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

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

The Feasts of December (4)

Ten years after the advent of TOF came the appearance of the fourth Flynnbro, to wit: Sean, born this day of December, thus overloading the parental generosity with the third round of birthdays plus Christmas within eight days. In case it is not obvious, Sean is the farthest to the right in this photograph:
In the then-and-now comparison, Sean lurks in the left foreground in the next snapshot taken a few weeks ago, in which Seanbro was channeling a Civil War general. Actually, he was doing that no-shave November thingie and is now as clean shaven as his wife could desire. Personally, TOF thinks he rocked the beard, but his opinion was not solicited.


Tabclearing Day

An Unbelievable Item Found on the Web

"Text messages between FBI investigators, include one in which an agent said he could “smell” the Trump supporters at Walmart."
Now, what is unbelievable about this text is not that the FBI investigator shows clear prior bias about the subject of an investigation, but that he admits to having entered a Walmart at some point and mixed with people who were not graduates of Northeastern Establishment universities! Who would've thunk it! Imagine the cooties he might have acquired from the Great Unwashed proletarians!

Watch That First Step, It's a Doozy!

Chaos Manor reprints Jerry Pournelle's blog posts on SSTO. Much of this was background fodder for TOF's Firestar series.

Once and Future Power Source

A new paper, Nuclear Power Learning and Deployment Rates: Disruption and Global Benefits Forgone, finds that nuclear power could now be around 10% of current cost, and have avoided up to 10 million deaths and 164 Gt CO2 between 1980 and 2015, if not for disruption to progress in the late 1960s and rapidly escalating costs since.

A Hot Time in the Old Town Tonight

We've been having a lot of wildfires lately. Or at least better publicized ones.

"A pronounced decrease in fire frequency occurred at the time of Euro-American settlement, coinciding approximately with the arrival of railroads, intensive livestock grazing, removal of many Native American populations, and subsequently organized and mechanized fire fighting by government agencies."
“Multiscale perspectives of fire, climate and humans in western North America and the Jemez Mountains, USA” by Thomas W. Swetnam et al. in Phil Trans B, 5 June 2016.

Two reasons suggested for recent (since 1980s) increases: habitat preservation laws preventing the clearance of brushwood (a.k.a. "tinder") from around houses, esp. in CA.; and second, increases in houses in scenic yet problematical sites.

Could Rome Have Had an Industrial Revolution?

The short answer of course is No. A longer answer, given in an alternate history novel, is yes because if it were no, there would be no novel.
Dale locates her Roman Industrial Revolution in the early and mid-2nd century BCE, before the large-scale influx of slaves from the conquests of Greece, Carthage, and Gaul. The Middle Republic provides a window in which, she argues, it is plausible to imagine a machine-based culture taking root. In the world Dale envisions, an industrialized Roman empire then follows a British-style path towards a constitutional monarchy (under Augustus).

The technological development path, she describes, sees the Romans push ahead in medicine and biology. In this scenario, Rome benefits from a technology trajectory that takes place in the absence of Christianity with its prohibition on dissecting human bodies. A point of tension in the novel is the Roman occupier’s sanguine building of an abortion clinic in Jerusalem, simply because this is what Romans have at home; they do not — and did not — consider abortion wrong. Here I want to ask: What do these reflections tell us about the possibilities of economic growth in the premodern world?
How you can have a "machine-based culture" along the British model before developing a metallurgy capable of steam boilers is an intriguing thought-experiment. And it was not the massive influx of slaves from the Punic and Gallic wars that shifted the ancient world to the use of muscle power as a source of energy. It had always been that way. If not slaves, then animals. It was the early Middle Ages that saw the shift to mechanical power.

It was the pagan Romans, not the Christians, who had the horror of touching dead bodies and maintained a special college of priests for the sole purpose of ritually touching the dead to free the body for the undertakers. The Christians never had the prohibition mentioned, save to the extent that many of them were themselves Romans to begin with. The medical schools of the Middle Ages  began doing medical dissections and noticed that Galen had gotten things wrong -- because Galen had gotten his anatomy from dissecting pigs.

