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

Friday, August 28, 2020

Acceleration

Inertia is the tendency of a Thing to maintain its current state. As Buridan wrote in Quaestiones super caelo et mundo (14th cent.)

"When God created the celestial spheres, He gave them an impetus [i.e., momentum] and this impetus is not corrupted or diminished unless there is resistance."

Centuries later, Newton used this as one of his three axioms

In biology, inertia is called "the struggle for survival." The efforts of a living Thing to go on living is simply a more animated version of the "efforts' of a boulder to remain stubbornly in place.

However, a Thing subject only to its own Inertia would remain... well, inert. Nevertheless, we see around us that some things are changing. A green apple changes to red; an acorn grows into an oak. A kitten crosses the room. Uranium decays to lead; sodium and chlorine combine into salt. A boulder tumbles down a hillside. Inertia would prevent all this from happening.

The potential redness of apples

Therefore, anything that is changing is being changed by something else, or as Newton put it "by an outside force." A green apple is potentially red but is made actually red by sunlight in the 3,600 to 4,500 Å range (which causes the anthocyanin in the skin to absorb the near-ultraviolet, violet, blue and green regions of the spectrum, thus reflecting red). A boulder tumbles down the hillside because wind and rain have undermined its support. It didn't make a break for it on its own initiative. 

Actualizers must already be actual. Since something that is merely potential can't do diddly-squat, a Thing that is potentially X cannot be made actually X, except by something which is already actually X, either in itself or in a higher sense. Paint cannot make a wall red unless the paint is already red itself. But the light that makes an apple ripen to red contains red only in a higher sense. 

The boulder moves down the hillside because the ground supporting it has moved, and this happens because the wind that moved [eroded] the dirt was itself actually in motion. [The air in turn is moved by a difference in air pressure, which contains the motion in a higher sense.] In either case, nothing that is only potentially so can make something actually to happen.

An important distinction. Among actualizers of potentials, some are like toppling dominoes. The capacity of domino #2 to topple #3 does not depend on Domino #1 still existing. If an email sent by Adam to Betsy to Chuck, the power of Betsy to forward the email to Chuck does not depend on Adam hanging around. Such actualizers are "sequential."

Other actualizers must continue to act or the result ceases. For example, the sunlight must continue to act on the apple for it to redden. If the sunlight is blocked, the apple will cease to redden. A clarinet has the potential to make music but will only actually do  so if a clarinetist actually plays on it. If she stops playing, the music-making will cease.

Turtles all the way down. A golf club swings because the hand grips it and the arms swing. These in turn actually happen only insofar as the muscles contract. The muscles contract due to the nerve impulses. The nerves signal only because certain motor neurons are firing. And these in turn depend upon the intentions of the golfer. If any of these actualizers cease -- e.g., if the golfer changes his mind or relaxes his grip -- the golf swing does not take place.

A chain of continual actualizers, which drills down in the present moment, cannot proceed backward indefinitely. It must be finite. If the sequence does not begin, if there is no primary actualizer, then none of the instrumental actualizers depending on it will act. The clarinet, the golf club, et al. would remain inert. 
 
The primary actualizer must be entirely actual, since if it were not, it would be in potential for something and thus not the primary actualizer. It changes without being itself changed, an unchanged changer. But everything natural is subject to change; e.g., evolution of species, radioactive decay, orogeny in geology, stellar evolution, et al. So the primary actualizer cannot be natural. But that which is "above" nature is what "all people call God."






Friday, August 14, 2020

After VJ Day

 On 15 Aug 1945, after two atomic bombs, the Japanese militarists agreed to surrender. One atomic bomb was insufficient persuasion, and it was only the personal intervention of the Emperor after the second that broke the deadlock. Even so, there was an aborted coup to overthrow the Emperor just to keep the militarists in power. 

The surrender had the happy result of mooting the invasion of Japan, in the forefront of which would have been Pfc. Joseph F. Flynn, USMC, who once told TOF that LST stood for "Large Slow Target." (Officially, it means Landing Ship, Tank) Private Flynn had been aboard such a vessel on his all-expense, government-paid vacation on the lovely Pacific island of Iwo Jima. (Years later, when a reunion was to take place on the island, Joe declined to attend. "But it's free," bro Sean said, "the government is paying."

"The last time they did that," said Pere, "I did not have a good time.")

At one time on the island, his platoon was sheltered in a foxhole and directly in front of them was a dead Japanese soldier. He had been killed by an explosive blast which had whipped all his clothing from him, and decay had swollen his body, including his masculine member. The other marines dealt with the sight in the usual macabre fashion. "Looks like he died happy." But, Pere told TOF, "all I could think of was that this had been some mother's child, and she would never hear from him again." Of course, you can't have such thoughts, he explained, when people are trying to kill you. But afterward, when they are not, it was worth bearing in mind.

Instead of invading the Home Islands, Flynn was assigned to the Occupation Forces. He landed in Nagasaki, on Kyushu Island, and walked with his platoon through that city. The devastation was terrible. Everywhere they encountered Japanese policemen who turned their backs on the marines. He was told later that it was a mark of respect: they trusted them not to shoot them in the back. 

He and some other marines were assigned as a guard-escort to an Army cartography team mapping the island of Kyushu. Their was still a suspicion of die-hard resistance, a la Okinawa, and the marines were to be on the ready at all times. Under no circumstances were they to eat any food offered them, as it might be poisoned. They were based in Sasebo and traveled its environs. In one village, they were proudly shown the village fire engine. "It was like something Ben Franklin would have known," he told me. "A hand cart with pump bars on each side." These were the people who had built a powerful Navy and fought the US, UK, Australia, and China across the Pacific for three years. And this was their idea of modern firefighting equipment. Just think what they could do if they put their talent into civilian goods!

The marines were billeted in the local clinic, which was partitioned to give them some privacy. As they were undressing for bed, they heard sounds like mice or tittering. They traced it to a hole in the partition. The clinic nurses had wondered if these strangers were white all the way down and had taken steps to check it out. 

The mayor of the village came to them offering a tray of food, They started to demur, but the translator interrupted to tell them "It would be a great insult to refuse." The mayor might have to commit suicide to expunge the shame. The lieutenant thought it over. There had been no sign of hostility so far. So he said he would try the food and if it proved safe, the rest of them could eat it, too. And of course, it proved so. They knew how to fight, Pere said, but they knew how to surrender, too, and he knew then that Japan and America would become allies. 

Later that same day, the vice-mayor visited and offered the liberties of the geisha house to the Americans. The marines looked at one another and with one accord, they said, "It would be a great insult to refuse!"


Whoa, What's This?

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