#59: Verser Lives and Deaths

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #59, on the subject of Verser Lives and Deaths.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48),
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72),
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78),
  14. #53:  Character Battles (chapters 79 through 84),
  15. #55:  Stories Winding Down (chapters 85 through 90), and
  16. #57:  Multiverse Variety (chapters 91 through 96).

This picks up from there.  These chapters begin with Lauren exploring a new world and Joe leaving an old one.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 97, Hastings 34

The “parakeet people”, as I mentioned, had been created for a different world, a world called The Valley for a demonstration version of the game; this was not at all like that world, but the people seemed like they would work here.  They are technologically less advanced, closer to the culture of birds in their practices, and have no psionic abilities, but are otherwise the same.  I wanted something that was alien but cuddly, something that the reader could love or could at least understand how Lauren could love them.  Making them brightly colored flightless avians fit the bill, and I had already used such creatures in that other world so I’d given some thought to them.

Obviously birds are not sexless, but their genitalia are somewhat different from mammalian, sufficiently so that (as is true with felines, come to think of it) humans don’t see it.  Since they were avian, I made them oviparous, which eliminated the navel and the mammary glands.  Thus to Lauren they would not be distinguishable by gender on sight, at least initially.

The tapping speech centers trick is something that I picked up from Dungeons & Dragons™, that a number of spirit creatures do:  they read the minds of the people in front of them in a way that allows them to speak and understand the target’s language while doing so.  My character did it in play, I think when he contacted the Dar Koni in Nagaworld, but Lauren is teaching herself to do it here.  It proves less than completely reliable at first, as she has trouble finding a word and then a moment later finds it easily.  I describe it differently from the way the Dungeons & Dragons books do.

The aspect of being unable to say her name in their language is tricky.  Most names in most languages have meanings, but at least in modern America we have largely abandoned words as names.  That is, when a Greek said that his name was Theodorus, everyone knew that meant God’s gift; when an American says his name is Theodore, everyone just asks whether people call him Theo or Ted, and we don’t think about what the name means.  Yet between human languages names translate—the Greek Petros is the English Peter, the Spanish Pedro, and the French Pierre, only partly because the name has a meaning, and only partly because the languages are related.  But English was not related to the Parakeet language in any way, and whatever meaning “Lauren” has relates to objects in our world which probably did not exist in theirs.  Thus although in the next book Lauren’s name would translate to a proto-English version when she used the same trick, in this case she could not translate her name into their language.

That also let me suggest that their mimicking abilities were as good as any earthly bird.

The notion that the word for “home” meant “nest” was quite logical.  We use the word “home” to mean “house”, but also to mean some rather intangible concepts about people and places.  The word that they used for their houses would similarly extend to cover the place where they lived more generally.

The fear of “something else that had nothing to do with her” was my first step toward the climactic events of the book.  I was introducing the concept that these people had an enemy, and the enemy exercised some control over them.  The something which the birds feared turned out to be the sparrow people; I had not at this point determined that.

I liked saying that the mayor started toward the town “without another peep”.  It was an expression my parents used, and I’ve heard others say something about not wanting to hear another peep out of someone, usually children who are supposed to be going to sleep.  The impression that these are child-like creatures was underscored by that, I think, but of course they were also bird-like, and we think of birds as peeping, and in fact use it of children mostly because we use it of birds.

Chapter 98, Slade 32

I never actually used a Playstation Guncon, but I saw one a few times.  I decided it was a good design for an inertial weapon, and it made sense for Slade to have played video games with it at some point.  I think it was a relatively short-lived gadget, but it was sufficiently connected to his time that I could make the reference.  When I first saw the Blake’s 7 blasters, I thought they were a neat design, an escape from the traditional shape of guns.  One could say the same, I suppose, about the hand-held Star Trek phasers.  But when I learned the concept of the fast draw (not just that it existed, but how it worked) I realized that pistol grips were designed so that when held normally the gun barrel would point toward the target.  Thus I needed something more like a gun than not.  Yet I still wanted something different; and the idea that Slade was a video game player invited the idea of using something that functioned like a gun in the modern video game world.  The Guncon was available, something like a gun but not, with a similar grip system, so it became the design of choice.  It also meant Slade had used something enough like it to know what he was doing with it.

The MK-12 does pretty much the same thing as Kondor’s kinetic blaster, but I gave it different power parameters.  Kondor’s can be adjusted to three levels of impact, increasing in damage and power consumption, which means fewer shots at higher levels of impact.  Slade’s has only the one power level, but it gets as many shots from one battery as Kondor’s gets from his lowest setting.  On the other hand, Slade’s is the larger gun to carry.  There is little functional difference between the two guns, but I wanted there to be operational differences because they came from different worlds.

It was time to give Slade skills based on his stay in the space world.  I wanted him to have the blaster, and to improve his thief skills by extending them to these kinds of locks, so I started that process.  Lock picking of course has to keep pace with the technology.  Slade has leapt across centuries of technological improvements, so he needs to get up to speed on the locks—but Tom Titus can teach him.

Chapter 99, Kondor 33

The anti-supernaturalist Joe Kondor is looking for a naturalist explanation for creatures that appear to be made almost entirely of light with bits of matter floating within them.  Magnetism and gravity are the first ideas that come to him.  Again he found a naturalist explanation for a supernatural phenomenon.  In this case, even though it’s not accurate, it gave him a functional way to respond to the monsters.

The fact that the vorgo unmakes these creatures is a complete surprise to him, but he does not have time to think about it at the moment.  That ultimately comes back to him in another book.

I didn’t have “magic weapons”, so I needed to find a way to make specters difficult to kill but not invulnerable.  The notion of knocking out bits of skeletal debris from within the field that comprised their form gave me that option, since if you aimed solely for the form you probably would miss the bits and pass your attack harmlessly through, but if you focused on hitting the fragments rather than the creature, it was a tougher shot but a potentially effective one.

The big limitation on guns (slug throwers) is the ammunition.  I’m generally pretty lenient on being able to find the “right” bullets in any world that has bullets (with a few exceptions, such as Dark Honor Empire where only one size bullet exists), but when you’re in primitive worlds running out of bullets is a big deal.  Besides, he had already used quite a few in The Mary Piper (beta), and had not had a chance to replace them.

I was rationing his bullets, and yet exhausting them.  It was important that he run out of ammo, but not too soon.

Chapter 100, Hastings 35

I wanted Lauren to learn the language, so I had to explain why the link was not sufficient; it’s a reasonable explanation anyway.  I also wanted to use the time Lauren was here alone to give some feeling to the world in which the three would adventure.

The sparrow people came into existence at this moment.  I knew that someone would be kidnapped by someone, but only now knew who the kidnappers would be.

The “sparrow” people are more like crows, I expect, but since parakeets are so small I didn’t want a larger bird and I didn’t want the name to prejudice the reader overly much.  These are the villains, but they aren’t particularly villainous or threatening at this point.  They were the “others” from the previous chapter when there was concern about the reaction of some “others”, and indeed they don’t like the fact that she is there.  For one thing, they’re the dominators here, and that the oppressed people have a monster living among them is not going to be seen with approval.

Both the hint that she could not always get the language link and the comment about the pyrogenesis being less reliable here than in the vampire world are pointing to the fact that the psionic bias is lower here.

The thing about birds eating berries that are poisonous to people is true, part of basic survival training.  It happens because the berries have a seed in a thin shell, and the bird’s digestive tract is less acidic and so does not dissolve that shell.  The seed passes and finds soil elsewhere, thus spreading the plant to new locations.  In other animals, though, the shell dissolves releasing an internal poison that sickens the eater, discouraging such creatures from taking the berries in the future.

There is a survival field test for edible plants, but there are kinds of plants for which it does not work (mushrooms notably) so it’s probably better not to use it in an alien world.  In any case, Lauren doesn’t know the test.

I decided on the double-length seasons as a way of making things move slowly here, and creating more time for everything to happen without disrupting it with a winter.  I wanted Lauren to be here a long time but not a lot of seasons; she arrived in the early to mid spring, and I wanted the half year to the late autumn to be a long time in which a lot happened.  So I decided that the year was about twice as long on this planet as on earth.  That’s simple enough to do, I think—a larger, hotter central star and an orbit farther from it getting about the same radiant energy but going through seasons and years more slowly.

I also wanted her to get a bit complacent, and then realize that she shouldn’t be.

Chapter 101, Slade 33

The mini-adventures referenced at the beginning of this chapter were all concepts from Blake’s 7 episodes.  That was, in fact, one of the problems I had with this scenario–so much had been done so well by the series this was emulating that creating new stories was a challenge.  The idea of the Federation trying to trap Destiny came from a Blake’s 7 episode, but didn’t do anything that that episode did.  So, too, the notion of transporting a rebel organizer to another planet, but in the Blake’s 7 version the Federation had replaced the organizer with an incredibly sophisticated robotic duplicate.  I stuck to the simple form, partly because I didn’t want to steal so cleverly original a script idea, and partly because I didn’t see any way Slade could have been involved in such a story.

These adventures also gave Slade time to practice, which made his skill the more credible, particularly with the blaster he had only recently obtained.  It should have taken longer to get as good as he got, but I didn’t want to drag the story too much.

One of the better pieces of advice I picked up decades ago was not to name characters specifically so you can make jokes about their names (one of the reasons I find the Meet the Parents films so annoying).  I broke that rule with Rhodes Correctional Facility, not merely because Rhodes’ End had a clever ring to it, but also because I figured whatever such a prison was called someone would have come up with an ironic nickname for it at some point.  This one worked.