The idea that the Romans had abortion clinics is absurd. The storied sexual liberties of the Romans applied only to Those Who Could Not Say No -- slaves, lower class women, young boys. Women of their own class were another matter, and were subject to a pretty rigorous control of their sexual lives. Abortion in that day and age was rather risky to the mother, and not used lightly. However, as a form of genocide directed against inferior races, as envisioned by Sanger and others in the Modern Age, it is imaginable, were it not for the nature of Imperial Law. (see next Item.)

Don't Make Me Tell You Twice!

"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'Neil History for Atheists.

Why do we always imagine pre-modern states as having all the moxie and wherewithal of our modern scientific states?

Caught Between a Rock and a Hard Place

Why some discussions are lost before they are engaged.

Rule Number One

Keith Burgess-Jackson offers six items of sound advice, each both prudential and moral. Here is #1:
Don't touch a woman without her specific consent. Consent, to be consent, must be informed. Don't resort to trickery, subterfuge, dissimulation, or manipulation (including getting her drunk or high).
The Maverick Philosopher would add a qualification: ...unless she is your wife and you have a loving relationship. (And if you don't share a loving relationship, why are you still married to her?)

The Usual Suspects had much to say about the Veep when he said he would not dine alone with a woman not his wife, offering all sorts of misogynistic reasons for such a policy. The one reason never proffered was that the woman could not then come back years later claiming she had been harassed or touched.

TOF is also struck by the thought that if only men had comported themselves in accordance with the precepts of Christian morality that were abandoned in the 1960s, many of the movers and shakers in Hollywood and politics could have saved themselves considerable obloquy when the inevitable counter-revolution came about and the sexual Robespierres got sent to their own guillotines.

Buy everyone will notice that no one -- accuser or accused -- can think of any words more severe in description than "inappropriate" to describe behaviors like sexual harassment or sexual assault or even rape.

Edward Skidelsky wrote in "Words that Think for Us" (Prospect Magazine 18 Nov 2009) that modern society avoids explicit moral language.  Words like "improper and indecent" have been replaced by words like “inappropriate” and “unacceptable.” "An affair between a teacher and a pupil that was once improper is now inappropriate."  
https://books.google.com/ngrams/graph?content=indecent%2C+inappropriate&year_start=1800&year_end=2000&corpus=15&smoothing=3&share=&direct_url=t1%3B%2Cindecent%3B%2Cc0%3B.t1%3B%2Cinappropriate%3B%2Cc0

But improper and indecent express moral judgements, while inappropriate and unacceptable suggest the breach of some social convention. Such “non-judgemental” forms of speech are tailored to a society wary of explicit moral language.  Skidelsky writes that liberals "seek only adherence to rules of the game, not agreement on fundamentals. What was once an offense against decency must be recast as something akin to a faux pas."


"But this new, neutralised language does not spell any increase in freedom. When I call your action indecent, I state a fact that can be controverted. When I call it inappropriate, I invoke an institutional context—one which, by implication, I know better than you. ... This is what makes the new idiom so sinister. Calling your action indecent appeals to you as a human being; calling it inappropriate asserts official power."

And note, too: "As liberal pluralists, we seek only adherence to rules of the game, not agreement on fundamentals."  Note how this rejects the Western idea of conscience (synderesis) and hearkens back to the old non-Western definition of good behavior as adherence to statutes promulgated by the Father-figure in the palace. 

Lest We Forget

AIDS is still around. New Diagnoses in 2016 per the CDC
Note: MSM means men having sex with men. These are not always gay or bisexual men. Men in prison being an example.
https://www.cdc.gov/hiv/statistics/overview/ataglance.html

Nota Bene: This is not a "How To" manual

On Evil

Yale Beats Up on Itself for Not Beating Up on Itself Enough.

The Manhattan Contrarian has noted some intriguing email. 
Yale has long championed its commitment to advancing diversity, equity, and inclusion, to building a faculty and student body that respect the multicultural reality of the world around us and a community where everyone feels valued and welcomed. But while these beliefs are laudable, they have not always translated into meaningful and lasting policy and action. In late 2015, students of color and their allies voiced their frustration that inequity on campus and a lack of focus by the administration on diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) meant the university was falling far short of its ideals.
-- Yale DEI Report
 The best they can come up with is a claim that there has been a "lack of focus" -- on the very issues as to which Yale has for decades been demonstrably not only focused, but obsessed.

