#195: Probabilities in Dishwashing

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #195, on the subject of Probabilities in Dishwashing.

I was going to call this, What Are the Odds?, but that’s too useful a title to use for this.  Actually, almost every time my bill rings up to an exact dollar amount, ending “.00”, I say that to the cashier, and usually they have no idea, so usually I tell them.  But I’m a game master–I’ve been running Multiverser™ for over twenty years, and Dungeons & Dragons™ for nearly as long before that.  I have to know these things.  After all, whenever a player says to me, “What do I have to roll?”, he really means “What are the odds that this will work?”  Then, usually very quickly by the seat of my pants, I have to estimate what chance there is that something will happen the way the player wants it.  So I find myself wondering about the odds frequently–and in an appendix in the back of the Multiverser rule book, there were a number of tools provided to help figure out the odds in a lot of situations.

And so when I saw an improbable circumstance, I immediately wondered what the odds were, and then I wondered how I would calculate them, and then I had the answer.  It has something in common with the way I cracked the probabilities of dice pools decades back (that’s in the book), but has more to do with card probabilities, as we examined in web log post #1:  Probabilities and Solitaire, than with dice.

So here’s the puzzle.

At some point I bought a set of four drinking cups in four distinct colors.  I think technically the colors were orange, green, cyan, and magenta, although we call the cyan one blue and the magenta one red, and for our purposes all that matters is that there are four colors, A, B, C, and D.  We liked them enough, and they were cheap enough, that on my next trip to that store I bought another identical set.  That means that there are two tumblers of each color.

I was washing dishes, and I realized that among those dishes were exactly four of these cups, one of each of the four colors.  I wondered immediately what the odds were, and rapidly determined how to calculate them.  I did not finish the calculation while I was washing dishes, for reasons that will become apparent, but thought I’d share the process here, to help other game masters estimate odds.  This is a problem in the probabilities of non-occurrence, that is, what are the odds of not drawing a pair.

The color of the first cup does not matter, because when you have none and you draw one, it is guaranteed not to match any previously drawn cup, because there aren’t any.  Thus there is a one hundred percent chance that the first cup will be one that you need and not one that you don’t want.  Whatever color it is, it is our color A.

In drawing the second cup, what you know is that there are now seven cups that you do not have, one of which will be a match.  That means there is one chance in seven of a match, six chances in seven of not matching.  This is where I stopped the math, because I hate sevenths.  I know that they create a six-digit repeating decimal that shifts its position–1/7th is 0.1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅7̅, and 2/7ths is 0.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅, and in each case the digits are in the same sequence, but I can never remember that sequence (I don’t use it frequently enough to matter, and I can look it up on the table in the back of the Multiverser book as I just did here, or plug it into a calculator to get it).  So the probability of the second cup matching the first–of drawing the other A–is 14.2̅8̅5̅7̅1̅4̅%, and the probability of not drawing a match is 85.7̅1̅4̅2̅8̅5̅%.

So with a roughly 86% chance we have two cups that do not match, colors A and B, and we are drawing the third from a pool of six cups, of which there are one A, one B, two Cs and two Ds.  That means there are two chances that our draw will match one of the two cups we already have, against four chances that we will get a new color.  There is thus a 33.3̅3̅% chance of a match, a 66.6̅6̅% chance that we will not get a match.

We thus have a roughly 67% chance of drawing color C, but that assumes that we have already drawn colors A and B.  We had a 100% chance of drawing color A, and an 86% chance of drawing color B.  That means our current probability of having three differently-colored cups is 67% of 86% of 100%, a simple multiplication problem which yields about 58%.  Odds slightly favor getting three different colors.

As we go for the fourth, though, our chances drop significantly.  There are now three colors to match, and five cups in the deck three of which match–three chances in five, or 60%, to match, which means two in five, or 40%, to get the fourth color.  That’s 40% of 67% of 86% of 100%, and that comes to, roughly, a 23% chance.  That’s closer to 3/13ths (according to my chart), but close enough to one chance in four, 25%.

A quicker way to do it in game, though, would be to assign each of the eight cups a number, and roll four eight-sided dice to see which four of the cups were drawn.  You don’t have to know the probabilities to do it that way, but if you had any matching rolls you would have to re-roll them (one of any pair), because it would not be possible to select the same cup twice.  In that sense, it would be easier to do it with eight cards, assigning each to a cup.

I should note that this math fails to address the more difficult questions–first, what are the odds that exactly four of the eight cups would be waiting to be washed, as opposed to three or five or some other number; second, how likely is it that someone has absconded with one of the cups of a particular color because he likes that color and is keeping it in his car or his room or elsewhere.  However, the first question is an assumption made in posing the problem, and the second question is presumably equally likely to apply to any one of the four color cups (even if I can’t imagine someone taking a liking to the orange one, someone in the house does like orange).  However, it should give you a bit of a better understanding on how to figure out the odds of something happening.