The Rhodes prison break was, as far as I recall, my own idea from the ground up.  I was not sure at this point how it was going to go, but I did think that Slade would verse out in the process.  When I mentioned the security systems, I already had in mind the possibility that the air would be evacuated killing everyone including the Destiny crew.  I didn’t like that idea, because I prefer an upbeat game and an upbeat story, and whatever happened to Slade I wanted the Destiny crew to survive at least, preferably succeed.

The shielding was a reasonable reason why they couldn’t materialize in the commander’s office; the communications systems were a reasonable explanation for why the entire thing wasn’t shielded; and it made sense that the central control area could not be shielded for that reason.  But I was making it up as I went along, trying to figure out what I would do in that situation and why it wouldn’t work, and then what I would do instead.  I also wanted to split the group up, because it made sense to have them work together in different places to make the plan work rather than go all in a unit to one place.

Tom’s pride, that Bob Barnes is “almost as good as me”, seemed an appropriate reflection of his character.  He would not admit that someone was better than he was at any thief skills.

I also decided it was a trap at the moment they got there.  I needed something to make it more interesting.  What I had not decided was exactly how the trap was supposed to work; but it would mean that there would be no guards in the prison levels, as the obvious plan would be to evacuate the air once the Destiny crew was aboard.

I thought it was clever that they recognized the trap precisely because they did not see the fighter escort for the prisoner transport.  It’s something like a prisoner transport convoy that does not have a police escort—the fact that there is no escort suggests that there are no prisoners, or the transport is bait.

Chapter 102, Kondor 34

I needed an excuse for Joe to keep the pistol bullets, because he was going to need his guns for the last world and wasn’t going anywhere before that where he could resupply.  This was a fight scene, plain and simple.  I used the mace because I wanted to keep the bullets in the pistol (I’d already planned to provide bullets for the rifle through Lauren’s spare).  Kondor needed to succeed clearly and die in the process, and this seemed to work.

In high school I attended a summer music camp, and at the end of the week we did a concert at a church in Flemington that had a real pipe organ.  Its choir loft was a maze, and our handlers had to arrange us and direct us so that the procession could split into the choir seats that surrounded the central organ and sat within the pipes.  It happened one year that I was second in line, the guy in front of me meandering around the warren and landing cuddled up next to the organ.  When we were later recessing, we had to wait while everyone else moved out of our way, and I jotted on a piece of music, “I guess the worst thing about being first in is being last out.”  He wrote back, “At least I can say that I led the choir.”  That’s where the line about being last out originates.

In play this is a tough world, because you really want the player to defeat the undead, but once he has done this there isn’t much for him to do thereafter, and less that is likely to get him killed.  I try to push the main fight to a place where the player knows that the humans have won but he’s not going to make it out alive.  It was easy to do in the novel, of course.  As C. S. Lewis once observed, in Hamlet Ophelia did not drown because the branch broke or because Hamlet did not arrive in time, but because Shakespeare drowned her.  On the other hand, I do assume that in some way the undead recognize the verser as not of this world, and target him specifically.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#58: Acceptable Killing In Our Society

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #58, on the subject of Acceptable Killing In Our Society.

This began because someone of my acquaintance posted a video supporting abortion.  The blurb under the video read, in part:

There are many reasons why a woman might decide to end a pregnancy—and many barriers to safe and legal abortion.

I did not want to start a fight, but I found that statement quite offensive–offensive enough that I felt it necessary to reply:

There are many reasons why a parent might want to kill his or her own child, but that does not mean we as a society have to approve that.

The question is whether an unborn child is still a child.  The answer cannot be so easily presumed.

I included a link to mark Joseph “young” web log post #7:  The Most Persecuted Minority.

She replied:

You are close in trying to identify the correct question in regards to this issue.  The real question though, remains when in the stages of pregnancy do you develop a child?  Only when than [sic] can be determined, should it be appropriate to address your question.  In our society, the answer is yes.  It is acceptable to kill.  We kill in war.  We kill on the streets.  We allow for capital punishment.  We allow for assisted suicide.  I am never going to argue if abortion is morally correct.  But what you attempted to address is the one question others throw out there with buzz words like “kill,” and “child.”  If the question was simply, should a pregnant female be given rights to determine to carry a child to whatever capacity she chooses, then hotheads would have little to rage over.  What America is trying to measure with your argument Mark, is can we limit human potential, and if so, to what extent?

I could see that pursuing this in that format was going to become unwieldy, so I pondered for a while and decided to respond here.


I will confess that I am not entirely certain of everything she meant in that post, particularly at the end concerning the phrase “limit human potential”.  Is she talking about limiting the potential of mothers by requiring them to bear the children they have conceived, or of children by killing them before they breathe the air, or something else?  That, though, is not the bulk of her comment, and it is the other part that particularly disturbs me.  She raises the question of whether in our society killing is acceptable, and affirms that it is, following this by a list of “acceptable” situations for killing.  I am going to change the sequence some, but I argue that killing people is not acceptable behavior in our society, despite her examples to the contrary.

Let’s begin with

We kill on the streets.

I doubt she means in traffic accidents.  Vehicular homicide frequently results in at least an involuntary manslaughter charge.  Certainly there are accidents in which someone dies and it is ruled that no one is at fault, just as if a bit of space debris happens to crash into your house you can’t sue NASA.  That amounts to an admission that we accept that modern technological life is a bit dangerous and some people are going to die through no one’s fault.  Yet clearly, although there are vehicular murders (and they are so treated), this is hardly an example of society accepting that we are permitted to kill each other.

Killing on the streets seems rather to imply the intentional action of killing each other, and we have a fair amount of that in gang warfare and drive-by shootings.  That we have them, though, does not mean we accept them.  Every such incident is treated as a homicide investigation with the intention of bringing murder charges against the perpetrator.  They are not all solved, and not all the perpetrators are convicted, but we don’t really accept that these killings are blameless despite their frequency in our society.  Sometimes we call it “terrorism” and make a federal case of it.

On the other hand, it is sometimes the case that the police shoot people on the street and are exonerated.  The famous cases are of course when a white police officer shoots a black person, but black police officers shoot white people also.  In every case of an “officer-involved shooting” there is an investigation, the officer is usually suspended pending the outcome of the investigation, and in some cases charges ranging from disciplinary actions to murder convictions follow.  That in most cases our officers are cleared of guilt indicates bias only sometimes; it more often commends the training they have been given.  After all, there are situations in which we excuse and even justify killings–self-defense and defense of third persons the two that most commonly apply in these cases.  Yet when a claim is made of self-defense or defense of third persons, there is always an investigation to determine whether indeed those claims are justifiable.

Our justification for killing the unborn is that they pose a threat to the life or physical well-being of the mother, but no one investigates whether that claim is justifiable, and “the health of the mother” has become a phrase with little more meaning than her convenience.

So what of this:

We allow for assisted suicide.

Do we?

The most current information available to me says that four states–California, Oregon, Washington, and Vermont–have passed legislation permitting physician-assisted suicide, with very specific guidelines (patient must be a resident of the state, at least 18 years of age, have not more than six months of life expectancy remaining, and have requested help from the physician at least once in writing and twice orally not less than fifteen days apart).  One state, Montana, has a state supreme court ruling allowing physician-assisted suicide for state residents, without any clear parameters otherwise.  There are four other states in which the law is uncertain–Nevada, Utah, Wyoming, and North Carolina.  In the remaining forty-one states, if you assist someone in a suicide you may be charged with conspiracy to commit murder.  In no state is it lawful for someone who is not a physician to assist.  That hardly counts as “acceptable”.  It is also illegal in most countries around the world, although a few have permitted it under specified conditions.

Certainly there are a lot of people who think that we ought to permit suffering terminally ill persons to end their own lives, and allow medical professionals to help them.  There are also people who think we ought to do this for the severely handicapped, without their consent.  To this point, the bulk of public opinion is against the idea that people should be permitted to kill themselves, or to help others kill themselves, with impunity.

Our justification for assisted suicide, in those places where it is permitted, is that the patient wants to die, is suffering terribly, and will not live much longer anyway.  No one asks the unborn child if he would rather live or die.

The next might be more difficult:

We allow for capital punishment.

Yes, in many cases we do.  As of last year, thirty-one states had a legal death penalty; of those, four had such a law but with a moratorium declared by the governor so that there could be no executions until specific issues were resolved.  Nineteen states have made the death penalty illegal, and although they include populous states such as New York, New Jersey, and Illinois, they do not include the most populous California or the significant Ohio, Texas, and Florida.  Popular opinion seems to favor the death penalty.

However, death penalty cases involve what we call due process:  judges and juries must listen to the evidence and arguments presented by trained legal professionals, and reach the conclusion that this individual deserves to die.

One of the two objections to the death penalty, the one that is the more cogent in practice, is that given human fallibility it is entirely possible that we are killing the wrong person.  That criminals on death row are later released (not usually because they have been exonerated but because some flaw in the legal process leading to their conviction or sentencing has been identified) certainly demonstrates that fallibility.  That, though, only means that were we completely certain of the guilt and desert of the criminal the sentence would be accepted.  The more significant objection, in our present concern, is whether anyone ever deserves to be killed.  As Gandalf says to Frodo, many died fighting in the war who should have lived; if you are unable to restore them to life, do not be overly quick to take life from another, however guilty you might think him.  We might agree that someone ought to die, but object to the notion that any of us therefore ought to kill him.  So we have this argument, and gradually more and more of the country is rejecting capital punishment.

However, we are having this argument precisely because we have an agreed moral/ethical principle that it is wrong to kill another human being, and we disagree as to whether this is a viable exception to that rule.  Yet if it is, it is based on the conclusion that this person deserves to die.

No one has attempted to say that the aborted child deserved to die, or if they did it was by transference of hatred toward the parent to the child.

That leaves only the most difficult example:

We kill in war.

