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, October 4, 2021

All Hail, Dr Stapp

 I had heard about some of this when I was a quality/reliability engineer, but the story is still fascinating. 

Monday, August 30, 2021

Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice

 A discussion meandered past TOF's optics the other day and put him in mind of a post of his from way back in 2011. This proved at the time to be a favorite among TOFian followers and racked up large numbers of eyeballs. So, TOF bethought himself to tweak the writing a bit and repost it. 

John Farrel has written a column at his Forbes site entitled "Can Theology Evolve," quoting from an epistle of Jerry Coyne:
Adam and Eve discover
they are naked. 
Human race follows.
"I’ve always maintained that this piece of the Old Testament, which is easily falsified by modern genetics (modern humans descended from a group of no fewer than 10,000 individuals), shows more than anything else the incompatibility between science and faith. For if you reject the Adam and Eve tale as literal truth, you reject two central tenets of Christianity: the Fall of Man and human specialness." 

Now, by "literal truth" Coyne undoubtedly intended "literal fact," since a thing may be true without being fact, and a fact has no truth value in itself.  I do not know Dr. Coyne's bona fides for drawing doctrinal conclusions or for interpreting scriptures, although he seems to lean toward the fundamentalist persuasion of naive Biblical literakism.  Nor am I sure how Dr. Coyne's assertion necessarily entails a falsification of human specialness (whatever he means by that).  I never heard of such a doctrine in my Storied Youth(^1) though it is pretty obvious from a scientific-empirical point of view.  You are not reading this on an Internet produced by kangaroos or in a language devised by petunias, so there just might be something a weensie-bit special about humans. 

It is not even clear what his claim means regarding the Fall.  Neither the Eastern Orthodox nor the Roman Catholic churches ever insisted on a naive-literal reading of their scriptures, and yet both asserted as dogma the Fall of Man.(^2

Now modern genetics does not falsify the Adam and Eve tale for the excellent reason that it does not address the same matter as the Adam and Eve tale.  One is about the origin of species; the other is about the origin of sin.  One may as well say that a painting of a meal falsifies haute cuisine.

Still, there are some interesting points about the myth of Adam and Eve and the Fall.  Not least is the common Late Modern usage of "myth" to mean "something false" rather than "an organizing story by which a culture explains itself to itself."  Consider, for example, the "myth of progress" that was so important during the Modern Ages.  Or the equally famous "myth of Galileo" which was a sort of Genesis myth for the Modern Ages.  With the fading of the Modern Ages, these myths have lost their power and have been exploded by post-modernism or by historians of science.  Before we consider the Fall, let us consider the Summer.  No.  Wait.  I mean the Summary. 
(^1) storied youth.  Literally.  My brother and I wrote stories when we were kids. 
(^2) Makes you wonder what their actual reasoning was, if it was not some backwoods 19th century American reading an archaic English translation of some Greek texts.

Sunday, August 15, 2021


 I used to receive notification by e-mail whenever someone posted a comment here.

Quoth the raven, Nevermore.

I used to be able to delete spammish comments, but this button has disappeared.

Quoth the raven, Nevermore. 

Consequently, some recent posts have gotten swarmed by spam comments. This can't be good for Blogger;s marketability,

Does anyone know how to restore these abilities?

Some Favorite Ditties

 I was mulling over some favorite tunes, and decided to make me a list. It soon grew faster than a politician's spending. Herewith, said list, If anyone can find the commonality around which these songs cluster, they are welcome to try. I tried to keep it down to one tune per songwriter, but all you have to do is say "Dylan," and you see how impossible that is.

 In no particular order. (The tunes constitute an unorderable set,)

Are you going away with no word of farewell?
Will there be not a trace left behind?

the heart which has truly loved never forgets
But as truly loves on to the close

  • Billy Joel. Just the Way You Are, which is Joel's take on the same sentiments just expressed by Moore, Technically, this was the Incomparable Marge's favorite song, but how could I leave it off?
  • Simon & Garfunkle. Sounds of Silence. Paul Simon is another one of those who could have had multiple entries up here. "The Boxer," "Goin Home," "I Am a Rock," etc. But I am weary of looking up links.
  • Preservation Hall. O Maryland, My Maryland. But I could have put "Gettysburg March" here instead.
  • Wolfe Tones. We can't have a list like this without a few rebel songs. The Boys of the Old Brigade or The Broad Black Brimmer.  Not that I'm partial to the IRA in either it s Marxist (official) or its nationalist (provo) forms.
  • Finbar Furey. Madame Bonaparte. The Irish Pipes have three sets of pipes. The chanter, the regulators (which play chords with the wrist) and the drones. Listen closely to this set dance and you can hear how Furey brings each one in in sequential stanzas.
  • Turlough O Carolan. As long as we're talking about real Irish music, try Carolan's Concerto or Fanny Power. by the last of the great blind Irish harpers.
  • Theodore Bikel. Katyushka or At Volgi na Dona. for nyemnogo Russiya music.
    Bruce Daigrepont. Laisses Faire or La Valse de la Riviere Rouge. because why leave out the French?
  • East Side Dave. My Pennsylvania Home. 
  • Michael Cooney. John Henry played on a twelve string guitar.
  • Tommy Makem/Liam Clancy. The Rambles of Spring.

