Thursday, December 29, 2011

Oh Happiness! our being's end and aim!

So said Pope.  No, not that Pope.  The one who wrote poetry. 

In another venue, TOF chanced to encounter the following encomium to evolution:
The brain evolved in the same way the fins evolved: because their evolution conferred survival advantages in given situations.
Now the curious thing was that this statement was made by an individual (whom we will call "Adam Apple") who also asseverated that there was no τελος in nature.  I will wait a moment for my reader to stop banging his forehead against his desktop.  You could damage your computer screen that way.   


Monday, December 26, 2011

χmas Time is Here By-Golly

As dependable as holly and mistletoe are the old fundamentalist claims that Christmas is "really" just a pagan festival.  In a recent Letter to the Editor of our local paper, a writer whom we will call "Mr. G" called it "bizarre" to acknowledge a deity with a "mere human construct" like a calendar.  By this we must suppose that cathedrals, statues, stained glass windows, Handel's Messiah, and the designations BC and AD are "bizarre."  Well, tastes vary, we suppose. 

This post is a somewhat expanded version of my reply, which appeared a couple days later.  
Mr. G claimed that Dec. 25 was the pagan Roman celebration of the winter solstice.  But this cannot be true for the excellent reason that:
  1. the Romans did not celebrate solstices and equinoxes, and 
  2. Dec. 25 was not the solstice!  

Friday, December 23, 2011

Science Fiction Theater

Hoo-ah.  This was a favorite TV show of mine when I was a kid.  When media science fiction was not all space wars and monsters.

It's also interesting to visit an alien civilization; viz., the 1950s.

The War Between Reason and Religion

Agobard of Lyons, "On Hail and Thunder" (9th Century)

A certain stupidity was spread a few years ago, when some cattle died, so that people said that Grimaldus, the Duke of Benevento, had sent men with powder that they sprinkled through the fields and mountains, meadows and springs – because he was hostile to the most Christian Emperor Charles, and cattle died from this sprinkled powder. We have heard of, and seen, many men seized for this reason, some of them struck down and slain, but most of them tied to boards, thrown into the river, and killed. And, what is truly amazing, the very ones who were seized would give evidence against themselves, saying that they had such a powder and they had sprinkled it. For thus the devil, when his power was received into them by the secret and righteous justice of God, was able to enter them to such an extent that they became false witnesses against themselves to the point of death. And neither instruction nor torture nor death itself deterred them from daring to speak this falsehood against themselves.

This was believed by everyone, so that there was scarcely anyone to whom it seemed absurd. They did not consider rationally, how such a powder that would kill only the cattle and not the rest of the animals could have been made, or how such stuff could have been carried across regions so broad that people could not have sprinkled them with powder, not even if all the Beneventan men and women, old and young, had come through the region with three full carts of powder.

So much stupidity has already oppressed the wretched world that Christians now believe things so absurd that no one ever before could persuade the pagans to believe them, even though these pagans were ignorant of the Creator of all things. On this account, therefore, we have brought this last incident into the midst to our discourse, because it is similar to the topic on which we are speaking and can give an example of inane seduction and true impoverishment of sense.

Monday, December 19, 2011

Flynn in the Window

No, I don't know why it appears sideways.  But the Barnes and Noble at PA 33 and Freemansburg Ave. in Easton will be hosting your humble servant for an afternoon of reading and signing.  We can only hope my fan shows up.
The photo was captured by my daughter with her phone as she was walking by. 

Fun With Statistics

The Better Angels of Our Nature

Steven Pinker, whom we last saw here making a hash of the mind-body "problem" and earlier denying the existence of human dignity, is a Public Intellectual.  Now, someone who intellectualizes in public may have other bad habits, and here we find him setting eyes rolling among both statisticians and historians with a book entitled The Better Angels of Our Nature

Dr. Pinker sometimes presents as a scientist, but on closer examination, we find he is only a psychologist.  (Yes, yes, I know; but for me the touchstone is physics.)  It is unclear what aspects of training in the psyche provides expertise in historical analysis or even in statistics.  Psych majors often take Stats-for-psych-majors, but this ought not be confused with the true quill.  Certainly, any author who gets his name in larger type than the title of the book is an Important Author. But perhaps this is no more than a distinguished expert in one field trying to import that distinction to an alien field, with indifferent results.

(Yes, yes, I know.  But TOF does not pretend to be a Public Intellectual or even an Important Author.)

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Sometimes the Mask Slips, Just a Little

In A Manifesto for Sustainable Capitalism, by Al Gore and David Blood, we are struck by a vital question: How long did Gore have to search for a co-author named Blood? 

