Saturday, August 29, 2015

Stolen Valor, a Footnote

TOF missed a point in his post "Bruce Jenner, Rene Descartes, and Stolen Valor" that examples of stolen valor include not only those who claim medals but never served, but also white women who imagine they are black. This latter is not quite the same as men who imagine they are women or Frenchmen who imagine they are Napoleon because there is a quite evident need/desire to join oneself to a good and triumphant cause/group. It is related to the enormous surge in Irish-Americans round about every 17 March, when famously "everyone becomes Irish." We see it too among those who kvell over standing up to "microaggressions" or "trigger words" as if that were the same thing as marching across the bridge at Selma, or even standing up to the "great wall of hate" on the viaduct in Milwaukee. The ranks of the Old Guard very likely swelled after they were wiped out -- Frenchmen claiming that had served among them. The number of Southerners participating in Pickett's Charge undoubtedly increased as time went on. People often long to have been there "with the heroes," like generals always fighting the previous war.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

The Promise of God

One of TOF's fantasies, perhaps his only fantasy, was the short story "The Promise of God," which appeared in the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction in March 1995. It is a bit under 6500 words, and TOF offers it up on the Story and Preview Page for the next week or so. See the links for the other Pages on this site, situated in the left margin; though judging by the lack of comments there, TOF may rethink the strategy. Well sometimes the comments are here on the blog.

This story was inspired by, of all people, Orson Scott Card. He was GoH at Lunacon one year and gave a presentation called IIRC "One hundred ideas per hour." It was a mass brainstorming session by which he sought to elicit story ideas from the attendees to show how simple it was to generate such ideas. It was quite an interactive session. After deciding on fantasy and a female protagonist and a few other things, he proposed that magic, like an action in  physics, elicits a reaction. One such reaction, which he discarded, was that every time a magician casts a spell, he loses part of his soul. (He was getting multiple ideas at each stage of brainstorming.)

TOF was in the back of the room and when this idea was suggested he said, "Oh!" and this story was conceived. It was only an embryo of a story, but as it grew and developed, it was finally born and (being clear fantasy) was sent off to F&SF, K.K.Rusch, ed. She thought the ending needed clarification. (The original ending was the penultimate sentence.) So TOF inserted a few reminders of a specific item and a more explicit final sentence.

Later, Gardner Dozois selected it for The Year's Best SF, 13th ed.

Neither TOF, nor K.K. nor Gardner noticed that a supporting character's name had changed halfway through the narrative. (Agnes became Alice somehow.) This flaw has been corrected in the version here presented.

Recently, TOF discussed the problem of Infodumping and modestly proposes this story as one way to deal with it. A host of data on the mixed ancestry of the culture of the story is displayed in various ways -- Leif ben Eric, the mezuzah to appease the household lares, the sheepskin, the vestal's dagger, the knout, the use of antique English words like rixler, wereman and wifman, beek, and so on, all hopefully growing clear in the context.

See what you think. 

Saturday, August 22, 2015


Work progresses on Nexus, which now runs just over 15 kilowords of Immortal Prose. A few of those words to sketch the sixth and final character.

Since he has already teased the Reader with sketches of I. Loberta Shinbro and V. Annie Troy, perhaps TOF should backpedal and add at some point the sketches for II. Stacey Papandreou, III. Bruno Zendahl, and IV. Jim-7.

TOF and the military

During TOF's brief tenure in ROTC, he had occasion to attend the annual Caisson Ball. (It was an artillery unit.) His then girl friend, the charming Miss Sharon, gracefully condescended to be his date, resulting in the following picture, which no doubt sent shivers through the Viet Cong ranks at the thought that he might be commissioned a 2nd Lt. of artillery.
TOF's membership in the band entitled him to wear the fourragère. Cadet ranks were on the epaulets.

Alas, or fortunately depending on POV, TOF was classified 4-F, which meant that in case he was drafted he was to be a hostage. Ho ho. TOF jests. The enemy would not have taken him. In any case, he did not complete ROTC and the Army breathed a collective sigh of relief.

There is a story about the Caisson Ball. TOF will not tell the story

Friday, August 21, 2015

TOF Goes to College

Last Sunday, TOF attended a picnic at the home of his former girlfriend from high school. She had invited a bunch of her neighbors, and her mother, brother, and sister whom TOF knew of old. There were also a pod of classmates as well as food.
Sharon, for such is the girlfriend's name brought forth some old snapshots she had taken back in the day. Some were of the school play and suchlike things. She has now emailed several of these to TOFlandia.

