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

Sunday, October 22, 2017

Her Earliest Bow Upon the World's Stage

THE WELL-LADEN SHIP by Egbert of Liege was written between 1010 and 1026, as a classroom text in Latin for his young students at the cathedral school at Liege, where he taught the trivium. TOF is sore tempted to say that he was a trivial teacher, save that he had a brilliant notion. Observing that it was difficult to teach his young charges the intricacies of Latin -- though Latin was notably less intricate in the 11th c. than it had been in Cicero's more convoluted day -- Egbert decided that he could better teach the little terrors darlings by creating a reader with proverbs and folk tales with which they were already familiar in the vernacular. He wrote it, as he explained, "not for those who are already perfected to manly strength by careful attentive reading, but for those timid little boys still subject to discipline in school; so that, when their teachers are absent, while that band of youths is babbling to one to one another certain ditties (though none of them to any purpose) in order to sharpen somewhat their meager talent by practicing and frequently chanting those little verses, at such times they might rather use these."

Thus, instead of chanting in the absence of magisterial authority,
"I see Paris. I see France. I see Childeric's underpants."
They could instead recite
"Dum deerit cattus, dicurrens conspicitur mus."

That way, already knowing what the Latin meant, they could more easily grasp its forms. He divided the text into two parts: the Bow and the Poop. The Bow apparently consisted of pithy quotations and proverbs and the Poop of stories and fables. Since these texts were all hand-written, there could not have been very many of them, but an original copy survives and was translated fairly recently.

 Among the proverbs are some with a familiar ring:
  • While the cat’s away, the mouse is seen scurrying about.
Dum deerit cattus, dicurrens conspicitur mus.
  • When a horse is offered for free, you should not open its mouth.
Gratis equo oblato non debes pandere buccas.
  • I’ve never see a wagon go when placed in front of the oxen.
Ante boves versum non vidi currere plaustrum.
  • One ought to strike iron while it’s hot.
Dum calidum fuerit, debetur cudere ferrum.
 The currency of these proverbs -- Don't put the cart before the horse! When the cat's away, they mice will play! Don't look a gift horse in the mouth! -- indicate how deeply rooted in the medieval our culture is.

BUT ONE OF THE MOST INTERESTING TIDBITS in the Well-Laden Ship, indicating how well-laden indeed she is, is the following fable, set in unrhymed dactylic hexameters. Egbert says that it is a rendering of a tale he had heard told among the peasants -- though one doubts he heard them tell it in dactylic hexameters. Remember, Latin poetry traditionally based itself on the length of syllables, not on stress, although in Late Latin, stress was coming into use.

This tale marks the first appearance in literature of one of our enduring heroines: 

First, in Latin:
De puella a lupellis seruata
Quod refero, mecum pagenses dicere norunt,
Et non tam mirum quam ualde est credere uerum:
Quidam suscepit sacro de fonte puellam,
Cui dedit et tunicam rubicundo uellere textam;
Quinquagesima sancta fuit babtismatis huius.
Sole sub exorto quinquennis facta puella
Progreditur, uagabunda sui inmemor atque pericli,
Quam lupus inuadens siluestria lustra petiuit
Et catulis predam tulit atque reliquit edendam.
Qui simul aggressi, cum iam lacerare nequirent,
Ceperunt mulcere caput feritate remota.
"Hanc tunicam, mures, nolite", infantula dixit,
"Scindere, quam dedit excipiens de fonte patrinus!"
Mitigat inmites animos deus, auctor eorum.
In English:

Concerning the Girl Saved from the Wolf Cubs
The story I tell, the country folk know how to tell me,
and it is not so much marvelous to believe as it is very true.
A certain man raised a girl from the sacred font,
and he gave her a tunic woven from red wool.
Shrove Sunday was the holy day of this baptism.
When the sun had rise, the girl now five years old
set out wandering, heedless of herself and of danger.
A wolf attacked her and headed for his woodland haunts;
and he took her as prey to his cubs and left her to be eaten.
They approached her, and gnawed at her cap; but unable to tear it,
they began to caress her head, their fierceness having been allayed.
The little infant said, “Oh mice, don’t rip this tunic
which my godfather gave me, taking me from the font!”
God, their creator, softens savage souls.
That's right, sports fans, it's Little Tunicam Rubicundo, Little Red Cape, making her first appearance in recorded history! And wearing her red Pentecostal baptismal cloak, too, which protects her from the devil-wolves of the dangerous woods. So much for Michel Foucault and the red hood representing menstrual blood and her sexual awakening. (Why are Moderns and Postmoderns so obsessed with their pelvises! An Early Modern French version has Red stripping naked and hopping in bed with the Wolf and ends with a warning not to do that.)
In early medieval Europe, baptisms were performed twice a year: at Easter and Pentecost, but the trend was toward more frequent baptism dates to protect the children as early as possible. 

