A beautifully told story with colorful characters out of epic tradition, a tight and complex plot, and solid pacing. -- Booklist, starred review of On the Razor's Edge

Great writing, vivid scenarios, and thoughtful commentary ... the stories will linger after the last page is turned. -- Publisher's Weekly, on Captive Dreams

Wednesday, September 20, 2017

The Tyranny of Genes

PHYSICS, wrote Nigel Calder in Timescape, is the intrusive science, always butting in. Radiocarbon dating overturned a century or more of carefully built-up chronology in Egyptian king lists and other such things, as estimated by comparing strata in excavations. Consequently, it was resisted and denounced as heretical until it became orthodoxy.

Tuesday, September 19, 2017

Tabclearing Day

Every now and then, the number of tabs accumulating in TOF's browser becomes burdensome and it grows clear that dedicated blog posts for them will never poof into existence. Hence, the periodic necessity of blowing them all off as briskly as possible. TOF has been remiss in maintaining this blog, even though it is as good an excuse as any for not writing.

1. Sugar and spice, and everything nice

CNN tells us about a young lad who is transitioning to a lass. Tommy has become Tammy, and this summer began taking hormone-blocking drugs to suppress puberty. Since age 3, Tommy had indicated by signing his desire to be a girl. In addition to his wearing skirts, we are told that "throughout his childhood, Thomas wanted to read Wonder Woman comics rather than Superman, wear rhinestone-studded hairbands instead of baseball caps and play with dolls rather than action figures." All of this indicates a rather anti-feminist notion of what it means to "feel like a girl,"but what the heck. Consistency has never been a hobgoblin to the little minds of the transgressive.

Complicating the issue is that the adoptive parents of Tommy/Tammy are a lesbian couple, which reinvigorates all the old stereotypes about "recruiting" adopted children. However, the news story tells us that Tommy/Tammy's two mommies have two older children, both of whom are male-male. It is only a coincidence that one of the 0.6% of Americans who identify as transgender wound up being adopted by them.

Or not. Kenneth Zucker, head of the Gender Identity Service in the Child, Youth, and Family Program and professor at the University of Toronto "conducted a study following 109 boys who had gender identity disorder between the ages of 3 and 12. Researchers followed up at the mean age of 20 and found 12% of these boys continued to want to change genders." Taking this at face value, it means that 88% of these lads changed their minds before it was too late. Tommy/Tammy will not have that option, since the hormone therapy has already begun.

We've been here before. What would One-Hand Jason say?

2. Quite a large majority, we would bet

"A large majority of people that have been pregnant or have given birth identify as women."
--- British Medical Association, A Guide To Effective Communication: Inclusive Language In The Workplace.

Hayden Cross, in the Sun.
A big surprise, that.

The BMA insistence that doctors shun the phrase "expectant mother" in favor of "pregnant person" is that using the term "mother" may make transgendered folks feel uncomfortable.

The proximate cause of all this is Hayden Cross, who whilst transitioning from female to "male," suddenly and inexplicably found himself pregnant. Apparently, he had not transitioned all the way. Because he was already self-identifying as a man, this means talk about "expectant mothers" will make him feel sad.

We can't have that, can we?

Why can't we just say "tomboys" like we used to. 

3. Speaking of transgender

"A nation of children is growing up today under a toxic leader. They’re developing and learning how to be adults. They’re curious about how to find their way in this world. And they’re looking for examples of what it means to 'be a man.' We’re giving them Trump."
-- Jennifer Siebel Newsom, in Time magazine

Presumably, we are to believe that Ms Newsom is very concerned that children -- presumably cis-male -- learn to "be a man." This, after many decades of the Besserwissers trying to discourage leaning anything of the sort. She has evidently forgotten that we have had a horn dog, a frat boy, and a prissy metrosexual in that role recently. TOF hates to break the news, but he did not spend his boy scout years modeling himself after Dwight D. Eisenhower. For the most part, the TOFling did not give the President much thought.

