Saturday, September 27, 2014

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: The Age of Science; the Secular Age; Conclusion

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Part 6

Eddington is more agnostic about the material world than Huxley ever was about the spiritual world.
-- G. K. Chesterton, The Well and the Shallows

12. The Age of Science. 

Omitted from this bloggery

“The twenty-first century will be religious, or not at all.”  – André Malraux

13. The Secular Age.   

The Middle Ages had invented the Secular State by stripping kings and emperors of their sacred roles and setting up the Church as an independent entity, with her own incomes, her own law codes and courts, her own governance.  “[T]he existence and prestige of the Church,” wrote A.D. Lindsay in The Modern Democratic State, “prevented society from being totalitarian, prevented the omnicompetent state, and preserved liberty in the only way that liberty can be preserved, by maintaining in society an organization which could stand up against the state.” [AL]  But during the Modern Ages, as the State began to assert control over theatrical companies, medical societies, universities, and other formerly independent corporations, it also asserted control over the Church – by sponsoring a heretic (Saxony), by nationalizing the Church within State borders (England), or by re-claiming the power to invest bishops and to block or censor papal bulls (France, Spain).  The result was a series of State-run “Established Churches.”  Cuius regio, eius religio![7] 
The Established Church was a triumph of secularism, not of religion.  Divine Right monarchs appeared during the Age of Reason, not the Age of Faith.  As the Modern Ages progressed – and moderns always progress – the West became steadily more secular in outlook and religion was steadily more brought to heel. 

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: The Age of Representative Art and the Book

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Part 5

We are mistaken if we suppose that mere commonsense, without any such training, will enable men to see an imaginary scene, or even to see the world they are living in, as we all see it today.
-- C.S. Lewis, The Discarded Image

10. The Age of Representation.   

Medieval art had made no attempt to reproduce the world as it actually appeared to the eye.  The relative sizes of objects were determined by their importance, not by their actual sizes and distances.  Nature was all foreground.  Whatever details the artist meant the viewer to see were shown regardless whether they would really have been visible from the viewer’s perspective. 
But in the 1420s, Brunelleschi, a Florentine engineer, discovered the laws of perspective, and from the Renaissance to the Victorians, artists sought to present the world “as it truly is.”  In his watercolor of a Young Hare, Dürer attempted to draw every hair.  This was impressive, and anticipated the Scientific emphasis on precise and detailed observation of physical reality.  (Art tends to run ahead of science.) The philistines were upset because it wasn’t real art.  We don’t realize it today, but people had to learn to look at painting as representation rather than allegory. 
Figure 7.  Albrecht Dürer.  A Young Hare (1502); Watercolor and gouache on paper;
Graphische Sammlung Albertina, Vienna.

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: The Age of Privacy, the Family, and Schooling

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Part 4

Who will ultimately control the cameras?”
David Brin, The Transparent Society

7. The Age of Privacy.   

The Middle Ages were public.  Life was lived in the community, not inside houses.  Even the wedding night was public!  That changed with the Modern Ages.  Certain rooms in palaces and workshops were set apart for the king or for the master and his family – and it became understood that courtiers and customers were not to enter these “apart-ments” without invitation.  The word “home” took on its current meaning and “make yourself at home” implied a very intimate friendship.  An interiority developed in people’s ways of thinking: “inspiration” (which comes from the outside) gave way to “imagination” (which comes from the inside).  The great controversies of the Middle Ages had been carried out in large and raucous public debates.  The Modern Ages tended toward memoirs and diaries. 
But privacy was a frail reed.  There was always the competing desire for recognition – and recognition is anything but private.  Peer pressure has always mattered, and matters more to the young than to the mature.  As modern maturity segues into post-modern immaturity, peer pressure will become steadily more important.[1] 

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: The Age of Money, Industries, and Cities

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Part 3

“Get money; still get money, boy, no matter by what means.”
 – Ben Jonson, Every Man in his Humour. Act ii. Sc. 3.

