Reviews

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

Saturday, May 19, 2018

AnLab Awards


DELL MAGAZINES
PRESS RELEASE


New York, NY—We are pleased to announce the winners of Analog Science Fiction and Fact’s AnLab Award. They are:

Analog Science Fiction and Fact
Analytical Laboratory Winners

Best Novella:               “Nexus” by Michael F. Flynn (3-4/17)
Best Novelette:           “For All Mankind” by C. Stuart Hardwick (7-8/17)
Best Short Story:         “Paradise Regained” by Edward M. Lerner (1-2/17)
Best Fact Article:        “The Quest for the 2:00 Marathon” by Richard A. Lovett (9-10/17)
Best Poem:                  TIE: “Barriers” by J. Northcutt Jr. (3-4/17)
                                    TIE: “Hypothesis/Assertion” by Daniel D. Villani (3-4/17)
Best Cover:                 July/August 2017 by Rado Javor

Tuesday, May 15, 2018

Mothers Day

Last year TOF featured the maternal lines of himself and the Incomparable Marge in honor of Mother's Day. This year, he will feature the Mothers of Flynn. This will involve a small amount of honorable overlap, starting with...

Marge, Mother of the TOFlings
1. The Incomparable Marge, TOF's First Wife and Mother of the TOFlings. A native of Oklahoma with ancestors going back on one side to colonial Virginia and on the other side to the end of the Ice Age. (She is part Choctaw.) Her ancestors fought in the Revolution, the War of 1812, and the Civil War (Union) and did the whole covered wagon heading west thingie. One of her ancestors farmed next to Abraham Lincoln's father in Kentucky.

Her mother died when Margie was young and so she was raised by a single father. He drove an armored car and sometimes took her along and she sat in the back with the money bags; and so the Incomparable One was quite literally Rolling in Dough. More often, she stayed with her grandmother or with one or another aunt. Her father taught her how to gut fish and handle a rifle. This is a skill set that TOF keeps ever in mind. Dropping in at the Catholic Cathedral eventually led her and her grandmother to be received into the Church. When she transferred to the Catholic high school, she noticed an amazing thing. At the public high school, she stopped getting invited to the parties once the other kids realized she came from the wrong side of the tracks; but at the Catholic high school, no one cared whether her father was a teamster or an oil company VP.

The House
Eventually, she wound up in Milwaukee working for a life insurance company. There, she met Sally and D, who were members of a House on the west side where TOF also lived  When they invited her to dinner one time, Chance conspired to seat her directly across the table from TOF so that he spent the meal gazing into the Prettiest Smile on the Face of the Planet™. TOF became a professional writer of sorts and rebels against cliche, but is forced by his devotion to Truth to admit that it was Love at First Sight.

This was complicated by the fact that both were dating other people at the time; but difficulties are made to be overcome and, though not without difficulties, they were. Later, they learned that they had had two other friends in common, none of whom knew the others, and so they figured that thei eventual meeting had been inevitable from the get-go.

And so they wed and as summer waned, left Milwaukee for Colorado (where TOF has a graduate assistantship) in the back of a minivan courtesy of a friend who was heading in that direction. And so, they tooled down the highway surrounded by boxes of books and 33 rpm LPs that threatened constantly to topple and crush them.

The rest, as they say, is history.

The Marge worked mostly in banking, both in Denver and later in the East with the Federal Reserve Bank of New York. She worked downtown for several years until transferred to the processing center in East Rutherford, but on occasion took the train into lower Manhattan for meetings. Had she been scheduled for a meeting that day, she would have been coming up the escalators at the World Trade Center PATH station at very much the wrong time of day. As it was, they could watch the whole thing from the window of their break room across the river.

Mut Mother of TOF, surrounded by her treasures
2. The Mut. The Mother of TOF picked up the name "The Mut" somehow or other from "die Mutter," German for "the mother."  She was descended from a nexus of Baden families running back to the butt end of the Thirty Years War. They departed the Grand Principality in the wake of the '48 Revolution and subsequent famine at various times in the 1850s and settled in Bucks Co, PA. Her father served in combat in the Great War.

Sweetheart of the 7th Fleet
Mut finished a two-year "commercial" course at the parish grade school and then attended the high school across the river in Phillipsburg, NJ. She and other Easton kids did this by walking across the railroad bridge that spanned the river, timing their trek to avoid the trains. [Them was different times, for sure.] At the high school, she met Joe Flynn, who took a shine to her. When he went off with the US Marines in WW2, she wrote him letters and sent him a cheesecake snapshot to keep up his morale. She also wrote letters to others in the service, becoming thereby the Sweetheart of the Seventh Fleet.