For what it’s worth, the probability of the cost of the purchase coming to an even dollar amount, assuming random values and numbers of items purchased, is one chance in one hundred.  That, of course, assumes that the sales tax scheme in the jurisdiction doesn’t skew the odds.

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#194: Slanting in Favor of Free Speech

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #194, on the subject of Slanting in Favor of Free Speech.

In January we looked at a trademark case that had much to do with freedom of speech and offensive language, in web log post #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, in which Simon Shiao Tam named his all-Asian rock band “The Slants”, saying he wanted to use the normally derogatory word to reclaim some pride for his people.  The Patent and Trademark office, relying on the same law against offensive trademarks under which the Redskins sports franchise was stripped of its protection, refused the application, and it was ultimately appealed to the United States Supreme Court.  The Court has delivered its opinion in Matal v. Tam, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), and it has implications for freedom of expression.

The Slants performing April 16th at The Flying Dog Brewery, hosted by the 1st Amendment Society

On a related subject, freedom of speech was also behind Packingham v. North Carolina, 582 U.S. ___ (2017), which struck down a North Carolina law barring anyone on the state’s sex offenders list from accessing Internet social networking sites.  We’ll look at that after Tam.

There was really nothing at all surprising about the Tam opinion, unless it is that once again eight members of the court were in agreement.  Justice Alito wrote the majority opinion, joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justices Thomas and Breyer.  Justice Kennedy wrote a concurring opinion, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Sotomayer, and Kagan, and Justice Thomas also wrote a concurring opinion.  All of them agreed on the essentials:  the so-called “disparagement clause” in U.S. trademark law which permits the denial of trademarks for anything that might be offensive to specific groups or persons is an unconstitutional infringement on free speech.

As Justice Alito puts it (slip opinion at 22), “Giving offense is a viewpoint,” then (slip opinion at 22-23) quoting from Street v. New York, 394 U.S. 576, 592 (1969), “…the public expression of ideas may not be prohibited merely because the ideas are themselves offensive to some of their hearers.”  Justice Holmes and Ray Bradbury would be pleased.

It’s good news, too, for the Redskins football franchise:  this was the rule that got them stripped of trademark protection, and so their ongoing legal battle is probably about to be rapidly resolved.  I don’t know if we’ll see a run on offensive trademarks in the near future–after all, as some in this discussion have observed, offending potential customers is not a good way to sell them your product.  On the other hand, the way is open for people to denigrate a lot of groups.  (The decision does not impact the prohibition against using the name of a living person without that person’s permission.)

So, how does the Packingham case fit?

In 2002 petitioner Packingham, then twenty-one years old, had sex with a thirteen-year-old girl, and pleaded guilty to “taking indecent liberties with a child”, a crime that qualifies under North Carolina law as “an offense against a minor” requiring registration as a sex offender.  The status can last three decades or longer.

In 2008, the state passed a law making it a felony for anyone registered as a sex offender in the state “to access a commercial social networking Web site where the sex offender knows that the site permits children to become members or to create or maintain personal Web pages.”

It strikes me that this is a second punishment.  That is, at the time Packingham was convicted and sentenced, and required to register, there was no law regarding the use of the Internet.  Six years later this restriction was added to his sentence, without so much as a hearing to determine whether it was necessary.  That, though, was not the issue before the court, although Justice Kennedy recognizes the problem in passing.  It is also not stated that Packingham was informed of the new restriction, but that was not before the court either.

In 2010, eight years after his conviction, Packingham expressed his thanks to Jesus for an event in his life, the dismissal of traffic ticket without a hearing, posting this excitement on Facebook.  A Durham police officer managed to connect the Facebook post to the dismissed ticket, and obtaining a search warrant established that Packingham had violated the law.  He was convicted, despite making a motion that the law was a violation of his First Amendment right to free speech.  There was no allegation that his Internet communications were in any way suspect or criminal other than that this law forbad him from making them at all.

The conviction flip-flopped its way through the state courts, overturned by the Court of Appeals of North Carolina, reinstated by the North Carolina Supreme Court, not without dissent.  The United States Supreme Court reversed the conviction and struck down the law.

Again we have an effectively unanimous judgement:  Justice Kennedy wrote the opinion of the court, joined by Justices Ginsberg, Breyer, Sotamayor, and Kagan, while Justice Alito wrote a concurring opinion joined by Chief Justice Roberts and Justice Thomas.  Justice Gorsuch did not participate in the decision, not having been present for oral arguments.

Justice Kennedy’s core point was that the Internet generally, and social media sites in particular, had become the new medium for many kinds of protected speech–obtaining news, expressing political opinions, communicating with others.  It had in essence become the public parks and town squares of old, the place where people gather to interact.  To refuse someone access to the Web would be to curtail their ability to communicate in the modern age.  That is clearly a limitation on freedom of speech, and as such must face scrutiny–the level of scrutiny in which there must be a demonstrable compelling government interest addressed in the least invasive way possible.  The protection of children from sexual predators is so strong a government interest that it might be possible to restrict the freedoms of potential recidivists, but the North Carolina law goes too far.

