Saturday, January 28, 2012

It's Only a Theory

The Commemoration of St. Thomas Aquinas
Today is the Commemoration of St. Thomas Aquinas, moved; and so in commemoration we will consider the manner in which he is misunderstood in the present day.

Some of this is due to a broader misunderstanding -- of the metaphysics of Aristotle.  Many terms of art, like "matter" and "motion," are used today in different senses than they were when he wrote, and so it happens that what he wrote is oft misread.

But TOF, you say, since we are talking about SF, what will be the SF connection?

Patience, my pretties.  All will become clear, for some values of "clear."

More below the cut

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Odds and Ends

Great Opening Lines
Jon Gibbs, a local writer here in the Valley, runs a blog called An Englishman in New Jersey, for the simple reason that he is.  He recently ran a contest called the Meager Puddle of Limelight Award for Best Opening Line
and announced the winners, which I think are worth sharing:
  1. The goddamn robots were at it again (Beth Cato aka celestialgldfsh) 
  2. The first words Henry Woods heard after his execution were, “You took long enough to get here."  (Elizabeth Hull aka darkspires) 
  3. "Think of me as a time of year" whispered the raccoon, "like libraries in a late autumn afternoon." (Adrian Sterling aka raisinbottom) 
  4. You're all alone here, alone among the dead.  (Phil Giunta aka pgiunta)  
  5. At the beginning, you see, Time had not yet come into being.  (Sue Stone aka knittingknots)
  6. Last night, I dreamed of the drowned man again.  (Christine Lucas aka silverwerecat)
  7. Miranda Lorensen was about to watch her brother die--again.  (Phil Giunta aka pgiunta)
  8. Nobody knew how and nobody knew why, but everywhere that Renee went the rain followed.  (Angela De Groot aka angeladegroot)
The illustrious raisinbottom, who has graced us with his presence on the LiveJournal version of this very blog and has in my own opinion the most outre of the opening lines.  Though truth to tell, I thought one of the non-finalists was pretty good:
I laid down on the tracks waiting for the 1:15 when a voice next to me said: Could you move up a bit?

If the job of an opening line is to get the reader to proceed to the second line, most of these do the trick most excellently.  
+ + +
More Odds and Ends below the cut

Sunday, January 22, 2012

Weather Gods

Subject of the Reading
The Reader
The weather gods reached out with uncanny pinpoint accuracy to dump 5 inches of snow on the very day I was to have a reading/signing at the Barnes and Noble, the only serious snowfall so far since Halloween. 

Consequently, only four people showed up.  Unless they were trapped in the store by the snow and couldn't get away.  A small group, but enthusiastic and participative, and we had good conversations.  I read from the recently escaped book IN THE LION'S MOUTH.  But you already knew that. 

Could have been worse, I guess.  In mathematics, 4>0.  I'm not sure how big a crown might even show up there in theory.  I was told that when the musical performer Pat Benatar did a signing, they sold only 150 books instead of the 500 they had hoped for.  I signed a bunch of books that will now go on display for the weenies who did not defy the snow to come. 

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Are Media People Stupid?

I don't normally ask rhetorical questions, but I have been struck in recent weeks by "memes" such as the following:
following the Jan. 3 Iowa caucus, Romney, the former Massachusetts governor, was believed to have won the Hawkeye State event by 8 votes. More than two weeks later; however, the final certified tally showed Santorum finishing in first place.
Only once did I see a news account correctly note that Romney and Santorum merely won the same number of delegates to the next level of caucuses.  (I don't know how it works in Iowa, but I know how it worked in Colorado when I was a House District Leader.  The caucuses elected delegates to the county assembly, which then elected delegates to the congressional district convention and the state assembly/convention, which then chose delegates to the national convention.)  The phrase "won" was not especially relevant following the precinct caucuses.  And it is especially not relevant when the margin is 8 votes.  The correct term for the Iowa outcome was "tie."  