4. The Age of Money.   

In the beginning of the Middle Ages, money had virtually disappeared from the Transalpine West, although Charlemagne continued to use the old Roman solidus. But by the High Middle Ages, the solidus had been replaced by the ducat, the pound, and the dollar (from thaler, Joachimsthal, where the silver mines were).  With the dawn of the Modern Ages. money was put to work like never before.  The bourgeoisie didn’t just have money, they made money. 
The Age of Money was the Age of Capitalism, but capitalism means the preservation and husbanding of money, and with the rise of democracy this shifted to the spending of money and the consumption of goods, a transition accentuated by the triumph of the will and of the youth culture.  Capitalism fell not to communism, but to consumerism. 

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: The Age of Europe, the Bourgeois, the State

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Part 2

“We live in the ruins of a civilization, but the ruins are in our minds.” 
– John Lukacs, The Passing of the Modern Age

1. The European Age.   

The Modern Age was a European thing.  Beyond the forests of Transylvania, across the Mediterranean, terms like Renaissance, Age of Reason, Scientific or Industrial Revolution had no traction.  Hungary had its renaissance; Romania did not. France celebrated the age of reason; Algeria did not.
In 1470 Pope Pius II, among others, coined the term European to refer to an inhabitant of that continent, for all practical purposes then synonymous with white and Christian.  Two-thirds of Christendom had been lost to Islam and her horizons had shrunk effectively to the borders of the European continent.  The idea of a European was thus contemporary with the ideas of modern and progress.  At the same time, civilized and cultured began to mean the same thing, and the term primitive appeared by 1540.  This terminological ferment signals the emergence of certain ways of thinking. 
At the dawn of the Modern Ages, white Europeans went forth from their continent and brought their modern civilized progress to every primitive corner of the globe.  Whole continents were settled by Europeans.  Byzantine Russia was drawn into its orbit.  The Jihad faltered and broke at the Gates of Vienna.  And the rest of the world began to imitate European customs, laws, clothing, technologies, architecture, parliaments, and science.  

The Autumn of the Modern Ages: Preface

This is the first of a series of posts on the collapse of the Modern Ages. It uses as its starting point, John Lukacs' essay, At the End of an Age. It was originally envisioned as a fact article for ANALOG, but it became way too long for that. However, as TOF transcribed the final portions of these posts, he realized that he might be able to salvage one part of it: the Autumn of Modern Science for such an article, and so that is reserved from this series. 

TOF also notices in Preview-view that there are whimsical font changes throughout which he has not been able to correct. Go figure.

The Autumn of the Modern Ages
by Michael F. Flynn

“When the world was half a thousand years younger…” 
So began Johan Huizinga’s portrait of the 15th century world: The Autumn of the Middle Ages. “Autumn,” because if the medieval world was fading, it “faded” in a burst of color and drama, and its passing was also a birth: The Renaissance.  [JH]
It wasn’t the first time the West had pulled off this re-birth thingie.  When the world was half a thousand years younger still, Europe had once before been transformed – and more happily so, for the 10th century had seen, in the revival of commerce and town life, in a renewed thirst for knowledge, the fading of a genuinely desperate era.  And five hundred years before that, in “the autumn of late antiquity,” people like Boëthius or St. Augustine would later rightly be styled the last of the Romans and the first of the medievals.  [PB].  
There is nothing magical about that 500-year interval, but…  Another half millennium back and Caesar crosses the Rubicon and the decaying Republic ends in an Augustan rebirth bright enough that men fifteen centuries after found themselves blinded by its light.   
And a half-millennium forward of the Renaissance brings us to…  
Well, today. 

The Ongoing Redef

A couple of interesting stones embedded in the hillside of the slippery slope down which we are presently tumbling presented themselves to TOF's attention recently.

Wednesday, September 24, 2014

Timothy Leary, Batu Khan, and the Palimpsest of Universal Reality

Over on the story preview page we have another Blast from the Past, a novelette entitled "Timothy Leary, Batu Khan, and the Palimpsest of Universal Reality," which appeared in F&SF in April, 1993. Only Part I is up. Part II will follow in a week.

This is one of those stories that came to me in a dream. That sort of thing does not happen as often as folklore claims, for the excellent reason that dreams are generally not well-plotted. But this time I awoke from slumber with the first scene in my head, involving Roman legionnaires, a Mongol ordu, and the Place de la Concorde Metro station. Even the Babylonian was in the dream.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Book Review: Wreck of the River of Stars

Joseph Moore at Yard Sale of the Mind has posted a review of The Wreck of 'The River of Stars'. He thinks it's pretty good.