Friday, December 16, 2011

Clearing the Tabs

The First Sorrowful Mystery
What does a society do when it has devalued children, gated their communities, disparaged "breeders," and slaughtered the unwanted? 

Ans: Pretend pregnancy.

The Second Risible Mystery
Is Star Wars actually a deeply hidden allegory for niche neep?  Exspecto quod animadverto!

The Third Logical Mystery
When is a confirmation of the multiverse theory not a confirmation of the multiverse theory?  Pretty much anytime, but in particular here

The Fourth Statistical Mystery
When is correlation not causation?  Bzz!  Trick question.  Correlation is never causation, though TOF wishes the New Breed of scientist would ponder this more closely.  Some examples, h/t to Alert Commenter Aaron.
TOF stands in silent awe at the knowledge that there are people in the world with sufficient time on their hands to put such things together. 

The Gandersauce Society

On the lookout for special pleading and double standards everywhere. 
Our motto: What's sauce for the goose is sauce for the gander

Our entry for the day:
  • Pity the first lady. Every time she pulls a frock from her closet, changes her hairstyle or raises a well-groomed eyebrow, someone somewhere not only parses her decision and weighs its symbolism but also attempts to give it a whiff of scandal, back-room tumult, or something equally unseemly."--Robin Givhan,, Feb. 2
  • "Style can be used to break down barriers. It can show stature and authority and also exude commonality. But when it is too perfect, too formal, too stiff, it sets one apart. In Mrs. Gingrich's case, style implies a social hierarchy that, far from exuding empathy, reflects the haughty airs of noblesse oblige."--Robin Givhan,, Dec. 12

h/t to WSJ Best of the Web

Thursday, December 15, 2011

This is Kool

h/t Mark Shea

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie

TOF is pleased to announce that his story "The Journeyman: On the Short-Grass Prairie" has been accepted for publication at Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact.  The story describes an adventure undertaken by Teodorq sunna Nagarajan, whom my perceptive reader will recognize as a player in the novel Up Jim River.  This story takes place on his home world, called World, well before he finds his way to the Spiral Arm and the company of the harper and the scarred man. 

As teaser, the story opens thusly:

Friday, December 9, 2011

What Happens When a Pair of Irishmen Go to France

In the early 800s?  The Monk of St. Gall (probably Notker the Stammerer) tells us:
Now it happened, when [the illustrious Charles] had begun to reign alone in the western parts of the world, and the pursuit of learning had been almost forgotten throughout all his realm, and the worship of the true Godhead was faint and weak, that two Scots came from Ireland to the coast of Gaul along with certain traders of Britain. These Scotchmen were unrivaled for their skill in sacred and secular learning: and day by day, when the crowd gathered round them for traffic, they exhibited no wares for sale, but cried out and said, "Ho, everyone that desires wisdom, let him draw near and take it at our hands; for it is wisdom that we have for sale."

Adventures in Statistics

The following graph was prepared by NOAA and presented on the National Public Radio website.  The gist of the accompanying article was OMG!!  WE'RE ALL GONNA DIE!!! Or something like that.  In particular, weather ("which is not climate") has suddenly become climate again.   
at least until the last line of the article:

Monday, December 5, 2011

Arab Spring

Egypt, We Hardly Knew Ye

Information seems to be that the Muslim Brotherhood received 45% of the Egyptian vote and an even more extreme Salafist party received 25%.  Were these early returns or final results?  In so, the clueless scions of Generation Tweet and the Urban Intellectuals have been snookered again, just as in Iran years ago.  They actually thought they were numerous and important.  Hey, we used social media to bring down the secular regime!  How kool is that?  Then they learned that others regarded them as part of the 1%. 

The question now is whether the Army will permit this to happen.  Even other Arabs notice that those countries run by strict shari'a tend to be the poorest and most repressive ones.  
Meanwhile, after
Occupational Autumn
The Los Angeles Times asked quondam occupiers "what message they hoped people would take away from it."  The following are the important messages:
  • "We the people are the powers that be."--Allen Lasley, 26
  • "We have to stop taking and start giving. That is the mind shift I am trying to bring to the world."--Matt Wegner, 53
  • "Government power is an illusion. We placed them there. We can always take it away from them."--Michael Basillas, 26
  • "Politics matters. It is not peripheral. If you want to build a better world, you have to engage in the political process. We need to build a kinder, gentler world."--Joseph Thomas, 50
  • "The major thing is that something is wrong with society."--Vivian Ortiz, 19
  • "The disparity in wealth is saddening. To do nothing is just not an option for my soul."--Gabriel Martinez, 25
  • "The government is totally messed up. Everybody here can agree on one thing: Things are not right."--Rachel Bulisky, 29
A great deal of that sounds like it could have come from a Tea Party gathering, albeit a highly disorganized, clueless, and extremely messy Tea Party gathering.  It makes me wonder why mostly  Democratic city administrations* moved so simultaneously to close down the "Obamavilles."  Perhaps comments like "The government is totally messed up" informed their choice.  Once it became clear that the Occupiers were not in the tank for the administration and resisted being co-opted by surrogates sent to address them, there was no political gain to be had.  On the positive side, they did not stain any tank treads.