And the recommendations do flow, and flow, and flow.  Like: 
  •     Commit to becoming a leader in DEI in the eld of higher education!
  •     Engage young alumni and alumni of color!
  •     Promote diversity, equity, and inclusion in all levels of AYA leadership!
  •     Build a bridge between current and future alumni in tackling DEI issues!
  •     Build infrastructure to continue to champion and implement DEI work!
Anyone familiar with management boilerplate and blatherskath will recognize these bullet points as being full of sound and fury, signifying nothing. None of them are stated in terms that can even be objectively verified to determine whether they have been achieved or even to measure whether progress has been made. Yale will "engage" young alumni of color! She will "build a bridge"! Before you suspect that the latter will involve structural engineering, simmer down. Nothing so difficult will ever sully the mind of people who engage in such projects.

The Contrarian notes that "there doesn't seem to be anything in that list that they weren't already doing and talking about endlessly for the last 50 years." Faithful Reader may be forgiven for a moment's doubt in supposing that a renewed commitment to talking about it some more is going to change anything.

Wednesday, December 20, 2017

The Feasts of December (3)

December 20

70 Years in the Making!

Two crazy kids preparing for the vital task of producing TOF
TOF
Getting an early start on reading
Getting an early partner for hijinx
Even back then TOF favored suspenders
And then there were three brothers, all duded up for Easter

With four brothers, we had to line up to make a proper head count
Let alone with five

Okay, sometimes we didn't line up
TOF in High School was skinnier than today
As editor of the HS Literary Magazine, TOF published his own stories!
(Yes, we wore jackets and ties to school. It was a professional job, after all.)
TOF portrayed Mayor Shinn in The Music Man
before HS plays became professionalized.
And Sweet Sharon graciously accompanied him to the prom.
Then came college at LaSalle in Philadelphia, a 60 mile trip
accomplished in a '54 Packard Clipper called "The Beast"
TOF artistically contemplates a burning candle in his dorm room
Sweet Sharon graciously came to Philly for the Caisson Ball.
 There follows a span of time for which photographs have not been digitized. After the Beast bit the dust, getting back and forth proved problematical and TOF told Sweet Sharon that she should date other guys rather than sit around waiting to see if TOF would make it back. Eventually, TOF heard that she had been wed to another. Although TOF dated casually afterward, it was not until years afterward that he found another who was her equal.

After graduating with a BA in mathematics TOF proceeded to Milwaukee where he studied for a Masters in mathematics at Marquette University under J. Douglas Harris. While there, TOF lived in a sort of urban commune, one of the communards becoming the inspiration for The O'Neil in the Irish Pub stories and the Irish Pub we frequented becoming fictionalized as the setting thereto. The commune, somewhat modified as to its inhabitants, is currently undergoing rehearsals as the setting for The Shipwrecks of Time.

His work in General Topology led TOF to write a Masters thesis entitled "Universal Range Spaces and Function Space Topologies," a real wowser for which he expects the movie rights to be bought Real Soon Now. It was, however, published in a real, live mathematics journal. Woo hoo.

He had begun dating a girl named Maria, a native of Austria, and it seemed to be going somewhere, save she was probably not going to Colorado when TOF graduated and left town. Then two of the communards brought a coworker to dinner one day and although it is a cliche to say so, when she sat across the High Table from TOF and TOF looked into her smile, he just knew that she was the One. Her name was Margie. There were only two minor difficulties. TOF was already seeing Maria and Margie was already seeing Rich Old Elliot.