Yes, we do, and we consider such killing justified, at least when we do it.  Yet it is important to understand why.

There were quite a few wars in the twentieth century.  They occurred for one of two reasons:

  1. One group believed that their lives or freedoms were threatened or compromised by another group, and initiated a war to free themselves from this threat.
  2. One group desired to take possession of the territory, population, or resources of another group, usually based on some claim of right, and so initiated war to seize possession.

Throughout the twentieth century, the United States has always sided with groups we perceived as the oppressed or threatened and against the aggressors.  Our justification for being involved in the war was always the defense of third persons or, ultimately, defense of ourselves.  Our motives might be impugned in many instances–did we defend Kuwait for the sake of Kuwait or because of American oil interests?–but enough of us considered the defense of the people of one country from the aggressions of another a viable moral basis for becoming involved in a war that had already started that these fit the general pattern.  We do not approve war; we do not find it acceptable to wage war for any interests other than stopping someone else’s aggression or oppression.

The reasons for killing in war again do not apply to killing an unborn child.

There are ultimately only three questions concerning abortion:

  1. Is it wrong to kill a human being, absent some specific justification or excuse?  If you answer no to this question, you invalidate all laws against murder and manslaughter and all liability for accidental death.
  2. Is an unborn child a human being?  This is the usual point of the argument, to which I note first that in the absence of certainty we ought to err on the side of caution and defend the life of a “potential human being”, and second that most vegetarians who won’t eat chicken won’t eat eggs, either.
  3. Is the convenience of a parent a sufficient justification or excuse for killing a child?  If you answer yes to this, you justify infanticide, and must find a point at which that no longer applies.  People usually say “viability”, but on the one hand medical advances are pushing back the moment at which a child can survive outside the womb, and on the other hand if viability means the ability to survive completely unaided by anyone else, there are few adults in this country who could do so absent the infrastructural support of thousands of others who provide the necessities of life.  I’m not viable anymore; I could not survive a month in the wilderness unaided by supplies provided by others.

I thus disagree that our society has accepted killing, in the sense that it is acceptable to kill another human being.  If we had, the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Boston Marathon would not have been crimes.  We pretend that abortion is a justifiable killing because the victim is unable to speak for himself.  That applies, though, to thousands of infant, handicapped, and elderly persons, and society is not ready to justify the killings of those people, because we recognize them to be people and do not regard the killing of people as “acceptable”.

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#57: Multiverse Variety

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #57, on the subject of Multiverse Variety.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48),
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72),
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78),
  14. #53:  Character Battles (chapters 79 through 84), and
  15. #55:  Stories Winding Down (chapters 85 through 90).

This picks up from there.  In these chapters we see very different worlds and adventures.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 91, Hastings 32

Even reading the first paragraph here, I relate to it—the feeling of simply staying in a warm bed.

I was building this world from a different one.  Eric Ashley thought it was supposed to be the same world, but really it was only the same creatures at a more primitive cultural state—things I had not yet decided at this point.  (After all, if I can have humans in many different universes, why can’t there also be many different universes in which my humanoid avians are the dominant creatures?)  However, I wanted to dial down the power for this one, so I decided the psionics bias wasn’t high enough for levitation.  That requires what might be considered a moderate bias, so I still had room to decide that other things were possible—and as Lauren notes, I could still change my mind.  Ultimately I put it where it was possible for her to “levitate” other objects (telekinesis) but not herself (levitation), which worked for what I needed to do.

I was making world decisions on the fly at this point.  I wanted this world to be a bit less magical and a bit less psionic than Lauren’s previous ones, to prevent her from being the superhero, but since I hadn’t decided exactly how much I was moving slowly.

The magic worked, but there wasn’t any particular way Lauren could be certain it worked, only that she attempted it and felt a direction.

I had already made some decisions about this world.  It was my “gather”, the place where the three were going to meet and work together.  I knew that in the end Bob Slade was going to face the final challenge and defeat it, that Joe Kondor was going to use his tracking skills, and that Lauren was going to sacrifice herself for the sake of the mission.  The rest I was creating as I went.

The road eventually became indefensible; it was not something the indigs (indigenous life forms) would have created.  I wrote it off to a dry watercourse which they followed into the woods when they foraged, thus smoothing and compressing the bottom, but it’s weak.  Fortunately I never had to defend it.

Chapter 92, Slade 30

A couple years before I wrote the novel I had read about quantum non-locality and thought about using it for the kind of communicator I describe.  I published a web page explaining the idea, and got a few e-mails about it.  Eventually someone wrote to say that what I proposed probably would not work—but the novel was already in print, so there was no changing it.  Some years later, someone else wrote and asked if he could use the idea in one of his own books, and I said sure, but I’m told it won’t actually work.  He seemed to think that was fine, that it was simply good to have a scientific-sounding explanation for a science fiction device.  Of course, one of Clarke’s Laws says, in short, that scientists are usually wrong when they say something is impossible.

The work aboard Destiny as part of engineering was raising Bob’s technical abilities.  I used them a bit in a later book, but haven’t really tapped them yet.

I had developed Slade as a bit of a jack-of-all-trades, and it seemed appropriate to get him involved in installing components, much as he’d have done with cars back home.

A diplomatic mission was probably going to be a boring story, I thought, and the more so as Slade was not a diplomat; but a planet rejecting pressure to submit to the Federation was good basis for some action, and so I set up the action.

The rebel pirates was my recognition at this moment.  I still don’t know what was in the crates.

I set up for combat without knowing exactly how I was going to handle it; but I thought this was a good starting position, and I’d work out something.

Chapter 93, Kondor 31

Talwin the priest was of course using prayer to strengthen and revitalize the men; Joe could not accept the possibility of that kind of magic, and so he relegates it to the realm of positive thinking.

I wanted to get Kondor outside the walls, because nothing more or interesting was going to happen until I did; but the castellan wasn’t going to agree to it without a compelling reason, so it was time to bring the vorgo into play.

As I broached the notion of Joe going on the offensive outside the walls, I was looking for a way to move the story forward and bring a dramatic ending—but it was obvious that such a one-man assault really made no sense.  However, it would make sense to use the vorgo as a weapon against the specters, and since it would be difficult to target them specifically from the distance of the walls, a commando mission to get it into their midst was the best option.

I knew at this point that he was going to die outside the walls, and I didn’t want him to be too far from his gear, but it didn’t make sense for him to take it all.  I knew he was bound for the parakeet world, with Lauren, so it would be all right, but I didn’t want to run another searching for gear scenario and wasn’t sure how to avoid it.

I also wanted him to have a low-tech weapon that didn’t rely on ammo with which he’d had at least some experience, so I gave him the mace and cause to use it at this point.  I hadn’t yet figured out how I was going to get him to use it before his other weapons were exhausted, but he was going to need it.  I note that I’ll do that in games sometimes–give a player character something I know he’s likely to need in the future that he doesn’t particularly want in the present.

I had envisioned a part of the end of the book, and it required Joe to fight a long battle that exhausted most of his ammo and left him with hand-to-hand combat.  I thus needed to put such a weapon into his gear, and a mace was both simple enough and connected already to Bob if I needed to talk about training Joe to use it.  I did not do that until considerably later (the fourth book), but it was in view at this point as a possibility.

It is also a mission that makes no sense to him, and probably had he not approached them he would not have volunteered and they would not have asked him.  So it was important to have him ask to fight outside the wall.

I notice that sometimes I split infinitives in this book.  I have since somehow had it drilled into me not to do that, and it bothers me when I see it, which suggests to me that I’m being too strict in my grammar sometimes.  I’m sure very few people recognize it—but I do it less in later books.

Chapter 94, Hastings 33

At some point I decided that the bird people I had created for the demo world The Valley would work well in this gather world.  I took away all the trappings of that world—the psionic monks, the meteorite storms and rings around the planet from the broken moon, the avian/reptilian predators—and just made them a simple primitive group.

The wigwam is a traditional Native American home design in the northeast corridor.  It in some ways perhaps resembles a beaver’s home but on land, comprised of sticks and mud.  It struck me as also similar to an enclosed nest.  Some birds do build enclosed nests, but these are relatively rare; it is also rare for such nests to be built on the ground.  However, it seemed to work, to push the nest concept toward the wigwam concept for a small humanoid flightless avian race.

Seeing brightly-colored humanoids, the natural response would be to assume they were dressed in bright colors.  They aren’t, but that’s how it would appear from the hillside above.

Lauren is on one side of a valley, coming down from a low mountain; the mountains to the other side are higher, and of course she can see them—one cannot really see the mountain on which one is standing, only the immediate slope.

I’ve seen sunsets and sunrises in the mountains.  They are most impressive, really, when you are sitting with your back to the sun looking at the far mountains where the shadows are gradually rising or receding.

I was trying to give the feeling of serenity and beauty, and I could only do so through Lauren’s eyes.  The hymn came forth as a way of presenting the impact it had on her.

Chapter 95, Slade 31

Somehow the printed version of this chapter made it “93”, a typographical error no one caught.

It was time to do ship-to-ship combat, and I needed to figure out a way to make The Destiny a significant force in battle.  I was attempting to think of something that would make my spaceship different from all the many battling spaceships I had seen, and I came up with the notion of a pair of independently controlled maneuverable gun batteries.  This would give the ship the tactical advantages of launching fighter planes without putting fighter pilots at risk, as they could be remotely controlled from the bridge and could flank the enemy.  The idea of independently controlled weapon batteries was a rather sudden solution which I had never seen.  They are probably quite logical now in a world of drone fighters, but at the time I was not aware of anything like them.

“OTG” is “orbit to ground” weapons.  I figured readers would get it from the context.