The story was elaborated as time went on. In an episode from a Norse saga, in which Freyja has been betrothed to a giant named Thrym, Thor disguise himself as Freyja and goes with Loki (disguised as a serving maid) to a banquet thrown by Thrym. The giant grows suspicious and asks many questions about his bride-to-be.
“Why are Freyja’s eyes so sharp?” Thrym calls to [Loki]. “They burn me like fire.”
“Oh” said the cunning serving-maid [Loki], “she has not slept for a week, so anxious has she been to come here, and that is why her eyes are so fiery.”
How Old is Little Red Riding Hood?: Tales Over Time, by Gwen Thurston Joy

Interestingly, some of the earliest versions present a more resourceful Red (or Granny, when she makes an appearance) than the more modern ones. She doesn't have to be rescued by woodcutters or hunters. But all of them, including Granny (who came from a separate story-tradition) were later additions. The original story of Red was simple and unadorned tale of an innocent beset by evils and protected by God's providence.

The Earliest Little Red Riding Hood Tale
November 10, 2013 by 

A Fairy Tale from before Fairy Tales: Egbert of Liège's "De puella a lupellis seruata" and the Medieval Background of "Little Red Riding Hood" Jan Ziolkowski
Source: Speculum, Vol. 67, No. 3 (Jul., 1992), pp. 549-575

Published by: Medieval Academy of America
Stable URL:

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

The Herstory of Hypatia

At Medium, "The Herstory of Hypatia" -- Herstory, get it? -- written by one Joshua Hehe, who bills himself as:
Theorist, Pantheist, Ontologist, Syncretist, Glocalist, Anthropologist, Populist, Cosmologist, Futurist, Ethicist, Alarmist, Epistemologist, Occultist, Artist,…
Clearly this impressive list of accomplishments qualifies him to write about Late Antiquity. Or something. My old buddy Mohsen is a cosmologist, and I am familiar with the range of mathematics and physics he had to master. (TOF himself took only Astrophysics and Galactic Structure and the usual range of Differential Manifolds, Tensor Calculus, etc. Although that was many eons ago and, use it or lose it, TOF would hesitate to bill himself as a Tensorist, or even a Manifoldist, since he specialized in General Topology instead.) Glocalist stumped him for a time, but he figures it is a combination of Globalist and Localist, which is sort of like what Hegel and Marx called an internal contradiction. Not only is Mr Hehe a Syncretist, but also a Pantheist. Plus, he is a Theorist and they don't come any more impressive than that.

TOF's Faithful Follower recalls that Hypatia has made appearances heretofore, but knew there would be a hereafter, as well. It's the gift that keeps on giving, being one of the foundational myths of the Modern Age. The story has been told so often it is easy to forget that these accounts are many times longer than the only surviving near-contemporary source, meaning that new facts have been created to flesh out these longer narratives.

Naturally, as is often the case with writers from that quarter, Mr Hehe cites no sources, and one suspects he leans heavily on Draper/White, on Sagan, and/or Gibbons. At least an account TOF once saw on something called rationalwiki cited sources, even if they were mostly irrelevant.

TOF will pause here and allow you to read Mr Hehe's account and make your own notes. Remember the TOFian battle cry: "How do you know that? What is your source!" Ready? Go!


Wednesday, September 27, 2017

Eyeballs on TOF

All time most-popular TOF posts

Aug 24, 2013, 38 comments

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Mar 1, 2017, 14 comments

Mar 31, 2017, 1 comment

Monday, September 25, 2017

Quotes of the Day

Today's quote got TOF thinking -- always a scary thing -- and led him to hunt up a couple of other quotes that seemed in the same vein. First, the quote that started the thought process.
"The heroes of declining nations are always the same—the athlete, the singer or the actor. The word ‘celebrity’ today is used to designate a comedian or a football player, not a statesman, a general, or a literary genius." 
-- Glubb pasha, (1897-1986) 

Interestingly, he based this on his studies of the old Abbasid Caliphate, the Mamluq Empire, the 'Osmanli Turkish Empire, and others, compared cross-culturally. 

Sir John's historical analysis may be far too glib. Glubb glib? Say it ain't so! TOF can roll his eyes at some modernist categories used out of context. "Universities" in the 7th century? Forsooth! But recall that a "celebrity" once meant not someone who is merely famous, not to say notorious, but someone in whose honor a formal celebration had been held: a banquet served, scholarly papers read, speeches given. Galileo was given such a fest by the Jesuits shortly after his first book came out and was thereafter referred to as "a celebrated astronomer."