The concurring opinion agrees that the North Carolina law goes too far, but objects to the court’s identification of social networking sites as having the importance suggested.  Rather, Alito would suggest that it might be possible to prevent sex offenders from accessing many sites where predators might easily prey on children, but the definition of such sites would have to be refined–tellingly, Alito notes that Amazon, The Washington Post, and WebMD all qualify as “social networking sites” under the definition in the statute, and that perhaps the majority of web sites now do, as they provide ways for visitors to communicate with each other through comments on articles, and frequently to create a member profile.  (The other two requirements in the statute are that they provide some sort of revenue stream to their owners and do not exist primarily to facilitate sales between users (e.g., E-Bay, Craig’s List).)

In any case, it appears that the Supreme Court has decided that your Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn accounts (they are specifically mentioned) are important protected media for the exercise of your free speech.  That means something.

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#193: Yelling: An Introspection

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #193, on the subject of Yelling:  An Introspection.

You are yelling at me.

I do not know why you are yelling at me.  That is, I hear what you are saying, and know the subject of the diatribe–yet even that will be forgotten ere long.  You are in yelling mode, I in stress avoidance mode, and in stress avoidance mode I do not process what you say.  I do not even really think about why you are yelling.  Perhaps you have a headache, or a craving, or some other internal discomfort making you overly sensitive to small annoyances.  Perhaps someone or something else has brought you to the edge of your endurance, and you have to yell at someone, and whatever this is about has given you the needed excuse to make me that target.  That, too, becomes irrelevant, along with whatever it is that you are verbalizing, as my stress avoidance mode attempts to insulate me.

The insulation is of course imperfect.  I might not recall what you said, nor recognize what is prompting it, but I will be suffering the aftereffects of the assault, certainly for the next hour, maybe for the rest of the day, and in some sense it will remain with me for the rest of my life, an accumulated addition to the internal collection of negative feelings I have absorbed about myself, a subconscious recognition that you might at any moment unpredictably launch into a new tirade, attacking my self-esteem over some complaint of which I was unaware–stop tapping your fingers, don’t leave the bread out on the counter, rinse out the tub when you’ve finished your shower.  You will yell at me again; I am conditioned to anticipate it, and nervous in your presence because of it.  Hiroshima escalates from Nothing very quickly, and unavoidably, it seems.

You wonder why I am so withdrawn, so depressed, so distant; why I don’t share my feelings.  Part of that is in this:  I am afraid of you.  I am afraid that I will say something that upsets you, and you will react in a way that tells me I should not have said that.  Yet I know that it is not just whether I say the wrong thing; it is whether I do the wrong thing, or more threateningly fail to do the right thing.

I see others respond to yelling with yelling.  I remember doing that myself, once upon a time.  It has always proved unproductive, accelerating the inevitable escalation but in the process also intensifying it.  Yelling back does not make me feel better; it does not even really prevent me from feeling so bad, ultimately, and gives me one more reason for being depressed–and it makes you also subject to yelling, with effects that are likely similar to those I face.  There is no advantage, no benefit, in yelling back, but that it hurts you the way it hurts me.

I should ask you to stop yelling, but it won’t work.  You yell because you want to change your circumstance and see no way to do so but to change my actions; my actions are not entirely within your control, even if you yell, but you see no other way to influence them–I do not change easily, and it is doubtful that yelling will have any more effect than any other approach.  Someone has said that there is not a man alive who does not deserve to be nagged, and not a shred of evidence that it has ever done any good.  There is little evidence that yelling at me has any effect on me other than increasing my depression and shutting down my ability to accomplish anything.  Yet if it helps you feel better, I will tolerate the tirade to let you vent those frustrated feelings.  I will deal with my own depression as I always have.  I don’t exactly ever get over it, but I get past it and return to functioning.  So I live with the yelling.  Doesn’t everybody?

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#192: Updating the Bible’s Gender Language

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #192, on the subject of Updating the Bible’s Gender Language.

The Southern Baptist Convention, presently the largest Protestant denomination in the United States, created a bit of a stir when it announced that it would be working to update the gender language in the Bible.  Among those outside the church who post on article reaction forums, there were two general types of reactions, the one that it didn’t really matter what one did with texts that were written millennia ago by ignorant peasants and repeatedly altered since, the other that it made no sense to claim that something was a communication from God but that it could be revised by people.