She worked as a secretary at Taylor-Wharton during the war. But Joe passed up two chances at Officer Candidate School in order to hustle home, beat out other potential suitors as Ulysses won Penelope, and get down to the serious business of becoming Father of TOF. Et al. Between kids, Mut worked as a proofreader at the Easton Express newspaper. TOF remembers her as the best mother he ever had; and Pere once said she was the best mother of boys he knew of. TOF still remembers her sage advice when we ran to her with complaints or whines: "Dry up and blow away." Many of her other words of wisdom, such as "Where are last winter's snows?" in response to pleas for the location of some favored toy, TOF learned later, were direct translations from the German. So were her pepper pot, her crumb cake, and other delicacies. She made her noodles from scratch, possibly the last generation ever to do so. Like chipping flint arrowheads, it is a lost art.

The only time TOF ever saw his mother cry was when she told him that his brother Dennis would probably not survive the cancer that he had contracted. Of all the burdens of mothers, the death of a child is the hardest.

Blanche (l) Mother of Pere (back center)
3. Blanche Jean Cantrel, the Mother of Pere, was the daughter of a French silk weaver and an Irish school teacher and midwife (and who delivered all her grandchildren at home.) She met Francis Joseph Flynn because their fathers were both in the Reliance Hose volunteer fire company.

TOF knows of little lore regarding her life, save that when young she lived in a wooden cabin in Harker Hollow, now a golf course. Her family was doubled, since her own mother was previously married and there was a whole collection of step-brothers and -sisters. Several of her brothers served in the Great War and one did not come out of it very well and died young as a result.

TOF remembers her as resilient and no nonsense. When Pere was born, a neighbor asked if she would give her the child to replace her own baby, who had died, since "you can always have another." Granny did not strangle her on the spot, because her own first-born had lived only a short time before dying.

One time when Granny was buying vegetables from the peddler from the wagon on the street and Pere's bedroom window exploded -- he had been electrolyzing water in his chem lab -- she calmly asked Uncle Danny to check and see if his brother had killed himself. When, during the Depression, her husband was forced to go on the road to find work, she took in laundry and ironing to make ends meet and later sent Pere down to West Virginia to tell him it was time to come home.

TOF has a cassette audiotape of Granny and Pop-pop in the kitchen at their home where they are looking at old photographs and talking about them. It's enough to make him wish there had been videotape cameras in those days.

Tillie (l) Mother of Pop-pop (taking pix) and
Little Dan (in front)
4. Matilda Loretta Ochenfuss, Mother of Francis Flynn, was so far as TOF can determine raised by a single mother in South Easton, PA. She was born in South Easton PA in 1871 to Mary Ochenfuss. The family name has been spelled variously: Oukufuse in 1840, Aukofuss in 1850, also as Ackenfuss and Ockenfuss (in Windschläg in the Black Forest) so the name is not always as easy to find as its unusual nature might suggest. Mary (Maria) was the daughter of John (Johann) who had been born in 1795 in Baden. He worked for the Lehigh Valley Rail Road in South Easton for 15 years. 

 Mary married John Hetzler of Ackermanville in 1869, but in the 1870 Census, she is living with her parents in South Easton, PA under her maiden name, and Hetzler is nowhere in sight. A year later, Mary gives birth to Matilda. The baptismal record (at St. Joseph's Church, South Easton, PA) does not list a father, though Hetzler is credited in some other documents. However, he never shows up in any household records.

She met Daniel J. Flynn (age 21), originally of Washington, NJ, in Newark, where the Daniel had gone to work in the shoe factories. Possibly Matilda had gone there for the same reason. They were married in 1892 in St. Peter's Church, the German Catholic parish on Belmont Ave. (now Irvine Turner Blvd.) Newark, NJ. The only witness was Kathie Cassiday, who was Matilda's older sister. Shortly after, before 1900, they moved to Phillipsburg, NJ, where Dan went to work as a blacksmith at the Warren Foundry. That's him on the far right of the picture, above.

Although in theory, TOF should remember his great-grandmother, in practice he was too little for the memory to take and has no practical recollections and must rely on his own grandfather:
"My mother and her mother had a way with food. This priest... what was his name... Regnery from St. Joe's used to come on Sunday, cause if they had something special they used to let him know. 'So if you're interested, just stop by.' I heard my mother say the priest'd get up, walk around a bit, then sit down again and say, 'I'll have another helping of that.'
"And my mother [Matilda] and her mother {Mary] spoke German, especially when the 'big-eared Flynn' was around, because I didn't understand, y'know. The consequence was that when I did start school, my first nickname at school was 'Dutch.' 'Dutch Flynn!' Can you imagine that? 'Cause I got my wees and wubbleyous all fouled up from listening to my mother and her mother talk. For my 'w' I would say 'v' and the 'v' I would say 'w' until I got untangled. And that was my first nickname."
In 1913, Tillie's son, Martin, died of diphtheria a few weeks shy of his fourth birthday in the family residence at 161 Lewis St. The doctor had been called to the house, and after examining the child wrote a prescription and handed it to TOF's grandfather, then 13, saying, "Run as fast as you can to the drug store and bring this back." So Pop-pop set off down the block and reached the drug store out of breath, handing over the prescription. The druggist looked at it and rushed off to make the medicine. He gave it to Pop-pop, who then ran back to the house and breathlessly handed the medicine over to his mother, who was rocking Martin on her lap in the big rocking chair. Martin swallowed the medicine, coughed, and after a while he said, "Sing 'Pony Boy' for me." This was his favorite song. And so Tillie sang to him.