The media are so enamored of the "horse race" metaphor that they do not seem to realize that a primary process is not a winner-take-all proposition, at least in most states.  The parties are much more concerned with getting the right proportion of male and female delegates, of ethnic delegates, etc.  We had to do some intricate balancing of presidential preferences versus required biological characteristics.  But I digress. 
Example: in one precinct caucus I ran, with 10 people attending, everyone voted for Gary Hart except two union members, who voted for Walter Mondale.  The rules said that anyone getting more than 20% of attendees was entitled to at least one delegate.  Our precinct got to sent three delegates to county, so Mondale got one and Hart got two.  This over-represented Mondale (20% of votes; 33% of delegates); but we could not send fractional delegates.  Then we had to make sure at least one delegate was female.  (One year, when we were still in 1st District and I had not yet held party office, they discovered Mrs. TOF was American Indian, which made her a two-fer, so she got to be a delegate, and they got to check off two columns.  But I digress)  

The same thing applies to Romney "winning" New Hampshire.  He got what, 39% of the vote?  (Which I thought was pretty poor for the "governor next door.")  Since a primary usually commits to the national, it means Romney got somewhere around 39% of of the small NH delegation -- which means most of the NH delegates will be pledged to someone else; and if some of those someones else drop out, then they will be free to shift votes to, well, someone else. 
Example: at State Convention one year, the Carter people pulled some rule changes to convert delegates into droids, unable to change their minds in light of further data; viz., that Carter was a dork.  This was triggered IIRC by a challenge to the incumbent by Teddy Kennedy.  There was mucho dissatisfaction with Pres. Carter among Democrat rank-and-file; but we were not to be allowed to express it.  So, we caucused anyway and Mo Siegel, the Celestial Seasonings guy, organized an uncommitted caucus for those who resented Carter but could not abide Teddy.  We sent one third of the Colorado delegation as uncommitted; and the Teddy-ites sent another third.   Just to poke Carter in the eye.  I suppose by now there are rules to prevent such uprisings. 

And the same thing applies to Gingrich in South Carolina.  I haven't seen the percentages there; but again, it only means that Gingrich will have first dibs on the plurality of SC delegates. 

What we ought to be seeing is not who "won" this state or that, but how many pledged delegates each candidate has racked up. 
Then temper even that with those loco states who allow non-party members to vote in a party's primary.  Primaries (and/or caucuses) are how the parties choose who they will run in the general election.  Why should Republicans and people who couldn't make up their minds get to vote for who the Democrat's candidate will be?  And vice-etc.-versa.  

But TOF (I hear you say) the candidates themselves talk about "winning" this state or that in the primaries. 

Ah (TOF answers) take the title of this rant and alter the second word as appropriate. 

TOF at Boskone

TOF's Schedule at Boskone, as of today:

Saturday 10:00 - 11:00, Creating Alien Characters, Harbor I (Westin)
        From the outside, how do we create alien species that are
        not just giant X or sentient Y -- like big ants or smarter
        cats?  From the inside, how do we even conceive  mentation
        that is fundamentally nonhuman, rather than just like us
        with an obsession for Z -- like money, honor, or status?
Saturday 13:00 - 14:00, Kaffeeklatsche: Michael F. Flynn
        Advance sign-up at Information required; limited to 10
Saturday 15:00 - 16:00, Autographing: Michael F. Flynn,
Saturday 17:00 - 18:00, Return of the Stagirite -- or Aristotle's Revenge
        Aristotle's notions are being resurrected with a fresh coat
        of paint and a new label.
Sunday 10:00 - 10:30, Reading: Michael F. Flynn

Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Reviews for In the Lion's Mouth & a PODCAST

I blush to add the the following links to reviews.  But I'll add them naetheless:

Fanatsy Book Critic

"I would say that a major part of the series' attraction is its execution - style, characters, world building"

The quality of Michael Flynn’s writing is apparent in every sentence. In the first pages of In the Lion’s Mouth, his latest novel, we get the following description of one of his central characters, Francine Thompson:
“She stands by the large bay window that overlooks the endless prairie, though she herself overlooks nothing.”
By toying with the word “overlook”, Flynn gives his reader insight into his character – who is a kind of interstellar secret agent – by layering description with a nod to her constant and unerring attention to detail. This single example is significant only in what it indicates about Flynn’s writing as a whole, that he is both concerned with and playful with language. What this means is that In the Lion’s Mouth, like all the novels in his Firestar series, are more nuanced than merely being adventure fiction. They contain a depth and a whimsy that makes them enjoyable to read and easy to recommend.

