Wednesday, December 31, 2014

Science Marches On

TOF first ran across the notion of humans in America prior to the American Indians in a fiction! It was "Beringia," a 1990 story by Poul Anderson in his Time Patrol book The Shield of Time. It follows Wanda Tamberly, a time patrolman who has been studying this pre-Indian people (and has grown attached to them) when a band of Indians finds its way across the Bering Land Bridge. They bully the indigenous people (because they can. They are technologically more advanced.) But even when they don't, they over-awe the natives. But they also fear the native's powers of magic. After all, they are in their country and feeling very insecure, having fled their own land. Everything hits the fan, there are causal loops, and the time patrolman has to salvage her own reputation, too.

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Spark of Genius

A new old story has gone up on the PREVIEW PAGE.

"Spark of Genius" is a 2700 word shortie written in November of 1989. It appeared in ANALOG (Jan 91). It's about writing. Sorta.


Finished the draft of "The Journeyman: In the Great North Wood" (there was a title-change along the way). It weighs in at 44.1 kilowords and so might undergo an edit in second draft to take up the hem or tuck in a pleat. It has already had two subplots excised completely.

Today's excerpt:
Teo joined Sammi at the council fire. “Sammi,” he said, “I been thinking.”
“Sammi not interrupt stupid plainsman on splendid innovation.”
“Nothing. What thought hatched by strenuous clucking?”
“Well, we been talking about making a sortie that will probably result in all of us getting croaked…”
“Songworthy, right?”
“Yah, except who’s gonna sing it? Well the whole reason is we’re running out of food. Otherwise, we could all sit tight until the Raccoons go away.”
“Can sit tight other way, too. Starve to death, go into rigor.”

Sunday, December 28, 2014

All-Time Top Ten Posts

Aug 24, 2013, 35 comments

Sep 1, 2011, 44 comments


Jul 11, 2014, 14 comments

Feb 13, 2012, 40 comments

Oct 24, 2013, 14 comments

Nov 19, 2013, 40 comments


Jan 23, 2014, 24 comments


Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Journeyman note

Another 2000 words yesterday on "The Journeyman: In the Great North Wood," and rolling up on the climax. Huzzah!
Today's quote:
(Teodorq sunna Nagarajan) “How many arrows yuh got left, Ptarm?”
Chorchi did not bother counting. “Five,” he said. “You?”
Chorchi studied the forestmen, who were massing for another assault. “Gonna be some left over."

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Quote of the Day

Take your eye off Western Civilization for just a moment and it will be swinging from the rafters with its own belt around its neck...
-- Bruce Charlton

A Secular Alternative to the Ten Commandments

Here’s a Secular Alternative to the Ten Commandments
Lex Bayer and John Figdor (Time Magazine, Dec. 21, 2014)
“Pics or it didn’t happen,” the mantra of the Snapchat generation, is a simple but profound reflection of how we think. 
The fact that the authors consider this to be a "profound reflection" bodes ill for how the authors think. There are no "pics" for a great many things, including the rest of their article, so they appear willing not only to toss out most of history but also to overlook such things as Photoshop. There are not many "pics" of Hannibal and his elephants; but otoh a local restaurant had "pics" on its walls of white-bearded farmers standing beside ears of corn as tall as they or pumpkins the size of a farm wagon. That is:
  • No "pics" but it did happen; and
  • "Pics" but it did not happen.
What the slogan does reflect is our tendency to demand evidence only for that of which we are personally incredulous. And of course, to think in slogans.

So here are the Ten Secular Commandments, as detailed in Time, formerly a news magazine.

Monday, December 22, 2014

On the decline and fall of discourse

Do not get this man mad at you.
While browsing the web the other day on the TOFian Geburtstag, we revisited the delightful Underground Grammarian (left), who is no less delightful for being dead. His works can be found for downloading and also for reading.