D. Trump has been called our first transgender president as he slowly morphs into the neocon Hillary. Well, Fred can be a little over-the-top -- a little? But then there is Peggy Noonan, who has noted the same thing:
He’s not strong and self-controlled, not cool and tough, not low-key and determined; he’s whiny, weepy and self-pitying. He throws himself, sobbing, on the body politic. He’s a drama queen. It was once said, sarcastically, of George H.W. Bush that he reminded everyone of her first husband. Trump must remind people of their first wife.
But to hear everyone howl you would think they wanted John Wayne or Gary Cooper in the role, and not someone so much in touch with his feelings as Mr. Trump. 

4. Going by the book

 Some while back, when Congresscritters went forth to their districts and held public meetings, TOF was struck by a curious sight. At these meetings, people would leap to their feet and shout in protest against changing Obamacare. The Media dutifully reported this as mass resistance to modifying the law and Republican congressfolk getting an earful from their constituents. But, to use a phrase now commonly employed in selected instances, it was "not independently verified" that the folks leaping to their feet were in fact constituents of that congressperson. TOF also noted that there were actually only a few such outcriers, but they were spaced around the meeting hall in such a way as to appear more numerous. Perhaps it was TOF's keen statistical eye, but their spatial distribution seemed curiously uniform. Well, apparently it was carefully planned and carried out.

5. Why did Trump Win?

None of the countless campaign reporters and commentators is on record as having noticed the car “affordability” statistics distributed in June 2016... Derived from very reliable Federal Reserve data, they depicted the awful predicament of almost half of all American households. Had journalists studied the numbers and pondered even briefly their implications, they could have determined a priori that only two candidates could win the Presidential election – Sanders and Trump – because none of the others even recognized that there was problem if median American households had been impoverished to the point that they could no longer afford a new car.

-- Edward N. Luttwak, "Why the Trump dynasty will last sixteen years,"
[London] Times Literary Supplement, 25 July 2017

Next, they should ask why cars have become relatively more expensive wrt incomes. Perhaps all the mandates and such that have been added to their costs?

6. The Fifth Way vs. Intelligent Design

"Once we understand what St. Thomas Aquinas meant by teleology, the greatest scandal he gives to the modern mind is in not being teleological enough, since he thought some outcomes were unpredictable, even in principle, from an awareness of the laws and initial states of the universe. His view of nature made it something much more ontologically loose and unruly, whereas ours makes nature much tighter, precise, and authoritarian down to the last detail. For him, there were real chance outcomes in nature that were not just an expression of our failure to know the true causal stories; but for us a 'chance outcome' means only that we are ignorant of the real causes in play."
-- James Chastek, "Fifth Way (pt. 1 intitial puzzles)" Just Thomism,
31 July 2017

 IOW, Thomist thinking is more aligned with quantum mechanics than with Enlightenment thinking.

7. Okay, just why the heck is slavery wrong?

Try to make your case without circular logic and without including as slaves baseball players prior to the free agency era or movie actors during the studio system, or the prisoners making license plates, or your child being told to clean his room. It's not that easy.Kidnapping Africans and bringing them to Brazil or other slaving countries? But kidnapping is already wrong. So are arbitrary beat-downs, rape, and all the other evils commonly spoken of wrt the Peculiar Institution. If we could institute a system of slavery without all these other things -- without separating families, etc. -- would slavery somehow become acceptable? If the answer is yes, then slavery was not your problem. If the answer is no, then you still haven't told us why it's wrong.