Partway through the song, she fell silent. Then still in silence, she rose and carried the child to his bedroom. He had died in her arms while she sang. Even many years later, Pop-pop could not help but wonder: if only he had run faster...

It is the hardest thing for a mother to see her child die.

Anne, Mother of Daniel
5. Anne Elizabeth Lynch, Mother of Daniel. The previous photograph actually showed three Mothers of Flynns. Left to right: Tillie Mother of Pop-pop, Blanche Mother of Pere, and the old woman in the center, Anne Mother of Daniel. But she was not always old.

She was born of Daniel Lynch and Bridget Barry six days after they set foot in the US. Said feet being set in Burlington VT, it is evident that the entry was through Canada during the Great Hunger and must have been off one of the first ships to reach Grosse Isle quarantine station after the ice broke up in the St. Lawrence that year. This was during the anti-immigrant fever of the Know Nothings. However, the railroads needed labor willing to work under harsh conditions, so the Lynches made their way to Washington NJ and the railyards for the Delaware, Lackawana and Western Rail Road. The Pop-pop of TOF recollected that Anne had worked "for a miller and his wife." Later research revealed this to be a farmer named "A. Miller." Anne was a servant or maid in their household. Thus does the oral tradition often preserve truths.

About 1865 Anne met John Thomas Flynn, newly arrived from Co. Galway to work in the railyards. One of her granddaughters, Anne Pippitt, later recalled how her grandmother had found John Thomas so very handsome leading the St. Patrick Day parade atop a white horse. Whether this is what originally attracted her is hard to say. All Flynns are handsome, no?

Since Catholicism had recently been legalized in New Jersey, they did not need to travel to Pennsylvania to marry, and set about effecting the usual large family. They lived in the railroad houses, an area known as "Dublin" for obvious reasons. In the 1870 Census, there were several boarders in the house with them, as well as John's brother Patrick. In 1880, the Census-taker had snarkily recorded Anne's occupation as "keeping shanty" rather than "keeping house" as was done for Sassanach women. Modern readers must understand that keeping house was a much more laborious task then than it is today.

John was killed in a railroad accident in 1881, and Anne was left a widow with seven kids. The older boys, then aged 12 and 10, hopped the freight as it rolled through the yards and went through the tunnel to Oxford Furnace, where they worked in the Nail Mill to help support the family. After the furnace "went dark," they went north and found jobs in a shoe factory. [One, Daniel, eventually found his way to Newark, where he married Matilda Ochenfuss, mentioned above.] The older daughter died young of Bright's disease. When the younger daughter married Tom Sawyer and moved to Trenton, Anne and her remaining sons moved with them and Anne became their housekeeper.

6. Honora Mahony, Mother of John Thomas Flynn. We know almost nothing of her save that she lived in Loughrea, Co. Galway, and married Martin Flynn. In the baptismal records of the parish, there are two records apiece for a Mary and a Martin Flynn born to the couple. Why two with the same names? The answer may lie in that the first two were born prior to the Famine and the second two after the Famine (and accompanying cholera plague). Every mother in this honor roll has lost at least one child prematurely, except the Incomparable Marge. We know nothing about their life in Ireland, save that Martin was probably not a landowner, since there are some lists where Martin should have appeared if he had been.

Her sons Patrick and John emigrated to America and later her son Martin and husband Martin, who died shortly afterward. It would seem that Honora had died sometime in between.

Summary.

Martin Flynn & Honora Mahony


John Flynn & Anne Lynch
Dan Flynn & Matilda Ochenfuss



Francis Flynn & Blanche Cantrel
Joe Flynn and Rita Singley
TOF and the Incomparable Marge

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Hillbilly Thomism

My brother Sean sent me this, for which I thank him.


No Question, These Dogs Can Bark
Washington Free Beacon / Micah Meadowcroft

Question. Whether Dominican Friars Can Play Bluegrass

Objection 1. It seems that a handful of Dominican friars (two handfuls on the album<https://www.amazon.com/Hillbilly-Thomists/dp/B077Y9JNF3>) should not be a bestselling bluegrass band. Bluegrass is Protestant stuff, soulful songs for whitewashed independent Baptist churches and big homey kitchens and not Latin nerds in white habits in Northeast D.C.

Objection 2. Further, bluegrass is as Americana as anything, and until John F. Kennedy bedded the White House and Bill Buckley built the conservative coalition, Catholics were not exactly accepted or accepting of the American thing. Americanism is a heresy after all.

Objection 3. Further, as Fr. Thomas Joseph White admitted in opening their concert near the White House this past week, bluegrass is as often about murder and unrequited love as it is about God. That a bunch of religious should sell thousands of copies of such music may strike as odd, considering their vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience.