All the characters are loveable in some way, even those who seem harsh or cruel. Each has strengths and weaknesses, and many hold grudges or other hurts. These are revealed over time and become factors in the ultimate fate of the ship and its crew. Moments of great beauty and heroism, of the least likely coming through big, of tragic loss – it’s a modern Greek tragedy.

Sunday, September 21, 2014

In a Popular Albeit Neverending Series

which for fear of spoilers TOF shall not name, the following comment was made by a blogger. Names and context have been altered to protect the innocent.

Thursday, September 18, 2014

Poetry Time: Hopkins

When TOF was in high school, he (along with his fellow scholars) was assigned to write a term paper on a selected English writer. Unlike most of the others, the selection in his case was made by Sister. She selected for his edification Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet of whom TOF had not hitherto heard of. (Sister had the firm belief that TOF would one day become a Jesuit, and Hopkins was a Jesuit. In the end, the Jesuits lucked out.)

This was not the poem, but one TOF selected more or less at random for the blog. It is one of several untitled poems, apparently written while Hopkins was suffering from clinical depression, with its accompanying sleeplessness and despair. Like all of Hopkins' poems, it is meant to be read aloud.

'I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day'
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
   With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

   I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
   Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

Hopkins was a verbal poet, and said his poems were to be recited, not read. He also used isochronous feet, meaning the poem is broken into segments that take the same amount of time to speak, no matter how many syllables they might have. (Unstressed syllables could get swallowed up.) He called this "sprung rhythm." He also tended to use only words of Anglo-Saxon origin - no French need apply - and you can often find the double alliteration of Anglo-Saxon poetry. In each half-line there is usually the same stressed consonant. For example:

I wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, not Day.
This night! what Sights you, heart, Saw; Ways you Went! 

He also invents words, as the poet of Beowulf called the sea the "whale-road". In this poem we find the word "selfyeast," which is a seriously cool wordpacking of what would otherwise be a longer phrase. When it came to squeezing meaning into the smallest compass of words, none did it better.

There is evidence from his letters that Hopkins was feeling clinical depression, separated from his family as he was by his conversion to Catholicism and his move from England to Ireland. He seems to equate his prayers (to dearest him) to dead letters, sent but not answered, and compares his depression to what the damned must feel in their eternal separation.

There are spiritual exercises the Jesuits engage in, and one set is for dealing with "desolation."

The Journeyman: On the Shore of the Unquiet Sea

The latest episode in the travels and travails of Teodorq sunna Nagarajan, nearly finished now, begins thusly:

What the Well-Dressed Woman Will Be Wearing

"Down, boy!" or PTSD in the sexual revolution.

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Clearing the Tabs

Deja Vu All Over Again
Check out the four video clips here. Plus ça change and all that. Clinton is especially interesting, though no one later accused him of lying.

How to Spot Bad Science

Wednesday, September 10, 2014


TOF is trying an experiment. Can he load a video from his machine to the intertubes? We shall see. [The answer turned out to be no.]

The great classic movie COUNTERATTACK was made in 1964/65 by a groups of juniors and seniors at Notre Dame High School, Green Pond, PA, and was presented on the occasion of an evaluation by Middle States Association of Colleges and Secondary Schools at the request of the principal, Fr. Strassner. Much of what has changed in the last 50 years can be deduced from viewing this film.

From comments by four of the original cast: Gary Armitage, Jim Reilly, Jim Welsh, and yr. obt. svt.:

Earlier scenes (and a different "plot") had been shot in 8mm color film during the Fall. These scenes involved infiltrating German lines to blow up a bridge that the enemy might use to escape the encircling Allied armies. A pond and clever photography angles stood in for the river. The bridge was supposed to be just under the water to foil aerial recon, so we only had to build the approaches on the near side. However, lighting proved a problem and a coherent film could not be built from the good scenes.

Our watercooled machine gun (non-operative, dang it)
We learned the Fall footage was toast around December and told Fr. Strassner, "Sorry - maybe early 1965." He says, "Boys you're playing in the adult world now. You will produce a film." So we shook  him down for:
  • $$ 
  • time off from school, and
  • the football team's 16mm camera, since the football season was over 
Equipment, helmets, etc. consisted of parental souvenirs from WW2 plus various working rifles here and there. We purchased black powder and blank cartridges from a local gun shop. Most of the filming was done on the farm of our producer, Jim Reilly. (It was a Christmas Tree farm, of all things.) Hence, there was dynamite available for the special effects.

