Friday, November 20, 2015

Now I Feel Really Old

Saw this on Gary Armitage's Facebook page.

There are also a bunch of Tyrannosaur cartoons.

Wednesday, November 11, 2015

At the Eleventh Hour

... of the 11th day of the 11th month of 1918, the guns in Europe fell silent at last. The United States built a wall inscribed with the names of servicemen killed or missing in the nine years' war in Vietnam. In three-and-a-half years, the Allies in WW1 suffered deaths amounting to 103 Vietnam walls. That's just over 2.5 Vietnam walls every month.
Technically, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again; this time with massive civilian casualties. In between, as our friend Fabio pointed out once before, more people were killed in battle than in the years of the Great War. Think only of the Reds and Whites in Russia, of the Greeks and Turks in Anatolia, of the Polish-Soviet conflict, and a host of smaller conflicts, such as in Ireland.

Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and the Incomparable Marge's families. 

TOF in uniform, Artillery ROTC
TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC (so he can call down shells on your location.  You have been warned.) but he was classified 4F by a wise military. This was at the height of the Vietnam War, toward which TOF expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's insistence on micromanaging the war that irritated him the most, as well as Sec. McNamara's weird focus on corporate-like numbers crunching. He never imagined, as others did, that the victory of Ho Chi Minh would be all sweetness and light, rather than re-education camps and boat people.

Note: TOF does not know why there are whimsical font and font size changes scattered throughout this post. He has tried several times to correct them but has been defeated by the daemons of the internet each time.

Tuesday, November 10, 2015

Missing Inaction

Where did they go? You must remember them! A few years ago, they were everywhere. Celebrities spoke of them in the hushed and rapturous tones usually reserved for pyramid power or acupuncture. There was hardly a thought-manager who neglected to tell us of the wonders they would bring. We can "resist the onslaught of time’s vulture." They would provide "answers that have so long been beyond our grasp." They constituted "one of the most promising areas of research."

Troglodytes and religious fundamentalists raised barriers that would result in patients "suffer[ing] needlessly" and "put many critical future advances in medicine beyond the reach of patients in the United States."

Yes, it's good ol' Human Embryonic Stem Cells, that were gonna cure Parkinson's, Alzheimers, and all the rest. That's if anyone could get past that bodily rejection thingie.Those who were opposed to grinding up embryos to make their bread were ridiculed as "anti-science" and the opposition of the Church was called, as was her earlier opposition to eugenics, another episode in the "war of religion on science."

I wonder if they would have also called those opposed to Nazi experimentation on Jews "anti-science"? Yes, I know. Godwin's Law and all that. But the point is that not every instance in which people put on white lab coats is quite the same.

Now, the only thing being opposed was killing human embryos in order to obtain stem cells to experiment with. No one was objecting to the use of non-human embryonic stem cells or of human adult stem cells (like bone marrow). And the usual course of research had been to work on animal models before going on to humans, so a few folks were bemused by the rush at that early stage to jump directly to the human subject. It's not as if benign therapies were going to burst fully formed from the brow of Zeus.

Well, science, as it often does, surprised the activists and in 2007 a Japanese researcher Shinya Yamanaka discovered how to "regress" ordinary cells to stem cell status ("induced pluripotent stem cells"). He was awarded the Nobel Prize in Medicine for this in 2012. There is an obvious benefit in that tissues can be developed in this way from a patient's own cells, thus bypassing the rejection problem. And you didn't have to kill anyone to get them.

For a while, activists pooh-poohed regressed cells and claimed they were somehow not as good as embryonic stem cells. It was almost as if the goal was not scientific discovery but simply to use embryonic cells, period. When necessary, they touted results achieved with "induced pluripotent stem cells" as simply "stem cells" so they could chide those who had opposed the use of embryonic stem cells. See? THEY would have prevented this beneficial result! Meanwhile, cases like this one raised caution flags over the use of embryonic stem cells. Such stem cells are programmed to proliferate, and the risk that they will result in runaway tumors is quite real.

Now, in a paper in Nature Biotechnology, Choi (et the usual al.) finds that induced and embryonic stem cells "are molecularly and functionally equivalent and cannot be distinguished by a consistent gene expression signature."