The cracked pipe was because I really didn’t want Slade to sit and watch the entire fight—partly because I didn’t want to describe more of it, and partly because it wasn’t that interesting.  If I put him to work in engineering fixing the cooling system, that meant he was contributing something.  The broken pipe would save me the trouble of continuing the blow-by-blow on the battle.  The problem with battles is that you have to keep them changing.  They have to seem risky, edgy, as well as new, but at the same time within the bounds of what the reader expects of the players.  If the battle is short, it makes the enemy seem weak; if it’s long, it gets boring as it bogs down in detail.

Chapter 96, Kondor 32

The football imagery is natural for Kondor because the vorgo looks so much like a ball, although more like a bowling ball than any other kind; but football strategy makes sense for it.

I am glad I realized the problem with the eye patch; it’s one of those things that sometimes slips by in games, when a character has a disability with which the players are unaccustomed.

Destroying skeletons by shattering their pelvises seemed a solution to the problem of facing them at range.

The spectres were guaranteed to be tougher than anything else they had faced; I needed to make them so.  It was not so hard, really–in game terms, they had a very high resistance to all kinetic attacks, because the weapons usually passed through.  Looking for an explanation that would work in the book, I decided that they only did damage if they managed to dislodge the fragments of matter suspended in the glow.

His notion that zombies in the setting of a graveyard are horrors, but on the battlefield they’re just another monster, probably owes something to the Dungeons & Dragons™ games I’ve run:  players don’t really worry about lower-level undead as if they were really undead, they just treat them like any other creature.  The specters are different because there are features about them that empower them; the zombies are just ugly putrid bodies that need to be killed.

It was quicker, I thought, to switch to the pistol than to switch clips on the rifle; but whether or not this is so, I wanted to keep a clip for the rifle, so he would not be out of that ammo yet.

The advantages of rifles over pistols are pretty much all about range, and at point blank range those advantages are insignificant; for some rifles, the length of the weapon becomes a liability in close combat.  The M-16 seems to be a weapon that can be fired accurately “from the hip”, as it were, but it still is not more accurate at short range than a pistol.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#56: Temporal Observations on the book Outlander

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #56, on the subject of Temporal Observations on the book Outlander.

Yesterday I finished reading Outlander by Diana Gabaldon; my Goodreads review of the book is here for those who want to know something more than my temporal anomalies considerations of it.

I am often asked whether I would consider doing a temporal analysis of a book (although television shows are the more common question), and I have elsewhere explained why not.  This is only a brief look, based on a single read-through.  I should also caveat that it is the reading of the first book in a series of at least three (I have a copy of the third but not the second, and am contemplating whether to obtain the second somehow), and it is evident that our time traveler has not finished mucking about with history.  This is not a thorough analysis; it is simply a brief overview of some of my observations.

Also, I am informed that the book (possibly books) has (have) been turned into some sort of video presentation, although I am not clear whether it is a movie or a cable television series (or one of each?).  This is not that; I have only incidental knowledge of that.


The story begins really just before World War II, when Claire marries Frank Randall and they visit the Scottish Highlands for an interrupted honeymoon as the war begins and both of them become involved, he as a soldier, she as a nurse in field hospitals.  This beginning is simply given as background to explain how they happen to be in the Scottish Highlands within days of the end of the war, finishing their disrupted nuptials.  Frank is a history professor, and Claire is thus exposed to much about his ancestors and the events of the area of which she is not particularly interested.  She is collecting plants and learning about herbology to some degree, and when one of the residents shows her a stone circle–well, we have a number of events the culmination of which is that she is up there alone, apparently touches the wrong stone, and is hurled two centuries into the past.  Here she encounters the people and events who had previously been dull history lessons.  One of those is Jonathan Randall, identified as Frank’s six-times great grandfather, a British officer of notorious reputation who died during a war still a few years ahead shortly before his son was born.  This Randall proves to be a horrible person, a rapist and homosexual rapist and sadist, and a murderer who has managed to pin his murder on a young Scottish prisoner who escaped between his first and second flogging, Jaime Fraser.  In order to escape Randall’s efforts to arrest Claire, who escaped being raped by Randall shortly after her arrival (before she knew what was happening), Claire marries Jaime.  She uses her nursing skills to work as a doctor (knowing far more than most doctors of the era, but hampered by the lack of modern medicines and so relying on the local herbalism), saving numerous lives including Jaime’s more than once, escapes being burned as a witch alongside another woman who is burned but whom she realizes is also a traveler from the future (by virtue of the smallpox vaccination scar which becomes visible when the woman pulls down her clothes while on trial).

She is concerned about whether she has severely altered the future.  She killed a young British soldier to save her husband, and in a later effort to rescue him she caused the death of Jonathan Randall, her husband’s ancestor, before the conception of his first child.  Yet as a Jesuit priest to whom she confesses observes, she will have had as much impact on the future in the many lives she has saved through her medical efforts.  From a moral perspective, the possibility that this would change the future should not figure into the question of whether she should help people; the fact that it became necessary to cause the deaths of two people in defense of her family should equally not be a moral concern for her, as God does not condemn us for doing out of such necessities that which would otherwise be wrong.  Those, though, are the moral and religious concerns.  The temporal concerns are a much greater worry.

The particular one is of course that having caused the death of Jonathan Randall she must logically have prevented the birth of Frank Randall, her future husband.  That does not prevent her birth–but it does mean she did not have a honeymoon in a place where he could explore his family history, and did not visit that particular stone circle at that particular time to be thrown back to this century.  It gives us effectively a grandfather paradox, in which she has undone the causes that brought her here, probably creating an infinity loop.  Yet we have a complication here:  the witch, the woman she befriends only to discover too late that she is also from the future, sends her the message “one-nine-six-seven”, which means that that woman comes from a future twenty years past that from which Claire came, and therefore future history must continue beyond the disappearance of Claire Randall.

The more difficult way to resolve this is to suggest that somehow the events of the future bring Claire to the same place at the same time; that is, she did not marry Frank but immediately after the war for some other reason completely obscure to us she came to the same part of Scotland, met many of the same people, wandered into the same stone circle and was sent back from the same moment in the future to the same moment in the past.  It is obvious that the probabilities are immensely against this–and it does not fully resolve our situation.  The complication that arises is that once in the past she recognizes both Jonathan Randall’s name and his face precisely because she was married to his similar descendant Frank Randall.  Take that out, and Claire’s reactions will be entirely different.  She is also likely to have different knowledge and different experiences, although there is still good reason to believe she would have been a nurse in field hospitals during the war, so in the main issues she would be the same.

The easier solution is that this is not time travel at all, but some kind of multiple dimension theory.  As we have elsewhere noted, in such cases the traveler duplicates himself but no one at the point of departure ever determines that time travel has occurred–the traveler has simply vanished without a trace.  However, in this situation that is moot:  we apparently have rifts to another dimension, and sometimes people fall through.  There are still problems involved if history is altered (the witch must have come from some universe to reach this one, so this probably is not divergent dimensions) because the two universes are put out of synch with each other, but for this story it might work.

The more general problem is of course the number of lives she has saved.  We have discussed the genetic problem, the fact that one change in who marries whom will ripple through a population and alter thousands of lives in the next generation.  Although the Fraser clan in Scotland is some distance from Claire’s ancestors (and perhaps her trip to France removes them farther), it only takes one Scot marrying one Brit, or failing to marry one Brit, within the next century or so potentially to undo Claire’s entire family such that she would never have been born.

Since the book ends with the subtle announcement that Claire is carrying Jaime’s child, we know that they have impacted the gene pool.

Again, the better solution is that this is not time travel, but a hop to another dimension.  It is not impossible that the changes she has made to history will not undo her own life or her trip to those stones, but the improbabilities have reached incredible levels.  Someone call Douglas Adams; we need something one of his characters invented.

Of course, Claire’s interactions with people also change the future, and so do Jaime’s, since the life he is living is very different thanks to Claire.  We can only guess what lies ahead, but we know that the couple is bound for the court of Charles the Pretender, son of a former King James of England who has supporters in Scotland wanting to restore his line to the throne.  Claire knows that this is a future disaster, bringing about the destruction of many of the Scottish clans and failing in its objective.  She is seriously considering attempting to prevent it.  It is not clear that she could, but in attempting to do so she might again impact who lives and who dies, who is part of Charles’ revolt and who survives.  So she is not finished changing the world, even if she does not accomplish her goal.  However, again if we take this as a parallel dimension, she can do this with impunity.  The only problem she would create is that the next person who stumbles through the stone circle into this world will probably realize that this is not the past, because its history will have changed enough that the details of its present are noticeably altered.

This, though, raises another problem.

Claire says that in the stories it is always two hundred years.  Of course, it isn’t–the witch came from 1967 and was already well established in her identity by the time Claire arrived.  However, the combination of “this explains the stories” with the confirmation of the other time traveler tells us that Claire is not the first person to tamper with the history of this dimension.  If it were a replacement theory story, that would not be so much of a problem:  Claire would have left from whatever version of history was created by all previous time travelers.  However, the point of making it a parallel dimension theory is that the changes made in this universe do not change events in the other–and if even several persons have done this before, that means history has been changed in some ways.  That Claire does not know what is different is simply a flaw in her own knowledge and the fact that nothing major has changed–so far.  However, the seeds of change create increasing ripples over time.  She believes that the uprising in support of King Charles the Pretender will fail because it failed in her world; yet she does not know whether something she has done, or something her friend has done, or something one of the possibly thousands of other dimension travelers has done, has altered some piece of the puzzle such that the British side will fall.  After all, already England has lost one soldier who might have been there and one officer who would have been there, would have died there.  We do not know whether persons in leadership positions have been replaced by different persons who will make different decisions.  She predicted the date of death of Jonathan Randall, and then her actions changed it.  She wants to change history such that the uprising will not occur because she knows that in her world it was a disaster for Scotland, but she does not know that events have not already been altered in a way that has set in motion a Scottish victory.  She simply cannot know with certainty that the history of her world is the future of this one.  She can only bet that it is, and hope she is right.  She has a better basis for her predictions than most, but this is not her world and the changes already made might rather abruptly move it in a completely different direction.  That happens when you tamper with parallel dimensions; it must already be happening in some ways, and the trick is having enough information to know what those are.  It does not mean the story doesn’t work; it only means that Claire doesn’t know as much as she thinks she does.