On the contrary, inspiring these good Catholic boys, Flannery O'Connor said of herself, "Everybody who has read Wise Blood thinks I’m a hillbilly nihilist, whereas . . . I'm a hillbilly Thomist," and band-member Br. Justin Bolger said in his original song "I'm a Dog"—after the traditional domini canis "hound of the Lord" pun on Dominican—"I’m a dog with a torch in my mouth for my Lord / Making noise while I got time."

I answer that, in an eponymous album and great live show under the watching eyes of the Catholic Information Center's wall-covering icons, "The Hillbilly Thomists" have marked their territory in the bluegrass world. To combine jargon hip both with the kids these days and with Dominicans—this music is fire.

Reply to Objection 1. They came to bluegrass and Thomism the usual ways, which is to say, through their culture—Catholics south of Dixie who love and play music. Fr. White learned mandolin in Kentucky while living in Cincinnati 16 years ago before moving to D.C., and with time, enough like-minded and like-voiced friars congregated here to make Hillbilly Thomists a going concern.

Reply to Objection 2. While bluegrass became what it is, adopting and combining English ballads and hymns and gospel and blues, Catholic sacred music was set in a traditional Latin liturgical context with Gregorian chant and all the other related resplendent smells and bells. But that hardly means when they take up the banjo that Thomas Aquinas's spiritual brothers are engaged in the—post-Vatican II—fairly common appropriation seen in singing a Luther hymn at Mass. For another influence on Americana is distinctly Catholic: Irish folk music.

Reply to Objection 3. The fathers and brothers of the Dominican House of Studies take a break from their scholarship to record an album of sacred music every year, to be sold to support the house's work and facilities, and the funds raised by this kitchen-table casual departure from convention will go to, apropos, a new kitchen. But homey as the music is, it is sacred nonetheless. Here's to hoping for more from the Hillbilly Thomists.

The post No Question, These Dogs Can Bark appeared first on Washington Free Beacon.

Or like this...

That old deaf guy sure knew how to write 'em


They just don't write them like this any more



I first heard the 1812 in Freshman history class at Notre Dame HS, when Miss Wagner played it for intro to the Napoleonic Wars.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Air Disasters

One of the lessons hammered home in the Smithsonian Channel's show Air Disasters -- do not look for it on your next in-flight movie selections -- is that as a general rule no air crash has a single cause. Rather, it is generally a nexus of causes that happen together that result in the crash. The same is usually the case in quality assurance, especially for those problems we call "common cause" variation; that is, those variations that are due to the system rather than to breakdowns in the system.

For example, if you throw two dice and the result is a 13, there is usually a particular ("assignable") cause for the outcome. There is an extra dot on one of the 6s; the dots have been miscounted; a third die has been introduced. IOW, some extraneous cause not normally part of the system has upset matters. OTOH, if the outcome is a 12, there is no particular cause. That is, the outcome is the result of a host of "small" causes, no one of which would the elimination thereof eliminate the 12s. And this is true no matter how undesirable the 12 may be.

Note that this does not mean that there is no cause, as some devotees of quantum mechanics might incline to say; but rather that there are a host of causes, no one of which determines the outcome. Rather, all of them in concert determine the outcome. The velocity of the dice when thrown, the angle at which they strike the surface, the coefficient of friction of the carpet, etc., etc. Throw the dice more gently, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first. Control the angle of the throw, and the 12s will not be eliminated -- even if it appears to work at first.

Only by altering the system -- in this case, by changing the design of the dice -- can the undesirable outcome be eliminated. We could load the dice, reducing the likelihood of the 12. We could white-out one dot on one of the 6s. We could switch to tetrahedral dice. And so on. But no operational changes will solve the problem.

Why folks expect that socio-economic problems are mono-causal TOF does not know. It cannot be because they are simpler. Even those who repeat nostrums about "changing the system" seldom think through what that actually entails, and they will simply repeat the same "causes" that theory demands.

A favorite cause of the "male/female wage gap" is "gender discrimination." But there is no indication of what sort of discrimination this might be or how it is implemented in this day and age. Of course, there is likely some of this going down, despite decades of affirmative action to the contrary. Never underestimate the ability of even the most liberal managers to speak from both sides of the mouth. But a study of college majors undertaken by the Georgetown University Center on Education and the Workforce some while back might be instructive.

According to the Center, the ten most remunerative majors and the proportion who majored in them were:

1.   Petroleum Engineering: 87% male
2.   Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: 48% male
3.   Mathematics and Computer Science: 67% male
4.   Aerospace Engineering: 88% male
5.   Chemical Engineering: 72% male
6.   Electrical Engineering: 89% male
7.   Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: 97% male
8.   Mechanical Engineering: 90% male
9.   Metallurgical Engineering: 83% male
10. Mining and Mineral Engineering: 90% male


Of these, only Pharmacy majors included a significant proportions of women.