Our machine gun in the pillbox
We made the film in the late winter, which was not severe. In several scenes, for continuity, we had to use Ivory soap flakes to replace the snow that had in the meantime melted. We had a range safety officer whenever live ammo was being fired, and everyone double and triple checked to make sure they were using blanks. (Only one person held the live rounds.) In the 8mm color films you can see the muzzle smoke from the blanks, but not in the 16mm b/w.

I suppose there was some luck involved in that no one was hurt, but it wasn't dumb luck.

Round about April Fools Day, Gary and Jim R. pulled an all-nighter to cut the film. Robert Jennings did the title screen. He and Gary used an acid etched glass screen for rear projection which Gary learned about from reading 4SJ's Famous Monsters of Filmland. It seemed to take forever. Jim R. spliced and edited. Editing was easy, he said, since both Gary and he had the same vision for the film, having shot most of it.

Sure am glad they don't have a mortar.
Jim Welsh in back. George Savitske with 'noccs
Jim was a member of the Adventure Club
Once the film was made, we looped a sound track. This is not easy to do with silent film. Sound was recorded on a separate reel-to-reel tape recorder, which in the premier showing was kept in synch with the film by judicious pausing of the tape deck. We whistled, coughed, and spit into the mike to record the sound effects! I did most of that. Going "pooh!" into the mike sounded remarkably like an explosion when played back. The Great Escape provided the theme music. I suppose we could have had trouble over that. We even had a script, in English and German, although during the premier Mrs. Marschall, one of the parents in the gym/auditorium, could be heard clucking, "Ach, nein!" so one supposes the translation was not the greatest.

The tape reel is now lost or, more precisely, has not been found. So the film is now silent by default. In the event the film ever gets uploaded, TOF's Faithful Reader is advised to go "pooh!" at the proper moments while watching.
Let's aim our mortar right about there, where Savitske is.
Home-made mortar in background.
We presented Counterattack at a required student assembly during the Middle States visit scheduled for April 6 - 8. At the end, there was stunned silence from the rest of the student body, then an eruption of cheers and applause.

The present film has a few infelicities in the early part due to the transcribing. What TOF has now is a DVD copy of a VHS tape shot off a movie screen projection of the original 16mm film. So there is a moment of snow, some out-of-focus segments, and some sprocket jerking; but things settle out.

The film involves a US squad led by a lieutenant that digs in on a hillside during a general retreat in the face of a German counterattack. They find a machine gun nest at the bottom of the hill with two gunners who are wondering where the hell everybody went. The LT tells them they have to bottle up this pass so the Germans can't break through. It's probably a suicide mission. Everyone is properly enthusiastic.

The Germans attack. The LT says, good thing they don't have a mortar. Then the mortar starts laying in rounds, so the LT sends two men -- Jim Reilly and Jim Welsh -- to sneak through at night and take out the mortar. They do this, though Reilly is killed. Then there is more attacking and more defending. There seem to be more Germans than there actually were in the cast because we played multiple roles. TOF was killed twice! One of his roles was the German lieutenant, and he can be seen initially directing the mortar to lay in the fire.

 The last scene shows the lieutenant's helmet as a grave marker and American soldiers walking past (George, Jim, Jim, Red, Dan, and the rest having gained them the time for a counter-attack) a voice says, I wonder who that guy was. Freeze frame. End.

Filmic Lessons Learned

Our beloved pill box. At the bottom of a hill, with no easy
escape for the gunners. Hmm.
In the walking-past scenes, there were only a few guys but they circled the camera and walked past again and again.

We had not learned that things always look faster on film and therefore one ought to move more slowly when being filmed. Hence, the sometime herky-jerky looking motions.

It's "lights, action, camera," not "lights, camera, action." A couple times actors start the scene from obvious standing starts.

At about 6:24 into the movie, Red Scannell learns the truth of the old adage about not spitting into the wind.

Our beloved pill box being blown to smithereens along with
gunner Carl Symmons whose immaculate hand will
protrude from the resultant debis.
If you are going to blow up a laboriously-built pill box, you only get one chance to film the scene.