But difficulties are for overcoming, and upon graduation from Marquette, with a spanking new Masters degree and a Graduate assistantship waiting at Univ. of Colorado, Boulder, the newlyweds climbed in the back of a friend's van, surrounded by boxes of books and records in the approved 60s fashion and heighed for the Rocky Mountains. Despite predictions by those bemused at the suddenness of it all, they are still at it, 46 years later.
The Incomparable Marge (l) and TOF (r) in 1972,
the Era of Big Hair and Funky Jackets. TOF also had plaid
bell bottoms and paisley shirts and the Marge had a bright
yellow pants suit with flowers up the side. Boomer Rule!


 After that, one thing followed another:
One thing (l) and another (r)

Yes, it's true. TOF had a beard for a time. And a lambs fur chapik.
Clearly he was influenced by the Russians.
Or by the Amish, or something. Taken in the mountains near Golden, CO

 Following a PhD interlude best passed over in silence, TOF spent eleven years as a quality engineer and applied statistician at Coors Container Company in Golden CO, engaged in problem-solving, experimental design, and other such activities. Again, there are few digitized photographs of this era. Following this, his head was hunted by STAT-A-MATRIX, a consulting and training firm then in Edison NJ, and for whom he engaged with various clients on sundry continents, including the Panama Canal Authority, ITC (Chennai, India), Reckitt-Benckiser (Johannesburg, Chartres, Australia, Hull), IAEA Safeguards (Vienna), NASA, et al. on quality management systems, statistical analysis, quality improvement, etc.
TOF the consultant, in the ITC Compound outside Chennai, TN, India
Much of what TOF observed in Chennai wound up as the Terran Corner
of Jehovah in the January Dancer
 Already while working at Coors, TOF had begun selling stories to Analog Science Fiction, the first one being "Slan Libh," (Nov 1984)

TOF the writer. Stan Schmidt (l) then editor of Analog and
Ian Randal Strock, then assistant editor

Sometimes TOF gets the cover story!

TOF accepting the Theodore Sturgeon Award for best
short fiction of the year
  But TOF has also written a number of novels:


TOF, shortly after seizing the Iron Throne for House Flynn

TOF, aggressively writing at Lunacon
TOF reading at the Battle of the Books, Bethlehem Public Library
Photo by Sweet Sharon
 
TOF the Moosehead

Sweet Sharon at 50th HS Reunion

The traditional line-up, the four surviving brothers



Tuesday, December 19, 2017

The Feasts of December (2)

December 17

Dennis (l.) muscling in.
Note, we are both clutching books from earliest days


Among the Birthdays of December is that of Dennis Harry Flynn, brother of Michael Francis Flynn, who is the son of Joseph Francis Flynn, the son of Francis Thomas Flynn, the son of Daniel Joseph Flynn, the son of John Thomas Flynn, the son of Martin Flynn of Loughrea, Ireland in the County Galway, descended of the O'Flynns of the Sil Maelruain. He was born 362 days after TOF and with him in their storied youths wrote great SF classics in pencil in Spiral Notebooks, lavishly illustrated with colored Magic Markers, whose volatile organic vapors infected our brains.

Every year on 17 December, he would make much of being the same age as me. Then three days later, I would pull ahead once more. Had he lived, he would have just turned 69 a few days ago.

But I have written about this topic before, in fact earlier this year, and the story can be found here.

Dennis Harry Flynn, 1948-1964

Monday, December 18, 2017

The Feasts of December

December 16

Dennis M. Flynn, appropriately wary,
held in place by the Incomparable Marge
December is the Month of Birthdays at Rath ui Fhloinn. Among them is that of Son of TOF, the co-author of "Laminated Moose Zombies and Other Road Maintenance Problems," to wit: Dennis Michael Flynn, son of Michael Francis Flynn, who is the son of Joseph Francis Flynn, the son of Francis Thomas Flynn, the son of Daniel Joseph Flynn, the son of John Thomas Flynn, the son of Martin Flynn of Loughrea, Ireland in the County Galway, descended of the O'Flynns of the Sil Maelruain.

        
He's living up in Alaska these days.
and is a captain is Star Fleet under Jean-Luc Picard


where he is a member of the Ancient and Honorable Order of Bunny Ears

and is now a lean, mean exercising machine
Happy Birthday to you!

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology aphorisms 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 potpourri 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 russians are coming the spiral arm the writing life thomism thought for the day 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