Recently, a statue of Francis Scott Key was defaced with the graffito "Racist Anthem," meaning The Defense of Ft. McHenry. The rationale is that the third verse -- you know it, of course -- contains the phrase.
And where is that band who so vauntingly swore,
That the havoc of war and the battle’s confusion
A home and a Country should leave us no more?
Their blood has wash’d out their foul footstep’s pollution.
No refuge could save the hireling and slave
From the terror of flight or the gloom of the grave,

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave
O’er the land of the free and the home of the brave.
Nellie, bar the door! An attack on slaves? A threat of extermination?
Or simply a commonly-used phrase -- hireling and slave -- for those who truckle under to tyrants and despots -- and which rhymes with "grave." Either the complainants are unaware of English usage (very likely) or they are being cynically manipulative (perhaps, even more likely). In any case, the songster was clearly referring to the retreat of the British troops and fleet from Ft. McHenry. The vauntingly swearing band was, naturally, not a four-man rock group, but Ross' expeditionary force and Cochrane's fleet. Key sarcastically asks "What happened to them?" And answers that a bunch were killed at North Point and the Middle Branch and, with some exaggeration, suggests that they "plied swift heels" (in Homer's phrase). The hirelings and slaves were the British soldiers and sailors, many of who were mercenaries or pressed into service unwillingly.

It is also worth noting that the National Anthem of Ireland, Amhrán na bhFiann

Faoi mhóid bheith saor
Seantír ár sinsear feasta,
Ní fhágfar faoin tíorán ná faoin tráill.

(Sworn to be free,
no more our ancient sireland,
Shall shelter the despot or the slave.)
One supposes a hidden meaning here, too; but no one supposes the Irish kept slaves.

8. n-body orbits

Newton never did solve the orbit of the Earth's Moon. It's a three-body problem and there is no general analytical solution. (Not "no known" solution. There is a proof that there cannot be one. Any such problem must be worked out by numerical approximations.) There are, however, a plethora of special cases here

Example: 6 masses orbit each other in two intersecting (roughly Lagrange) orbits: Quicktime and GIF.

9. The General, not the Famous SF Writer

Sara A. Carter, "Did the FBI retaliate against Michael Flynn by launching a Russia probe?" Circa, 27 June 2017, notes the following intriguing time line:
  1. Decorated counterterrorism agent SSA Robyn Gritz accuses now-Deputy FBI Director Andrew McCabe and other top officials of sexual discrimination
  2. Flynn writes a letter on her behalf in 2014 on his official Pentagon stationary, gives a public interview in 2015 supporting Gritz’s case, and offers to testify on her behalf.
  3. The FBI seeks to block Flynn’s support for the agent, asking a federal administrative law judge in May 2014 to keep Flynn and others from becoming a witness in her Equal Employment Opportunity Commission case
  4. Two years later, the FBI, at McCabe's direction, opens its inquiry of Flynn.
"The bureau employees," Carter writes, "who spoke only on condition of anonymity for fear of retribution, said they did not know the reason for McCabe’s displeasure with Flynn, but that it made them uncomfortable as the Russia probe began to unfold and pressure built to investigate Flynn."

10. Speaking of Russia

A friend of TOF in college was a member of SDS, and TOF would amuse himself in telephonic communications by speaking in Russian. Zdrasti, he would say, kak ty poshevayete? Since the friend was convinced his phones were tapped by J.Edgar, this would up his paranoia level a bit.

But we live now in the post-modern age, and now it is the pros, not the cons, who see Russians under every bed and behind every potted plant. In all the hoorah and hype, it is easy to lose sight of the fact that no credible evidence for Russia "hacking our election" has been presented. It is simply reported as an established fact.

10. How does a minority impose its will on the majority?

By being intransigant.
Nassim Nicholas Taleb, The Most Intolerant Wins: The Dictatorship of the Small Minority (Chapter from Skin in the Game), Incerto (Aug 14, 2016)

11. Constitution? What Constitution?

The Manhattan Contrarian has noticed a constitutional crisis relating to Obamacare.

12. Gandersauce

TOF is the founding and so-far only member of the Gandersauce Society and found the following item intriguing.