Now some literary geniuses are indeed celebrated in the modern sense of being famed, although genius ought be equated neither with best seller lists nor with the compatibility of their works with one's own prior socio-political commitments. There are surely some generals who can be celebrated -- for their competency in the arts of war, if nothing else. But statesmen? Are there really such things anymore? A slight digression in the sequence of quotes:
"Meanwhile, at the end of the twentieth century a degeneration in the conduct of the relations of states goes on. When I see or hear or read the language or the behavior of foreign ministers and ambassadors, I am a witness of an enormous decline, not only of intelligence but of diplomatic practice (including decorum) and human common sense. I write 'enormous' since the symptoms of a babbling barbarism are all around us... What may succeed it is the rule of tougher barbarians who will not, because they need not, babble." 
-- John Lukacs, At the End of an Age

And yes, he wrote that before Twitter was invented. But now let us couple Glubb's observation with two others. Among other signs of the autumn of the Modern world, John Lukacs cited the shift from books to images (movies, TV shows). "Show, don't tell." The celebrities cited by Glubb pasha seem right in line with this. And earlier, Jacques Barzun remarked:
The new pastimes of the educated amateur are the arts of nonarticulate expression: music and painting…  Everywhere picture and sound crowd out text.  The Word is in disfavor…
 – Jacques Barzun, The House of Intellect 
Barzun also noted the replacement by the 1950s of "I think that..." with "I feel that..." in colloquial speech.
More recently we have this comment from the then-archbishop of Denver which puts some consequences of the shift:
Visual and electronic media, today’s dominant media, need a certain kind of content. They thrive on brevity, speed, change, urgency, variety and feelings. But thinking requires the opposite. Thinking takes time. It needs silence and the methodical skills of logic. ... [This trend is] a very dangerous thing in a democracy, which is a form of government that demands intellectual and moral maturity from its citizens to survive.
--Charles Joseph Chaput, O.F.M. Cap., “Catholics and the ‘Fourth Estate’”
But as long as we are attuned to the Spirit of the Age and keep au courant with this morning's fads, all shall be well.

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.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017

Thought for the Day

from David Warren:
I had always assumed that mock chicken was an industrial by-product, containing traces of poultry for flavouring, in a crumbly rind probably coloured with orange textile dye. I supposed that live chickens had been harmed somewhere in the manufacturing process, which had included the mocking operation. I guessed the managers at the industrial abattoir hired underemployed professional comedians to mock the chickens, prior to slaughter — doing satirical imitations of the way they walk, try to fly, express enmity towards those who steal their eggs — while taunting them with demeaning imprecations such as, “You’re not a real chicken,” &c — ideally in dactylic hexameters.
It turns out I was wrong. Unless the ingredient list on the package is fake news (I have just retrieved it), our contemporary mock chicken contains miscellaneous “and/or” meats, possibly but not necessarily including winged animals; plus potassium lactate and soy protein; sodium phosphates, erythorbates, diacetates, and nitrates; glucose solids; maltodextrin; “spices”; and of course my favourite, monosodium glutamate. 
-- Mock Chicken

Saturday, July 22, 2017

22 July 1964

Once upon a time, TOF was all alone, and reigned in solitary splendor, king of all he surveyed.
Able seaman TOF

Then, one day, while minding his own business, reading a book....
Scholar TOF
...he was suddenly beset by Another.
This pint-sized intrusion was named Dennis Harry Flynn; and all that can be said of our respective personalities can be summarized in the expressions on the two faces above.

Friday, July 21, 2017

Today we went to the funeral mass at Our Lady of Lebanon church for our neighbor's girl, Elizabeth, who was only 12. It was a sad affair. The grandmother broke down when they came to close the lid on the casket and began to wail. Not a few others came close to it, as well.

There were five priests concelebrating, including a couple of Latin-rite priests from up the hill. The deacon was a guy I went to high school with -- Tony Koury. 

Thursday, July 6, 2017

Thought for the Day

One learns something of a society through its statutes, and by old scholars like Rashdall, and Haskins, I [David Warren] was introduced to the punctilios in mediaeval university towns.

Much attention is given to student behaviour, and from Leipzig, for example, I recall the carefully stepped fines that begin for threatening your professor with a missile. The fine increases if you throw and miss; doubles if you hit him; and further costs may be assessed, depending on the nature of his injuries. For this and for other infractions, it is useful to have things spelt out, so the student on a tight budget may know what he can afford.

-- David Warren, "Some Attitudinizing"
Today, of course, it is all or nothing. 

