Not Specifically Written for Halloween, but . . .

Mom used to sing this to me as a lullaby. It probably explains a lot.

Quiet! Sleep! or I will make

Erinnys whip thee with a snake,

And cruel Rhadamanthus take

Thy body to the boiling lake,

Where fire and brimstones never slake;

Thy heart shall burn, thy head shall ache,

And ev’ry joint about thee quake;

And therefor dare not yet to wake!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet! Quiet!

Sleep! or thou shalt see

The horrid hags of Tartary,

Whose tresses ugly serpants be,

And Cerberus shall bark at thee,

And all the Furies that are three

The worst is called Tisiphone,

Shall lash thee to eternity;

And therefor sleep thou peacefully

Quiet, sleep!

Quiet, sleep!


The text dates to 1632, which suggests that early modern toddlers were no more sleepy than the modern version.

Happy Halloween!

No Extra Points for Length, Martin.

On October 31, 1517, Martin Luther posted 95 arguments he had concerning teachings and people in the church. He attached the list to the door of a church in Wittenburg, Saxony, because that’s what university faculty did in those days. Sort of like all the different concert, lecture, and debate listings plastered all over campi today.

Except this turned out to be more controversial than usual, and Luther was stubborn as all get out. And so was the Pope, and politics got folded in, and today we have, well, more flavors of Western Christianity than Carter has liver pills. The Eastern Orthodox consider all of us sadly misguided, some more than others. The Jews look at all Christians and shrug.

The Western Church had gone through periods of reform in the past. Gregory the Great pushed missions and pulled charitable works back into the center of Church business – bishops and others were getting away from the ordinary believer, and it was causing problems. Francis of Assisi likewise – “Folks, the believers are down here, we need to be talking to them, not over or at them.” The early 1300s were not great for the Church as an institution. Individual bishops, priests, nuns did a lot of work for a lot of people, but the organization . . . didn’t handle the Black Death and the social trauma from that very well. (I’m not sure any large institution could have, to be honest.) And then you had a trio of popes who wouldn’t take “we think you need to retire” as a viable suggestion, and a lot of people were thinking about changes. Many of those people stayed inside the Church, now called Roman Catholic Church, and worked for change and improvement. Others broke away, and thus we got the Reformation.

The performance below is the 500th anniversary, in the Trinity Reformed Church in Speyer. And yes, those are Catholic nuns (and a few Lutheran nuns as well. It’s complicated.) A good hymn knows no denomination.

More Real Estate Passing Through . . .

On Tuesday, New Mexico and the Permian Basin blew in. Yesterday and today, Colorado rushed past.

Ah, ’tis the season for traveling property. Dust, tree branches, garbage cans, tumbleweeds, small children . . . When a tightly-wound low-pressure system passes to the north of the region, we get troughs and dry cold-fronts that blow in. Translated into English, a large vacuum travels west to east along the jet stream, sucking air into itself to try and balance the pressures. This pulls air (wind) across a relatively low-resistance landscape. That being my house.

Southwest wind – dust, brown haze, smells like feedlot. The sky gets a brass-like hue to it, brownish-blue with a faint sheen to it.

North wind – my pickup looks as if it is trying to hatch tumbleweeds. There were so many that I gave up trying to pull them loose and just backed veeeeery slowly, hoping to break them free before one ignited. I was successful. Oh, and my house howls. The guards on the skylights catch the wind and moan, then start howling in a north-northwesterly wind (300-320 degrees).

When the wind starts to blow, you cinch down your hat, and start considering if you need to move garbage cans. After a certain point, you chase your garbage can down the block and bring it home. Windage matters: don’t “park” a rolling can with the wheels on the upwind side. That seems to encourage departures. It’s also a good idea to collapse light-weight patio furniture, and fold the umbrella or retract the awning. When the wind gusts to forty-five miles in hour, in town, things are going to move. And billboards collapse if the gusts are just right.

Back in the days of the haboobs, before the 1970s*, you could tell wind direction by the color of the soil that came in with the wind. Now we get far, far fewer of those kinds of storms. South of here still has them, however.

The head-shaking part is when you look at the horizon and see that all the wind turbines are locked, not turning. High winds are not good for them.

We need rain, as usual. Even just to tamp down the dust that moves when the wind blows, as it does out here.

*In 2011 we had the first and last one that I could recall. The sky went red, as in blood red, and visibility dropped down to an eighth of a mile. The power went out, and so I sat by the front window and read from my e-reader. Then a thunderstorm roared through and we got an inch of rain.

Music for Characters

I tend to listen to music when I write, in part to keep from tuning in to whatever is on TV in other parts of the house, or tuning in conversations. I can’t close the door because I might get called to do something. So I’ve come to note that certain things do better with certain types of background music.