As time passed and induced stem cells became the preferred research material, noise about stem cell research has quietly faded from the news-smog. It's almost as if the point had always been to find a reason to use embryos.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Panic Town

From a review of the anthology Mission: Tomorrow:
There’s a kind of updated, au courant Planet Stories vibe to Michael Flynn’s “In Panic Town, On the Backward Moon,” and that’s pretty neat. Our working-man narrator gets involved with some criminal elements concerning a stolen artifact, on a Red Planet that has a thriving infrastructure detailed slyly and deeply. 
Sly and deep, that's TOF alright.
Mission: Tomorrow, edited by Bryan Thomas Schmidt (Baen 978-1-4767-8094-8, $15, 336pp, trade paperback), November 2015

Sunday, November 8, 2015


fought by Legos!

Elfs Unite!

Selfoss, Iceland, elf door sign
In Iceland, construction must deal not only with the habitats of this or that species, but also with the habitats of elves or huldufólk.

You read that right: elves.  If you disturb the elves, bad luck will befall you; and folks will be glad to re-tell stories of the bad luck they had after moving an elfstone.
Huddled together amid the jagged rocks of the Gálgahraun lava field, a group of nervous onlookers wait with bated breath. Suddenly, there’s a loud crack and a tumble of stones as a 50-tonne boulder is wrenched from the ground, then slowly raised into the air and eased down nearby, so delicately you’d think it was a priceless sculpture. “I just hope they’re happy in their new home,” says Ragnhildur Jónsdóttir. “The elves really don’t like being uprooted like this.”
The rock, known as Ófeigskirkja, has been at the centre of an eight-year battle to stop a road being built
Couldn't possibly be confirmation bias, right? Iceland is apparently chock full of álagablettir, or enchanted spots of one sort or another. (And it's interesting how many elf activists have -dóttir names while the road-builders have -son names.)
For the huge Kárahnjúkastífla dam project in the east, consultants with clairvoyant skills were hired to check out the landscape first to ensure it was empty of elvish rocks. There’s now money to be made in this sort of consultancy work.
There is usually money to be made, no matter what the hoo-hoo is. The secondary link is more pedestrian and is focused on protesting the "capitalists" who insisted on shoving a road through a pristine lava field. (How a community planned by a government is "capitalist" is left as an exercise for the reader. Perhaps the word only means "people I disagree with.")

Now, the Wee Folk of Ireland.... That's a different story.

Tuesday, November 3, 2015


Well, this one did not make the cut at Analog, and I can't say I am surprised. It was my first attempt at writing a sestina, which is a difficult form to begin with. Even the best examples often have a stilted aspect to them from the word repetition.

So, here it is:

Though finer points of their philosophy may prove obscure
By Michael F. Flynn

Alas we seem alone; no other mind takes form
On this fair Earth – nor any other place
That eye can see or instruments appraise.
From distant stars no missives we receive.
As if in that vast vacuum no soul
Abides save only those we call our own.

Such life, we’re told, will be unlike our own;
That’s true for trivia: species, body, form,
Appetites and senses foreign to our soul.
(What lusts do bats endure when squeaks they place,
What pleasures due to echoes they receive?
Our minds cannot conceive what bats appraise.) 

But not unlike entire, for kinship we appraise
Beneath those accidents they call their own:
They too preserve, perfect what they receive.
(The struggle to survive is higher form
Of that by which a boulder holds its place.
Inertia is but life deprived of soul.)

They will pursue the good known to their soul,
Whatever good it is that they appraise
In foreign far-flung interstellar place.
Survival’s urge is much alike our own,
Though executed through some other form:
Those powers and appetites that they receive.

Do bats admire the echoes they receive?
Do certain sounds enrich their very soul?
What drives impel the unfamiliar form
On distant stars we do not yet appraise?
Far from and yet alike unto our own
They are, no matter where their outré place.

And what awaits, would we fare to their place
Or they to ours? What welcome to receive?
A sister mind? A tasty snack? A pet to own?
It all depends on what completes their soul
And how both good and ill they do appraise.
When seeing us, what image do they form?

A place within each soul
Receives and does appraise
Its own and other’s form.

Return of the Journeyman

TOF is pleased to announce that "The Journeyman: In the Great North Woods" has been accepted for publication at Analog Science Fiction/Science Fact. Oorah.

Since two scenes have already been teased, perhaps a third is in order?