The former group might be excused their ignorance in a field in which many ridiculous notions have been promulgated as if they were true, among them this notion that the writers of the Bible were all ignorant uneducated peasants.  That status was so rare among Biblical authors that the Prophet Amos makes a point of asserting it about himself, as a difference between him and all the other prophets.  As to the New Testament writers, they were generally educated members of the middle class–a tax assessor, a son of wealthy parents, a medical doctor, the owner of a business large enough that he was able to leave it in the hands of subordinates for several years and return to find it still profitable.  Indeed, Paul was a rabbinic scholar, trained by Rabban Gamaliel I, who is one of the scholars whose teaching is included in the Talmud.  They were not ignorant peasants.  As to the alleged alterations of the text, our scientific textual critics have established the original text of the New Testament to within ninety-nine-point-nine percent using sources dating into the first century; very few “intentional” changes were ever made, and those which were were obvious and easily restored.

However, the latter group has a point, which is based on a very subtle misunderstanding of exactly what the Bible is and how we regard the Bibles we read.

The problem is that the Bible is not written in English; it’s written largely in Hebrew, Greek, and Aramaic (which is a language closely related to Hebrew commonly spoken by Jews in the New Testament age).  When we read English translations of the Bible, we are reading the best renderings of those original texts which translators thought they could produce–but it means that decisions are made regarding the best way to represent the ideas in our language.  Dr. J. Edwin Orr spoke of a man telling a story through a translator.  The speaker said, “My friend was tickled to death.”  The confused native translator told the audience, “I do not understand this myself; his friend scratched himself until he died.”  Translations can be tricky.  And on the subject of gender, four things should be noted about Greek to English translation that will illustrate the overall problem.

The first is the use of the word anthropos.  It means “man”, and it is a masculine word.  (Gender of words is also one of these four things.)  However, there is another word for man, andros, and the words are different.  Anthropos means man in the general sense, the way we use the word “man” to refer to humanity.  In many contexts it would be better to render it “person”–but there are contexts in which it is obvious that the person or persons in question are men, that is, males.  In that sense, anthropos refers equally to men and women; andros refers to men only.  But we tend to render anthropos as “man” because we don’t usually use “human” that way, and because philosophers and theologians sometimes use the English word “person” in something of a technical sense that has nothing to do with whether you’re a human.

So it makes sense that we might want to revise our translations such that the word anthropos is not usually rendered “man” but something more generic like “person” or “human”, sometimes “humanity”.  That would be a revision of gender language that is attempting to produce a more accurate representation of the meaning of the original text.

There is another aspect particularly in Greek that creates great headaches for translators.  The word andros, “man”, has a counterpart, gune, “woman”.  The problem is that in common usage the words “husband” and “wife” were rarely used, the natives speaking of a couple as man and woman, with the sense of a man who belongs to a particular woman and a woman who belongs to a particular man.  Thus particularly in many places where we have the word gune, we are not certain whether it means “woman” or “wife”; it happens also sometimes with andros, but not as frequently.

We also have, as mentioned, the problem of the gender of words.  Anyone who has studied a Romance language (e.g., French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese) knows that nouns in those languages have gender–they can be masculine, feminine, or neuter.  In Greek, the word anthropos is masculine, and thus adjectives and pronouns that are referential to that word must also be masculine, and we have the result that “man” is always “he”, even when it means “person” or indeed when it means “humanity”.  On the other hand, “church”, ekklesia, is feminine, and thus is always “she”.  In English, we tend to reserve masculine and feminine pronouns for people, and thus humanity and church are both “it” or sometimes “they”–although we make exceptions, sometimes personifying objects such as perhaps affectionately calling a boat or car “she”.  The problem sometimes arises that we are not certain whether a writer is referring to a woman or a feminine noun, a man or a masculine noun.  A masculine noun, such as soldier or guard, could be used of a female person, and in the Greek it would be proper for the pronoun to be masculine if its antecedent is the noun, feminine if it is the person.

Finally, there is the problem that Greek does not require the use of pronouns, and thus many statements lack any gender definition.  To understand this, perhaps an example left over in modern English from earlier forms might help.

In the present tense, “I say”, “you say”, “we say”, “they say”, but “he, she, or it says“.  If we see the form says, we know that it is third person singular.  We don’t really need the pronoun to know that, but we always use it.  In Greek, though, all verbs are conjugated for person and number, and because of this a Greek could have said, “says” and the hearer would extrapolate that some third person singular subject is the antecedent, the person or object who says.  That means that in many places where it says “he” does something or should or may or might do something, the “he” is an extrapolation of our Indo-european language, a word that we provide because we need a pronomial subject in English which is not present in the Greek.

This is a much more difficult issue to address, because it will not do to extrapolate in every instance where there is no subject “he, she, or it” says or does whatever the text indicates.  Nor will translating them to “she” or “it” make the text clearer.  Indeed, it is problematic, as there is very little way for the reader of an English translation to know whether that “he” is what the Greek says or what the translator extrapolated to make sense of the English.  Further, Greek is also an Indo-european language, and from Sanskrit to German to Portuguese it is the standard in such languages that where the gender of the subject is not determined by the gender of a noun, the feminine pronoun represents a female person, the neuter pronoun a non-person, and the masculine pronoun a person of either male or unspecified gender.  Thus even if the Greek says “he”, that does not necessarily mean that the author was excluding “she”.