+ + +
I am reliably informed that Interzone has a not-so-favorable review; but it is not web-accessible; so I don't know if the criticism is literary or political or for not writing the book the reviewer wanted to read. 

+ + +
As part of the Great Lion's Mouth World Tour - which nowadays can be conducted from my office - Dungeon Crawlers Radio will host an interview with yr. obt. svt., TOF on Monday January 23rd @ 6:15pm MST (which is 8:15pm in real time) .  Be sure to tune in.  Or not, as it pleases you.  

Listeners can access the show by going to and clicking on the audio player on the right hand side of the screen.  Fun times for all!

Sunday, January 15, 2012

Humanism in Danger!

Tristan and Iseult
A Novel Idea

Among the gifts of the Middle Ages was the roman of the langue d'oil.  Stories like Tristan and Iseult were different from the chansons de geste of the langue d'oc.  Those had featured stereotypes -- brave hero, cowardly traitor, et al. -- performing iconic deeds symbolizing eternal verities.  Not only were the chansons symbolic; symbolism was very nearly the point of it all.

The knight pledges fealty to...
a woman?
The seal of Raymond de Mondragon
posted by Gilles Dubois
The roman was something different; something novel.  The central love intrigue of the roman leads to various invented episodes (which is why these were called "inventions" back in the day) and the characters evolve through interior conflicts, psychological situations, or invented circumstances, as did Tristan and Iseult, Lancelot and Guinevere, Parzifal, et al.  This kind of story had no roots in the fables and tales of the literature of antiquity.  For one thing, the subordination of the knight to his lady would have been unimaginable.  

All of literature as we know it -- we might even say all of humanism -- stems from this idea of the character-who-changes through a series of events and encounters.  But it all hinges on the notion that there actually are interior conflicts, psychological situations, and the like.  It hinges, in short, on the freedom of the will.

Thursday, January 12, 2012

The Autumn of Modern Science

The World of the Spiral Arm

Buy early and often
In The January Dancer, Up Jim River, and soon In the Lion's Mouth, the world is shown as no longer having science.  Yet they travel by interstellar tunnels, use artificial gravity, etc.  Some have wondered how this can be so.  But medieval China is a case in point.  China never did have what we could call natural science; but during Ming times she certainly had a high technology.  Facts, but no Theory

The planets of the Periphery and the Central Worlds likewise have a black-box technology.  They know which Xs produce which Ys.  They just have no idea how or why.  Ancient gods like Einstein have bestowed these things on them and they work.  What more do they need?

But how did matters come to such a pass?

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Flynnstuff on the Web

Litstack has decided that I am a Featured Author for January. Hoo-ah. 
They review January Dancer (appropriately enough) here:
And Up Jim River here:

Something That Crossed My Mind

Oh, yes....

h/t Mark Shea

Okay.  And then there is this:

I actually quibble with one thing he says. The Mayans (and others who used this and similar calendars) did think that the world was destroyed and reborn at the end of every Great Year. (Although the term "great year" is Chaldean, it was also used by the Greeks and by some people in the Renaissance.) The notion is that when everything in the universe is aligned once more as it was in the beginning, everything will reboot. Socrates will be born again, be denounced again, and will again drink the hemlock when everything is aligned the same was as before. This is curiously consonant with the beliefs of determinists, who substitute something they call "physical causes" for the alignment of the stars.  But more on that later.

Tuesday, January 10, 2012

How to Read the News

In an article on the National Public Radio web site:
[Rob] Boston [at Americans United for the Separation of Church and State] says of course religious believers want to impose their views on the world — witness the fight against same-sex marriage. 
 Can anyone spot the logic error?

Beat Me, Daddy, Eight to the Bar

From The Atlantic magazine, a short piece on Josef Skvorecky, a refugee to Canada from the Prague Spring of 1968.  In the intro to his book The Bass Saxophone, he lists a set of regulations that had "engraved themselves deeply on my mind," issued during the Nazi occupation of Czechoslovakia.  They were binding on all local dance orchestras.

Sunday, January 8, 2012

Three Hundred Years

In his fascinating book Oral Tradition as History, Jan Vansina describes something he calls the floating gap.  The book is replete with examples of oral traditions, such as in Africa, among the Hopi, and other people.  He even mentions some oral traditions regarding local or family events among the modern English, et al.  His purpose is to investigate under which conditions such traditions can be used as reliable history.