Remember Rachel Dolezal? Neither did TOF, but she was the daughter of two Midwestern parents of impeccably white ancestry who spent years passing herself off as black and rose to leadership positions in the local NAACP. This violated the No True Black principle and she was shortly after divested. Then, a while back, Rebecca Tuvel published an article in Hypatia, titled "In Defense of Transracialism," in which she argued that the arguments in favor of transgenderism would by a simple change of variable compel us to favor transitions in racial identity. But whites who think they are black is bad, while men who believe they are women is good. One is to be encouraged and assisted; the other is to be shunned. Therefore, Controversy arose to resolve the cognitive dissonance.

A lynchmob of the Usual Suspects, unable to refute the reasoning in Tuvel's article -- she favored both transgenderism and transracialism -- threatened the journal that had published her article. The journal, with the usual staunch courage of academics, caved in to the bullying and issued an apology, throwing the good progressive Tuvel under the bus.

13. How Can You Tell a Fascist from an Antifa?

You can't. Not when folks purportedly resisting imaginary hordes of fascists -- the bar for qualifying has been set rather low these days -- employ all the techniques of the SA and Mussolini's blackshirts. Cognitive dissonance again.
On the Blog of the APA (American Philosophical Association) Shane McDonnell writes in defense of mob violence:
"When we criticize antifa violence we criticize violence that attempts to stop racism and racists. Similarly, when we criticize anarchist violence we criticize violence that attempts to stop intolerance; that attempts to disrupt the capitalist system; that is used in self-defence against police brutality; and that ultimately protects rights. By labeling each side as bad as the other we neglect the danger the Alt-Right and these spin-off groups pose."
The term 'fascist,' as George Orwell noted long ago, has become a mere insult. They've been shouting down speakers, mobbing platforms, and so on for a while now. More accustomed to bullying fellow progressives, who clutch their pearls at the mere thought of being called bad names (see Tuvel, previous item), they have been astonished to discover their latest targets more resistant. And so they resort to rioting and smaching the windows of third parties -- such as small shops owned by minorities in St. Louis -- because "this will get people's attention." 

If anyone has doubted that the Age of Reason is over and done, this should convince them.

14. There's More, but This is Enough for Now.

Later, dudes.

Tuesday, September 12, 2017


Images of floods turn one's thoughts to the Flood of 1955. Two hurricanes, Connie and Diane, hit the US five days apart, both in North Carolina. They had weakened to Cat 1 and Cat 3, resp. by then but two hurricanes coming so close together was a problem. There was little wind damage this far north, but Connie dumped 12 inches of rain and saturated the ground. Then, when Diane came along a few days later with 10-20 inches more, there was no place for it to go, and the rivers left their banks all the way up through the northeast. Around 200 people died from the storms, mostly in Connecticut, where Woonsocket RI was nearly washed away by a 20 ft. wall of water.
Locally, the most deaths were 80 lost at Camp Davis, a Boy Scout camp.

Total damages were in excess of 7-8 billion dollars in today's money.

There is a gallery of pictures of Easton during the flood here, including part of an 8 mm film that my father had shot -- and which we watched repeatedly when we were kids. My brother Kevin put it up on YouTube a while back. The view, for any locals out there, is from the Lehigh Valley RR trestle facing downtown. In the foreground, the 3rd St. bridge crosses the Lehigh and ducks under the NJRR trestle.

The most dramatic damage locally was the breaking of the Northampton St. Bridge when the Columbia-Portland Bridge, the last of the old covered bridges, collapsed and came cruising down the Delaware like a battering ram and took out the middle span. The bridge had been called "the Gibraltar of the Delaware" after surviving the Pumpkin Freshet of 1903, when every other bridge north of Trenton had been washed away, but the Hurricane Diane flood was too much. An account of its untimely demise can be found here

So it's not a new thing for two hurricanes to come in quick succession, nor for rain to outweigh wind as the major destructive force. When people say, "I've never seen it this bad in my life," it's well to ask how long they've been around.