Revising the gender language in the Bible is a challenging undertaking for these reasons and more.  It will not be done perfectly, and it certainly will not be done to everyone’s satisfaction.  Yet it is not as foolish a notion as it sounds.  In many places the specification of gender in the English translations is an artifact of translation, not a certain representation of what the original said.  Language and usage change over time; new translations are created to keep pace with the changes.  This may be one of them long overdue, but difficult to manage.

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#191: Versers Travel

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #191, on the subject of Versers Travel.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77).

This picks up from there, with chapters 78 through 88.

History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 78, Brown 78

I’d decided on retrieving the equipment.  Recognizing that it had been so long, I had to think of the condition of the things he retrieved.  What mattered was the poison; but the other things had to be operational for future use as well.
Having the quills be in elf territory was an abrupt inspiration.  I hadn’t even decided what would become of that, whether they would be friendly or even helpful, or antagonistic.  I did know that Derek would have reason to be afraid of them, and that was a good place to start.

Chapter 79, Hastings 119

As I was writing this, I kept wondering why I had sent Lauren this direction.  Most of it was just trying to get her to Cowtown along the route I’d prescribed, but I wasn’t sure what else.

The teacher weekend in Atlantic City is a real annual event.  It had meant a four-day weekend when I was in grade school, and the same for my sons, and I heard mention of it again within the last couple years from someone who was preparing to be a teacher.

Chapter 80, Slade 75

I had decided some time before that the murdered princess was daughter of King Morgan; I wanted to stall the trial, and introducing a son enabled me to bring out the relationship and hint at the importance of the now-gone book.  I needed a change of subject, and I needed it fast, and thought that fencing would be just the sort of thing Slade would suggest; and remembering the idea that princes, particularly of the highest sort, seldom have the opportunity to face an opponent who doesn’t yield, I decided Ruard would look for this.

The name Ruard was an example of one of those stuck for a name techniques I’ve learned, this one from E. R. Jones:  mangle a word into something useful.  My Blockbuster® Rewards card was on my desk as I scanned for something from which I could make a name, and it reminded me of the Stuarts of England and the Stewards of Lord of the Rings.  I was trying to get something that sounded like Steward but started with R, and knew that I had to change the spelling drastically to escape being seen as Reward.  Thus Ruard came about.

My thoughts on the duel at this point were that Ruard would be an extremely capable swordsman, but that Slade would best him, narrowly.  Ruard thinks Slade a very young nobleman, and will be impressed with the skill of someone so young; Slade of course combines the vigor of a youthful body with the experience of years, a potent combination.

The “very wise comedian” who said that “everything in life is timing and delivery” is actually my brother Roy; I do not know if he got it from someone else, and although I have gotten many quips from him he would not actually claim to be a comedian (although some of his professors and perhaps some of his co-workers might).

Chapter 81, Brown 79

Oddly, I thought about this on and off for several days with little progress.  I talked about it with a couple of people, none of whom gave me anything useful.  Then I remembered that Derek couldn’t hover, and so couldn’t stay still; and before I put that to paper, I realized that the elves would not speak the language of men, at least to each other.  This gave me the starting point.  Much of the rest came together as I wrote.  I needed a reason he didn’t escape; the weight of the darts gave me that.  As I was trying to figure out how he could watch them all, I remembered his clairvoyant back protection.  The telepathy suddenly commended itself as the easy way to get past the language barrier.  As to what the elves knew of sprites, I was faced with the complication that most readers will assume elves to be at least incredibly long lived if not immortal.  For them to have forgotten that sprites ever existed would seem unlikely.  I tried to compensate for this by assuming a young group of elves, and suggesting that whatever stories they knew seemed to them as fairy tales.

I’d been toying with the idea that the elves would teach Derek how to make the sleep drug.  At this moment, I had little other idea.  There was a thought of him contacting a human college and trying to use their equipment, but any way I approached that it “snapped my disbelief suspenders”, so I abandoned it.  Getting the formula from the elves would move the story forward quite nicely.

Chapter 82, Hastings 120

I found my reason for sending Lauren this direction in showing her a woman who might have been her.  The rest was part of setting the stage of this world, and exploring who Lauren was here.

Cowtown is a real farmers market and rodeo just outside Woodstown, New Jersey; it has been extrapolated into the future, but has been where it is for a very long time already.