Rather than raise questions among the greenies, the princess of Cliffside Keep pretended to be “Anna Overcreek,” a shortgrass woman, with Chum acting as her common-law husband. She had dyed her hair, painted uuli symbols up her arms, and grown her braids to “married” length. There was no Cliffside Keep to be princess of, and House Tiger had been slaughtered in the battle. She had sworn eternal vengeance against House Moose, who had fought that day on the green side.
     “Tavern-gossip claims,” she said, “that Yar Yoodavig and the remnants of the Legion still fly the Tiger-striped banner.”
     Chum sighed and took the bird to the cutting board. “Maybe I can cut out the parts his knife touched. Teo, you can be the taste-tester. Princess,” he answered her unspoken question, “even if we did learn the formula for the thunderpowder like the Yar asked, I’ve no more pigeons and Yoodavig does not advertise his whereabouts.”
     “Oh!” said Teo. “Almost forgot. Saw a moosehead down by the Harbor.”
     The princess turned. “And you slew the treacher not on the spot?”
     “I was busy. Besides, he woulda died without knowing why, and that is a bad death.”
     Sammi looked at him. “There good one?”
     “Nah. Point is, lots of Moosers been to Cliffside Keep over the years, and it’d be a good idea if this guy didn’t get a close look at Anya here.”
     “Until you kill him,” Anya said. She snatched up her bonnet and scarf and stalked out of their rooms. Nor had she neglected to fasten the straps on her scabbards.
     Sammi waited a bit, before following. The three of them were taking turns secretly escorting the princess to the chandlery.
     “Don’t let her see you,” Chum warned.
     “What you expect to see, when Sammi follows?”

Afterward, Teo shook his head. “I thought castrating Mamu after the battle canceled that debt.” He meant the heir of House Moose, to whom Anya had been betrothed. Her refusal, though permitted by custom, had turned Mamu and his House to the greenies.
     Chum winced and stirred the pot. “Mamu shoulda waited to drag her back to Moose Hold before he went all frisky on her.”
     “Or at least disarmed her,” Teodorq suggested.
     “I think that’s why everyone’s supposed to get naked first.”

Teo preferred sleeping on the roof, but he was wakened shortly after drifting off by voices below. He snapped alert and pulled his short-sword from its place inside the bedroll. Slow awakening, no awakening, men said on the Great Grass. He stuck a dagger into his belt in case he had to fight with both hands and a smile on his face in case he didn’t have to fight at all.
     He threw back the roof hatch and the voices below ceased.
     Chum was still at the strew pot, but he had put the hacked-up pheasant aside. In its place he had a plump goose. He was chatting with one of the Big Hat’s minions, who sat with one leg crossed over his knee, though when the hatch door flew open, the fop’s hand had moved on his stick. Teo grunted. These overseamen were not as foolish as they appeared.
     Chum gestured at the goose. “Yo, Teo. That Big Hat you helped this morning gave us the bird.”
The Big Hat, Teo mused, had learned his identity, traced his residence, and knew the pheasant had been ruined in his defense. That was a lot of knowing, even if it had taken him until mid-afternoon to know it.
     Teo slid down the ladder. A rich man’s gratitude is never cause for heel-dragging.
     Mr. Fancy Pants stood and kissed both Teo’s cheeks. “My master, Lar Feddy, is grateful for your actions this morning,” the man said, “and sends this mean and paltry bird as recompense for the magnificent fowl you sacrificed in his protection. He was especially impressed by the grace with which you dispatched the two men. One does not expect polish and style from rude barbarians.”
     Teo scratched his crotch. “Nah, I guess not.”
     “Lar Feddy has made inquiries and has learned that you hire out as a bodyguard.”
     Teo crossed his arms and waited. There might be an evening’s employment out of his morning’s impulse. He wondered how much he dared raise his rates. This Lar Feddy seemed to have deep pockets as well as a big hat. But if he had “made inquiries” he likely knew Teo’s customary fee.
     “The Lar proposes,” the man went on, “to mount an expedition into the Great North Woods in search of antiquities. It will be a dangerous undertaking of several moon-laps duration – there are unpacified tribes, not to mention the usual hazards of a wilderness trek – and he needs a bold man to handle security. We Gay Companions will protect his person, but we want you to organize a crew to guard our digs and campsites. The governor,” he added with no change of expression, “has no soldiers to spare.”
     Nagarajan’s son was not deaf to the sound of opportunity banging with both her fists on his doorpost. He exchanged looks with Chum, and said, “I’ll need a staff: a camp-master, a hunter, a scout, a couple lieutenants.”
     The Gay Companion tossed a poke to Teo, who formed a fair estimate of its contents from its trajectory. “Hire as many as you think needful,” the man said, “up to the limits of that purse. The digging party will include twenty laborers, a cook and quartermaster, doctor, and two overseers as well as the archaeologist and his people.”
     Teo didn’t ask what an archaeologist was. He thought the size of the security detail depended more on the size of the threat than on the size of the threatened. “When do you want us?”
     “It will take half a moon-lap to gather the rest of the party, some of whom are arriving on Fair Zephyr. But plan to come by the governor’s guest house to render daily progress reports. Ask for Eiskwy Naldo.” He indicated himself with a wave of the hand.
     “And what if’n I take this here poke and light a shuck.”
     Eiskwy Naldo smiled and with spare motion whipped his walking stick around so the weighted end halted a bare thumb’s-width from Teodorq’s nose. “You won’t abscond,” the Gay Companion said. “Lar Feddy is a good judge of character. He is seldom wrong; and he is never wrong twice.”
(c)2015 Michael F. Flynn

