Friday, November 30, 2012

On the Razor's Edge

1. Received author's copies of the mm paperback for In the Lion's Mouth.  18 copies now on the shelves. 

2. Received the copy-edited manuscript for On the Razor's Edge, and in going through it have plucked a couple of lines here and there that caught my eye for one reason or another.  In no particular order, a miscellany of lines:

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

The Argument from Chance

The sixth way is taken from the randomness to be found in things. Among  things that exist we observe that some come to be by chance, as for example the striking of Earth-1 by a marsbody at precisely the right angle and speed to throw off a lunar divot.  Or the end of a ball in a slot on the roulette wheel.  Although the motion of the ball is governed by deterministic laws, the final cause - viz., which numbered slot it winds up in cannot be predicted. 
However, we note that in paradigmatic random situations, such as a casino, great care and planning must be taken to ensure the requisite randomness.  Equipment must be fabricated and installed, rules enacted, systems established for accounting for the results, attracting players, and so on.  Thus while much of what happens in a casino happens by chance, the casino itself cannot happen by chance.  It is thus clear that a random universe does not arise by chance, but by careful planning. 
But careful planning requires a Planner.  Etc.

(Sexta via sumitur ex fortuiti qui in rebus inveniuntur. Invenitur enim in rebus aliquid in esse veniunt a casu, ut pro exemplo quod planeta magnitudinis Martis percuciet terram-I justum ius celeritate et angulus ut planeta magnitudinis Lunae abruptus est.  Etc.)

Monday, November 26, 2012

Fourth Way Corrigan

The well-known science popularizer, Richard Dawkins, once rebutted Aquinas' Fourth Way in an article in the Times (UK).  He first paraphrased Aquinas' argument thusly:
We notice that things in the world differ. There are degrees of, say, goodness or perfection. But we judge these degrees only by comparison with a maximum. Humans can be both good and bad, so the maximum goodness cannot rest in us. Therefore there must be some other maximum to set the standard for perfection, and we call that maximum God.

and then he comments
That's an argument? You might as well say, people vary in smelliness but we can make the comparison only by reference to a perfect maximum of conceivable smelliness. Therefore there must exist a pre-eminently peerless stinker, and we call him God. Or substitute any dimension of comparison you like and derive an equivalently fatuous conclusion.
whereupon Western philosophy crumbles.  What a knockdown!  Astonishingly, no one in history, not even Voltaire, ever noticed this before.  Instead, they sought to rebut at least one of the premises (usually the minor premise).  

Now the Fourth was never TOF's favorite argument, it being rather subtle, and TOF cannot say he follows it.  But let us see what can be made of it. 

Saturday, November 24, 2012

The Wonderful World of Statistics

This is a table apparently making the rounds that is supposed to demonstrate that people who voted for Obama are smarter, not stupider than people who voted for Romney.
h/t Yard Sale of the Mind
There is something endearingly sad in the spectacle of people convinced of their own moral and intellectual superiority making such elementary errors of statistical inference. 

The Problem of Metrology

Friday, November 23, 2012

A Gathering of Flynns

Yesterday, as has been our custom of late, the Incomparable Marge and TOF attended to the turkey at Flynn's on the Hill, a catering hall run by a Uncle Francey.  A fair sampling of Flynn were there, though some absences.  Cousin Fran had to work the toll bridge.  Uncle Tommy and his crew were doing their own thing, as were the Lillys.  Even so, Pere was there with all his other brothers and sisters. 

Cousin Molly (right)
The Big Game had been played earlier, to the discomfit of the P'burg Stateliners and the corresponding joy of the Easton Red Rovers.  This was the 106th meeting of the two schools, and TOF's 1-1 cousin, Molly, was Queen of the Game (the King, by custom, comes from the other school).  She wore her tiara to the dinner, but one of the weenie Flynns kept trying to put it onto other heads, most inappropriately on Cousin Jim's.  The Flynn have long had students in both schools and so have been pleased regardless of the outcome.  TOF Himself was benignly neutral, having attended a different high school entirely, viz., the unapologetically-named Notre Dame Crusaders. 

Dinner was served buffet style and and the bar was serve yourself.  All the usuals: turkey, cranberries, Irish whiskey,...

Also present along with Pere, aged 87 was Linda Ryan Flynn, aged 6 months.  She is the daughter of Timmy, son of Timmy, son of Francey and -- for the time being -- the Youngest Flynn, as Pere is the Oldest. 

On the Bravery of the Late Modern Intellectual

Post-modern equivalent of
shocking one's parents
The self-described ex-Catholic Irish poet, Colm Tóibín, has written a novella in the familiar manner of a memoir within the novella, although apparently making the daring choice of not using the present tense.  This is said to be a "deft strategic move."  The literati are awash in awe at his daring, edgy, unsentimental choices, since there is in their view no more swampy mire than sentiment.  In a world in which we are enjoined to "question everything" except the unexamined assumptions of the literati, this is said to be a paragon of its kind.