Chapter 83, Slade 76

The ideas for this chapter came from each other in sequence, really.  It started with the idea that Slade would be late for lunch if he spent the morning with Shella.  This suggested that the prince would also be late, detained by other things.  Then, if the prince was detained, Slade would be waiting for him in the courtyard.  Here he might have the chance to fight someone else, and Rapheus was certainly available.  I pondered whether Ruard was as good as suggested, and decided that he was, so after Slade quickly outfought the skilled Rapheus, I needed a much longer battle for Ruard.  In this, I realized that a man who expects to win and won’t allow himself to lose will probably raise the stakes to try to overpower his opponent–the rules start to become fuzzy when the stakes get high.  This led to my desire to have Slade fake the loss.

While I was writing it, I started considering how Slade was going to get out of this world.  I decided that the King would be back for dinner.  I toyed with and discarded the notion that Ruard would come for a rematch after the trial.  Somewhere in the back of my mind, I knew that if King Morgan knew, conclusively, that Acquivar killed his daughter, he would act on the matter. It occurred to me now that this meant war, and Slade would certainly lend his sword to such a battle.  I would have to figure out how to make it work, as we would have to have a clear victory and a death, and not repeat previous battle scenes; but I would get there eventually.

Chapter 84, Brown 80

I pondered for several days what to do about the elves.  I didn’t feel like I could leave them without more said, but I didn’t really have more to say and they weren’t the focus of the story.  I gave serious consideration to leaping Derek home and then flashing back to moments with the elves, but I knew readers would want to know more about the elves.

The break really came when I suddenly asked where the elves lived, that is, if Derek went home with them, what sort of home would that be?  Tolkien’s elves lived some in tunnels (at least, that’s where I think the dwarfs were imprisoned in The Hobbit), some in wonderful houses (Elrond’s Last Homely House), and some in flets (the tree platforms of Lothlorien).  I didn’t want to copy anything; but I wanted some reason why they lived in woods.  I also was faced with the fact that they had never moved into the woods of the sprites, a mere few days’ journey, which I had not explained.  The idea of a special species of tree that provided a hollow interior large enough for an elf home solved much of this.  The tree name, Seiorna, came primarily from Sequoia, as I thought people might better believe such a huge tree if it had a similar name to one they knew.  The elves didn’t carve the interiors, but encouraged the growth to go in particular ways, so that the internal bracing structures of the trees would serve as steps and floors.  It also occurred to me that elves would select such trees to be their homes when they were young, and after hundreds of years would be able to move in to them; this would also mean they did not move to other homes during their lifetimes.

The name Thalaoniri was a very abrupt invention.  I thought he should have a name, and kicked about for something, thinking of Talon and Thalon at about the same instant, and thinking that Talon would have to be modified into something less like a word.  I started to type Thalon, but while typing changed it to Thalaon, and kept going to add the iri on the end so that it would have the same multi-syllabic feel of the other name I’d created.

I decided to push forward through the dinner because I wanted to move Derek’s story closer to the end so he could move to the next world, establish the size change ability he was going to acquire, and connect with Lauren.  I knew that Slade still had a war to fight.  I also knew at this point that this book was going to have fewer worlds than any so far–each of them would be in two, with perhaps one of them seeing the first world for their next book, none of which had yet been chosen.  The discussions at dinner were mostly to satisfy the reader that I had some idea about the world of the elves without developing it too far.

It was during this week that I read Eric Ashley’s first Multiverser work.  He tears through worlds as if they didn’t matter.  I wanted to be sure that everything I included in the book seemed to matter to the people involved, even if most of it was peripheral to the story.

Chapter 85, Hastings 121

I’d had the idea about Bethany using a lawn ornament for a staff sometime last year, when I saw one in Wal-Mart that appealed to me.

The idea that Bethany would shop at Cowtown because of the ability to barter there made good sense.

I thought quite a bit about where Bethany’s home would be and what it would be like.  At one point I imagined a transparent plastic tarp in the woods, so that sun could get in but rain couldn’t.  I considered several places in the central and western U.S. to put her, and gave a passing thought to Africa.  In the end, I decided to return her to her roots.  I needed an explanation for why that was still not enclosed, and found it in the environmental movement.

Chapter 86, Slade 77

The legal procedure questions were partly for my benefit, so I could set up in my own mind what was going to happen the next day and make it seem reasonable that Slade knew how to act in a foreign court.  These led quite unexpectedly into the material about loyalty, which itself would set up my expected direction.  I’m thinking that the discovery of the book in which Acquivar reveals his treachery is going to lead to war, and that Slade will go with them.  I’ve already thought of the words, “As far as I’m concerned, I’ve finished what I came to do–and this is the best offer I’m likely to get for what to do next, so count me in.”  He’ll die in that battle, probably in confrontation with Acquivar, but almost certainly due to someone else’s treachery (not Acquivar’s skill).  Still, I’m not yet certain how to make the three character threads come together.  Part of me wants Derek to go first; in fact, part of me still wants to squeeze in another world for Derek, to establish the middle form and the shape changing, before he gets to the vampire world, and still have him get to Lauren first.  But I think she has to start fighting vampires in earnest before anyone else arrives.