Here's a health to one and all
To the big and to the small
To the rich and poor alike, and foe and friends
I left off longer pieces, like Mozart's Clarinet Concerto and the Act I Finale to Patience by Gilbert and Sullivan, which at one point has seven distinct voices doing their own thing, yet blending into a great whole. I also left off hymns and anthems like Alleluia, Alleluia, Let the Holy Anthem Rise. or Columbia, Gem of the Ocean,  with its great line:
Thy banners make tyranny tremble.
If only, right?

Friday, July 9, 2021

It's 1776. Do You Know Where Your Ancestors Are?

TOF intended to post this for the 4th of July, but the Friday within the octave of the Glorious 4th will have to do.

The World of 1776.

We have previously looked at the worlds of 1920, 1870, and 1820; that is. the Singularity (1870-1920) and the Fuse (1820-1870) that lit it. Technically, we should now look at the world of 1770, but the Revolution is close enough. 

The 1770s were not too much different from the 1820s, except that railroads were not even a glint on the horizon. Frank;in has only recently discovered that lightning and the 'electrical fluid' are the same thing. The Leyden Jar (an early capacitor) was invented only thirty years ago.  But electricity is as yet only a curiosity. For now, the world is powered by wind and solar, and thus is energy-poor, especially for the poor. Messages travel only as fast as a courier on horseback or a schooner. Stagecoaches are the usual means of long distance travel. A few canals have been dug in France, England, and the Germanies, Captain Cook has discovered Australia.six years ago, (The Australians always knew it was there) fourteen-year-old Marie Antoinette has arrived at the French court.and married Louis-Auguste (who will later became King Louis XVI). Rubber has been discovered to remove pencil marks, to the joy of students everywhere. The first partition of Poland has begun. 

Friday, July 2, 2021

The White Family

The Incomparable Marge stemmed from families long-resident on this continent and who participated in most of the American Experience. Her Hammontree ancestors were in Tidewater Virginia by 1723; the Hollands, also in Virginia by 1724. In 1723, the Helms were in Bucks Co, PA prior to moving to North Carolina. The Goss family were in North Carolina by 1755, the Tams in Delaware by 1776. Marlow was born in Kentucky in 1808. Johnny-come-lately Harris, appears in Tennessee by 1819. Margie always got a chuckle out of anti-immigrant agita. As far as she was concerned, they were all immigrants. One of her ancestors had married a Choctaw woman.  

She had ancestors in the colonies; in the Revolution (one collateral ancestor died at Valley Forge, another survived.) They traveled west when 'west' meant the Great Smokey Mountains and rubbed shoulders with Sam Houston and Andy Jackson in Tennessee, They were Southerners who wore blue in the Civil War. They headed farther west in covered wagons, various families touching down at various times in various states: Arkansas, Missouri; Ohio, Indiana; Georgia and Louisiana, converging finally, in the Red River Valley, then Choctaw Nation. Along the way were Confederate terrorists (A collateral ancestor perished in the Great Hanging, when Confederate rangers hanged Union sympathizers in Grayson County, TX), outlaws, sheriffs and posses, and shoot-outs.

And so, we come to the Whites.

Tuesday, June 22, 2021

Margaret Louise White (1943-2021)

 Margie was born in Tulsa, Oklahoma, the only child of the late Claude Lee White and Elsie Vera Hammontree. The Whites can be traced back to 1823, in Wake Co, NC, if not to 20,000 BC at the Bering Straits. The Hammontrees can be traced to the late 1600s in the Tidewater country of Virginia. 

Everything you've ever read about the American Experience  happened to her people, from Valley Forge to Horseshoe Bend to Resaca, covered wagons, Indian raids, the Nations, Quantrill's Raiders and other bandit gangs, sheriffs and posses, shoot-outs on Main St (though not the quick-draw face off), and all what have you, 

The Hammontrees did not quite approve of Claude wedding their sister, and the couple had to elope. For one thing, there was a considerable age difference, but also Claude had been married before, to a Bonnie Crawford. (We don't know what happened to her, or if Margie has any half-sibs.)

Elsie died when Margie was six, and Margie was raised by her widowed father, with the help of her grandmother, Ora Vanora Harris Hammontree and a flotilla of aunts, uncles and cousins. 