German Wehrmacht greatcoats can be made by taking ordinary greatcoats and dying them in a boiling cauldron with dark green dye, then sewing on Wehrmacht rank badges and such.

Audiotape has "stretch" but film is ratcheted. Therefore the one will get out of synch with the other.

Stuntmen? We don' need no steenkin' stuntmen!
Red, executing forward somersault in media res.

At 12:48 in the film, Red learns that if you are in a fox hole and a grenade lands nearby, standing up is not an optimum strategy. The explosion sends him into a perfect forward somersault down the hill.

(Red was the de facto stuntman. In the original 8mm color film, he dove into the pond fully uniformed in order to swim the satchel charge out to the (faux) bridge.)

Kids in 1964/65 could do things that kids of 2014/15 cannot dream of. Today, a kid can get in deep trouble for biting his lunch sandwich into the form of a handgun. 

The Cast: Where be they now?

TOF is collecting info where he can, and will update this as he is able. If TOF's Faithful Reader knows any of these folks, or knows Kevin Bacon (whose connectivity is legendary), pass the word that their vitae are wanted.
  • Jim Reilly, producer and editor
    Jim Reilly became a City and Regional Planner. Had two boys (both doing well). Served 25 years in the medical corp, Army Reserves, including service during two wars. Published over a dozen articles related to planning in refereed journals. Married, divorced and happily remarried. Retired and now the editor of the International Society of City and Regional Planners publication, cleverly titled, the ISOCARP Review. 

  • George Savitske, later a colonel
    The LT, George Savitske later became, like his father, a colonel in a real army, in Vietnam.

  • Dan Hommer, once of the Adventure Club
    Dan Hommer became a researcher in brain science at the NIH in Bethesda until his recent death. He had done seminal research into the brains of alcoholics.

  • Jim Welsh
    Left: Jim Welsh, leading the infiltration

Red Scannell, surveying his domain
  • Red Scannell taught drama in high school for many years before selling English textbooks for McGraw Hill. When last heard from, he was living in the Seattle area.
  • Gary Armitage was mostly behind the camera, so no shot for him. Married Stephanie Mullen and has 5 children and 1 grandchild. He's run University and College Conference Centers since 1974 and taught in the Hospitality Management Program at the University of New Hampshire for 15 years. He is currently Director of the Leadership Institute in Lincoln, NH, and Executive Producer for the Wonderland Films Horror Film entitled "Chain of Souls." Still making movies! 
    Joe Dobrota, hiding behind cast titles
    • Robert Jennings
    • Thomas Fisher
    • Joe Dobrota

    • TOF, downy-cheeked agent of world domination
      Left: Sterling Carter, of the Adventure Club

      Mike Flynn became a quality engineer and industrial statistician, published a few articles in general topology and applied statistics. Worked as a quality management consultant on several continents and published several science fiction novels and short stories. Married now for forty-odd years, some of them very odd. Two grown children and three grandchildren.
    • Sterling Carter graduated from Univ. of Scranton, became a salesman and lived in California, a beloved husband, father, and grandfather before his untimely death.

    Carl Symmons, under debris. RIP
    • Tony Ingraffea, a Peace Corps veteran, is a professor of civil and environmental engineering at Cornell.
    • Carl Symmons
    • Frank "The Wildman" Stephans

    No students were harmed in the making of this movie.

    TOF's efforts to upload the movie have run into a size limit.

    Viz., The video is five times larger than the limit.
    TOF must learn to make the video into five smaller pieces
    or something.