Obviously, writing a fight scene to soothing, bedtime New Age keyboard harmonies . . . doesn’t work well. Ditto writing a pastoral meditation as speed metal goes in the background. Beyond that, well, it sort of depends on the world I’m writing in, as well as the scene. And sometimes characters will push me into music I wasn’t planning on. [*coughcoughArthurcoughcough*]

The Familiars books seem to do better with goth-rock, metal, or dark instrumental in the background. That fits the world, and the culture of the main-series protagonists. Except . . . Arthur. In the last two stories written from his PoV, I found myself going to classical, specifically the Mozart Requiem, Lauridsen’s Lux Aeterna, and Gjiello’s compositions. No, I don’t know why, but things went much, much better when I had Lauridsen in the background. Oh, yeah, and the current story with Mike and Rich? Orthodox liturgical chant. Which at least makes sense, given what they are prepping for. But Arthur . . . and Lauridsen? Ooooohhhhh kay.

The next merchant book? Corvus Corax. Oh boy. Something tells me that the protagonist is going to yank the story out of my hands, because usually the Merchant books work best with Renaissance or Romantic (Brahms, Vaughn Williams) instrumental compositions. Corvus Corax is medieval texts, and some tunes, set to modern tunes with a mix of medieval and modern instruments. They don’t have the occult element that a few similar groups have, so I prefer their stuff. It tends to be fast, loud, and passionate in all senses of the word. Which. . . sort of fits the main character. Ish.

Interestingly, if I need an extended run of eerie, dark, “no, seriously, don’t open that door” for a scene, I turn to the soundtracks of the Battlestar Galactica reboot. It works better than dedicated horror scores, probably because it doesn’t have the cues for jump-scares. It carries the brooding, dark and misty, “you know, I’m getting an odd feeling about this place. When did you say the odd lights tend to appear” sense of something hidden but creeping toward you.

Arthur. The Lux Aeterna. Really? *sigh* I’m just the author. What do I know?

Note: I think they do the cut-offs too abruptly, but this is one of those places where there are as many approaches as conductors.

OK, the following is because I love the piece, and it works so very well in the setting. I’ve done this, just not nearly as well. And I have s suspicion that it might end up as background.

White Gold is Available

The book, not the metal, sorry.

Salt. The original white gold. Men labor for it, died for it, killed because of it. Now trouble simmers between the salters of Halfeld Fluss and those who need wood for crafts and fuel.

Widower Tarno Halson, master salter, only wants to work, raise his sons, and find a wife to help him. Instead he finds himself in the middle of the conflict.

Set in the world of Merchant and Magic, this blue-collar fantasy tells the tale of an average man who isn’t quite so average.

Rules Written in Blood

Aviation, at least in the US, has a surprisingly short list of rules. Part 91 of the federal transportation and other things regulations applies to everyone who flies anything. And as I told students, there is a lot of implied good judgement in the rules. Legal isn’t always smart. Smart comes down to the most important rule in the book: The pilot-in-command has the final authority and responsibility for the flight. The pilot in command can deviate from any of the rules if in his judgement safety demands it. Yes, you will have to explain, especially if something gets bent or broken. But the PIC is the boss, and everything else is based on trying to keep flying things out of undue proximity to the ground and to each other.

If you can’t see the ground, and you don’t have a “fly in clouds” license, don’t fly in the clouds. If you have not recently practiced flying and landing at night, don’t fly at night. If you are going eastbound, more of less, fly at an odd thousand feet plus 500 (if you are visual flight rules). Westbound gets the even thousands, plus 500. Don’t fly so close to the ground that you fly into the ground. Don’t be stupid. Don’t fly a broken airplane unless you label the broken thing so that you don’t get fooled and start to trust it. When around an airport, look out for other planes. The slowest, least-maneuverable thing has the right of way. Emergencies have the right of way (i.e. the guy on fire can land ahead of a blimp.)

If you are an airliner, you can’t go sightseeing off the approved route. Why? Because in 1956 two airliners were doing that, over the Grand Canyon, and one descended onto the other. People died. If your airplane is not certified and equipped for flying in known icing, don’t fly into known icing. Why? Because people did, and crashed, and died. Unless you are cleared for take off, or to cross the runway, and you and the controller agree that there is no one else on the runway, don’t take off, or don’t cross the runway. Why? March 1977, KLM and Pan Am 747s collided on the main runway at Tenerife, Canary Islands, killing 583 people. It also showed that better cockpit communication rules might be needed, because the KLM captain did not listen to his copilot/First Officer when the man asked about the Pan Am being clear of the runway. It wasn’t.

Engineering has its own rules. You can’t build certain things certain ways. You can’t build a 2000 foot-tall radio antenna without guy-wires and other supports. Dams need to be anchored to the bedrock beside them with a watertight seal (see Teton Dam, 1976). You have to allow for resonances in bridges where the wind blows (Tacoma Narrows). There are times where heavy structure trumps airy design.

Lots of areas of endeavor have rules written in blood. I’m not going to go into recent events in New Mexico, other than to say that I feel very, very sorry for the families of the woman who was killed and the man who was injured. Had the Four Rules of firearms handling been applied, it is possible that the accident would not have happened. 1. The firearm is always loaded. 2. Do not touch the trigger until you are ready to fire. 3. Do not point the firearm at anything you are not willing to destroy. 4. Remember what is behind your target. Heck, Fr. Martial smiled when he observed that when I stopped cleaning the desks in order to talk to him, I moved my finger off the “trigger” of the spray bottle and pointed the bottle at the outside wall. (Spraying one’s boss with cleaner/disinfectant is generally considered somewhat gauche.)