I’d thought of having Shella ask him what all that was about, but dropped it partly for story flow and partly because I thought it would give away too much at which I was thus far only hinting.

Chapter 87, Brown 81

The encounter with the human was tossed in so that it wouldn’t feel like he walked home overnight.

It seemed obvious that Derek was going to have to talk about where he went, but that the reader already knew all this.  The difference between the eager interest of his little brother and the concerns of his parents seemed both quite likely and good story in which to review the events.

Chapter 88, Hastings 122

It was actually when I got here and was doing breakfast that I got the idea for the changing rooms.  I determined to back-write it into their arrival at the cave the night before.

The room is a copy of one at Gordon College.  The previous owner of the property had been building a baronial mansion on the grounds before he sold the property to the college, and I had a couple of classes in the dining room before it was converted to office space (a tragedy, I thought, as it was a beautiful room).

The paradox discussion is kept simple.  I do a lot of time travel writing, and thought that someone who had read any of that would be wondering about those things.  The solution here was simple, but one that would work in most games.

The discussion of how Bethany is about the creative touches actually tells much about Lauren I had not recognized.  Again, it is probably because she’s more like me.  I would like to do more with Bethany; alas, my wife hates her, as she’s so much the silly schoolgirl (Bethany, not my wife).

This has been the eighth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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#190: Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #190, on the subject of Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion.

To read the conservative press, you would think that Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg, in writing the majority opinion in Sessions v. Morales-Santana 582 U.S. ____ (2017), had turned her back on women’s rights and struck a blow for men.  Yet even from that reporting I could see that Ginsberg was simply staying true to her principles of equal protection (we had discussed her commitment to this previously in web log post #63:  Equal Protection When Boy Meets Girl).  Still, from the sound of it, I thought she ought to be commended for this consistency even when it seemed to go against her more feminist views.

However, unwilling to write about a court opinion I had not read, I took the time to find it and read it (link above to the official PDF), and found that it was a considerably less impressive story even than I had supposed.

I should perhaps have been tipped off by the fact that the decision was effectively unanimous–seven of nine Justices joining in the majority opinion, Justice Thomas writing a concurring opinion in which he agreed with the result but thought the equal protection language went further than necessary to reach it, and the new Justice Gorsuch not having heard oral arguments not participating in the decision.  The court did not consider it controversial.  They did, however, overturn part of the decision of the Second Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, so apparently there was a difficult issue in the matter.

It is also of some interest to us because although couched as an immigration case it ultimately proves to be a citizenship case, and we have addressed the statutes and cases involved in whether or not someone is a natural born citizen in connection with The Birther Issue when it was raised concerning President Obama, and more recently in web log post #41:  Ted Cruz and the Birther Issue.  The terms under which someone is, or is not, born an American citizen are sometimes confusing.  That was what was at issue here.

Morales-Santana was arrested in New York on a number of relatively minor charges, and the Immigration and Naturalization Service decided to deport him to the Dominican Republic, claiming that he was not a United States citizen.  That was where the story started to get interesting.  It seems that the Respondent’s father, José Morales, was an American citizen, having been born in Puerto Rico, and having lived there for almost nineteen years.  Twenty days before his nineteenth birthday he moved to the Dominican Republic to accept a job offer, and soon moved in with a native Dominican woman.  She gave birth to the Respondent, and the father immediately acknowledged paternity and shortly thereafter married the woman, making the child a member of his household.  Everyone assumed the child was an American citizen like his father.

However, the statute defining whether an unwed U.S. citizen father confers citizenship on his out-of-wedlock child specified, among other things, that the father had to have lived in the United States or its Territories or Possessions (Puerto Rico qualifies) for at least five years after reaching the age of fourteen.  José Morales, having left Puerto Rico less than a month before his nineteenth birthday, fell short of that requirement by twenty days.  Therefore he himself was a citizen, but his child, born abroad out of wedlock to a non-citizen mother, was not.

Morales-Santana, however, recognized a flaw in the law.  Had the situation been reversed–had his mother been an American citizen who bore a child out of wedlock with a non-citizen father–the statute only required that such a mother have been in residence for one year following her fourteenth birthday.  That meant, Morales-Santana argued, that women were being given a right that was being denied to men, in violation of the Equal Protection rights as understood by the United States Supreme Court.

The Second Circuit Court agreed, and decided that the citizenship conferred on children of unwed mothers ought equally to be conferred on those of unwed fathers, and stated that Morales-Santana could not be deported because he was, in fact, a United States citizen.

The government appealed, resulting in this decision.