The ten least remunerative majors were:

1.  Counseling Psychology: 74% female
2.  Early Childhood Education: 97% female
3.  Theology and Religious Vocations: 34% female
4.  Human Services and Community Organization: 81% female
5.  Social Work: 88% female
6.  Drama and Theater Arts: 60% female
7.   Studio Arts: 66% female
8.   Communication Disorders Sciences and Services: 94% female
9.   Visual and Performing Arts: 77% female
10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: 55% female

Of these, only Theology was predominately men, although a couple of others approached parity.

Thus, one major factor affecting the wage gap is that women choose not to major in disciplines like Petroleum Engineering or Mining Engineering that command high salaries and gravitate toward lower paying careers in Early Childhood Education and Community Organizing.

These examples should also do to indicate there is no relationship between the remuneration in a profession and its social importance. A job is paid at a rate that reflects the ability to replace the person in it, and this is a function of the specialized skills and knowledge required.

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Dancing with the Internet

1. Another "earth-like" planet bites the dust.

A trinary star system. Alpha Centauri AB, a double star, on left; Beta Centauri on right; Proxima Centauri, circled in red is at 5:00 relative to Alph.

Too bad, because it's real close by, circling Proxima Centauri (the "proxima" is a dead give-away), the closest star to ours. The planet is only 30% more massive than earth (1.3 earths) and circles Prox within its "habitable" zone. Alas, there is more to "earth-like" than size and distance from its sun. It has to be the right kind of sun. Prox is a red dwarf. (No, not that Red Dwarf.) Which means the planet must orbit real close to the star (0.05 AU), and hence whirl real fast (1 year = 11.2 earth-days). This probably puts it into tidal lock, with one side always facing the star and the other in perpetual night. Red dwarves are stable, but given to periodic petulant outbursts: X-ray flares that could strip water vapor from the atmosphere and sterilize the sunside of the planet.

Yeah, earth-like.

2. Was the Early Universe Cream of Wheat or Oatmeal?

Robert Scherrer, a cosmologist at Vanderbilt, wonders how lumpy the early universe was.

3. The Madness Continues

I bet you didn't know that data and statistics were racist. Neither did TOF! And yet, according to a "discipline" called "QuantCrit" and "Critical Race Theory", which sound awfully serious and academicalistic, they apparently are.
Quantitative research enjoys heightened esteem among policy-makers, media, and the general public. Whereas qualitative research is frequently dismissed as subjective and impressionistic, statistics are often assumed to be objective and factual. We argue that these distinctions are wholly false; quantitative data is no less socially constructed than any other form of research material. The first part of the paper presents a conceptual critique of the field with empirical examples that expose and challenge hidden assumptions that frequently encode racist perspectives beneath the façade of supposed quantitative objectivity. The second part of the paper draws on the tenets of Critical Race Theory (CRT) to set out some principles to guide the future use and analysis of quantitative data. These ‘QuantCrit’ ideas concern (1) the centrality of racism as a complex and deeply rooted aspect of society that is not readily amenable to quantification; (2) numbers are not neutral and should be interrogated for their role in promoting deficit analyses that serve White racial interests; (3) categories are neither ‘natural’ nor given and so the units and forms of analysis must be critically evaluated; (4) voice and insight are vital: data cannot ‘speak for itself’ and critical analyses should be informed by the experiential knowledge of marginalized groups; (5) statistical analyses have no inherent value but can play a role in struggles for social justice.
-- David Gillborn, Paul Warmington & Sean Demack. "QuantCrit: education, policy, ‘Big Data’ and principles for a critical race theory of statistics." (Race Ethnicity and Education, Vol. 21, 2018 - Issue 2: QuantCrit:Rectifying Quantitative Methods Through Critical Race Theory.)
Reading between the lines, TOF suspects the authors are writing about quantitative analysis in something called social "sciences," and in this TOF actually agrees with them. As Daniel Dennett observed regarding efforts to study "religion" in the social "sciences,"
There can be no science of any hard empirical variety when the very act of identifying one’s object of study is already an act of interpretation, contingent on a collection of purely arbitrary reductions, dubious categorizations, and biased observations. 
which is essentially the same complaint as made by Gillborn et al. Of course, to them, it is all in service to white (is there any other kind?) racism. When your only tool is a hammer, everything becomes a nail, and one can never expect a paper appearing in a journal entitle Race Ethnicity and Education to discover a case of no racism!

However, TOF disagrees with them that reified numbers are themselves racist, let alone that we may "interrogate" them. One may as well call genes "selfish." LOL. It is entirely possible that data are used by racists -- we note that all three co-authors are white and therefore, ipso facto, racists (though TOF notices a deficit among those who find society "deeply rooted" in racism to include themselves among those entangled in those roots); but it is more likely that their confreres have been using statistics ineptly in an effort to imitate real scientists. Their efforts to measure the immeasurable are cute, but calling a questionnaire an "instrument" does not make it the equivalent of a micrometer or a telescope.