So Outlander works as a parallel dimension theory story, but is very doubtful as a time travel story.

In fairness to the author, I am not certain she cares.  The original H. G. Wells time travel book The Time Machine was not really about time travel but about letting the author comment on the current state of the world by extrapolating a future world and bringing a then-modern traveler there to observe it.  There are stories in which time travel itself is part of the plot, but that one and this one are examples of time travel used to bring a modern observer into a story set in another age.  As such, it works quite well.

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#55: Stories Winding Down

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #55, on the subject of Stories Winding Down.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72), and
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78), and
  14. #53:  Character Battles (chapters 79 through 84).

This picks up from there.  The battles our three characters were fighting last time have come to an end, or at least a lull, in these chapters.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 85, Hastings 30

Lauren’s story was driving forward at the moment with the arrival of Horta, so I brought her back and delayed Bob for a chapter.  That also had the advantage of leaving Bob floating in space a bit longer, giving the feeling of that seemingly interminable waiting he experienced before he was rescued.

I still had no idea what the acorn did; having Bethany shout to use it was another piece of the puzzle I was going to have to solve when I worked it out.  It seemed appropriate to suggest that it would be useful against Horta.

Lauren is overmatched by Horta, and it shows.  She is losing from the beginning, and can’t get an advantage.

I did not need the gun, as such, to go with her; I only needed the bullets.  To have Horta damage the gun meant Lauren was not going to use it, and the bullets would be in the clip when she reached the next world.

The more potent a spell is in Multiverser, the more it costs to do it.  The cost of the magic Lauren uses to engulf Horta in flame is high in that the range is extremely short creating the serious risk that the user will be caught in the fire—which is what happens to Lauren.  The idea that the spell Lauren used was so powerful that it killed her even as she succeeded was an idea I had seen with explosives, but not with magic.

Chapter 86, Slade 28

The notion that life pods are automatic seems to be presumed in science fiction stories, but it occurred to me that it is presumptuous and there should be some consideration of why they are that way.  The answer was simple enough.

This was a different way to show the battle; it saved me from trying to work out the details of how they did such combat just yet, and captured the necessary parts.

Bob reasonably sees this as a turning point in his life, a moment at which he has begun to be a warrior.  It’s not much, but it gives him his start.

Chapter 87, Kondor 29

The vorgo has had its effect, and by chance it has brought to unlife the dead man next to Joe.  He is now looking for an explanation that does not include the idea that magic has animated a corpse and caused it to attack him.

He also has the experience of being frightened of something which intellectually he does not believe.  The dead are dead, he tells himself, and this is all done as part of a psychological battle—but if so, it is working against him almost as well as against the others, because he believes they are undead even though he knows they cannot be.

Again Kondor comes up with a naturalist explanation for a supernatural event.  That leads him to start seeking a naturalist solution, which the reader knows is a mistake.

Chapter 88, Hastings 31

The image for this world bothers me a bit.  Our artist was from the southwest, and apparently was unfamiliar with the shape of the wigwams made by Native Americans in the eastern forests—he made them look like teepees of straw.  They’re supposed to be round-topped.  But then, I’m not an artist.

Although I knew that this was the last world for the book, and I knew the major plot points that would have to happen here, I actually knew very few of the details of this world at this point.  I knew that it was primitive; that was about all.

The telepathy test was something that I don’t think I’d ever seen anyone try, but it made sense:  if you were still in the same world, you should be able to find the mind of at least one person whose mind you knew.  Lauren did not consider the possibility that they might all, or any, be asleep, though.

I considered that she might have been teleported to the Poconos, not far from the city; I knew she had not been, but it was a possibility she had to consider.

The notion that versers think about patterns in their arrivals is a recurring one.  There are no patterns, but the randomness of the arrivals sometimes seems to create them.

I sleep in sweat suits.  I started decades ago when we had a dog who would wake me wanting to go out, and the pajamas I favored while not indecent were not exactly adequate for being seen by neighbors.  The practice made sense for a verser, particularly when in an outdoor setting, so Lauren adopted it.  I don’t think I ever considered what the others wore for sleep.

Chapter 89, Slade 29

I was actually impressed by Slade’s performance; it seemed to work well.  I thought it would be good to have his shipmates impressed.

QNL is explained later.  It stands for Quantum Non-Locality.  I don’t know whether it would actually work, but is based on the theory that one particle of matter can exist in two places at the same time, which I’m told has been “demonstrated”.

Slade questions his actions, wondering rather human questions about the men he had killed, and chides himself for doing something (the thinking) that does not fit with his warrior self-image.  I’ve seen the monolithic fighter type, and he doesn’t make a lot of sense to me.

Slade’s decision to push the questions from his mind seemed an important part of his character development, but I’m not yet certain where it is leading.

Chapter 90, Kondor 30

The priest Talwin is of course healing people by prayer.  Kondor assumes that that is not possible, and so concludes that Talwin simply persuades them that they can keep going.

Kondor keeps coming back to being a doctor.  It seems to be his first response in most situations, and so has become very much core to his character.

Figuring out what day would look like when the sky is so totally overcast it is as night, to a man whose red and blue visual receptors are tuned outside the visible light range into the infrared and ultraviolet respectively, was a feat; but I had already considered the problems of mixing those frequencies into normal eyesight in a web page on vision variants in Dungeons & Dragons™, so I had a head start on it.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#54: Nudity as Free Speech

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #54, on the subject of Nudity as Free Speech.

If the thirteenth century histories are to be believed, it is a practice that has roots back near a thousand years to Lady Godiva, who about two centuries prior purportedly rode her horse down the streets of Coventry clothed only in her long hair, to protest the heavy taxes assessed on the local population by the local Earl of Mercia, Leofric–who happens to have been her husband.  The technique has been used in variations since, and has more recently become a legal issue:  can public nudity be protected as a form of free speech?

Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum
Lady Godiva by John Collier, c. 1897, Herbert Art Gallery and Museum

On April 17th, 2012, a frequent air traveler named John Brennan (not to be confused with the Central Intelligence Agency director of the same name) was stopped at a Transportation Safety Administration (TSA) checkpoint in Portland, Oregon.  He had declined to pass through the scanners which would have produced an image of his naked body under his clothing in favor of a metal detector and pat-down.  However, the pat-down detected nitrates from his clothing–a substance found in some popular explosives, as well as in fertilizer, bacon, some hand lotions, and many other products.  This was certain to be a problem, so Brennan responded, in protest, by stripping naked at the checkpoint in full view of other passengers so that it could be plainly seen that he did not have a bomb.

He was arrested for indecent exposure.  It was a weak case–the applicable indecent exposure law in that part of Oregon, home of the “World Naked Bike Race”, only forbade having sexual contact in public and disrobing “with the intent of arousing sexual desire”, both conditions plainly absent here.  However, Brennan claimed that his act of disrobing was a form of protected free speech.  There is precedent for the notion that actions can be classed as speech or expression under the First Amendment, stemming from a 1971 case, Cohen v. California (403 U.S. 15, 91 S. Ct. 1780, 29 L. Ed. 2d 284 (1971)), in which the defendant was convicted of “offensive conduct”, defined as including “behavior which has a tendency to provoke others to acts of violence or to in turn disturb the peace,” for wearing a jacket bearing an obscene anti-war slogan to a protest outside a municipal courthouse.  The Supreme Court overturned the conviction, asserting that emotive speech intended to get attention is protected speech.  This subsequently gave rise to Holder v. Humanitarian Law Project (561 U.S. 1, 130 S.Ct. 2705 (2010)), in which actions which were aimed at providing humanitarian aid to terrorist groups were deemed reasonably forbidden in the name of national security, but which classed such actions as freedom of expression and declared that laws which are otherwise about conduct face “more rigorous scrutiny” (greater than the ordinary “intermediate scrutiny” but not as severe as the nearly always fatal “strict scrutiny”) under facts in which the conduct is part of political speech.  The judge in Brennan’s case agreed that his actions were protected political protest, and found him not guilty.

Not willing to let it rest there, the TSA fined Brennan one thousand dollars for “interfering with screening”.  The fine was upheld, although it was reduced by half, in an administrative hearing under the auspices of an “Administrative Law Judge” whose qualifications were that he was a United States Coast Guard officer working for the Department of Homeland Security (DHS).  The extended appeals process for such an “administrative” violation took over a year to reach the head of the department before it could be appealed to a “real” court, the 9th Circuit Federal Court of Appeals.  As of November 11, 2013, an appeal was filed with that court asking that the fine be voided due to several constitutional issues (including the vagueness of TSA regulations), and specifically that his action was constitutionally protected speech.  As recently as October that case was still pending, as the parties await the court’s decision on whether to hear oral arguments or base their decision on the filed papers.

Meanwhile, back in Oregon, Matthew T. Mglej is citing this case in a similar unrelated case.  On May 23rd, 2014, Mglej set up space in front of the federal court building in Portland, posting a few signs, then stripped naked and played the violin to call attention to his cause, a desire for greater transparency in government.  The police arrested him for public indecency (this law makes it “unlawful for any person to expose his or her genitalia while in a public place or place visible from a public place, if the public place is open or available to persons of the opposite sex”) but later released him.  On January 20th, 2015, he filed suit in federal court on a variety of claims including unlawful arrest and violation of his First Amendment right.  This past month U. S. District Judge Michael W. Mosman disagreed, dismissing the suit; Mglej’s nudity was not protected speech, he asserted.