Margie's childhood home
Her father was a teamster and drove armored cars for a bank delivery service. Sometimes the owner, feeling sympathetic, gave permission for Claude to take Little Margie on his runs, so that the Marge was literally "rolling in dough" in the back of the armored car.

She grew up in a "shotgun shack" near the rail line and recalled riding her trike down to watch the hoboes in the 'Jungle.' This was also the age of 'white only' and 'colored only' signs on water fountains et al., although Indians in OK could use the 'white only' facilities. Nonetheless, Margie grew up having nightmares about the Klan. 

Her father took her hunting and fishing, She was toting a rifle at age 12. In later years, this scandalized her New Jersey/New York co-workers, because she was by then living in urbanized areas. She always liked fishing more than hunting [She didn't like the 'kick' of the rifle.] and learned early on to gut a fish, a useful skill when dealing with management. 

One time, on a picnic, she was menaced by a sidewinder, but her father's friend blew it away with a six shooter. (In case you're wondering why country folk carry guns.) Another time, facing a water moccasin in a rowboat, she levitated into her father's arms. Another time, she was chased by a passel of hogs (yes, passel) and took refuge in a tree. The pigs kept her treed until the farmer, a friend of her father, came and drove them away.

Middle School and the first year of high school were dominated by the 'social clubs,' like the Merry Maids and others. Margie was invited to a few parties by the daughters of oil company executives, but those invitations dried up when they learned her social status. She found herself lumped with two other classmates who, although suitably wealthy, were Jewish. Their common identity was as "the Brains."

Her grandmother had been a Holy Roller. Their meetings, with all their tongue-speaking, scared the be-jabbers out of Little Marge. Other uncles and aunts were variously Presbyterian or Episcopal or Methodist. There seemed no rhyme or reason to it. As far as Margie remembered, her daddy was an atheist.

Then one day, she accompanied a friend to a Catholic Mass and she was awed by the "smells and bells" and the sense of rootedness and tradition. She took lessons and converted, in the process converting also her grandmother. Catholics also spoke in tongues: viz., Latin. Oddly, when her classmates learned she would be going to the Catholic high school the next year, all the snob attitudes changed. She must be something special to be accepted there. 

Sr. M. Philomena, SSM
In the Catholic high school, there were still cliques, but none of them were based on family wealth. Rich kids and poor mingled as jocks, motorheads, etc. This impressed the Marge enough that she finished high school in the convent school and after graduation, joined the Sisters of the Sorrowful Mother, a  Franciscan order, becoming Sr M Philomena, SSM. Later, when Philomena was demoted, she became Sr M Monica, SSM, the previous Monica having died in the meantime. [The Rule forbade any two sisters anywhere in the world from using the same name.] It was an Austro-Bavarian order and Margie picked up a bit of Southern German, but most of the younger sisters were Caribbean, and a different music informed their voices. This was at a time when the secular world was staunchly segregationist. She learned how to wring a chicken's neck, another useful management skill.

Placed in the mother-house in Milwaukee, she was trained and assigned to elementary school instruction, second and fourth grade in Thiensville, WI. Dealing with children was another skill that would later prove invaluable in management. Later, she was assigned to the hospital in Roswell, NM. No, she didn't see any aliens.

She stayed eight years with the Order but never took permanent vows. She left in 1965 when her temporary vows expired and worked in admissions at Marquette University. The apartment house where she lived was later the residence of Jeffrey Dahmer, the Milwaukee Cannibal. It was torn down due to the infamy and no longer exists.

Disapproving of open housing
In 1967, she marched for open housing with Fr Groppi across the 16th St Viaduct, during which she was beset by a mob of thousands of unruly whites. She saw a Jesuit priest kicked and beaten by the whites.

Afterwards, she worked at the Northwestern Mutual Life Insurance company. One day, two of her co-workers, Sally Mortenson and D'Arlyn Marks, invited her to dinner at their commune, where, she caught the eye Michael, and the rest is history.

Margie met Mikey at the House
The way it happened was this. Margie took a seat at the High Table directly across from Mike. And she was so intensely pretty and witty that he could not stop looking at her or afterward, thinking about her. She had the prettiest smile on the face of the planet. Yes, it was that old cliche: Love at first sight! The matter was complicated by the fact that both were dating other people at the time.

After a whirlwind courtship, Mike and Margie wed and heighed off the next day for Colorado in the back of a friend's minivan, in which they were constantly threatened by toppling stacks of vinyl records and books. Mike had a graduate assistantship waiting there.

Once in Boulder, CO, ensconced in the Cavalier Apartments, just a couple blocks from the Math department of CU, Margie found a job with an NML agency south of Denver, beginning her lifetime of driving long distances. She loved driving, possibly because her father had been a Teamster. What she hated was traffic jams and would often drive 10 minutes out of her way to avoid a 5 minute delay. She had internalized all the roadmaps long before anyone came up with GPS.