It was in his collection Less Than Words Can Say that TOF found his discussion of "The Two Tribes" and the distinction between the snakes made of flesh and bone and the snakes made of discourse that so wonderfully informed his classic post "Adam and Eve and Ted and Alice."

So for today mot justes,we will quote from his 1978 collection The Leaning Tower of Babel and his discussion of what was then only a possibility: the creation of a federal department of education. First, the Underground Grammarian cites a passage in a report from what was then the Dept. of Health, Education, and Welfare (HEW)
The findings suggest that psychosexuality constructs of agency/communion can be meaningfully operationalized to reflect the degree of psychosexuality integration, with different modes of manifestations and different correlates of interpersonal behavior associated with various levels on the integration continuum.
To which he comments thusly:

[This passage] is the prissy pirouette of the practiced posture-master. Ah, what skills. How prettily he prances from the operationalization of constructs to the reflection of the degree of integration, and gracefully glides on into modes of manifestation and correlates associated with levels on the continuum. Ah, how smart he must be. And how professional. How proud of him his mother must be, although probably not, we'd be willing to wager, nearly as proud of him as he is of himself. The attribute that always leaks out of such writing is that supposed virtue that educationists have chosen, ignoring logic in the service of sentimentality, as both a requisite to education and its best reward--Self-esteem.

The voice of that passage, however, is not just the voice of self-esteem. It is the voice of a man full of self-esteem. It is the pompous voice of self-awarded authority, the voice of command, the mighty voice from "above," in which no decent human should speak. It is Father Tongue.

...Men and women are different, essentially and (we hope) ineradicably. Men don't grow up. Pure seriousness seizes only a few of them, and only from time to time. They pretend to be something. They pretend to be sages or soldiers, or anything in between. Even the most witless and inept can find some system, made by men and for men, that will pay him for pretending to be a superintendent of schools, or a language arts facilitator, or something.
"Pretending to be a superintendent of schools, or a language arts facilitator, or something" is indeed a mot juste. It is the "or something" that graces the sentence and raises it above the pis-elegance of operationalized constructs of agency. Unless TOF has misspelled that sobriquet.

He then discusses a classroom "workshop" in which students who would never garble sentences in the manner presented are invited to ungarble them.
To make a bad thing worse, the concocters of this silliness can't even garble skillfully. Having vouchsafed that "word order affects the meaning of a sentence," and having asked that students assemble "clear and sensible sentences" from "groups of words" that could never occur naturally, these reading experts proceed to dream up "problems" of this kind:
  • the knights made out of marble sat at a round table
  • persons in distress rescued the knights
  • some knights went in search of holy objects on quests
Try now to imagine the plight of those unlucky sixth graders--there are plenty of them--who can see, as anyone but a reading expert might, that those "groups of words" are "clear and sensible." If there is anything at all "wrong" about them, it is only that they will not win approval from the teacher, who can easily discover, by looking it up in the handy teacher's guide that comes with Expressways, that those clear and sensible sentences are not the clear and sensible sentences that the reading experts had in mind, not the "correct" solutions to "problems" that would never have existed in the first place if it weren't for the fact that the reading experts always need tricky new gimmicks to put in their unbooks.
The exercise pretends to ask a question about grammar, the system of principles by which we all, sixth-grade children included, can and do form any of an infinite number of possible sentences, including the three supposed "problems" cited above. But in fact, it asks a question to be answered out of that minimal kind of reading that is really nothing more than the reception of communication. And, probably for the remediation of those obstinate students who persist in suspecting that it is by form, not content, that a sentence is a sentence, there is a postscript to all this absurdity. It's called "Interaction":
Make up your own scrambled sentences about how Merlin could help you. Have a classmate unscramble your sentences.
It's not enough, you see, although it is required, that educationists commit nonsense. They are, as they are always saying, such giving and sharing people. And when they commit nonsense, everyone commits nonsense.
This was written in AD 1978, so TOF's Faithful Reader can see that the collapse of Western Civilization is of long standing. It did not even require a full cabinet level department, only a satrapy within a broader-defined department. Given what "educationists" accomplished with only a third of a department, we can only stand in awe of what they have done with a full one.
The Underground Grammarian taught at what was then Glassboro State Teachers College and is now yclept Rowan University, having given up in the meantime on the training of teachers. TOF cannot resist the following snip, also from the aforesaid collection, and leaves you with this thought:
And fortunately, while we do still permit the study of a few foreign languages here, we find that most of our incipient schoolteachers don't even need to be advised to choose Puppetry Workshop or the History of Jazz rather than French or German as what we call "humanities electives." They know a humanity when they see one.
There's nothing humane about irregular verbs, and an obsession with foreign language is even more dehumanizing for the teachers than for the students. The teachers are supposed to know the irregular verbs. And the case endings--all of them. And the use of the imperfect subjunctive. And thousands of un-American idioms. You can be pretty damn sure that any teacher who is actually an expert in some foreign language has put more effort into rote learning than into relating to self and others, and will almost certainly be more interested in the mere facts of a narrow discipline of dubious relevance than in the true goals of education: appreciation, awareness, global and/or environmental consciousness, and rap sessions on death and Gay Rights. We are not the least bit interested in turning out that sort of teacher, thank you.