Or is all that too cynical? 

(*) New York's mayor is a lifelong Democrat who switched to Republican because there was less competition on their primary ballot.  

Meanwhile, Deutsche Welle asks, amidst the usual boilerplate:
"As winter sets in and cities across North America clear Occupy protesters from their camps, many wonder what lies ahead for a movement without a geographic base, leaders or concrete demands."--Deutsche Welle website, Dec. 3

Let's see....
No leaders, no concrete demands, no geographic base...  What does lie ahead?  Ooh, wait.  I know!

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Into the New Millennium

Analog Magazine's first enthology (that's Enthology, not Anthology) is entitled Into the New Millennium: Trailblazing Tales From Analog Science Fiction and Fact, 2000 - 2010.  It's available in Kindle format. 

Why do I mention it, you ask?  Because TOF is one of the authors therein, natürlich. And of course with a cross-grained story set in the 1300s; viz., "Quaestiones super caelo et mundo."  Some new millennium, right?  (Harry Turtledove has a story set in the 1600s, but I have him beat for retro.) 

The indicem contenta are

Outbound, by Brad R. Torgersen
The Universe Beneath Our Feet, by Carl Frederick
Quaestiones super caelo et mundo, by Michael F. Flynn
The Purloined Labradoodle, by Barry B. Longyear
His Hands Passed Like Clouds, by Rajnar Vajra
Sheena 5, by Stephen Baxter
Tine Berries, by Richard A. Lovett
Shed Skin, by Robert J. Sawyer
Fly Me to the Moon, by Marianne J. Dyson
Kyrie Eleison, by John G. Hemry
Pupa, by David D. Levine
Forget Me Not, by Amy Bechtel
The Night of the RFIDS, by Edward M. Lerner
Alphabet Angels, by Ekaterina Sedia and David Bartell
But It Does Move, by Harry Turtledove
Chain, by Stephen L. Burns

which as you can see is an illustrious company with familiar names and excellent newcomers to the atriis analogia.  Buy early and often. 

Friday, December 2, 2011

A Few Odds and Ends With No Apparent Connection

While cleaning out a folder of various snips and such, I ran across several items that seemed to concatenate and thought I'd try to stitch them together.

Which is the nutcase?
Which is the nutcase?
The first, by movie critic John Bowman, regards the connection between Charlie Sheen and Moammar Ghadaffi.  Both, he says, rely on the persistence in legend of a long gone bogey-man.  In Ghadaffi's case (as for many others), it was long-vanished Italian (French, British,...) colonialism.  But there is a Genesis narrative supporting Mr. Sheen, as well. 

Both [Mr. Sheen and Mr. Ghadaffi] were based upon a founding narrative of the culture that each man shared with his less addlepated fellow countrymen. ... For the founding narrative of today’s popular culture also involves a noble rebellion of the oppressed. Without the success of the free, egalitarian, life-affirming unofficial culture of yesteryear against the "uptight" and "repressive" official culture, Charlie Sheen would be unimaginable, and he depends as much on the pretense of this long-defunct cultural regime’s continued existence as Colonel Gaddafi does. It’s what makes him an interesting, rebellious, "transgressive" pop culture hero and not just a poor, self-destructive, strung-out nutbag. In this sense, his claim to be a "total rock star from Mars" with "tiger blood" had a certain truth to it, since rock stars who come from nearer to home and whose blood is anthropoid have been waving the same bloody shirt for almost half a century, ever since the official culture pronounced its dying benediction upon the noble cause of removing the stigma of hypocrisy from youthful self-indulgence and quietly gave up the ghost.

Head Lines

The Answer is No
"Have You Hugged a Port-a-Potty Lately?"--headline, San Antonio Express-News website, Dec. 1 

Hmm.  Well, It's Not the Beard...
"Why Egypt's Salafis Are Not the Amish"--headline, Council on Foreign Relations website, Dec. 1

This is Pretty Much the Definition of a Night Club, Isn't It?
"Cops: Drunk Man Annoys Women at Cambridge Nightclub"--headline, Cambridge (Mass.) Chronicle, Nov. 30

In The Belly of the Whale: Publisher's Weekly Review & Pre-Order Links

 Hello Fans of Michael Flynn. I am pleased to let you know that Dad's novel In the Belly of the Whale will be released by CAEZIK on July...