However, as Harvard Constitutional Law Professor Noah Feldman observes (in print as The naked truth about the First Amendment, found online as Protesting Nude in Portland Should Be Protected), the basis for the dismissal is at best dubious.  Mosman asserted that the nudity did not advance the message, that an impartial observer would not have understood how the message and the nudity were connected.  This, as Feldman rightly observes, makes the judge the arbiter of style, as it were, assessing whether Mglej’s speech was effective in achieving its purpose.  The First Amendment does not require that the speaker be articulate, nor give anyone the right to judge whether the message could have been conveyed a different way.  Mglej was attempting to communicate something by his nakedness; does the fact that most people failed to understand what he was attempting to communicate negate his right to attempt to say it?

Besides, part of the message is the medium, and part of the medium is its function in drawing attention to itself and through itself to the message.  Large signs with hot pink lettering do not communicate the message more clearly, they only are more eye-catching; rock bands playing at evangelistic rallies might or might not convey the message as well as the speakers who follow them, but they do draw a crowd–a fact that was not lost on Salvation Army founders William and Catherine Booth, who took brass bands into the streets to draw crowds to hear the message.  Whether or not Mglej’s nakedness clearly conveyed the message of the need for transparency in government, it certainly got the attention of the crowd to hear it.  Absent that detail, it is doubtful that you would be reading about him here, now.  The nudity was as much a part of the message as the violin:  it was the neon sign that caught the attention of passersby to hear the message.

On the other hand, as one city attorney observed, anyone arrested for public nudity could claim that his state of undress was a political protest.  It is easy to imagine that people who subscribe to “nudism” might make it a practice to go about their daily chores completely naked, and assert that they are doing so in protest of the very laws they are violating.  How is that to be resolved?  Can one protest such laws by being naked?

This argument could be pushed to the absurd.  Someone robbing a bank could claim that they are doing so in protest of the laws protecting personal property, or of the unfair advantages accorded to those who own the banks.  Many bombers are already acting in protest, at least as far back as the Viet Nam War protesters, and many rioters become swept up into violent protests that were fundamentally about a reaction against the system.  If breaking one law can be protected speech, can the same be true of all these other laws?

It will be answered that these other crimes are dangerous; people get hurt.  The injury might be physical; it might be economic.  It is clear that we need to protect ourselves from such actions, lest we become their victims, and indeed we need to prevent these actions as much as possible for the sake of others who might be injured by them.  Inherent in that response, though, is the presumption that no one is “really” harmed by public displays of nudity, that those who object are simply being prudish, Victorian, censorial, trying to run the lives of others by requiring them to wear clothing and conform to public decency standards.  The point can be argued.  Those who oppose public nudity believe that there is harm, that for example children should be shielded from seeing naked adults, women should not be forced to look at naked men, and that people exposed to such sights may genuinely be harmed, suffering psychological injury of some type.  It is not a harmless nor a victimless crime.  If it were, it would never have been illegal in the first place–someone thought it was injurious to someone, so laws were passed to prevent it.

You might object that our prudish ancestors had a lot of misguided notions about right and wrong and about conduct that was deemed harmful to others, and that in our enlightened age we can dispense with such nonsense.  It is a point that can be debated–but the fact that it can be debated means that there is at least some merit to the claim that there is real harm; and if there is a basis for a claim of real harm, there is at least potentially reason to make such conduct unlawful.  That in turn pushes us into the quandary:  at what point does harmful conduct become protected self-expression?  If such nudity is in fact harmful to at least some ordinary people, then it ought to be as illegal as robbing banks and bombing buildings, and breaking the law should not be legal merely because it is self-expression.  If it is not harmful to anyone but perhaps a few overly sensitive individuals, then it ought not be illegal and we should find less intrusive means of protecting those weaker citizens who might be impacted by it.

Certainly there is a place for civil disobedience in self-expression, for violating laws in order to make a point.  As we previously noted, the Supreme Court has ruled that burning a cross in the yard of a black family is indeed protected speech, but the perpetrators might still be convicted of arson, trespass, and disorderly conduct.  The individual who chooses civil disobedience as a mode of protest is inherently agreeing to accept the lawful penalty for breaking the law, as part of his choice.  Henry David Thoreau spent a night in jail for refusing to pay a tax that supported the continuation of slavery; he understood that his disobedience to the law meant that he would be imprisoned, and took that as part of his protest.  It is not unreasonable to conclude that Mglej is permitted to make his statement, but that he still must stand trial for violating the law in doing so, just as any protesting bomber would.  That, though, does not seem to be what the courts are saying, and what they are saying seems to be that this particular law does not matter because violating it does not hurt anyone.  We are going to have to settle that issue, one way or the other, and decide whether public nudity should be forbidden or permitted.

Zymurgy’s Law of Evolving Dynamic Systems states, “If you open a can of worms, the only way to re-can them is to use a bigger can.”  We’ve got one of those here, for certain.

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#53: Character Battles

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #53, on the subject of Character Battles.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There were also numerous similar previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts:

  1. #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone (which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters),
  2. #20:  Becoming Novel (covering chapters seven through twelve),
  3. #22:  Getting Into Characters (for chapters thirteen through eighteen),
  4. #25:  Novel Changes (chapters 19 through 24),
  5. #27:  Novel Continuation (chapters 25 through 30),
  6. #30:  Novel Directions (chapters 31 through 36),
  7. #33:  Novel Struggles (chapters 37 through 42),
  8. #35:  Quiet on the Novel Front (chapters 43 through 48), and
  9. #37:  Character Diversity (chapters 49 through 56),
  10. #39:  Character Futures (chapters 57 through 60),
  11. #43:  Novel Worlds (chapters 61 through 66),
  12. #47:  Character Routines (chapters 67 through 72), and
  13. #50:  Stories Progress (chapters 73 through 78).

This picks up from there.  All three of our characters are involved in some kind of fight in these chapters.


There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that first post, which I will not repeat here.

Chapter 79, Slade 26

I have never been a sports enthusiast, but I was forced to play a bit in high school and knew something of the various games.  Football is a particularly good example here, as each player has to do his job but probably does not know what the other players are doing—only that if they all do the little part they need to do, the guy who does understand the whole plan will see to it that they achieve the desired result.  My job might be only to push this incoming lineman to the left, but the result should be that our receiver goes through the hole that helps create and we advance the ball a few yards.

I would feel bad about stealing matter transmission, except I don’t know who created the idea.  They had it in Blake’s 7, and mine is most like theirs, but I saw it in Star Trek before that, and it was on Doctor Who at least as early as the Tom Baker years.

In my explanations of what happens when someone “verses out” I noticed that it was very like what theoretically happens in matter transmission:  the molecular structure of the body is disassembled, moved, and reassembled.  Thus for Slade his first transmat would feel similar to his last verse-out.  He’d never been fully conscious for that, but fortunately I’d already moved him to that semi-conscious state for his arrival here, so it was something that would feel familiar.

Chapter 80, Hastings 28

The idea of blessing water as it filled the tank of a pumper truck was mine.  We used it when we went after the Presemium, a high-brow theater that was the third of the three major vampire strongholds in Ed’s version of Chicago—it had underground caverns, and I wanted them flooded with holy water.  Since at this point I knew Lauren was not going to stay in this world long enough to do all that I had done, I decided to use the pumper truck, and several other bits we used at the Presemium, at the Pit.  (I also did a psionic transmutation, changing the water in the fire sprinkler system to alcohol, but I did not include that in the books.)

The camp food was modeled on Gumper’s Four-man Meal Packs, a staple of long-trek hikes and canoe trips.

I think I inserted this short chapter to give the feeling of delay, of the passage of time before the attack on the Pit, hoping that the reader would feel some anticipation from it.

Chapter 81, Kondor 27

I may have seen something like the ram catcher in a game source book somewhere, but I can’t recall to credit it.  I might have invented it and used it here initially, and then seen something like it elsewhere.

The fact that arrows are not terribly effective against skeletons is a Dungeons & Dragons™ trope, but it makes sense to me.

Eventually, when I designed this world for game play, I had to work out how the wizard did his magic; at this point, he only needed to be able to do it, particularly since Kondor, a disbeliever, would not be interested in how Sowan thought he did it.

Chapter 82, Slade 27

Two things are happening in this chapter, really.  One is that I am trying to give the impression of critical sections of the ship—a liquid or gas cooling system, a computer mainframe, and something like rods to control the reaction in a nuclear reactor—without actually saying what anything really did and so limiting the future technology or causing Slade to appear to know more than he did.

The other is that I’m trying to turn a routine raid into an action story.  The alarm sounding and the appearance of the technician are part of that effort, creating problems that have to be overcome.

The expression about there being no good plan Bs is something of a family enigma.  I’m sure I heard it from my brother Roy, who is equally sure he got it from me.  I joke that since I included it in my novel, I’ll be credited for it, but I suspect there’s someone out there who came up with it first who hasn’t gotten credit for it.

I wanted one-man life pods so that it would make sense for Slade to be alone.  They’re not exactly sensible, but you do see them on some science fiction movies.

Chapter 83, Hastings 29

I had staying power—Ed complained about how difficult it was to get my character out of a world, and he never actually succeeded in getting me out of this one.  Lauren is reflecting that to some degree, winning and surviving against the odds.  She is the only one of the characters at this point still in the original world—although in fairness, Slade stayed in his first world for a couple decades, and Kondor for perhaps a dozen years, and it’s really only been a few months for Lauren.  Still, I was going to have to move her out of this world, and I knew that this event was my best shot—if I did not do it now, I was going to have to expand into a lot of much more difficult adventures (my work eventually involved a paranatural predator, a ghost, an Egyptian curse, and a wizard, all of which were crazy open-ended stories).  So I knew going into this that somehow Lauren was going to come to the end during this fight.