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

James Hammontree

Monument to the 153rd Pennsylvania at Gettysburg

Memorial Day

Alright, so I missed the deadline again this year. Stuff Happens, so we're posting this for the Fourth of July, which this year falls on the Fourth.

A couple years ago, TOF posted an account of the Incomparable Marge's grandfather's grandfather; viz., John H. Hammontree, who served in Co. H 5th Tenn. Vol. Infantry, US Army of the Ohio. This year, we turn our attention to his grandfather, James Hammontree, who served in Duncan's Company, Bunch's Regiment, during the War of 1812.

The Backstory

 1. Jonathan Hammontree appears to have been born in England, ca 1693 and emigrated to Virginia sometime before 1719, settling in Richmond Co., which had been erected from the northern half of old Rappahannock Co. in 1698. Specifically, he appears like magic in North Farnham Parish. Like magic, because the surname Hammontree has never been found anywhere earlier than 1719, in North Farnham VA, in any reasonably variant spelling. 
Note: A William Hammontree, age 64, appears in an English Census of 1871, living in Westmill, Hertfordshire, where William claimed to have been born. Thus the Hammontree surname finds European roots in England at least as early as 1807, although this is nearly one hundred years after the name is first attested in Virginia. It has appeared as spelled Heamondre, Hamontre, Hamondry, and just about any other variant imaginable. These were likely the results of non-standardized spelling back in the day than of actual name changes. But the spellings ending in -dre look suspiciously French and raise the possibility that the family was among the 50,000 French Huguenots that took refuge in England after Louis XIV revoked the Edict of Nantes in October 1685. If so, Jonathan would have been a first-generation Englishman, born shortly after his parents (illegally!) sneaked out of France.
Jonathan Hammontree and his wife Mary had four known children, christened in North Farnham, to wit:
  • Rubin Hammontree (1719-1802), 
  • Anne Hammontree (1721-??), 
  • John Hammontree (1723-1786), 
  • David Hammontree (1726-1770)

Friday, June 30, 2017

Dinner, Conversation, and an Unexpected Appearance

We took Pere to Beck's Land and Sea House north of Nazareth for a long planned Father's Day dinner, delayed by this and that. Beck's is the best seafood restaurant around for all that it is well inland. Margie and I had the broiled cod, each of a size worthy of being called Cod the Father. Pere had a most excellent Surf and Turf.
This is the actual table at which we sat
Google Maps has gone mad and took us what it deemed the easy way, by way of Jacobsburg state forest, and we found ourselves on two lane blacktops wending through dense forest cover with signs bearing hikers and warning of trail crossings ahead. The more direct route, which we had taken once before, wound through downtown Nazareth, and Google Maps for its own dark reasons shuns stop lights.

During dinner we discussed this and that and wound up somehow on the subject of how old Flynns are when they die. Not too morbid, right. Pere is 92 and quite lively. His father smoked from the time he was 10 years old and only lasted to age 77. He wasn't too sure about his grandfather, Daniel; but did recall that we was supposed to die several times when they shortened his legs. Each time they cut a bit off his legs to try to get the cancer, they told him he would not likely survive the operation. "But Flynns are stubborn," my Dad said calling the kettle black, and Margie almost choked on her cod at the Understatement of the Millennium. By the end, Daniel had no legs left up to nearly his hips and sat in wheelchair.
Daniel on right looking stubborn well before the amputations
By then, he was living with his daughter, my dad's Aunt Kathryn, who ran Flynn's Hofbrau out by Budd Lake in NJ. He remembered how he and his cousin John Schaible would visit there and when his grandfather had to go to the bathroom, Aunt Kathryn would lean over and he would wrap his arm around her neck, and she would rise up holding him and carry him into the rest room and set him down to do his business; then carry him back out. He remembered how matter-of-fact they were about it. So far as I know, no Flynn has ever been put into a Home.
Pere enjoying the air at Rath O'Flynn a few years ago
Pere recalled that he had been a pretty good pool player in his younger days, but his Aunt Kathryn always beat him. One of my cousins told me once that he had gone up there to play her table. "What size cue do you use?" the by-then old lady asked him. On receiving an uncertain answer she replied that she preferred a 32 (or whatever it was). Then she pulled out a carrying case and screwed together her personal stick. "I knew right then," my cousin said, "that I was dead. That old lady ran the table on me." Ah, there were giants on the earth in those days.

She wore out three husbands, Pere told us at dinner. Her first husband was named Mill, the second Poole, and the third Giroux. My grandfather used to joke that she had married successively the mill, the pond, and the frog.