Thursday, December 18, 2014

Chasing the Phoenix

Chasing the Phoenix

Tor Books, 2015
TOF is unsure of the publication date for this gem, he read it in prepublication proofs. The web says August 2015. However, Faithful Reader ought to reserve a copy as soon as he, she, or it is able. Everything in this noble novel works -- from Surplus, the genetically-engineered dog, to the Hidden King who wants to reunite a a far-future, post-tech China, to even the office-names of supporting  characters. (One general is named Powerful Locomotive.) The dialogue is entertaining, the plot twists clever and supple, the narrative voice perfectly tuned, and the whole story suffused with sly Swanwickian humor.

There seems more than a touch of R. A. Lafferty in the thing, for those whose tastes run in that direction.

In this future, armies march with archeologists on staff, whose job is to unearth and restore ancient high-tech battle machines. The AIs that once ran the world tried to exterminate man, but were outlawed and destroyed. Maybe.

Darger and Surplus, the two heroes, are a pair of con-men whose goal is to get rich by attaching themselves to an up-and-coming warlord, the Hidden King. They pretend to have limited superpowers (Darger calls himself the Perfect Strategist) and bit by bit they talk themselves deeper into the complex rivalries of this future China.

They are not, however, the only ones running an agenda.

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Duhem on Physical Theory and Experiment

Let's see if this works. It should come out as a slide show.
Duhem on Physical Theory and Experiment

which outlines Pierre Duhem's takedown of falsification and positivism. 

Tuesday, December 16, 2014

Sisters of the Sacred Heart

This was one of the toughest stories to move. It was written originally in June 1989, and Gardner Dozois said it was a perfect story for The Twilight Zone magazine. Alas, TZ magazine had folded, and Gardner wasn't looking for that kind of story. Also, it was too long. I shortened it and tried some more. KK Rusch did not like the original ending. Neither did some others who looked at it. It was substantially revised in 1991, 1992, and 1997. Along the way, it got tightened, rewritten, re-ended. The version posted here at the STORY PREVIEW PAGE is like rev.5 or something. It is, however, substantially the same story of 1989.

Eventually, it found a home in the magazine Dappled Things (Easter 2010)

The Chthulu Reaction

The orange powder is ammonium dichromate and when heat is introduced, it forms nitrogen gas, water, and ammonium (III) oxide, which is the dark powder that looks like the volcano you see.
What appears to be tentacles is actually what happens when heat is introduced to mercury (II) thiocyanate. The white solid expands when it's heated to become a dark, tentacle-like mass due to its decomposition to carbon nitride. In addition, sulfur dioxide and mercury (II) sulfide are also produced. The reaction is appropriately nicknamed the "Pharoah's Serpent" and was sold in stores as fireworks until people realized it's toxic.