    Monday, September 8, 2014

    Mission: Tomorrow

    Hot off the press!!
    Ladies and Gentlemen, Bryan Thomas Schmidt presents the (tentative) Table of Contents for Mission: Tomorrow, coming from Baen Books in 2015.
    18 stories, 100,938 words of great science fiction! All original except for Silverberg and Gunn.
    Concept: Science Fiction writers imagine the future of space exploration in a world no longer dominated by NASA. What might it look like? Private or public? Stories of space exploration, travel and adventure.
    “Tombaugh Station” by Robin Wayne Bailey
    “Excalibur” by Jack McDevitt
    “The Race For Arcadia” by Alex Shvartsman
    “A Walkabout Among The Stars” by Lezli Robyn
    “Sunrise On Mercury” by Robert Silverberg
    “Tribute” by Jack Skillingstead
    “The Ultimate Space Race” by Jaleta Clegg
    “Orpheus Engines” by Chris McKitterick
    “Around The NEO in 80 Days” by Jay Werkheiser
    “On Edge” by @Sarah A. Hoyt
    “Airtight” by Michael Capobianco
    “Ten Days Up” by Curtis C. Chen
    “Windshear” by Angus McIntyre
    “Malf” by David D. Levine
    “Panic Town” by Michael Flynn
    “The Rabbit Hole” by James Gunn
    “Rare (Off Earth) Elements” by Ben Bova
    “Tartaros” by Mike Resnick

    TOF notices his title has been shortened from "In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon" to simply "Panic Town".  Not complaining.

    Sunday, September 7, 2014

    First Way, Part II: Two Lemmas Make Lemma-aid

    TOF's Dilemma

    We are now ready to prove two lemmas regarding motion,  hence... dilemma. ROFL. Never mind. We interrupt this pun to stay on focus. Besides, there are a couple of initial propositions.

    Those who have been following these maunderings would be well-advised to read
    lest they lose themselves in the woods. First, we have to get a word out of our way.

    Thursday, September 4, 2014

    The Journeyman: the Naming of Names

    There are many peoples and cultures on World, and Teodorq sunna Nagarajan will encounter most of them in his journeys. On the western continent, where he starts out, the peoples run from west to east:
    the hillmen in the western mountains abutting the Mud Ocean with its quicksand and jagged rocks, the plainsmen on the Great Grass, the shortgrassmen on (duh?) the shortgrass prairie, the swampmen in the paiutes along the southern edge of the continent beyond which are the badlands known as the tar formations, the ironmen (who wear armor) from the high thoogu atop the Great Plateau, the forestmen in the Eastern Woods, and the coastalmen who are fisherfolk along the Unquiet Sea. Recent intruders from across the Unquiet Sea are the overseamen, the "greenies," so-called because their ancestors had been genetically engineered with chlorophyll to "drink sunlight." At one point in camp, Teo and his companions are talking about this and Teo says:

    "Swampers like Chum over there, they’s short and wide and real dark and got yellow hair. Us plainsmen, being the best of all men, are a noble bronze. Sammi’s people are all pale, like coastals, but they got fat cheeks and slitty eyes. The ironmen, like Asherkai, are golden-skinned with red hair. So that some folk comes along green doesn’t startle the son of Nagarajan. It is what it is.”

    So it is evident that not only the greens have been genetically engineered by the ancients.

    Now, a marker of different cultures is different naming. Sven Svensson is unlikely to be Igbo and Nkieruke Okoye is unlikely to be a Swede. So let's take a look at the names of some characters in the Journeyman series, primarily in Against the Green and On the Shore of the Unquiet Sea. Has TOF succeeded in distinguishing them reasonably well, always allowing for intermarriage and/or diversity within each group. Not all named characters were completely identified. A few of the derivations have been given.

    The Ships That Sail the Air

    Every writer of fantasy and science fiction is either Irish or ought to be, as there is something SFnal about the Irish imagination. In the Annals of Ulster, Annals of Tigernach, Annals of Clonmacnoise, and the Annals of the Four Masters, as well as in some manuscripts of the Lebar Gábala there is an odd story about ships sailing in the sky in (depending on which annal) the year 743, 744, or 748.  The Annals of Ulster, for example, state laconically that “Ships with their crews were seen in the air.” (The entry is for 749, but the annals were one year ahead at that point.) This is replicated in the Four Masters at 743 as "Ships with their crews, were plainly seen in the sky this year." It's listed right after "Congal, son of Eigneach, lord of the Airtheara, was slain at Rath Esclair, by Donnboo, son of Cubreatan." One of those two notes was more of a stop-the-presses man-bites-dog kind of thing, and TOF does not mean the Fell Deed of Donnboo, which TOF cannot even write without giggling. What a name for a barbarian hero. Donnboo. But we digress.

    Like all good writers, the annalist leaves the reader wanting to know more.  Ships in the air? And their crews? WTF? Early medieval zeppelins? UFOs?