Especially interesting in this regard is the origin of a certain tradition among the Hopi recounted on pp 19-20.

Friday, January 6, 2012

Received today by UPS courier, my official copy of IN THE LION'S MOUTH

Sing, O harper, the anger of Donovan buigh,
That graced us all with boundless grief,
And left brave men a prey to dogs and kites
As we foresaw upon that fateful day
When Donovan buigh and Those of Name
First fell out.

When his wrath at first arose ’twas I he fixed it on.
Oh, yes. ’Twas I who hauled him from his happiness
Off those same Jehovan streets where once he walked,
And had he not his eye upon more distant joys affixed,
We’d twain lie dead in those same gutters, gutted
By each other’s skills. But he foreknew, and so forbore to fight
And did submit him to my plea. But know this now, O harper.
It was to thee that he was bound when I untimely snatched him up.
Attend my tale and learn
Why once-great cities burn. 

Prize of a Hearty Handshake to the first who spots the allusion and guesses the theme of the book.

Interpreting the News

Hey, boys and girls, can you spot the logic in the following headline? 

"Report: Health Insurance Profits Rise Despite Health Care Reform"
--headline,, Jan. 5

Yes, that's right, sports fans.  Since the point of Health Care Reform™ is to require everyone to by health insurance, insurance companies will then be selling more policies, more cash will flow in, and their profits will rise.  Not "despite," but "because."

Note that another purpose was to require policy coverage be given to people with pre-existing conditions.  This vastly changes the actuarial risk to the insurance pool and in fact changes it from insurance to entitlement.  A greater actuarial risk means a higher premium to cover it, and this too means a rise in profits. 
+ + +

Gandersauce Alert

  • "It is disturbing that President Bush has exhibited a grandiose vision of executive power that leaves little room for public debate, the concerns of the minority party or the supervisory powers of the courts. But it is just plain baffling to watch him take the same regal attitude toward a Congress in which his party holds solid majorities in both houses. Seizing the opportunity presented by the Congressional holiday break, Mr. Bush announced 17 recess appointments--a constitutional gimmick. . . . Presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton made scores of recess appointments. But both of them faced a Congress controlled by the opposition party, while the Senate has been under Republican control for Mr. Bush's entire five years in office."--editorial, New York Times, Jan. 9, 2006
  • "Nearly six months after it opened its doors, the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau finally has a director, after President Obama's recess appointment of Richard Cordray. . . . Mr. Obama also appointed three new and qualified members to the National Labor Relations Board. . . . Announcing the appointments, Mr. Obama also asserted a welcome new credo: 'When Congress refuses to act, and as a result, hurts our economy and puts our people at risk, then I have an obligation as president to do what I can without them.' Hear. Hear."--editorial, New York Times, Jan. 5, 2012
And this is just plain funny, from the WSJ Best of the Web
"A poorly chosen baby name can lead to a lifetime of neglect, reduced relationship opportunities, lower self-esteem, a higher likelihood of smoking and diminished education prospects, according to a new study of nearly 12,000 people," Canada's National Post reports:
The research, which appears in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science [sic], is thought to offer the firmest conclusions to date that "unfortunate" first names evoke negative reactions from strangers, which in turn influence life outcomes for the worse.
The story's headline adds even more ill effects: "Bad Baby Name Could Leave Your Child Sadder, Dumber: Study."

Hmm. We have a president named Barack Hussein, and as of a month ago the two leading contenders to challenge him were Willard Mitt and Newton Leroy. That ought to clear things up for anyone having difficulty fathoming the rise of Richard John Santorum.

Global Warming
is there anything it can't explain?

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

A Common Misperception

Creation is not a one-time event
but a continual holding in being
A correspondent in another venue, whom we will call Charles Cheese, writes:

[Scientific explanation] would be moot if Biblical creation were found to be true ... why bother to find out what makes people sick if it would only take prayer to cure you? Why bother to discover what cause earthquakes, volcanic eruptions or other natural disasters if it the just punishment of a displeased God?  There would be absolutley no need for any science if ... that's how God did it, is the answer to every question!

TOF is somewhat mystified by this contention, and for two reasons. 

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...