In 1974, 1+1=3, and Sara entered the equation. It was a long, difficult labor that ended in a C-section. They hadn't decided on a name until her gurney was being wheeled past the waiting room and, half-sedated, she gasped out "Sara Margaret."

Late the following year, Dennis was born. There was never any doubt that he would be named for Mike's late brother, so no last minute dramatics. 

Never has a mother mothered so thoroughly. There was nothing they needed that she did not st least attempt to provide. In later years, she would cross the country at anysign of an illness or other need in her children.

Afterwards, she segued into banking at Central Bank of Denver, where she acquired advanced certificates from the American Institute of Banking and for a time became the AIB governor. She wound up at the Federal Reserve Bank of Kansas City, Denver branch, where she worked in Check Processing (Does anyone remember checks?) and became a computer system analyst, back when "computer" meant mainframe. Along the way, she finished her education at Regis College with a degree in Communications.

In 1976, at an AIB convention in Phoenix, she watched from her hotel room while Clint Eastwood's bus was shot up filming The Gauntlet. In 1978, she took her kids to visit the set for the miniseries Centennial, which was built near Denver. Later, in NYC, she watched them build a faux subway station outside the Federal Reserve Bank for the Bruce Willis flick, Die Hard with a Vengeance.  She loved watching movies, especially indies. It was one of Marge and Mike's favorite joint activities.

When Mike was offered a job in the East, Margie transferred from the Denver branch of the Fed of Kansas City to the main office of the Fed of New York. This meant catching NJTransit at Metuchen or MetroPark, transferring to PATH at Newark, and coming up on the long escalators under the World Trade Center then walking to the Fed. 

She loved New York. Every year, she took her daughter to see the Nutcracker, the Tree, et al. There were trips to the Met, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Opera, the Museum of Natural History, to restaurants and so on.

The Fed of NY transferred its Check Processing to East Rutherford Operations Center, NJ. Margie planned and conducted Check Processing's move, setting up the rooms, the sorting machines, phone portals, cabling, and so forth. She was known to get on hands and knees under the flooring to check on cable connections.And she had to do this while maintaining check processing operations.

Afterwards Margie mostly worked at EROC, though on some days, she would be expected in the main building in New York. Had she not been assigned to EROC on That Day, she would have been riding up the escalator under the World Trade Center just at the time the first plane hit. As it was, she and her co-workers watched from the EROC as the smoke billowed upward.

Some of her best friends were from her work, among them Julio, who secured tickets to sundry plays, musicals, and operas -- from a revival of Oklahoma! to a modernized version of The Mikado, by way of Carmen.

Mike's job and avocation both provided her with travel opportunities. She accompanied him to Ireland and Scotland, and to Vienna and Budapest. When Mike was tied up conducting a seminar, she took a day-trip to Prague. She toured Italy with her father-in-law and brother-in-law. She also visited various cities within the USA (SFO, LAX, ORD, BWI, DCA, SAT, et al.) often accompanying Mike on a consulting job or to a science fiction con.

The end was swift, gentle, and unexpected. She began to complain about a pain in her hip that gave her trouble walking. The orthopedist suspected arthritis, then bursitis. Then, one day, she could not get up from sitting, it hurt so bad. So, with some reluctance, she let herself be taken to the hospital. [She hated to be a bother to other people.] There, they took an MRI and discovered stage 4 kidney cancer. They placed her in a Skilled Nursing Facility and started a regime of radiation treatments. The doctors envisioned her going home once she had mastered walking and steps. At one point, with a walker, she took 16 steps.

One Monday, Sara took Mike to visit Margie, and she was cheerful, if a bit tired, and they talked for an hour or two. On Tuesday, Mike's cousin [and Margie's good friend] Mariellen went to visit her and found her similarly alert and talkative. On Thursday, the nurses could not wake her.

The SNF summoned the Emergency Squad, but by the time they arrived. Margie was once more awake and conversing with the technicians as they prepped her for transport. Sara and Mike went to sit with her in the Emergency Room, by which time she was asleep once more. When Mike spoke to her, she opened her eyes and they got real big. Then, they closed again. Sean and Danna had come up from Philly and we all went over to the hospital when she was transferred there. 

After a time, Sean drove Mike back to the house to rest. Someone -- Sean, Sara, or granddaughter Noelle -- would come in the morning to bring me back. Mike lay down and, shortly, the phone rang. Mike knew even before he answered what the call was. He had heard the ban sidhe crying before he picked it up. 

Margie's great heart was stilled and the prettiest smile on the planet had faded at last. At least from this material world. She smiles forever in our hearts.

She left was two months shy of her 50th wedding anniversary. It won't be nearly so much fun without her.

Her greatest pleasure lay in making others happy.

Whoa, What's This?

adam amateur theology anthropology 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 Hunters Moon 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 wuv xmas you can't make this stuff up