A week ago, Pere had an unusual experience. He was dozing in the chair at his house when the phone rang. The phone has an unusually loud ringer for the obvious reason. So he sat up and... there, across the living room stood my mother, sort of semi-transparent, like a hologram. Now, she had never lived in that house -- it had belonged to Pere's second wife -- so he was startled to see her appear there. Or indeed, to appear anywhere, she having been dead for many years. Her lips parted, as if she were about to speak and then, just as suddenly, she disappeared.

Pere did NOT wake up at that point. He was already awake. The phone had awoken him. What do you think she was about to say? we asked him.

Knowing your mother, he answered, it was probably "Answer the damned phone!"
Answer the damned phone!

Tuesday, June 27, 2017

A first draft

Here is a first draft of an opening for the Book Barn story I'm playing with, after a drive up to the former site thereof. (The building is still there.) Everything, title included, is subject to revision.

Moonrise at the Tatamy Book Barn

by Michael F. Flynn

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed,
and some few to be chewed and digested.
-- Francis Bacon, Studies.

THE LATE AFTERNOON had spread across the Valley, creating from the waving branches and leaves moiré patterns, all black shadow and orange sunlight across the hiking trail beside the creek. The upper sky was still pale blue, studded with high popcorn clouds, but shifting toward the more cobalt sort as the westerlies chivvied glowering cumulus ahead of them. The fishermen had abandoned the creek in a splashing of waders. It was a matter of luck, the locals said, whether storms would roll down the slot between Kittatinny Ridge and South Mountain.

But Cindy did not believe in luck, or at least not in the sort of luck that you didn’t make for yourself. Besides, the dark clouds seemed intent on rolling directly toward her and if the last couple of miles since leaving the diner were any indication, she really ought to give some thought to finding shelter for the night. She had a meal in her belly and some money in her purse, thanks in large measure to that same diner and its manager’s willingness to exchange clean dishes and clean rest rooms in lieu of payment. But there had not been anything resembling a motel along the miles since.

Not that she hadn’t slept rough before. She carried a bedroll and camping gear atop be backpack – they called it a rucksack around here – and she always enjoyed sleeping under the stars. When she had been younger, she had dreamed of being an astronaut and the night sky possessed a wistful allure. But the stars tonight seemed inclined to hide behind lint and she was less inclined to sleep under driving rain.

Nor was she inclined to beg shelter from the isolated houses she passed. Folks hereabout were generally hospitable, but that might not extend to guesting a stranger for the night, and Cindy had not survived the long road by being overly trustful on her part, either. You never knew when a nice-looking domicile might house a meth lab in its basement, or a young woman alone might prove too tempting for a middle-aged professional in his lonely country home.

Cindy did not know where she was going. Her long trek was more of a whence than a whither. A vast dissatisfaction had driven her from her mother’s house and her nowhere job and whatever it was she was looking for, she had demonstrably not yet found it.

Thunder rumbled in the west like God clearing his throat.

Cindy emerged from the shroud of trees that enfolded the hiking trail and found herself facing a paved road. Directly ahead was a ramshackle stone-and-wood barn with a gravel parking lot. To the right, the road crossed a short bridge over the creek and met the state highway. To the left, it curved north and out of sight. It didn’t look like there would be much in the way of accommodations either way. The fleshpots of Xanadu might be just around that bend, but she doubted it. A darkened residence stood on the left side of the curve and she gave it some thought.

A lot of homes had been foreclosed lately, so the place might be empty. Growing up in Wessex County, back in New Jersey, she had learned all the arts of B&E. But there were no sheriff’s notices plastered in the windows and it would be just her luck that the householder would return just as she was settling in for the night, and in this neck of the woods they were as likely to be the Three Bears as not. And armed. Didn’t they believe in the right to arm bears here?

That left the big stone-and-wood building across the road. A large board sign above the entrance named it the Tatamy Book Barn, Old and Used Books, and three equally old and used cars in the parking lot promised that the building was open. More importantly, unless the owner took a devil-may-care attitude toward his wares, the roof likely did not leak.

God dumped a truckload of scrap metal on the sky, which turned bright brass for an instant, and that made up her mind. Cindy hitched her backpack and strode confidently toward the entrance just as the heavens let loose.

Her strides broke into as fast a run as the weight on her back allowed, but she was drenched before she reached the door. She ducked through, slammed it behind her, and leaned her back against it, almost as if she feared the tempest would try to follow her inside.

The woman behind the counter looked up at this sudden eruption into her domain, took in Cindy and her bedraggled appearance, and cocked a rueful smile. “Come in,” she said, “I’ll give you shelter from the storm.”

Whoa, What's This?