An admiring review in the New York Times notes that "none of the negatives that have made Christianity a byword for tyranny, cruelty and licensed hatred have attached to [Mary]."  More of a byword than communism?  That bywords are no more reliable than anyother slogan or "meme" seems not to occur to the reviewer.  She writes that "In my youth, stores sold items called 'Mary-like gowns,' which meant you could go to your senior prom looking as undesirable as possible in the name of the Virgin."  She regards this as a negative.  Apparently, the objective is to go to your senior prom looking as desirable as possible in the name of horny boys.  To be a sex object, as it were.  Here comes Honey Boo-boo. 

Wednesday, November 21, 2012

On Adams World

Adam, the Littlest Grandchild, he of the invisible friend who died and became a zombie, is now in second grade.  Tonight he informed TOF that the Milky Way galaxy was going to collide with Andromeda.  When will this happen? asked TOF. 
In one-point-six billion years, he said.  Not point-five, mind you. 
The stars will not hit each other, he assured me.  But gravity will be messed up.  He performed a dance showing the upmixing of gravity, accompanied with sound effects.  Gravity, it seems, will go here and there and there.  Earth may wind up in a different solar system. 
I suppose that if he is thinking 1.6 billion years ahead it explains why he forgets what he is supposed to do tomorrow. 
+ + +
I have learned that Jupiter is a monster planet that can swallow the earth.  It's a killer planet.  It has a hot moon called Io and a cold moon; and a storm that never stops.    This kid is a fountainhead of knowledge. 

Saturday, November 17, 2012

For Peat's Sake

A number of years ago...  In fact, a great number of years ago...  I participated in the writing of a fun novel titled Fallen Angels.  The 'guffin of the book was that all the greenhouse gasses had been cleaned out of the atmosphere, shutting down global warming and thus triggering an ice age.  Nyuck, nyuck.

Now this is a common enough literary trope -- reversal of expectations -- but the matter was already becoming politicized and so reaction to the book was largely political, even though a closer inspection of the premise reveals that it accepts the fact that carbon dioxide does tend to warm the earth.  It simply supposes that Other Stuff is going on at the same time; viz., another ice age is starting and global warming is staving it off.  Remember, this was just at the tail end of the Global Cooling hoo-hah, a phase of history now falling into George Orwell's "memory hole."

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

The Eleventh Hour

of the eleventh day of the eleventh month.

Harry Singley
and his wife Helen Schwar
A little late this year, but here is a letter written by Sgt. Harry Singley, 304th Engineers, Rainbow Division, AEF, my mother's father. 

First day of the Meuse-Argonne Offensive
26 Sept. 1918
"It was on Sept. 26 when the big drive started in the Argonne Forest and I saw all kinds of things that I never witnessed before.  We started out on the night of the 25th.  At 9 o'clock we commenced a tank road and worked our way almost to the German's front line trenches.  At 2:30 one of the greatest of all barrages was opened.  It was said that between 3500 and 4000 guns, some of them of very large calibre, went off at that hour just like clock work.  We worked on this road under shell fire until about 3:45 and then went back until the infantry went over the top at 5 oclock.  We followed with the tanks.  That is the way the Americans started and kept pounding and pushing ahead until the great day on Nov. 11.  ...

Harry Singley, 304th Engineers,
Rainbow Division
It was some life.  I am proud that I went through it, for nobody on the Hill will have anything on me...  I was a little with sneezing or tear gas.  It made me sick but I remained with the company for I did not like to leave my detachment at any time for if something would happen, I thought, there would be plenty of help.  I felt much better in a few days.  A small piece of shrapnel splinter hit me below the knee.  Otherwise I was lucky. ..."

"Somebody will wake up soon when the boys get back to the States..."

Monday, November 12, 2012

On the Razor's Edge

The book cover is received.  The copyedited text is on its way Flynnward.

Be afraid.  Be very afraid.

Monday, November 5, 2012

Phlinn's Philcon Schedule

No readings or kafeeklatsches, apparently

Sat 1:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—Time Travel for the Millions (1115)
If everyone could do it, how would this affect daily life? What are the most frivolous uses of time travel we can think of? What would be a time traveler's practical joke?John Ashmead (mod), Andrew C. Murphy, Gail Z. Martin, Michael F. Flynn, Glenn Hauman

Sat 3:00 PM in Plaza IV (Four)—Creating Religions in SF & Fantasy (1125)
Some authors have managed to invent plausible religions. A few have even crossed into reality. Other fictional religions come across as Catholicism (or other faith) with doodads tacked on, or as contrivances to make characters act according to the plot. How can you make "fake" religions work?
Judith Moffett (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Daniel Grotta, Eric Kotani, Tom Doyle

Sat 4:00 PM in Autograph Table—Autograph Session 4:00 - 5:00 (1279)
Jonah Knight, Michael F. Flynn

Sat 5:00 PM in Plaza II (Two)—Great Novels...And Why We Don't Like Them. (1137)
That are novels that are unquestionably great, yet we still can not manage to enjoy them. What makes these novels great, and why do they not appeal to us?
Ellen Asher (mod), Ty Drago, Gregory Frost, Michael F. Flynn, Ray Ridenour

