Sunday, December 22, 2019

The Rule of Two

Back in the 70s, when TOF first dipped his toe in the endless swamp of geneology, he interviewed his grandfather, Pop-Pop.

Family history is lived forward, but often discovered backward. So in good Aristotelian fashion, one starts with the living and peels back the onion generation by generation, resolving contradictions and oral traditions along the way. Bits and pieces accumulate, not always in logical order. In the course of the interview, several things ancestral emerged.
  • Pop-pop had never known his paternal grandfather, who had died when his father was only ten.
  • He was no longer certain of that grandfather's name, but thought it might have been James or John.
  • He had married Anne Lynch, who had worked for "a miller and his wife."
  • They had all lived in Washington, NJ, where the railroad yards were.
  • His grandfather had been killed on the railroad when he was caught between two coal cars and crushed to death, sometime he thought in the 1880s. 
The railyards in Washington NJ, c. 1880s

Sunday, November 10, 2019

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.

Harry Singley, TOF's grandfather
Today is the 101st anniversary of the Armistice, an event nearly forgotten today. Harry Singley, 304th Engineers, describes the day in a letter published in the local paper:

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

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

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


TECHNICALLY, it was only an armistice, and 21 years later, they had to do it all over again. Since then, Armistice Day has been expanded to include all veterans of all wars. As he has generally done on Veteran's day, TOF appends here a short account of veterans in my own and in the Incomparable Marge's families.
TOF in uniform, Artillery ROTC, Caisson Ball 1965
with Sweet Sharon
TOF himself is not a veteran.  The closest he got was two years of Artillery ROTC in which he achieved the alleged rank of cadet staff sergeant (so he knows how to call down fire 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 had expressed opposition, though unlike other opponents, it was LBJ's inept micromanagement that irritated him, along with Sec. McNamara's weird obsession with corporate-like numbers crunching. He never imagined, as others did, that the victory of Ho Chi Minh would be rainbows and fluffy bunnies, rather than re-education camps and boat people.

Thursday, October 31, 2019

All Saints Day

This is a reprint of a post from 2015.

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 before 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.

Thursday, September 19, 2019

The Singing City

Image result for analog sep/oct 2019from a Tangent review of Analog Sep/Oct 2019, by Victoria Silverwolf

Three generations of a family appear in "The Singing City" by Michael F. Flynn. The eldest is a retired astronaut [sic], one of many who saved the world from asteroids programmed by ancient aliens to crash into the Earth when humans reached them. His son leads a much more sedate life as a teacher. His own child is about to leave on a voyage to the outer solar system that will keep him away for years.

This is a sophisticated story, balancing a number of futuristic elements with a clear and elegant style. All of the characters are three-dimensional, and their relationships are as real as our own.

Who am I to disagree.

For those who follow such things, the grandfather is Flaco from Rogue Star et al.

Image result for rogue star flaco mercado

Friday, August 9, 2019

Psychos on Parade

Some while ago, TOF ran across an article somewhere on the characterization of psychopaths. He thought it might prove interesting for Faithful Reader. If you decide one of your characters should be a psychopath, these are supposedly markers you can use to characterize them.

1. They speak in the past tense.
Psychopaths use more past-tense verbs than other people. When talking about an event happening right now, most of us would say, "I think this is a good idea." A psychopath might be more likely to say, "I thought that was a good idea." Researchers suspect this is because they are detached from their behavior and their environment.

2. Their body language is convincing. 

Psychopaths lie to make themselves look good. But their nonverbal behavior is often so convincing--and distracting--that people don't recognize they're being deceitful. In the police interview with murderer and rapist Paul Bernadino, FBI agents noticed he used powerful hand gestures to distract from his spoken lies.

3. Their language lacks emotional dimension.

For psychopaths, saying, "I love you," doesn't stir up any more emotion than saying, "Please pass the milk." They can parrot back what they've heard other people say but their facial expressions don't match their words. Their ability to verbalize feelings is most likely a learned behavior, as opposed to a genuine emotional experience.

4. They sound charming.

Researchers have found that psychopaths talk more and use more emotional words in an attempt to gain attention and admiration. Psychopaths are really good at saying just the right thing at the right time. They know how to play on other people's emotions and they're master manipulators.

5. They speak slowly and quietly.

Studies show psychopaths usually speak in a controlled manner. They don't emphasize emotional words like other people do. Their tone remains fairly neutral throughout the conversation. Researchers suspect they craft a calm demeanor intentionally because it helps them gain more control in their personal interactions.

6. They talk about life in terms of cause and effect.
Psychopaths--especially those who commit crimes--talk about their behavior in terms of cause and effect. For example, one might say, "I had to teach him a lesson." Rather than show remorse, a psychopath is likely to justify his actions.