 In the first picture, he stands in gawky youthfulness with his parental units, who seem unnaturally young themselves. This was, TOF was assured, the day he went off to college down in Philly town; viz., LaSalle College. This pix was snapped by Sharon.

The second picture was taken in TOF's dorm room by someone in an artistic mood. You can tell because it is black and white and is candle-lit. The TOFling is staring as if hypnotized into the flame. Or perhaps he has fallen asleep.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

On the telos of eating

Over on another forum, jmhenry has deftly explained the nature of a central Post Modern concern.

A dialogue...

A: Last night, I got together with some friends, had good conversations, laughed together, enjoyed one another's company, and then we ate sawdust. It was a pleasant evening. We had a great meal.

B: Well, no, you didn't. You ate sawdust. The nutritive end of the activity you were engaged in was completely missing. Therefore, properly speaking, you did not have a meal.

A: Nonsense. A meal is about more than just eating food. It's about good conversation, laughing together, enjoying each other's company. We had all of that. So why would you say we didn't have a meal?

B: All of the things you mention are indeed good, and they certainly enrich and fulfill what a good meal should be. But the nutritive end of eating is what unifies and makes them intelligible under the description of having a meal. You can't sever the nutritive end from the activity without fundamentally changing the nature of that activity.

A: So only nutrition counts as a meal, nothing more, nothing less?

B: No. I suppose science might someday invent a pill which you could take that would conceivably give you all the daily nutrients you require. But no one would seriously suggest that taking the pill constituted having a meal; or, to put it another way, engaging in that distinctive kind of activity which we call "having a meal." A true meal would necessarily include all the other essential goods you mentioned -- good conversation, enjoying one another's company, etc.

A: Okay, but what if we didn't eat just sawdust? What if, instead, we had barbecue ribs, mashed potatoes, a casserole, the whole nine yards? But then, later, we all got indigestion! Maybe we even got so sick that we had to, ahem, spend some time in the bathroom regurgitating our "meal" into the toilet. Then we wouldn't have had a meal, right? We ate real food, but the nutritive end was never served, since we just threw up the food.

B: Even if the nutritive end was never completed, you still had a meal, since "having a meal" as a distinctive kind of activity is always ordered towards the nutritive end, whether that end is fulfilled or not. It's still a meal, in that it still belongs to the species "meal," even if only deficient specimen of the species. However, activities that are not ordered towards the nutritive end at all never even rise to the level of being a deficient specimen of a meal. They are no specimen of a meal period.

A: I still think you're too obsessed with nutrition. Focusing on that seems to impoverish what a true meal is. We need to articulate a rich picture of the nature of a meal, instead of just pointing to eating food.

B: I agree. But, again, the nutritive end of eating is what unifies and makes intelligible all the other goods that define having a meal as a distinctive form of activity. So we must at least begin there... 

Faithful Reader may imagine another situation to which a parallel analysis might be applied. Perhaps regarding the other interactive power of the vegetative nature.

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Fun With Statistics

The Wall Street Journal tells us
The fleet of battery-powered cars is rising, and their owners are more than twice as wealthy as most Americans. An Experian Automotive study found that more than 20% of them are middle-aged professionals who make more than $175,000 a year. 
TOF can already envision the headlines. Buying an electric car will make you rich!! After all, it's statisticalistic. You can't argue with stats!
(If you think that's risible, you haven't been paying attention to the way such statistics are interpreted by the axe-grinders. Married people are happier; so we should force people into marriage to make them happy! Perhaps more infamously, home-owners are more prosperous, so we should loosen the rules for mortgage qualification so the poor people can also prosper!)

Actually, the item tells us that the cost of building charging stations for the wealthy electrocar owners will be added to the rates for the utility, so that poor people will have the pleasure of subsidizing the luxuries of the rich.


Another example of Statistics in Action, due to the gimlet eye of Wm. M. Briggs, Statistician to the Stars:
When I first ascend to Emperor, after throwing into the dungeon any within earshot who cannot speak a full sentence without using ‘like’, my first act will be to create a year-long moratorium on all science publishing.
I’ll do this out of kindness. The system is rigged to tempt people beyond endurance to write papers that are either (A) nonsense or (B) what everybody already knows re-packaged as “research.” This must be stopped because it is having a terrible effect on the sanity of the nation.
As proof, I offer the peer-reviewedParental Well-being Surrounding First Birth as a Determinant of Further Parity Progression” by Rachel Margolis and Mikko Myrskylä in the journal Demography, a paper which was announced by the Washington Post with the headline, “Parenthood is worse than divorce, unemployment — even the death of a partner“.
The Post’s headline is possibly the result of insanity; it is certainly nonsense.
Read the rest at the link.