Monday, November 2, 2015

Notes from the Untergang

Without a clear indicator of the author's intent, parodies of extreme views will, to some readers, be indistinguishable from sincere expressions of the parodied views.
-- Nathan Poe's Law of the Internet

This, from a national magazine:
Colleges are hanging flyers around campus with phone numbers of officials that students can call to consult with about whether or not their Halloween costume is perfectly politically correct. “Unsure if your costume might be offensive?” asks a poster that’s been hung around campus at State University of New York at Geneseo. “Don’t be afraid to ask questions.” The poster contains the phone numbers and e-mails of five (five!) campus officials that students can contact and discuss the very important issue of whether or not what they will dress up as to get drunk in will be advancing social-justice causes. Wesleyan University has been hanging similar posters around the school — but with six (six!) numbers listed.
It’s a good first step. Maybe next year, the schools can deploy cultural-sensitivity control officers to bust into parties and round up anyone spotted in a sombrero or afro wig. To make the world, you know, better.
You can't make this stuff up. They were serious. Joseph Moore states in a separate context:
Moderns do not read old dead guys, in fact make it a point of pride that all they know about the past is the-predigested tidbits spoon-fed to them, and yet are full of opinions and outrage. Duh. No wonder they need safe spaces – it’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door...

Even some of the Usual Suspects are beginning to grow uneasy.  (Notice the sort of casual, unexamined assumptions in the linked article, and the signals sent by the author to indicate that he is himself right-thinking despite defending a badthinker. It is indeed sad, but these days to defend badthinkers gets you yourself accused of badthink.)

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Solemnity of All Saints

This is a reprint of a post from 2011, itself a re-post from 2009 over in Live Journal.

Everyone thinks Halloween is the Irish Feis Samhain, which began at sunset on 31 Oct and that the Church co-opted the date.  However, the  feast "in honor of all the saints in heaven" was originally 13 May, and Pope Gregory III (d. 741) moved it to 1 Nov to mark the dedication day of All Saints Chapel in St. Peter’s at Rome.  There was no connection to distant Irish customs, and the parishioners of St. Peter would not likely have been beguiled by it.  Not until the 840s, did Pope Gregory IV declare All Saints to be a universal feast, not restricted to St. Peter's.  The holy day spread to Ireland.

The day a feast is the "vigil mass" and so after sunset on 31 Oct became "All Hallows Even" or "Hallowe’en."  It had no more significance than the "Vigil of St. Lawrence" or the "Vigil of John the Baptist" or any of the other vigils on the calendar.

In 998, St. Odilo, the abbot of the powerful monastery of Cluny in Southern France, added a celebration on Nov. 2. This was a day of prayer for "the souls of all the faithful departed." This feast, called All Souls Day, spread from France to the rest of Europe.

That took care of Heaven and Purgatory.  The Irish, being the Irish, thought it unfair to leave the souls in Hell out.  So on Hallowe'en they would bang pots and pans to let the souls in Hell know they were not forgotten.  However, the Feast of All Damned never caught on, for fairly obvious theological reasons.  The Irish, however, had another day for partying.

New Story from Michael F. Flynn

 Greetings All.    Mike (Dad) has a new story in the July/August edition of Analog . I know Analog is available on Kindle store and Analog ...