It is not likely that confirmation bias has allowed the authors to see that this applies equally well to "studies" of religious believers, "free will," Republicans, conservatives, or any other targets of their colleagues' gimlet eyes.

4. A Lament for Canada

By David Warren may sound familiar to more southern [USAn] ears. The whole is worth reading.
We confront today a State which has taken upon itself an interventionist rôle in every aspect of daily life; which claims an authority far beyond that of the Church in the most remote theocratic corner of the Dark Ages. And through modern technology, neutral in itself, the State has acquired absolute power to enforce its authority and its whims.

We have what I now call the State as Twisted Nanny, imposing her insatiable will on the motherless children of our post-modern orphanage, now that the traditional family is largely destroyed. Twisted Nanny treats her “clients” as wayward children, of no individual significance, and with “rights” only insofar as they are organized in groups for whining, and need to be bought off. 
-- David Warren, "News to a foreign country" (Essays in Idleness)
Commenting on the "media," he goes on to say:
"I would call very few of my former [journalist] colleagues Leftists or fanatics of any kind, or even uncritical supporters of the mainstream progressive agenda. In private, many will utter things that would explode the heads of the politically correct — if they were listening. But first they look around to see who is listening. That caution, about being overheard, is a sign of our times.
###
Never expect the agents of publicity to be on your side; think one step ahead of them, instead. They won’t be on your side today or tomorrow, or until the day that you win everything, and even then, they won’t be on your side. For they will be on the side of power and comfort, as they always were. If the whole country turned Mediaeval Catholic, tomorrow morning, they would kneel and take up their Rosaries; and have as much faith as they had the day before."

 5. Le Steampunk Ancien

Mark Koyama, an economist at George Mason University specializing in economic history, law and economics and institutional economics, enthralled by an alt-hist novel, Kingdom of the Wicked by Helen Dale, asks, "Could Rome Have Had an Industrial Revolution?"

The short answer is, "Of course not." The rather longer answer, by Mr. Koyama, is "Sure could have!" He writes:
"Dale forces us to consider Jesus as a religious extremist in a Roman world not unlike our own. The novel throws new light on our own attitudes to terrorism, globalization, torture, and the clash of cultures. It is highly recommended."
Well, whatever. When the only mental tool you have is a hammer, all of history is full of nails. Another possibility is that Jesus was of no particular secular consequence at the time, and it was Rome that was into torture and globalization, and wrt to the Jews [and the Gauls] was on a roll clash-of-cultures-wise. Not to mention the Persians. with whom they were more-or-less in a permanent state of clash.

Mention is made of Heron of Alexandria's invention of the "steam engine" in Early Imperial times and suggests that this did not catch on because the vast number of slaves meant human labor never lost its economic comparative advantage, almost as if Progress™ were a given unless something "impedes" it. This analysis loses its charm when we realize that Heron's aeolipile was not in fact an engine of any sort. That is, it could not do work, for the excellent reason that the arts of metallurgy were not sufficiently advanced to produce steam boilers sufficient to retain the necessary pressures to drive jack. Prior art matters. 

Dale, a lawyer, speculates that an early industrial revolution might have been realized had Archimedes not been killed during Marcellus' sack of Syracus. But this supposes that Archimedes was an inventor of some practical kind based on yarns about his inventions during the siege, some of which are downright fantastical. Now, these gadgets had been built well before to illustrate theorems in geometry and just happened to be sitting there when the Romans showed up. Others had done so in ages past, only to be denounced by Plato for involving base matter in what should have been the pure spiritual pursuit of geometry. In Plutarch's Life of Marcellus (written ca. AD 75 about events that took place in 212 BC) we find the source for these stories and learn that:
Yet Archimedes possessed so high a spirit, so profound a soul, and such treasures of scientific knowledge, that though these inventions had now obtained him the renown of more than human sagacity, he yet would not deign to leave behind him any commentary or writing on such subjects; but, repudiating as sordid and ignoble the whole trade of engineering, and every sort of art that lends itself to mere use and profit, he placed his whole affection and ambition in those purer speculations where there can be no reference to the vulgar needs of life; studies, the superiority of which to all others is unquestioned, and in which the only doubt can be whether the beauty and grandeur of the subjects examined, of the precision and cogency of the methods and means of proof, most deserve our admiration. 
 IOW, it is unlikely whether, had he lived, Archimedes would have been the Spark of an Industrial Revolution. The mental attitudes were not there. He certainly had not been so up to then. As Brian Stock wrote in "Science, Technology, and Economic Progress in the Early Middle Ages," [the Roman’s] "daily experience led him to believe that nature’s forces could be imitated, even placated; he was less sure they could be understood." In the same essay he adds, "The failure of Greece and Rome to increase productivity through innovation is as notorious as the inability of historians from Gibbon to the present to account for it."

