asked, for once with no sign of hostility.

“Because I’m not—and that, incidentally, makes me one of the privileged and powerful among us ordinary citizens.

“I will tell you what the difference between the left and the right is. The right believes that the golden age is in the past—that we can solve our current problems only by returning to the wise principles and moral behavior of days gone by. The left believes that the golden age is in the future—that we can solve our problems only by moving away from the darkness and superstition of the past and forward to a society based on enlightenment and benevolence.

“Nature has somehow provided that there will always be roughly equal numbers of people who believe in the golden age of the past and the golden age of the future, and these people will reliably vote for the parties that represent their prejudices. But there is also a third group—those of us who believe that, in this fallen world, there never was a golden age, and there never will be a golden age. We are free to decide that this policy or that policy is likely to be to our advantage, however temporarily; and so we may swing wildly from left to right, according to the conditions we see in the world, or according to the personalities of the politicians, or according to what we ate for breakfast. As voters, therefore, we are the ones who actually choose the leaders for the rest of you.

“So if you are a politician on the left or the right, my advice to you, since I am a member of the only group of voters who can actually decide the election, is to give me a splendid pancake breakfast, with the best sausage, none of that frozen stuff, and fresh strawberries for the pancakes.”

The Summa of All Internet Debate

From Deogowulf's now sadly silent The Joy of Curmudgeonry, a scenario familiar to many at various blogs:

Thermippos — The Complete Dialogue
The scene is the agora, outside the office of the magistrate. Socrates is on his way to answer charges of impiety. There he meets Thermippos holding forth confidently amidst a gathering of young men. Naturally, since death is on his mind, Socrates seizes the opportunity to discuss the subject with a man who seems certain of everything.
Socrates. You agree, Thermippos, that all men are mortal.
Thermippos. I do.
Socrates. And you agree furthermore that I am a man.
Thermippos. I have no reason to doubt it, Socrates.
Socrates. Surely then you agree that I am mortal.
Thermippos. I didn’t say that. You did. Don’t put words in my mouth.
Socrates. I beg your pardon, Thermippos, but I have simply drawn what follows.
Thermippos. Strawman.
Socrates. But no true reasoner could fail —
Thermippos. Ah, the no-true-Macedonian fallacy.
Socrates. But, Thermippos, given the logical form . . .
Thermippos. Define “logical form”.
Socrates. . . . you must either accept the conclusion or reject at least one of the premises.
Thermippos. False dichotomy.
Socrates. I see, Thermippos. You’re an idiot.
Thermippos. And that’s an ad hominem.
Socrates ad-hominems Thermippos with a brick. The charges of impiety are dropped.

Quote of the Day

Self-control is the control and rightful-ordering of desires and passions by the rational self. Liberation, as promoted by liberals, socialists, and other libertarians, is the setting-free of desires and passions from the command of the rational self, the thraldom of the latter to the former, and the manipulation and control of the desires and passions by outer forces over the vanquished self. This is the “free man” which the libertarians promote: the man without self-control, not a master of his passions, but their thrall in “free expression” — and a thrall also to those who know how to manipulate and control the passions of others.

The Dizzy Pace of Change

Siris notes that the difficulties of authors with publishers is nothing new:
This little work was finished in the year 1803, and intended for immediate publication. It was disposed of to a bookseller, it was even advertised, and why the business proceeded no farther, the author has never been able to learn. That any bookseller should think it worth-while to purchase what he did not think it worth-while to publish seems extraordinary. But with this, neither the author nor the public have any other concern than as some observation is necessary upon those parts of the work which thirteen years have made comparatively obsolete. The public are entreated to bear in mind that thirteen years have passed since it was finished, many more since it was begun, and that during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes.
-- Jane Austen, in the Advertisement to Northanger Abbey. She was only able actually to publish the book because the publisher sold it back to her in 1816.
TOF notes another intriguing detail: the dizzying pace of change in the years between 1803 and 1816! Miss Austen felt it necessary to caution her readers because "during that period, places, manners, books, and opinions have undergone considerable changes."  This is much like cautioning readers today of the many changed since a text was written in 2001. It seems that such is not such a new thing after all.

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology Aquinas argument from motion Aristotelianism art atheism autumn of the modern ages books brains breaking news captive dreams cartoon charts chieftain clannafhloinn comix commentary counterattack crusades culcha dogheads easton stuff economics eifelheim evolution factoids on parade fake news fallen angels Feeders fir trees in lungs firestar flicks floods flynncestry flynnstuff forecasts forest of time fun facts gandersauce gimlet eye global warming glvwg headlines henchmen high frontier history home front how to lie with statistics humor hush-hush hypatia in the house of submission irish Iron Shirts irrationalism january dancer jihad journeyman kabuki kool letter lion's mouth lunacon maps mayerling medieval metrology miscellany modern mythology moose zombies music new years nexus odds odds and ends paleofuture passing of the modern age philosophy philosophy math poetry politics psyched out! public service quality quiet sun quote of the day razor's edge redefinition of marriage religio reviews river of stars scandal science science marches on scientism scrivening shipwrecks of time shroud skiffy skiffy in the news skools slipping masks some people will believe anything stats stories stranger things the auld curmudgeon the madness continues the new fascism the spiral arm the writing life thomism thread o' years tofspot topology untergang des abendlandes untergang des morgenlandes up jim river video clips vignettes war on science we get letters we're all gonna die whimsy words at play xmas you can't make this stuff up