Wednesday, August 12, 2015

Bruce Jenner, Rene Descartes, and Stolen Valor

 "How is a person or a world unmade or unformed? First, by being deformed. And following the deforming is the collapsing. The tenuous balance is broken. Insanity is induced easily under the name of the higher sanity. Then the little candle that is in each head is blown out on the pretext that the great cosmic light can better be seen without it."  
-- R.A. Lafferty

He was in the news. Perhaps you read of him. His body had cheated him, denied his true inner self, so all his life he had been encumbered with an (ahem) extraneous organ. Oh, he used it as society taught him to use it, and he used it well enough to satisfy the stereotypes society imposed, but he always felt that it was not truly a part of him and he began to consider ways in which he might correct the error that biology had made. In the end, surgery seemed the only option. He would transform by art what nature had neglected.

Backward-thinking surgeons were loathe to do such work. There was nothing after all wrong with his body; only that it felt wrong to him. But when all was finally accomplished, he said, "I feel like my body is correct at last, and that's a way cool feeling." He has no regrets.

So runs the story of One-Hand Jason, who cut off his right hand because it seemed alien to him.

Why? Who did you think we were talking about?

Sunday, August 9, 2015

St. Paul Rebukes Donald Trump

in today's Epistle:
And do not grieve the holy Spirit of God, with which you were sealed for the day of redemption. All bitterness, fury, anger, shouting, and reviling must be removed from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, compassionate, forgiving one another as God has forgiven you in Christ.
-- Eph. 4:30-32

Friday, August 7, 2015

Galley Slave

Received a pdf of my article "Discovering Eifelheim", to appear in Medieval Science Fiction, Oxford Univ. Press. Release date figured to be ca. late this year, or early next.

An excerpt:
One question in this volume is whether medieval culture and the SF genre
intersect. At first glance, it would appear that they do not. First, the medieval
world lies in the past and SF deals with the future. Second, SF (as distinct from
fantasy) deals with the impact of speculative science on the lives of human beings
and, according to conventional wisdom, there was no science in the Middle Ages.
Third, when the medieval past does appear in SF, it provides only a cardboard stage
set and caricatures the past without illuminating it. Therefore, SF and the medieval
world do not properly intersect.

On the other hand, we find such novels as Poul Anderson’s The High Crusade
(1960), Connie Willis’s The Doomsday Book (1993), Richard Garfinkle’s Celestial
(1996) and my own Eifelheim (2006), as well as short fiction like Sean
McMullen’s ‘Tower of Wings’ (2001). So clearly there is an intersection.

My own response is that medieval culture and science fiction may intersect in
two distinct ways, within which several further distinctions can be made.

Thursday, August 6, 2015

Be a Follower, Not a Leader

Blogspot keeps track of how many "followers" a blog has.

TOF has noticed this number stuck at 145 for some little while now and wonders, Can't I get just five more to make it a nice round number? 

Let's see.

One day later: We're at 148. Woo-hoo. C'mon, gang! Just two more. We know you can do it!

On 8/8 we have 150! (That's not 150-factorial, alas.) Apparently, y'all are now "members," not "followers." I would have preferred "minions" or "lackeys," but life is full of little disappointments.

There's a button on the left for receiving feeds, and another at the bottom for Google Friends. TOF is unsure of the exegesis of these things. It may be two distinct things.

Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Evil as a defect in the good

There has been a bit of disagreement over on another venue on the definition of an evil as a defectus boni. The interlocutor contended it was just the Catholic's way of getting God off the hook for having created evil. Pointing out that the definition stems from Aristotle, who was not actually Catholic, made no impression on his awareness.

When challenged to provide an example of an evil that was not a deprivation of a good, the interlocutor supplied things like genocide and torture. (Apparently, if an evil is really, really evil, the definition somehow no longer applies.) He missed the point that these things would not be thought of as evil in the first place if they did not deprive people of goods like their life, liberty, dignity, etc. But the reasons given were all emotive, not logical. How dare you say that something as horrid as genocide is "only" a deprivation of a good!