Sat 6:00 PM in Plaza V (Five)—Who am I, what am I, where am I? - Consciousness and the Brain (988)
Consciousness has recently become a significant topic of research in psychology and neuroscience. How do subjective feelings come from brain processes? What has been learned, what is still a mystery?
Michael F. Flynn (mod), Tobias Cabral, Rebecca Robare, Catherine Faber, Lawrence Kramer

Sat 9:00 PM in Plaza VI (Six)—Inside Other Minds: Can we Ever Really Imagine an Alien Psychology? (984)
Given the difficulty humans have understanding each other, is it really possible to imagine a totally alien psychology? Can we put ourselves in the place of the truly Other and train ourselves to think differently? How well has SF achieved this so far, and what are the examples of notable successes and failures?
Rebecca Robare (mod), Samuel Conway, James Prego, Alexis Gilliland, Michael F. Flynn

Sun 10:00 AM in Plaza IV (Four)—Killing Hitler For Fun and Profit (1153)
How have various authors treated the idea of trying to change the past? CAN you change the past, and if so, what are the consequences?
Andre Lieven (mod), KT Pinto, Michael F. Flynn, Alex Shvartsman, Glenn Hauman

Sun 11:00 AM in Plaza III (Three)—Extreme Alternate History (1182)
Go beyond "a different outcome for famous battles" to other ways that history could have played out. Think how the world would really be different if something small and innocuous had occurred.
Allyn Gibson (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Sarah Hunter, Evelyn Leeper, Brian Thomas, Ray Witte

Sun 2:00 PM in Plaza III (Three)—Space Opera and the Checkout Counter (1187)
Space Opera is one of the most successful forms of science fiction in terms of sales. Are there inherent reasons for its continued success?
Alexis Gilliland (mod), Michael F. Flynn, Shelby Morgen, Nathan Lilly, Michael Ryan

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Hurricane Warning

Some perspectives.  Part of the purpose of this 11 minute film is to hype the deeds of the WPA, and we note the recurrence of stock phrases such as "shoulder to shoulder" that were popular in the 1930s.  But the fascinating thing is how little they had to work with back then.  Also, the good ol' 1930s Newsreel Voice. 

The 1938 hurricane was dubbed "The Long Island Express."  (Our modern naming conventions were not then in use.)  It flooded Manhattan all the way up to Canal Street. 

Waves 20-50 feet high crashing on the shore registered on seismographs in Alaska.  More than 600 people were killed, many of them children.  Katherine Hepburn barely escaped.  The History Channel did a show on the hurricane a while back, and it is intriguing how closely the Long Island Express matched conditions for this year's Sandy.  Instead of dying out over the colder North Atlantic, it was pinned between two highs and prevented from turning east.  Plus the autumn equinox and a full moon meant it was driving unusually high tides before it. 

The eight-part History Channel show starts here:

Of particular interest is how little meteorologists had to go on in 1938.  No radar, let alone satellite imagery.  Even the idea of using physics rather than experience was brand new and contrary to today, the one young junior meteorologist who called it right was ignored by the senior forecasters. 

Saturday, November 3, 2012

Illegal Aliens

Three years ago, almost to the day, TOF in his alternate ego as m_frank, posted semi-seriously some 31 different answers to Fermi's paradox on the old LiveJournal site.  Various thoughts and ruminations have impelled him to revisit the list and give it a new coat of paint, or at least a new vest and some additional comments.
+ + +

Klaatu and his ride
One of the major tropes of science fiction is the Alien From Space.  Recall Klaatu, War of the Worlds, Earth vs the Flying Saucers, and other such visitations.  Heinlein gave us the Mother Thing, the Bugs, Lummox, et al.  Van Vogt gave us the Rull; Zenna Henderson, the People; Weinbaum, Tweel; and so on.  TOF himself has been responsible for perpetrating the Hraani ("The Common Goal of Nature") and the Krenken (Eifelheim)

These alien folk have served admirably as metaphors for various aspects of humanity or human societies; but as one mainstream critic supposedly noted with surprise, in SF a trip to Mars is not only a metaphor for the stresses of human society, it is also supposed to represent on some deeper level an actual trip to Mars.  If this is so, then we have a problem.

Where are the actual aliens?
+ + +

Thursday, November 1, 2012


The gift that keeps on giving.  Apparently, it has been selling remarkably well in Japan, for I have just received a royalty check of more than a handful of dollars.

The Feast of All Saints

The come in all shapes and sizes, don't they?  Here's a list I've used before.  It is arranged along a not-too-subtle principle, which you are free to guess.  Sometimes it's good to know how exclusive the club is.  Those in the know are free to add the usual responsorials. 

Wonder and Anticipation, the Likes of Which We Have Never Seen

  Hello family, friends and fans of Michael F. Flynn.   It is with sorrow and regret that I inform you that my father passed away yesterday,...