Thursday, March 8, 2018

The 32 Lost Years of Antibiotics

We live in a culture of “research” and “planning.” I’m not against honest research (which is rare), but mortally opposed to “planning.” The best it can ever achieve is defeat, when its ham-fist efforts fail to prevent some beauty, truth, or good from emerging. Countless billions, yanked from the taxpayers’ pockets, and collected through highly professional, tear-jerking campaigns, are spent “trying to find a cure” for this or that. When and if it comes, it is invariably the product of some nerd somewhere, with a messy lab.
-- David Warren, "That's funny."

The 32 Lost Years of Antibiotics

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Are We Teaching Math All Wrong?

William Whewell once contended that math education should build upon geometry, which focuses on logic and concrete objects, rather than upon analysis (algebra, calculus), which focuses on abstractions and symbol manipulation. Oddly enough, another blogger -- James Chastek at Just Thomism -- seems to have encountered the same post today and had this to say:
We’ve clearly fallen into exactly the fault that Whewell wanted to avoid, and have dumped the geometrical approach almost entirely while dedicating years to teaching analytic methods. The fundamental pedagogical mistake is in this approach is that it teaches abstractions before teaching what they are abstracted from.
Not content with this error, we went in the 1970s to teaching New Math; viz., abstract set theory in grade school! A lot of geometry taught today is actually analytical geometry: The focus is on formulas for calculating lengths, areas, volumes of sundry geometric figures. Few indeed are those fortunate enough to prove geometrical properties with straightedge and compass and reasoning from the postulates, as TOF was, Lo!, these many years ago in geometry class from Sr. Amelia. 

That was sophomore year. Freshman year was given over to Algebra. In my section -- Freshman 7 -- we covered both Algebra I and Algebra II, the latter being normally reserved to Junior year. If I read Whewell, Siris, and Chastek aright, we should do Geometry first and postpone Algebra until later.

Progress in Gerontology

"The history of science suggests the reflection that it is very difficult for the same person at the same time to do justice to two conflicting theories. Take for example the Cartesian hypothesis of vortices and the Newtonian doctrine of universal gravitation. The adherents of the earlier opinion resisted the evidence of the Newtonian theory with a degree of obstinacy and captiousness which now appears to us quite marvellous: while on the other hand, since the complete triumph of the Newtonians, they have been unwilling to allow any merit at all to the doctrine of the vortices. It cannot but seem strange, to a calm observer of such changes, that in a matter which depends upon mathematical proofs, the whole body of the mathematical world should pass over, as in this and similar cases they seem to have done, from an opinion confidently held, to its opposite. No doubt this must be, in part, ascribed to the lasting effects of eduction and early prejudice. The old opinion passes away with the old generation: the new theory grows to its full vigour when its congenital disciples grow to be masters. John Bernoulli continues a Cartesian to the last; Daniel, his son, is a Newtonian from the first."

-- William Whewell, "Of the Transformation of Hypotheses in the History of Science," presented before the Cambridge Philosophical Society, 19 May 1851.
[h/t: Siris]

Friday, February 23, 2018

News vs. Laws

James Chastek has some hard words for news reporting.

-Hard cases make good news.
-News thrives on novelty and therefore on exceptions. To treat news as calling for a law is to fundamentally misunderstand that news-stuff is contrary to law-stuff.
-We'd be closer to justice if we forbade any law to be passed in response to a news story.
-News trains us to only treat the dramatic as serious or worthy of reverence. Our "thoughts and prayers" must be directed at the screaming mother, lone survivor, deluged city, or chaos seen from a helicopter. Systemic problems must be either ignored or find a way to riot on film.
-Is there a grosser hypocrisy than the earnest somberness of the anchorman? I warn you: some of the images you're about to see are disturbing... our thoughts are with the families. Ohc'mon. You live for this! Your thoughts and prayers are for another one just like it next week!
+++
TOF is reminded that in response to earlier cries, we put armed police in the schools. Today we learn that armed police are not an answer.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

That Tabs Be Cleared!

1. You Need a Leap of Faith

The Manhattan Contrarian casts a gimlet eye on the New York Times and their reporting on renewable energy using non-renewable wallets. The Times huzzahs the lower costs of renewables generation equipment, but the MC reminds us that installing additional capacity more cheaply actually means more expensive electricity. [see graph, below] Because the wind does not always blow and half the day is night, the best renewables capacity is only 40% available. This instability in renewables generation requires a traditional power back-up capacity at least as great. Speaking of the German Energiewende, he writes:
The total [capacity] for all "renewables" [in Germany] is 83.8 GW -- a figure higher than the peak demand of 83.3 GW.  [This sounds good, b]ut, then there's also the fossil fuel and "conventional" capacity of 108.4 GW.  That's essentially the same amount you would have if you had no wind or solar capacity at all.¹  To put it another way, despite having built what would seem to be enough wind and solar capacity to supply all the electricity needs of the country, they have not been able to get rid of any of their fossil fuel generation capacity.  They need all of it as back-up for when the wind and solar go dead. 

Electricity costs vs. Installed renewables capacity (by country)

Notes:
1. capacity needed. If peak demand is P, then installed capacity should be ≈1.2P to allow for maintenance downtime, emergencies, and the like. That would be somewhere around 100 GW, and Germany has 108.4 GW of conventional generating power.