    An account in the Book of Ballymote states regarding Congalach, a tenth-century high king of Ireland:
    Congalach son of Mael Mithig was at the assembly of Tailtiu one day when he saw a ship moving through the air. Then one of them [i.e. the ship's crew] cast a spear at a salmon, so that it came down in front of the assembly. A man from the ship came after it. When he seized one end of it from above, a man seized it from below. "You are drowning me!" said the man aloft. "Let him go," said Congalach. Then he is released, and swims upward away from them.

    There is a marvelous invention here: That the atmosphere is an ocean and the ground is the bottom of a sea, and all earthly things are like reefs and fish. Then aliens come along for the fishing and one of them is almost drowned by a curious earthling holding on to the end of a fishing spear, until the wise ard ri bids him let go to save the alien's life. A brief, but satisfying story of first contact.

    This version was recounted in the poem De mirabilibus Hibernie (On the Wonders of Ireland), by Bishop Patrick of Dublin (1074-84) as the nineteenth marvel De naui que uisa est in aere, “Of a ship glimpsed in the air.” The bishop writes:
    A king of the Irish once attended an assembly
    With quite a crowd, a thousand in beautiful order.
    They see a sudden ship sail the sky,
    And someone who casts a spear after fish:
    It struck the ground, and swimming he retrieved it.
    Who can hear of this without praising the Lord above?
    Later, the story was transferred to Clonmacnoise. Seamus Heaney wrote a poem of this version:

    "The Annals Say" -- Seamus Heaney
    The annals say: when the monks of Clonmacnoise
    Were all at prayers inside the oratory
    A ship appeared above them in the air.

    The anchor dragged along behind so deep
    It hooked itself into the altar rails
    And then, as the big hull rocked to a standstill,

    A crewman shimmied and grappled down the rope
    And struggled to release it. But in vain.
    ‘This man can’t bear our life here and will drown,’

    The abbot said, ‘unless we help him.’ So
    They did, the freed ship sailed, and the man climbed back
    Out of the marvellous as he had known it.
    Throughout all these versions, from the brief one-liner in the Annals of Ulster through the fuller account in the Book of Ballymote to the transfer of location to Clonmacnoise, TOF is struck by the sheer matter-of-factness of the accounts. Oh, by the way, ships with their crews were plainly seen in the sky this year... There's no gosh-wow who'd-believe-this! as if ships that sail the air were two-a-penny.

    People always make up stories. But why would they make up this particular story? It seems pointless. No great deeds are done, no hair-raising adventures. Ships were seen in the air and... moving right along an abbot died and a king was slain in battle and... so on.  As far as TOF can tell (which is not very far) this was a single event told and retold. It's first telling was not precise as to year, but it's not as if we find it repeated in the 800s or the 900s or earlier in the 600s or 500s. If ships were seen in the air, it's not as if they kept coming back. It's on a par with the strange milky rain that settled on the grass in the 1220s and killed the cows that ate the grass and the people who drank the milk the cows gave.

    Monday, September 1, 2014

    A Placid Day on Old South Side

    Yesterday, as every year since the memory of man runneth not to the contrary, the Sicilians of St. Anthony of Padua parish in Easton PA have manned up and hoisted a 200-pound statue on their shoulders and paraded around South Side with an Italian oom-pah band while people run out from their houses and pin money to the banner. Go figure. It's enough to give Baptists conniption fits.

    When TOF was the TOFling, they would stop at a house across the street from his and oom-pah until Mr. or Mrs. Bosco would come out and do the honors. South Side has changed since then. It was once called German Hill, and the Germans were none too happy about Italians moving in. Now, on TOF's block are blacks and Arabs, Irish and left-over Germans. But last year the Lebanese family -- which attends Our Lady of Lebanon -- went out and pinned money, so who knows? Anybody can play!

    The parade starts at the Castel di Lucio club a couple blocks from TOF's stone-built fortress of solitude. It sat on the edge of the Projects for many a year, but the projectors generally left the Sicilians alone.

    St. Placido, a sixth century monk, is the patron of Castel di Lucio, Sicily, "from which many Easton area residents trace their ancestry."

    He ain't heavy. He's my ancestral patron saint.

    San Placido, looking especially placid.

    For those interested, there are additional photos here.

    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,...