Harvey and Irma were damn big storms -- and their landfalls were "target-rich environments." There were more people living in vulnerable areas and more and costlier buildings erected there, magnifying the destruction.

But 6-9 December, 1935, massive flooding hit Houston, not from a tropical storm, but from regular ol' thunderstorms.
20.6" fell in 35 hours over Westfield, TX. Houston reported 5.52" of rain. Satsuma in northwest Harris County had 16.49" of rain. Bayous were 52 feet above normal. The city's pumping station was unable to supply water for a few days and the city had no protection against fire. Buffalo Bayou at Houston 54.4 feet with 40,000 cfs. Buffalo Bayou at Addicks 85.6'. 2/3 of rural Harris County was flooded. Halls Bayou was over its banks. Spring and Cypress Creeks were out of their banks.
But about half of the modern city wasn't there yet, and in the 1930 census Houston was only the 26th largest city in the US, not the 4th, and held just above a quarter of a million people. (Detroit was 4th; Philadelphia 3rd. Los Angeles was 5th.) So there were fewer people to be flooded out. And there was not 24/7 coverage to hype the storm. (Which also meant -- as was the case with Connie and Diane in 1955 -- that people did not get a timely heads-up and were taken somewhat by surprise.)

Friday, September 8, 2017

Road Rage, Buddha, and Beeldenstorm

What do these pictures have in common?

Buddha Statues blown up by fanatics at Baminyan, Afghanistan

Confederate statue pulled down by fanatics
at Durham, NC
In both cases the vandals belonged to a triumphalist people who found the monuments of their foes hateful to their eyes. The muslim Taliban regarded statues of the Buddha as demons and the Buddhists themselves to be demon-worshipers. Similarly, the "Antifa" regarded the statues of former Democratic office-holders and generals to be statues of demons, and those who wish to preserve them as demon-worshipers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Memory Lane

Courtesy of Sweet Sharon, TOF has been gifted with some old photos from my storied college years. People who know me now will gaze at them in wonder and ask, "Where is the rest of him?" And indeed it is true that I am now twice the man I was then.
Image may contain: 3 people, people standing and outdoor
Yes, that's TOF on the right
 Gadzooks, was I skinny. I'll have to clip the picture and tape it to the refrigerator as motivation.

Image may contain: 5 people, people smiling, people standing and closeup
l to r. your humble host, Sweet Sharon, FRXL, Cookie, Sterling.
The second picture was taken about the time of the annual Caisson Ball. A HS friend of mine, Sterling Carter, had come down as my guest. Sterling was in an infantry ROTC unit at U Scranton, whereas I was in the artillery -- "Caisson," right? -- at LaSalle. That made me a big shot, LOL. TOF learned how to call artillery fire down on your grid coordinates. You have been warned.

The fellow who appears in both pictures was Francis Raymond Xavier Lyons, known to all as FRXL (pronounced as spelled). I lost track of him over the years since graduation, alas; but the saga of the frijoles negros will live forever.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


For the interested, the opening of "Mayerling", that alternate Austro-Hungarian yarn mentioned in Scribble, scribble, scribble, runs as follows.

Monday, August 14, 2017

Scribble, scribble, scribble... and scribble

There are several stories of sundry lengths in various stages of (in)completion in the Flynnish oeuvre.  For anyone interested, they run as follows.

I forgot one! So I have added 098e below, in the queue at Analog.

The opus number runs generally in the order in which they were started, except 098f. All the Journeyman stories are 098, with each installment getting a letter. The current word count is indicated in order to shame TOF into finishing them rather than starting another.

