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

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.”
#

Thursday, June 22, 2017

A Possible Short Story

Succumbing to impulse, I have written 1300 words on a short story whose working title is "Midnight in the Tatamy Book Barn." Cindy is running away from home and her boring nowhere job and has been driven by an afternoon thunderstorm to take refuge in the aforesaid eponymous Book Barn. At one time she had dreamed of being an astronaut, but that that was not to be, she tells Robbie, the proprietor of the Barn. Robbie eyes the backpack and bedroll and asks where she is headed. "I don't know," said Cindy. "I haven't got there yet." Robbie asks if "Cindy" is short for something. "Jacinta," she is told. "Jacinta Rosario."

A neighbor, Henry Fogel, from up the creek has earlier come to the barn with several boxes of personal papers and notebooks. He is going away for a few days and is concerned about possible flash flooding on the creek and wants Robbie to store the boxes on the upper floor of the barn. Despite the "donnerwetter," he leaves. Robbie lets Cindy stay in the Barn overnight. And in their chatting Cindy learns that Robbie once had aspirations of her own: She had been a teenage poet calling herself Styx, but it had never gotten anywhere. As the night wears on, Cindy helps Robbie carry Henry's papers upstairs, and she begins glancing at them. And they are very strange.

Saturday, June 3, 2017

The Report from the Imperial Tailor

A morning newsitainment show with pretensions recently "interviewed" the Secretary of Energy over the President's decision to "withdraw" from the Paris Deal. Now, technically the US cannot withdraw because the agreement was never ratified with the advice and consent of the Senate, a requirement of that "scrap of paper" called the Constitution. (This document was once referred to as an "obstacle" to doing what was right by a constitutional law professor named Obama, who later won his way to higher office.) That's why it was called a "Deal" and not a "Treaty." The Constitution does not mention how Deals are to be handled, only how Treaties are to be handled. So, believing in Name-Magic, the handlers deemed that by calling it something else, it would become something else and the US could be committed to it by Executive Order alone. The other term for this sort of ruler is dictator, i.e., "he who dictates."

Now the pearl-clutching that commenced after the announcement of withdrawal was a wonder to behold. The NY Post ran the headline: Trump to World: Drop Dead, as if that would really, truly be the result of withdrawing from the agreement. But maybe not. Even if every jot and tittle of the agreement is carried out, even those things agreed to by China and Russia, the result might be a saving of 0.05°C by the year 2100. And that assumes that the models are correct. They haven't been yet; but who knows?
Anyway, on the TV show, the Sec Energy pointed out that the accord gives China, the world's biggest emitter of carbon (assuming CO2 to be a "pollutant") has promised to do exactly nothing while the US has pledged to reduce "greenhouse gas" emissions by 26-28% below 2005 levels by 2025 -- only 8 years away.  China, whose emissions are already about double those of the US, agrees to no reductions whatsoever, and only to try to reach "peak" emissions by 2030. At this point, the interviewer interrupted to point out that China had pledged to reduce emissions by 60% after 2030. He said this with a straight face, too, as if he believed a) China would follow through on that pledge; b) his network would remember by then to hold them to it; or c) it would be technologically feasible to accomplish. Well, TV personalities are seldom taught to think quantitatively.

Thanks to fracking, the US has already reduced CO2 by 7% below the 2005 baseline, but this success (which actually exceeds the more preening Europeans) frightened the activists so much that they started an anti-fracking campaign. The EPA's Clean Power Plan was to shutter cheap coal power plants and cover the landscape with wind and solar farms.  A version of the strategy that has led Germany to residential electricity prices about triple the U.S. average. This sort of thing can result in the collapse of industries dependent on cheap power: Paper down 12 percent.  Cement down 23 percent.  Iron and steel down 38 per cent.  Coal down 86 percent.

No wonder they wanted China and India to be exempt.

Never fear. California announced they would on their own try to abide by the Paris accords. In fact, in September 2016 California's legislature passed, and Governor Brown signed, SB-32 requiring a reduction of "greenhouse" emissions in California to 40% below 1990 levels by 2030.  That's about 12 1/2 years from now.

Now, California has been pushing to replace fossil fuels (boo) with "renewables" (yay) for 27 years, since 1990, covering the hillsides with wind turbines and the valleys with solar collectors.  So how much of the 40% reduction have they accomplished so far?  California's emissions for the latest year given (2014) were actually marginally above the 1990 level:

Does anyone really think California will accomplish this miracle in the next twelve years that it hasn't touched in the last 27? What will be the next strategy? Threats? Will household electricity become, as it is fast becoming in Germany, a luxury?

And will China, after doubling its emissions between now and 2030 really even try, let alone succeed in doing even more in the sixty years following?


Friday, June 2, 2017

Why There is No Bad Big Wolf

and clocks never go tock-tick.

The language rules we were never taught, but we somehow know them anyway, by Mark Forsyth.
“Adjectives in English absolutely have to be in this order: opinion-size-age-shape-colour-origin-material-purpose Noun. So you can have a lovely little old rectangular green French silver whittling knife. But if you mess with that word order in the slightest you’ll sound like a maniac. It’s an odd thing that every English speaker uses that list, but almost none of us could write it out.”
 Go ahead, try to write the sentence in a different sequence. It will sound wrong.  You cannot have an old little French lovely silver whittling rectangular green knife.Why this is TOF does not know. But we will say "a steel cutting die" (material-purpose Noun) and not "a cutting steel die" (purpose-material Noun).

There are also sound patterns.
"The Big Bad Wolf is just obeying another great linguistic law that every native English speaker knows, but doesn’t know that they know. And it’s the same reason that you’ve never listened to hop-hip music. If somebody said ‘zag-zig’ or ‘cross-criss’ you would know they were breaking a rule
You are utterly familiar with the rule of ablaut reduplication. You’ve been using it all your life. It’s just that you’ve never heard of it. But if somebody said the words zag-zig, or ‘cross-criss you would know, deep down in your loins, that they were breaking a sacred rule of language. You just wouldn’t know which one."
+++
If there are three words then the vowel order has to go I, A, O. If there are two words then the first is I and the second is either A or O. Mish-mash, chit-chat, dilly-dally, shilly-shally, tip top, hip-hop, flip-flop, tic tac, sing song, ding dong, King Kong, ping pong.

A Glance at the Holocene


Unless I should say the "Whole Scene." Reconstructed "proxy" temperatures shown in black and model output temperatures in green are compared to atmospheric CO2 in red and methane in blue during the recent interglacial phase. When CO2 began increasing some 7000 years ago, global temperatures did not actually change and when they did, about 2000 years later, the world grew cooler, not warmer. The model outputs grew warmer, however. Notice that in the Modern Warm period, temperatures did increase when a special magical kind of CO2 took over. Either that, or a random fluctuation. In any case, a 5000-year long slide back into an ice age seems to have been temporarily stayed and temperatures have returned to medieval levels, and perhaps almost to Roman levels, although not nearly to normal levels for the interglacial, which were closer to +0.9°C

Data sources noted for each series on chart.

Tuesday, May 30, 2017

Tuesday, May 23, 2017

Much is Hereby Explained

From 1980 to 2014, student headcount in public schools increased 22.6% while expenditures increased by a mere 115.2%  (in constant dollars)

The increased expenditures went to purchase more
130.0% more Instructional Aides (whoever they are)
 88.1% more School District Administrative Staff
 63.1% more Principles/Assistant Principles
 63.0 % more Guidance Counselors
 43.4% more Teachers
 40.0% more Support Staff
  7.1% fewer Librarians


The United States Department of Education began operating on May 4, 1980.


Whoa, What's This?