“Why can’t I skim the bottom of the clouds? It’s fun!” It’s fun until the clouds get lower, or someone else appears on an instrument flight plan and descends on top of you, or you don’t see a mountain in time.

“Why can’t I stay at 6500′ MSL* until it’s time to climb to get through the pass into Albuquerque?” Because there is a 7200′ ridge in the way. It loves to eat airplanes. For a while it was averaging one a year. Beware of clouds with crunchy middles.

*Mean Sea Level. Then there’s ASL, above sea level. The two are generally, but not always, the same. The most important, however, is AGL. Above ground level, where one should remain between takeoff and landing.

Book Review: The Complete Gentleman

Miner, Brad. The Complete Gentleman: The Modern Man’s Guide to Chivalry. 3rd Revised Edition (Washington D. C., Regnery Gateway, 2021)

The reviews on this book were mixed, with several complaining because it was not a guide to manners and behavior – that is, it doesn’t give a clear “do this, don’t do that.” Instead the author discusses the history of the idea of chivalry and who was chivalrous, the Victorian concept of gentleman, and possible large ways to shift behavior and thinking in order to be a better, more chivalrous, gentleman.

Brad Miner points to the movie Titanic and the behavior of some young men while watching it, specifically their mocking the actions of some of the upper-class male passengers. That got Miner to thinking about chivalry, the standards men held themselves to, and where it all began. Thus the book goes back to the ancient Greeks and Romans, notably the Stoic philosophers and Aristotle, the medieval ideals of knighthood and chivalry, the Victorian reinterpretation of those ideals, good examples and horrible warnings, and so on.

Miner breaks the gentleman into three main aspects – warrior, lover, and monk. He looks at each in turn, and how these three aspects blend together in a medieval or Victorian man. Then he casts his gaze at the present day and the younger generation. How can you be reticent and restrained in the age of social media and “post your feeeeeeelings!”? Miner points to Castiglione’s The Courtier, and the idea that became sprezzatura, the appearance of effortless grace (which applies to men and women, just in different ways.)

There’s a lot to chew on here, especially if you are the parent of a boy, or a young man trying to be better. Being a gentleman is about aspiring to better. We can’t be perfect. But we can be better, we can raise the bar for ourselves, be it in conduct, physical skill, dress, faith . . . The book is a lot of “what is a gentleman” instead of “how to be a gentleman.” Miner implies that if you work on the mind-set, the how-to will follow. I’d add that having a few carefully chosen guides and role-models will help a lot, for man or woman. Because women need to understand the origins of the idea of gentleman, in order to encourage more of them, and to raise them.

The book reads well. It is somewhat breezy, a bit pop-history at times, but his sources check out, and that’s probably the best tone to take. People don’t like reading hundreds of pages of Polonius, or Lord Chesterfield. Many of the sources are Christian, which fits the culture, but Miner points out that you don’t have to be a Christian to aspire to certain virtues. He tends to keep politics out of the work, although there are a few “don’t do this” moments. Alas, vice knows no time nor country. Miner might have given more time to the critics of masculinity, if only to show some of the flaws in their thinking, but that’s not his goal.

I’d recommend it for young men and women, parents of young men and women, anyone curious about where the ideas of “gentleman” came from, and people interested in popular understandings of European medieval culture.

FTC Notice: I purchased this book for my own use and was given no remuneration by either the author or the publisher.

An Entertaining Superpower?

What if you could grant people whatever they say that they want? Only for one day, 24 hours, but you could wave your hand and hey presto! The person getting what he/she wants would not know that there was a time limit.

The idea occurred to me after reading a climate activist talking about how terrible all fossil fuel things and petrochemical things are, and how much better society would be without all that icky oil, gas, and coal. But no nuclear, because Godzilla or something. The person was vague on that point. Wind, solar, tidal generators, geothermal where it wouldn’t interfere with the environment, no hydropower (aside from tidal generators). So my evil little mind said, “Hmm, what if this person got what he/she/whatever claims to want?” It would probably cure him/her/whatever, at least for a moment. I giggled at the thought of what the sudden disappearance of elastic and other synthetic fibers would lead to. (Not kind, I know.)

That might be true for a lot of wishes. “I want to win the super lottery!” And the taxes, and the threats, and the people pestering you for money?

“I want to be President of the US?” OK, what if war starts, or a hurricane is attacking the East Coast, or the Big One hits California or Hawaii, or. . .

“I want world peace!” What kind of peace? Graves are very peaceful. Might want to specify a little more on that one.

“I want my heart’s desire!” Are you certain that you want everyone to know what it is you truly long for with all of your being? Think hard on that one.

“I want a McClaren!” Based on what seems to happen with that kind of car and new owners, I hope your life insurance is up to date and you have really, really good medical insurance, too.

The more I thought about it, getting what you say you want, even for only one day, could well be one of the most terrifying curses in human existence.