7. They focus their attention on their basic needs.
Rather than talk about spiritual or emotional needs or the needs of others, psychopaths are more likely to talk about their own basic needs, like food and shelter. A psychopath who confesses to a murder, for example, is more likely to spend the bulk of his time talking about what he ate for lunch and what he hoped to gain financially, rather than how his behavior affected other people.

8. They say, "um" more often.
Psychopaths are more likely to use filler words and sounds, like "uh" and "um." While many people use such sounds to avoid an awkward silence, researchers suspect psychopaths use them in an effort to appear sane.

9. They're great storytellers.
Whether a psychopath claims she rescued kittens from a burning building or says she was the only one at her last job who was willing to stand up to management, psychopaths tell rich stories about themselves. While some stories are likely to paint them as victims, the bulk of their stories are likely to portray them as heroes. All of their stories stem from their desire to gain trust and manipulate their listeners.

At the Bluffs of Sinjin Trell

This is the third in a series of tidbits; a continuation of the journeys of Teodorq sunna Namarajan.

The Journeyman:
At the Bluffs of Sinjin Trell

by Michael F. Flynn

“I long to journey endlessly, always in search of something new.”
- Enrique Vila-Matas
A strategic bluff
TEODORQ SUNNA NAGARAJAN THE IRONHAND sat astride his horse in the fore of his regiment and studied on the situation that confronted him.
The Roy’s Own Savage Archers were arrayed on the extreme left of the Royal and Imperial Army of Cuffland, well-placed for a sweep around the enemy’s flank. But that worked best where there were flanks around which to sweep; not so well when facing the Bluffs of Sinjin Trell, which shouldered over against a salt-water bay and blocked the direct route to the enemy capital.
Most of the Field Army was concentrated west of the Bluffs where the land flattened out and provided a more open, if more roundabout, route to the objective. Unfortunately, all the bridges across the River Sane had been blown down and the Prawn Home Army was entrenched opposite Dolorous Ford.
That would have been a fine location for his regiment, with scope for its special weapons and tactics. Which raised the fascinating question of why the general had posted him here, where his troopers were practically useless.
He had positioned his regiment along and behind a low ridge, facing the Bluffs across a scrubby flatland which the Prawns had thoughtfully cleared of any obstacles and festooned with distance markers for the artillery that crowned the heights. It was good land for a cavalry charge and would have been even better had it not been a killing field for artillery.
Teo studied the obstacle carefully through his look-glass.
“It doesn’t go all the way through, does it?” he asked his assistant colonel, Lar Rigo della Hepplewhite. “That there canyon. It looks like it might, but I don’t think it does.”
The Lar shook his head. “The ‘Prawns were never much for sharing maps with us. Probably thought we would use them to invade their country one day.”
Teo grunted. “Do we at least know its name?”
“They call it Belay dla Morth, ‘The Valley of Death’.”
Teo lowered his glass and looked at his Number One. Then he glanced toward his chief of scouts, Sammi o’ th’ Eagles. “That can’t be good.”
Sammi and he hailed from the western continent; but the hillman was pale where Teo was bronze and his eyes appeared slanted where Teo’s were round. In contrast, Lar Rigo – and indeed, most of the regiment –were native to the eastern continent and their skin was green and grew leafy “ruffs” round their necks. The ancient wizards of the long ago had altered the bodies of men to sundry ends, and the greenies had been enabled to supplement their diets by “drinking” sunlight.
The ‘Prawns in the opposing army were likewise green. Indeed, the Cuffs descended from refugees who had fled north into the peninsula after the Fall of Old Iabran. The Roy of Cuffland had as his stated purpose the reunification of the green race, but no one supposed that his ambitions ended with that, and several others of the Great States were now watching developments closely.
The ancient wizards had undoubtedly altered Teo’s ancestors as well, but to what end – other than splendid good looks and martial prowess – he did not hazard a guess.
Teo gestured to Sammi. “Why don’t yuh skulk it out over there on the left and see if there’s a way around them Bluffs. I’m somewhat mindful of charging down that there canyon with all them guns up on top. It’s like the cleavage between two breasts. It’s invitin’ as all get out; but…”
“…But might be trap,” the hillman answered. “You think general order you there?”
“He wouldn’t dare,” said Lar Rigo. “It’s near treason to throw away a regiment like that.”
“Yah, and it sorta makes me wishful of being around for the court-martial.” 


Tuesday, August 6, 2019

Hunter's Moon

And this is the opening passage to the unfinished "Hunter's Moon".

Hunter’s Moon

by Michael F. Flynn