This chapter is laced with Lauren’s scripture verses.  I wanted to establish them, and convey the texts to the reader.

The dimming is of course the wizardry of Horta, battling against her.  We’ve got a contest of skills and power here.

The baptism quote is one of my favorite “people get this wrong all the time” verses, which is why Lauren explains it.

The wizard whom Bethany replaces brought a Barbie doll—he seemed to be fixated on the things—and when he cast his spell it walked into the fray stabbing people in the ankles with something like a hat pin.  He complained that it was supposed to grow to be forty feet tall or something.  I wasn’t doing dolls with Bethany, and thought that military toys were a better choice.

The soldier was not an unreasonable possibility, given the priest’s connections with the hunters, but the real reason for having him here was to give Lauren the bullets that Joe was going to need in the last adventure.  I did not yet know what that was, exactly, but it was taking shape and I knew that he was going to be short on ammo and needing more.

I still did not realize that Lauren would be fighting Horta in the past, or that there would be a more powerful vampire, Tubrok.  Still, this confrontation was going to be adequate for the climax of this world.

Chapter 84, Kondor 28

C. S. Lewis somewhere spoke of the “materialist magician”, the person who tapped supernatural powers but believed they were entirely natural abilities of his own.  Kondor has something of that perspective of the wizard—who is not such a person, who actually is knowingly tapping supernatural energies.  However, he is correct that there is a difference between having mental abilities beyond those of everyone else that give you unexpected powers and using magic—he just fails to recognize that the latter is also possible.

Joe tells the dying man he’s going to be all right, and maybe he thinks so, if he can get back in time to help him; but there is something to the need for medical personnel to encourage positive thinking in patients, who are more likely to recover if they believe they will, and so it may be that this is just something Joe has learned as part of “bedside manner”.

Joe is faced with another evidence that what he thinks is happening is incorrect, as the dying soldier dies and comes back to life as a zombie to attack him.  First he has to deal with the problem; then he has to explain it to himself in a way that fits his view of the universe.

Interest in these “behind the writings” continues, so I’m still thinking they’re worth producing.  Feedback is always welcome, of course.  Your Patreon support is also needed to maintain this.

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#52: The X-Files Sexism Debate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #52, on the subject of The X-Files Sexism Debate.

A few days ago I published mark Joseph “young” web log post #49:  Duchovny, Anderson, Sexism, and the Free Market.  It created quite a stir on an IMDB thread where I had announced it, and it seemed that I should provide some kind of response–but the sheer volume of the posts there (which has undoubtedly grown since I wrote this) made it difficult to provide a comprehensive and orderly reply there, so I am writing another post here to address it.

Early in my writing career I learned two important truths that all aspiring writers need to grasp.

First, you are much more likely to hear from those who disagree with you or do not like what you are writing than from those who agree.  As long as you are “preaching to the choir” the choir will nod quietly and let you speak uninterrupted.  Get a few objectors in your audience, and you will hear the objections.  This is good, really.  Those negative responses are valuable.  Some of them are valuable because they give you insight into opposing views; others are valuable because they clearly misunderstood what you were saying, and so may indicate that you need to communicate your points better.  It may be that both of these benefits acrue to me from the comments posted, and for this I am grateful.  Thank you.

Second, there will always be people who will criticize what you wrote without having read it.  They will base their opinion on a title, or a comment from another reader, or their expectations of what you are likely to have said based on such information as they have obtained about you.  My advice is to ignore these people.  Gradually others will realize what their opinions are worth, and arguing with them will not help your position in the least–they do not know and do not care what you are saying, only what they have already concluded regarding what they think you meant.


The objections began with someone self-identified as alphabase17, who seemed to think that by asserting that the action of the producers was not sexist I was denying the existence of sexism in the world.  Perhaps I was unclear.  My point was actually that the sexism that was reflected in the situation was actually “in the world”, not in the producers.  Assuming arguendo that the facts are as they have been presented (more on that in a moment), the reason male actors are offered more than female actors is not because Hollywood producers are prejudiced, but because viewers are.  Both men and women want more to see male leads in their films and television shows, and so Hollywood produces more shows with male leads.  Over the decades as shows with female leads became more popular, more such shows were produced–but it is ratings that drive television, and the decision concerning what to pay an actor is ultimately a bottom-line decision:  will having this actor sell enough soap to pay that salary and still turn a profit?

Our poster alphabase17 asserts that we know the facts, but when those facts are stated they are the same incomplete facts I included in my article:  We know that at one point Anderson was offered half the salary that Duchovny was being paid.  We do not know what Duchovny was initially offered, and we do know that after negotiations were complete Anderson was being paid the same amount as Duchovny.  The way these negotiations work, of course, is that the producers approach the actor’s agent and say we’d like to have your client in our show and are offering X amount; the agent then says X is not enough, we want Z; the producers then say Z is too much, what about we settle at Y?  Eventually they agree on a number that is usually more than the original offer and less than the original response.  Our problem is that for Duchovny, we don’t know “X”, “Y”, or “Z”; for Anderson, we don’t know “X”, “Y”, or “Z” but we do know that her “X” is half of Duchovny’s “Y”, and her “Y” is the same as his.

Let’s be hypothetical, and extrapolate some thinking.  The numbers I’m using are intentionally unrealistic, for illustrative purposes.

    We’d like to launch a new X-Files.  We want Duchovny.  We can do the series without him, but we’d have to rethink it–whether to make it a reboot with a younger actor playing Mulder (like the 2009 Star Trek), or a next generation with a new lead agent taking Mulder’s job (like Star Trek:  The Next Generation), but we’ll take a hit–the show will be more popular if we have Duchovny as Mulder.  Let’s offer him a thousand an episode and see what his agent says.

    So the agent says no, make it ten thousand, and they dicker, and agree on five thousand.  Now they move to the next step.  If they didn’t have Duchovny, they probably wouldn’t want Anderson at all–if they’re replacing Mulder with a younger version, they’ll want a younger Scully, and if they’re moving to the next generation they won’t want Scully at all.

    Now that we have Duchovny for Mulder, we’ll want Anderson for Scully.  We can’t easily have a new actress play Scully, but we could replace Mulder’s partner with a new, younger, agent.  We’d rather have Anderson, but we have options.  Let’s offer Anderson twenty-five hundred, and see where that puts us.

    The agent thinks that’s a solid offer, but it’s his job to negotiate, so he inquires to find out what they’re paying Duchovny, and when he sees the five thousand figure he says, no, you’re going to pay Anderson as much.  They agree.

    Note that if the producers offered Anderson up front what they were paying Duchovny, her agent would reasonably have thought they were more desperate to get her than they were, and would have asked for more; then they would be in the position that Duchovny’s agent would insist that Anderson can’t be paid more than Duchovny, and the entire negotiation process would be in turmoil.  In a sense, they have to offer Anderson less than they’re paying Duchovny.  However, note in this hypothetical reconstruction, their initial offer to Anderson was greater than that to Duchovny, even though it was only half what they were paying him.  Note, too, that the producers expected to pay more than their initial offer.  Initial offers are almost always low-ball for that reason, and a low offer to Anderson meant Anderson’s agent could earn his commission by getting her more without having to demand that she be paid more than Duchovny.

No, we don’t know that this is an accurate reconstruction of the negotiations; the numbers are certainly not accurate.  However, the point that alphabase17 missed is that this is a plausible reconstruction precisely because we do not know what Duchovny was offered before he negotiated the agreed pay.  Comparing agreed pay to agreed pay, we find they are equal.  Comparing an initial offer to one against a final agreed salary of the other tells us nothing, because we do not have the initial offer to the one.  We can be pretty certain that whatever the number is for which Duchovny’s agent settled, it was more than the initial offer.

alphabase17 makes a valid point with this:

As to audience preferences, you offered no data to support the claim that “more viewers are more willing to spend more money to see male stars.”

I admit that to some degree my argument is circular, but it is not entirely so.  Television producers spend a lot of money trying to determine what viewers will watch.  There are people trying to sell them program ideas of all kinds, starring men, women, children, aliens, animals, and who knows what else.  They do audience reactions, surveys, ratings of what people actually do watch, sponsor interest, and much more, and they attempt to pick shows that will attract viewers–and if those shows fail to attract viewers competitively, they get cancelled.  The facts that more shows have male stars and that male actors get paid more than females are strong indicators that all this analysis points to viewer preference for male leads.  It has never been exclusively true–Lucille Ball was able to hold audiences in the fifties and sixties, Star Trek did a series with the wonderful Kate Mulgrew in the captain’s chair (I did not enjoy the series, but she was good), Cagney and Lacey held viewers to a police drama starring female detectives, and there have been many others–but even now more male-star series succeed than female-star series, and producers put their money where the probabilities favor success.

Maybe it’s wrong, but I think that in law it would be said that I’ve got a rebuttable presumption:  there is enough evidence that the statement is true that to contradict it would require proof.