TOF remembers those "fireworks." You lit up a pellet and a "snake" grew out of it and curled all over. He does not recall all the 4th of July dead bodies from the mercury thiocyanate, sulfur dioxide, and mercury sulfide, but supposes they must have been on the next block.

Saturday, December 13, 2014

On This Day in History

The estmable Dr. Boli tells us that...

On this day in 627, the Roman Empire in the East finally broke the power of the Persian Empire after more than seven centuries of nearly constant conflict—the longest, and therefore most profitable, war in human history. It was the greatest triumph of the Roman Empire, and it lasted for about half an hour, after which the Caliphate obliterated Persia and reduced the Roman Empire to a state about the size of Delaware.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Flynncestry: Ragtime Flynns

Daniel Joseph Flynn goes to Phillipsburg

Daniel Joseph Flynn
This account is based on sundry documents in hand and on a transcript of a conversation with Francis Joseph Flynn, Sr (Pop-pop), May, 1976.  At the time of the recording, he was 76 years old and was talking about when he was a kid.  Those who remember him are welcome to supply his vocal mannerisms and to make metronomic hand-chopping gestures as they read his words.
After John Thomas Flynn was crushed in the railroad repair yards in Washington NJ in 1881, his oldest boys, Martin (12) and Daniel (10) had to go to work to support the family. According to TOF's grandfather, they would hop the freight train when it slowed down through the Yards and ride it through the tunnel to Oxford Furnace, where they worked in the Nail Mill. In the interview taped in May 1976, Pop-pop remembered:
Oxford Furnace, late 1800s
"My dad first worked... he worked in Oxford. They made steel, or rather iron. They cooked up the ore and made ingots, pig iron, until that ore played out. It was the Oxford Iron Mills."
The Merriam Shoe Co. had relocated from New York City to Newton NJ in 1873, and "attracted to the novelty, townsfolk peered inside and wondered at the mechanical wizardry of the modern factory system." Modern, indeed. A steam engine powered the belts that moved the machines. The Sussex Register thought that “the only question that remains to be settled is, will Mr. Merriam be seconded in his efforts by a competent corps of women and children from this county, who are willing to become his employees?” This was just in time for Martin and Daniel to become two of those children, for in...

Saturday, December 6, 2014

Feats of St. Nicholas

When TOF was a TOFling, it was the practice of Haus Flynn to set one's shoes outside the bedroom door in order to collect goodies left there by Good St. Nick. Later, after there were too many shoes cluttering up the hallway, this took the form of socks hung under the mantlepiece. TOF's maternal relatives, by which he means virtually the entire neighborhood where he grew up, were German and therefore hip to the good Sankt Nikolas, since elided via niederländisch to Santa Claus.

Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus; although the Santa Claus of the popular imagination could be accused of identity theft:

Artist: Lukasz Ciaciuch/

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Engineer Discourses Upon His Love

A change of pace. The first poem I ever sold for cash money was "The Engineer Discourses Upon His Love," now appearing for a limited engagement on the Preview Page. It appeared in ANALOG, March 1989 and was reprinted in the Rhysling anthology for that year as a nominee, and again in the collection Captive Dreams.

It ends in a pun of dread and scandalous entendre.

Monday, December 1, 2014


The latest fad among the bien pensants on campus is the notion of "microagression." It is never too clear of what this offense consists but, like Potter Stewart's obscenity, "you know it when you see it." Of course, "seeing it" is always after-the-fact, which means those accused seldom know they are doing it until the after accusation is itself leveled. This induces a level of terror in the intended targets. At least the old heresy hunters, Chesterton once pointed out, went to great pains beforehand to spell out exactly what the heresies consisted of.