In process
079 Mayerling.....................4200
Short story. Alternate history. Crown Prince Rudolf is at his hunting lodge at Mayerling, contemplating suicide. Or not.
087 The Shipwrecks of Time..........92,786
A novel. Back in the early 1340s, Heinrich of Regensburg was brutally murdered over a now-lost manuscript known as "The Peruzzi Papers."  In the 1960s, an historical researcher in Milwaukee becomes interested in the contents.  What could have been so dangerous to know that the author was so brutally killed?  Why did the banking House of Peruzzi keep the papers secret for 600 years?  Inquiring minds want to know.  But maybe they should not be so inquiring?  Later, in Part II, a documentary film-maker in 1980s Denver and, in Part III, a small town police detective in the fictional 2010s Neston PA are also entangled in the mystery.  Some mss. are better left unread, it seems. However, we are already up to 93 kilowords and still in Part I. Damn. Don't know whether to cut it drastically by 2/3rd or to make each Part a separate book. Still plugging away.
098f The Journeyman: At the Heights of Iabran.......7973
Teodorq sunna Nagarajan the Ironhand is leading a cavalry regiment he helped organize. They are setting up to take the enemy's capital. Problem is, Teo's commanding general is trying to get him killed, due to a small misunderstanding over the general's wife. There's this deep canyon penetrating the aforesaid Heights; but it is likely a dead-end, in more ways than one.
101 The Chieftain....................................16,421
A fantasy novel -- yes, you heard that right -- in the lackadaisical course of being rewritten from an old draft from TOF's youth. It was written long ago, in and shortly after college, as a straight historical, the market for which can best be described as multiples of SQRT(-1).  The writing sucks because I was just a kid; but it is as capable of rewrite as The January Dancer was.  The world has a shortage of medieval Celtic fantasies.  No, really.  It does. This one is set in Ireland in AD 1225.  A bit of medieval magic should pepper it right up.  Don't usually see prayers instead of spells, or saints instead of imps to answer them; so we shall see.  And calling on God may not be quite as simple as calling on gods....
107 Hunters Moon.................1063
Short story set in the Firestar milieu. The narrator is a troubleshooter for Phobos Port Authority, sent to audit the procedures used for aiming the Lunar catapult dedicated to sending cargo to Mars and finds a suspicious death when he gets there. Same narrator as "In Panic Town on the Backward Moon."
108 Adventures in Mythistory........5747
Fact article on how history is turned into myth, with special emphasis on Hypatia.
109 The Three Faces of Science........859
Fact article on the three phases of science in the Modern Age: Mathematical, Statistical, and Modeled.
111 The Singing City...............2200
A vignette set in the Firestar milieu. Flaco's grandson is about to leave for Saturn in a magnetic sail, and Flaco's son "Memo" (born at the end of Rogue Star) is having a crisis.
112 Moonrise at the Tatamy Book Barn...........2750
Short story. Jacinta Rosario, who never became a space pilot because the whole Firestar history never happened, is running away from home and finds herself taking shelter from a thunderstorm in the Tatamy Book Barn, where there are lots of books. Henry Berge, a neighbor who is storing his papers there for safekeeping, is also trapped by the storm. The store manager, whose name is Roberta Carson, invites them both to stay for pizza. Stuff happens.

In the queue at Analog:
098e  The Journeyman: Through Madness Gap...............................................14,765
Teodorq had crossed the ocean to Old Cuffy, where his sponsor expects him to organize a regiment of Savage Archers modeled after the Riders of the Great Grass. But a foreign country takes some getting used to.
102 Laminated Moose Zombies and Other Road Maintenance Problems........4786
Short story co-written with Son of TOF, Dennis. Zombies are getting to be a nuisance for the Anchorage DPW. It's a fungus-borne disease, and the narrator's girl friend is researching for a cure, or at least a treatment. Should appear in an upcoming issue.
110 Victor Frankenstein's Bar and Grill and Twenty-four Hour Roadside Emporium........1293
Everybody needs a place where "everyone knows your name." This is true even for nameless monsters who want to hoist a few. A deep psychological study.

Recently appeared
104 Nexus..............25,156
Novella. This was in Analog (Mar/Apr 2017). A concatenation of several science fiction tropes.

Whoa, What's This?