Sunday, August 2, 2015

The Long Line

TOF, for the amusement of his relatives, who number as the grains of sand in the desert, has created a visual family tree by scanning images of husband-wife couples, as often as possible at the same or similar ages. (For two couples, he had to juxtapose individual shots made at the same time.) These he connected with what PowerPoint amusingly calls "connectors" running from the center of the parental picture to the appropriate side of the next generational couple. The nature of powers of 2 is such that the further back in time, the more they spread out horizontally and so spacing becomes an issue. Fortunately, or not, the photographic evidence doesn't go back very far. The two oldest images are photographs made by a third cousin of paintings kept by his great-aunt.
This inspired a bit of ruminations on the pictured individuals and their families.

Notes from the Untergang

Noodling around on R.A.Lafferty (instead of working), TOF obtained the following:
"How is a person or a world unmade or unformed? First, by being deformed. And following the deforming is the collapsing. The tenuous balance is broken. Insanity is induced easily under the name of the higher sanity. Then the little candle that is in each head is blown out on the pretext that the great cosmic light can better be seen without it.

The persons and the worlds were never highly stable. A cross-member is removed here on the pretext of added freedom. Foundation blocks are taken away on the pretext of change. Supporting studs are pulled down on the pretext of new experience. And none of the entities had ever been supported more strongly than was necessary. What happens then? A man collapses, a town, a city, a nation, a world. And it is hardly noticed." -- R.A. Lafferty
That "little candle" sentence is priceless. The apparently anonymous sitemeister commented:
"That, to Lafferty, is how evil triumphs: it erases, it reduces, it boils down; it destroys intellect, individuality; it depersonalizes. The monsters it creates do not slaver and torture and rend flesh: they trade stock options and take three weeks in Bermuda and swap wives and starve the poor and blow up cities with jaunty gaiety..."
The Miracle of the Hyperlinks eventually led TOF to a blog whose keeper comments on Lafferty's Arrive at Easterwine with the complaint that "this novel just left me irritated and confused. And running to the dictionary every few moments..." (TOF is informed that Lafferty must be read not as Hemingway is read or Melville, but as James Joyce would be read had he written Roadrunner and Bugs Bunny cartoons.) The blogkeeper gives a list of "words that I had either never seen before or did not readily know the definition..." When Faithful Reader see the list, ye will understand why no link is provided, to save the embarrassment of it.

Tthe list has been shorn of its definitions. How many of them did you know right off your headtop? How many did you suspect from your prior knowledge of Latin or Greek?

  1. callow
  2. purlieu 
  3. aerie, aery, eyrie, eyry 
  4. tor 
  5. fulgent 
  6. urbane 
  7. fellah 
  8. poseur 
  9. aestivation 
  10. eutectic
  11. eidolon 
  12. chthonic 
  13. bilge 
  14. abscond 
  15. cloy 
  16. subtile 
  17. cybern 
  18. roue
  19. intramuros 
  20. intraficies 
  21. paean 
  22. palimpsest 
  23. gamy
  24. prescind 
  25. philology 
  26. numinosity 
  27. amnestic
  28. Faeroes 
  29. outre
  30. caul 
  31. gravid  
  32. quoit 
TOF scored 28, and could guess at two others.

Saturday, August 1, 2015

Nexus Progress

646 words on novelette "Nexus" rough draft. Now at 12 kilowords. Hammer about to come through the telephone. Tidbit:

Orphans of the Mind
V. Annie Troy

     Consider now the worker bee wending her way into the Pentagon from the upper platform of the Metro station. There is a reason for her being there; namely, that she is a civilian contractor “on loan” from MIT to U.S. Cyber Command, called uscybercom in that wonderful acronymic manner the government has. She splits her time between Ft. Meade and the Pentagon and so has been installed in an apartment in College Park, near the University.
      She walks with purpose, eyes straight ahead, no nonsense. She does not actually bump into anyone on the crowded platform or on the escalator to the security center, but swims like a fish among fish, maintaining her distance. A few in the morning stream send greetings her way and she answers their hails, but for the most part she is alone in the crowd.
     She seldom smiles – it is too much of an e
ffort – and when she does, it is a slight, wan upturn of the lips. You would have to look twice to be sure it was there, and it was seldom there long enough to be caught by that second look. “A cold fish,” some have called her, which was both true and unjust. Considering her upbringing, it is a wonder she can smile at all. Yet, there is this one just truth about the judgement: There is something darned fishy about her.
(c) 2015. Michael F. Flynn

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...