The targets of opportunity in this case, at least those mentioned in the linked article, are liberal professors, so we are evidently in the phase of the Revolution when the Revolution begins to eat itself and Robespierre goes to the guillotine. Perhaps it is because liberal professors are so accustomed to apologize at the drop of a hat that it is easier to terrorize them.

Take the first example. Education professor Val Rust, who was into multiculturalism before the word existed. In a class on dissertation-preparation, he committed such microagressions as correcting someone's capitalization, helping them simplify complex rambling sentences, and other thought-crimes against scholars of color.
Tensions arose over Rust’s insistence that students use the more academic Chicago Manual of Style for citation format; some students felt that the less formal American Psychological Association conventions better reflected their political commitments. 
The idea that format and grammar do (or ought to) reflect "political commitments" is bizarre, and indicates that "political correctness" is not as innocuous as many suppose. Under the neue Rassenwissenschaft, Asian students are considered to be "white" for purposes of attack. This is likely because they do well in scholastics, which students in Newark public schools a couple decades ago denounced as "acting white" in their attacks on Caribbean blacks.

Generals Fight the Previous War

The thing that is striking about these attacks on liberal professors is the utter triviality of the accusations. The Chicago Manual of Style is racist? Really? Oh, wait: it makes the scholar of color feel "unsafe." One is tempted to say "Man up," save for the obvious problematics of that phrase. Scholars of gender will feel unsafe. This has spilled out from the hothouse of academe into such places as SF conventions, where those who trained their craft in academe have begun setting up "safe spaces" for selected protected groups. Back in the 60s we used to call that "segregation" or "apartheid."  And yes, some observed that it was sometimes voluntary and that people did like to hang out with their fellows; but that attitude was denounced back in the day. Now it is cutting-edge progressivism. Go figure.

So what's going on? Perhaps it is no more than nostalgia: modern students longing for the good old days when their parents and grandparents manned the barricades in 1968 and fought racism. One major difference between flinching from "microaggression" and those days was that when people cried "Racist!" in the 60s, they were often dealing with the true quill. The didn't just "feel unsafe," they often were unsafe.
Protestors being prevented by National Guard troops from
attacking black demonstrators, Milwaukee 1966.
For example: the Incomparable Marge once walked across a bridge; viz., the 16th St. Viaduct in Milwaukee in 1967. This was described as "the longest bridge in the world," since it connected "Africa to Poland." People on the South Side were disinclined to sell their houses to persons of color. (BTW, that locution would have been denounced as racist back then. Now of course it is de rigueur.)  In the course of this, she had to walk between two crowds of screaming whites, spitting, shouting invectives of the most vile sort, raining special ire upon the priests and nuns in the march. (Being Polish-Americans, they doubtlessly felt betrayed by seeing Catholic clergy on the "other side.") The Marge saw one Jesuit priest pulled out of the march and pummeled by the crowd before the Guardsmen could rescue him.

Feeling unsafe in the progressive cocoons of academe and SF cons? Friends, these folks don't know what "feeling unsafe" means. Ask Goodman, Schwerner, and Cheney.

But they want to think they are cut from the same cloth, that they too are "out there." They don't understand the difference between winning the war and mopping up.

So, in honor of microagression, TOF presents an excerpt from The Shipwrecks of Time, describing a protest at the home of Judge Cannon. The Milwaukee Youth Council had targeted him, believing that, as a devout Catholic with a solid record of progressivism, he could be persuaded to publicly resign from the segregated social club "The Eagles."

The excerpt follows. Frank and Carole are fictional characters, but everything else -- including many of the quotes -- comes straight out of newspaper accounts of the event. The reader should be aware of two things: Frank had earlier heard the expression "Nobody back in the World knows shit" from a Vietnam vet expressing scorn for both an anti-war protest and the pro-war counter-protesters. Second: a week or so before these events a bomb had been set off in the headquarters of the NAACP in Milwaukee. Oh, and the black power advocate, Fr. Groppi, was white. The parish where he was assistant was about half-black, half-white.

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...