I want to thank waslah for his contribution.  Mish4 (who specifically chose to criticize without reading the article) had said

Why I always expecting the best from a man when they always erase sexism and dismiss women’s serious complains (sic)?

waslah answered

…this comment is kind of sexist in it’s own right. It seems to suggest that all men are misogynists…and that’s a bunch of man hating, misandrist bullcrap.
(Ellipsis original)

waslah is correct, but he misses a critical point about progressivist philosophy:  for some reason, it is only discrimatory if the target is a “protected class”.  You can make prejudicial comments about straight white men without any fear of retribution, but the assumption is that any negative statement made about a woman, or a black, or a homosexual, is inherently discriminatory.  We see this even with Michelle Obama, who assumes that a short elderly white woman asking her, a tall black woman, to reach something on the top shelf in a Target department store reflects the white woman’s prejudice toward blacks, not a recognition of the advantage of height.  If I say that statistically women have less upper body strength than men (anatomically demonstrable) I’m being mysogynistic, because it doesn’t matter that it’s true, only that it can be taken as a negative statement about women (or a positive statement about men, which comes to the same thing); but if a woman says that all men are misogynists, even though that is demonstrably false (whether or not it applies to me specifically), that is not considered sexist because it is not a negative statement about women (or gays).  No, it does not make any sense, but it is the way the progressivists regard the matter.  It has something to do with the fact that our ancestors mistreated these groups, and so we, their descendants, must bear similar mistreatment.

Returning to alphabase17:

…I commented upon it [the Duchovny/Anderson pay discrepancy] on three websites and got a lot of ironic, belittling, condescending comments from men, and those champions of intellect claimed that of course the male deserves to be paid more than the female and that I know nothing about show business and that I must be a vile feminist and that people like me should be ashamed for finding sexism where there is none.

I certainly apologize if I came across that way.  There is nothing in what I said that I intended as a matter of what anyone “deserves”.  That’s a bit like saying that apples “deserve” to cost more than oranges because apples taste better, or are healthier for you, or something like that.  If apples cost more than oranges, it’s because the demand exceeds the supply.  If actors are paid more than actresses, it is because audiences want actors more than they want actresses.  I did not say that there was no sexism involved; I said that the sexism was in the audience, the culture generally, not in the bean counters trying to get as much as they can for the smallest possible expenditure.  They tried to lowball Anderson.  They probably tried to lowball Duchovny first, and they’ve undoubtedly had to negotiate with a lot of people, such as writers and directors, concerning how much everyone will be paid for this project.  Actors are not paid based on how hard they work; they’re paid based on how much audience they draw.

Pizza restaurants buy their ingredients and sell their pizzas.  As one chain likes to remind us, better ingredients make better pizza–but also more expensive pizza.  There are chains that never tell us they make good pizza, they tell us that they make it cheap.  A decision is being made by each restaurant, is it worth the extra money to buy the better cheese, the fresher spices, the more expensive tomatoes?  Will we be able to sell the pizza for enough more to cover the extra cost of making it, or will we make more money by making the cheaper pizza?  From the perspective of the television producers, actors aren’t employees paid for their work, they’re ingredients in a product, commodities bought and sold.  The question is, how cheaply can I buy this actor, and what’s the return on my investment?  Any sexism that goes into that is the sexism of, “What will the audience pay to see this man in the project, as opposed to that woman?”  It is an assessment of the attitudes of the consumers, finding those often to be sexist.

Many of the things I have said here have been said by others in the thread at IMDB; I have been working on this response for several days, and decided not to remove such points.  I will finish with a quote from nrkist2424, from what was the last post on the thread when I finished this.  It was a point I was considering making, but I had no numbers to support it.

[Gillian Anderson]’s pay outweighs the combined pay for all the returning character actors.  Are you concerned about that?

Indeed, if it really were about “equal pay for equal work”, there is a tremendous amount of disparity there.  I read a quote from an actor who said they paid him a lot of money to stand in the rain and drink coffee; the acting he did for free.  The lead actors do not work much harder than all the others on the set; they aren’t getting paid based on their work.  Their performances are being purchased according to an agreed price based on the resale value of those performances.

And in the end, Gillian Anderson was paid exactly the same thing as David Duchnovny, because the studio agreed that she was worth it when she asked.  That’s how negotiation works.

Again, I extend my thanks to all who read the previous article and provided feedback.  Your input has not gone unnoticed.

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#51: In Memoriam on Groundhog Day

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #51, on the subject of In Memoriam on Groundhog Day.

My father died a few days ago, at noon on January 27th, 2016.  There will be memorial visitation on Saturday, February 13th, from one to four in the afternoon at the Van Emburgh-Sneider-Pernice Funeral Home on Darlington Ave in Ramsey (New Jersey) near the home he has shared with my mother since I was twelve.  Before that we lived in Scotch Plains, and in Freeport, Long Island.  He came from Sardis, Mississippi, by way of an Electrical Engineering degree from Georgia Tech.  I will always remember him working decades for Western Union, but it had been decades since he was there and he had held a number of other jobs since.  He did not speak much of his education or his work, but I gather he had completed a masters at Stevens Institute of Technology, and worked sporadically toward a doctorate.  He held patents in focusing microwaves, and headed engineering in Western Union’s Data Services offshoot in the late 60’s.  He was the only person I knew who had worked in assembly language.

He was Cornelius Bryant Young, Jr.  Technically, he was the third, but his grandfather had died while his father was still young, and his father married old, so my granddad took “senior” and made him “junior” (although they never, as far as I know, called him that).  Since his grandfather was “Cornelius” his father was always “Bryant”, and he wound up with “C.B.”, although it was often reduced to “Seeb”, which is what my mother generally called him.  He hated nicknames–I never understood why, and as “Mark” always wished that there was a more familiar form distinguished as “my friends call me”.  (I might then have felt that I had friends.)  My mother wanted to name one of us Cornelius Bryant Young IV and call him Neil, and my father always said, “If you want to call him Neil, name him Neil.”  My little brother is Neil Bryant Young.  My wife also wanted to name a child Cornelius Bryant Young IV and call him Cory, but my father said–well, you know what he said.  My second son is Kyler Cornelius Bryant Young, and my third has Cory as a middle name.

I will remember many of the wonderful things he said over the years.  They come to mind particularly because he often quipped about today–Groundhog Day–saying “If the groundhog sees his shadow, we will have six more weeks of winter, but if he doesn’t, it will be a month and a half.”

Cornelius B. Young, Jr., in 2015 at his brother-in-law's birthday party.
Cornelius B. Young, Jr., in 2015 at his brother-in-law’s birthday party.

He gave the name Young’s Theorem to a quip he created and put on signs in a working lab he headed before I was born.  People working on various projects would find that they did not have the particular piece of equipment they needed, so would substitute something similar–“not the same, but not really different”–and then be surprised at the results.  My father’s sign read, “Things that are not the same are different.”

It was from him that I first heard Murphy’s Law, and he delighted in collecting such witicisms.  He gave me (appropriately, given the recent reaction to my article a few days ago on the X-Files sexism flap), “I know that you believe that you understand what you think I said, but I am not certain you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”  I was still in Cub Scouts, having trouble working on a Pinewood Derby model car, when he said, with a wonderfully instructive facetiousness, “If you cut it too short you can always stretch it, but what can you do if you cut it too long?”

He was the most patient man I ever knew (although once when I said that to my mother, she told me to remember that he lost his temper at me more than once).  I only heard him swear once in my life, in a famous story of our effort to navigate Skinner’s Falls on the Delaware River when it was several feet above flood stage.  He remained constantly calmly rational–my model of unemotive rationality long before Spock appeared.  It has impacted me significantly, as I, too, am generally not effusive in my expressions of emotion, regard foul language as an indication of a poor intellect, and choose rational response over impatient reaction.  Yet it had its negative side.  He would often praise my efforts after a success in my school days, such as a band or choral concert, but because he knew that his cool rationalism would not sound sincere he forced an enthusiasm that always sounded less sincere in my ears, and so I never received praise well from him–and in turn I made a point with my own sons not to attempt to sound enthusiastic in my praise.  I can only hope they understood that I was sincere.

He was always there for us when we were in trouble.  I think perhaps we relied too much on him.  I wonder, often, whether his available support caused me to rely less on God in times of trouble, or whether it taught me that a father is always there for you.  I probably called him for help about a tenth as many times as my wife suggested.  I knew I was a disappointment to him in that area, and that that was important to him.  I shall need more help from others in the years ahead, I expect, as he is no longer there.

He was, and in a sense continues to be, the reason for much that is in this web log.  Because of my law school degree (for which he paid a significant portion, and for which he never received an adequate return on his investment) he regaled me with articles, clippings in envelopes and links online, claiming that President Obama was not legitimately elected because he was not a “natural born Citizen” as required by the Constitution.  That led to the composition of my series on The Birther Issue and the addenda on The Birth Certificate, and my title as Newark Political Buzz Examiner.  The law and politics section of my website has been expanded to many times its previous size by those articles, and I still keep an eye on the political news and write about it here sporadically.  One of the last clippings he sent me before he died was an insightful piece on whether Ted Cruz was a “natural born Citizen”, although I had already addressed that.  I have not checked my e-mail since before his final hospitalization, but expect that I will find something there from him that might require me to respond here.

I miss him.  We rarely talked, and always when we did I felt that I had failed in the ways he had most hoped I would succeed, but I knew he loved me despite his cool exterior, and I know that my life will be a lot harder and a little lonelier without him.

He was a Southern Baptist in Mississippi, but had settled into the (calmer and less conservative) American Baptist Convention churches by the time I was born.  He often expressed doubts and raised questions about Christian faith, and I wanted him to read the draft of my hopefully forthcoming book Why I Believe (tentative title).  I don’t know whether he expressed those to me because of my degrees in Biblical Studies, and I never could be certain exactly about his faith in Christ, but I have good reason to hope that he has had those doubts resolved and is in the presence of our Lord even now.

Dad, if you get this message, my long-remembered college friend Steve Freed established the rendezvous location for us and I promised to meet him there, along with everyone else:  East Side, Center Gate.  I hope to see you there in a few short years.

With tears on my face,

    I love you, Dad.

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