2. Not an Instruction Manual

Thomas Aquinas "On Evil"

3. Slip-Sliding Away

https://www.nature.com/articles/ncomms10524
"The Greenland ice sheet (GIS) is losing mass at an increasing rate due to surface melt and flow acceleration in outlet glaciers," say the scientists. As the glaciers recede, they reveal early medieval settlements and the stumps of substantial forests; so in one sense, the climate is returning to normal. However, if you have ever tried to brew your tea [or coffee] by blowing on the water with a hair drier, you might wonder if increased air temperature can really account for this. Perhaps the glaciers are being heated from below? Now we learn that, Lo!, just as Iceland has underground volcanic hot springs, so too does Greenland, and these happen to underlie the recessional glaciers. This nicely explains why the melting glaciers are concentrated in specific regions. 

4. Scotty, Lock on with the Tractor Beam!

And you thought is was sci-fi? Apparently not. When Bridget ban serves he guest, Ravn Olafsdottr, from a "gravity cart" that floats above the floor, she is no so far ahead of the curve as we might think.

5. For Some Values of "Identical"

Another odd datum on the notion of "race." A pair of identical twins -- that is, genetically identical, from the same egg -- were born in the UK to a mixed-race couple. One twin had white skin while the other twin had black skin.

They are not the first case of twins born with different skins, though the first that are genetically identical. Makes one wonder though how genetically meaningful racial identification is in an objective sense.
Twins, but not monozygotic.

6. Iracatanam Antapakirantamthe

TOF's Faithful Reader may recollect passages from On the Razor's Edge describing how the Capital of All the Worlds was reassembling and repairing itself.
Inner Child was constantly alert to alterations in his environment and the Brute was keen to all his senses, and between the two of them they brought the scarred man to a halt by the block upon which they had earlier sat.

The Brute remembered that the crack had made the block uncomfortable to sit on.  Donovan went to his knees and the Sleuth studied the stone closely.  He ran their fingers across it.
I can feel where it was.  Like a scar.  
“It’s been spackled,” said the Fudir.

He turned suddenly and looked down the empty avenue behind him.  The freshening evening wind stirred the grasses.
“Who?” scoffed Donovan.  “A stealthy stonemason who creeps through the ruins patching up the cracks?”
The wind drove pebbles and grit before it, stinging Donovan’s cheek.  They rolled across the surface of the foundation block like a miniature barchan.  A grain found the slight groove where the crack had been and nestled within it.
There’s your answer.  Windblown grit has simply filled in the crack.  He reached out to dislodge the grain – to free it, as he thought – and found that it was fused with the stone.  When he put pressure on it, he experienced a sudden wave of foreboding, as if the entire city would tumble itself upon him and bury him.
He pulled his hand away, stood, withdrew a pace from the wall.
Certain materials of the Commonwealth, called metamaterials, were said to be self-repairing.  Like the self-sealing hulls and pressure suits we have.
“But,” said Donovan, “self-repairing stone?”
It is not true stone, said the Pedant, but some sort of Commonwealth material.  
Donovan looked out over the ruins.  The Capital of All the Worlds has been rebuilding itself all these centuries, the Sleuth decided.  Listen to that sound, that unending rustle.
The young man in the chlamys thought it sounded like the rustle of leaves on the ground of autumn, and thought how lonely the stones must have been over the ages.  
And now we have concrete infused with fungi! A new self-healing fungi concrete, co-developed by researchers at Binghamton University, State University of New York, could help repair cracks in aging concrete permanently, and help save America's crumbling infrastructure.

7. Two Brothers

Using 'next generation' DNA sequencing scientists have found that the famous 'Two Brothers' mummies of the Manchester Museum have different fathers so are, in fact, half-brothers. The Two Brothers are the Museum's oldest mummies and amongst the best-known human remains in its Egyptology collection. They are the mummies of two elite men -- Khnum-nakht and Nakht-ankh -- dating to around 1800 BC.

8. Colorful Dinosaurs

The feathers of this particular dinosaur were so well-preserved that scientists could determine their color from their molecular structure!

9. The Cambrian Explosion was a Tumor?

The sudden appearance and rapid proliferation of animal life known as the Cambrian Explosion, which has been conventionally ascribed to the increase in atmospheric oxygen caused by plants eating the CO2 with which the early atmosphere was composed (similar to present-day Mars and Venus). But the timing is off: high oxygen content is actually detrimental to stem cells and hence cell replacement.

But by studying the ability of tumor cells to imitate the properties of stem cells, a team at Lund Univ. in Sweden, has observed how tumor cells can high-jack specific mechanisms that evade the negative effects that high oxygen has on stem cells. As a consequence, the tumor cells are able to maintain stem cell properties, despite being surrounded by the high oxygen concentrations that are present in the body.

The result was a cancer-like explosive growth in multi-celled animals.




Whoa, What's This?

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