What Ginsberg tells us is that the anomaly in the statute is the exception for unwed mothers.  The five year rule applies in all other related cases–not only unwed fathers, but married couples in which either spouse is an American citizen and the other is not.  If the Court were to rule that the unwed mother status applied equally to unwed fathers, it would have to rule that the same status applied in all these cases–but the legislature clearly intended that the five year rule would be the norm, and the one year rule a special exception for pregnant unmarried girls.  They would essentially be discarding the entire statute in favor of the exception.  Instead, they ruled that the one year exception was unconstitutional–a ruling whose only effect on the Respondent was that he could not claim citizenship through his father based on the inequity of a rule covering mothers but not fathers.

So Ginsberg certainly did strip some women of a statutory right, but she deserves to be credited for doing so consistently with her express view of equal protection.  Asserting that men and women should be treated the same does mean that sometimes women will be treated worse than they otherwise might have been.  This is one of those cases; it otherwise is not that important.

As a footnote, the court notes at one point that the statute asserts that a child born out of wedlock whose father acknowledges him and takes responsibility for his care will be regarded a citizen from the moment of his birth.  That is relevant to our discussion of what it means to be a natural-born citizen.

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#189: An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #189, on the subject of An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience.

This should be prefaced with the admission that I was quite trepidatious about attending the AnimeNEXT convention as a “guest” this year, for reasons that have nothing whatsoever to do with the convention itself.  To provide a brief background, I was invited to attend AnimeNEXT in 2014, when it was still in Somerset, New Jersey, at the now defunct Garden State Exhibit Center (it is now in the Atlantic City Convention Center), and I accepted and went and had a good time, running Multiverser for quite a few people most of whom had no experience with it, and seeing a couple of people I knew from Ubercon (a convention which I attended as guest for all but the first).  I was invited to return, and planned to do so despite the fact that it falls on the weekend of my birthday.

One week before the 2015 convention we lost our electric, and were without it up to the Friday the convention was to start–leaving me with refrigerators and freezers filled with garbage that had to be cleaned and taken to the dump on Saturday.  I did not make it to the convention, regretably.  Then in 2016, the night I was supposed to be driving to the con I was instead driven to the emergency room, where I was admitted to emergency surgery and kept in house for a week.  I joked that for my birthday I was given a hernioraphy and bowel resection, gifts I would use for many years to come.  (The joke was on me, because in March I was back to have the hernia repair repaired, and I’m not entirely certain that the repair is holding.)

Thus with the 2017 convention looming I was superstitiously worried about what sort of disaster would befall us preventing my attendance yet again.  Mercifully none did, but I was still on edge as on the Thursday night on which I was supposed to check into the hotel the person who was to drive me got sick.  I was as much concerned that I would get there as that I would not, not having run any live Multiverser games since the previous con and not having run any online since Gaming Outpost crashed, and hoping that the materials still packed in the box of books and papers from the last time were going to include everything I needed this time, without ever having a moment of preparation time to check them.  Fortuitously everything on that count worked.  I arrived Friday, too late for breakfast but in time for lunch.

I was immediately in the game room, and soon entertaining players.  Regan and Kaseeb (I hope I got those spellings right) dove right into my Tropical Island setting–the one all convention players know because I start everyone there and then blow the volcano and kill them all (that is, their characters) so I can scatter them to other worlds in the multiverse.  Both players saved me that trouble.  When Michael di Vars was explaining what had happened to them, and that whenever they were killed they would awaken in another universe, Kaseeb called him “crazy”, which as a clear expression of disbelief demands proof, and the proof is that di Vars shoots him with a gun big enough to be instantly fatal.  Regan thereafter was not so skeptical, but chose to explore a cave into which a stream poured and from which steam arose, and when he fell on the slick wet polished volcanic glass streambed he decided to attempt to crawl deeper into the cave, resulting in an abrupt slide into the boiling pool at the bottom.

Both players returned on Saturday, and I’m not certain exactly where the break was in their games.  Kaseeb landed on the bridge of the Starship Destiny, where after being beligerent and getting locked in the brig, he became cooperative, started requesting equipment he recognized would be valuable in the long term (such as a water purification system), and made himself part of the crew.  He went on a raid of a Federation listening post under construction, but got killed by security when things went wrong.  I’m afraid he tended to roll particularly bad general effects rolls, so when he needed things to go well for him the dice said they went badly.  He awoke in a forest, but I’m not going to say more about that in case he does contact me to continue play, other than to record for my own sake that he is in the same world in which Derek Jacob Brown started in the fourth novel–so those who follow the novels will probably know what world that is in a few months, if all goes well.

Meanwhile, Regan landed in Ruritania’s royal game preserve, where he was discovered by Colonel Sapt and Fritz Tarlenheim–Prisoner of Zenda, where he was as near the exact duplicate of King Rudolf as one could ask.  He pulled the rug out from under me, though–when in the morning the king had been drugged or poisoned and could not be awakened, Regan tapped his medical and herbalism background to purge the drug and revive the victim.  The king thus made it to the coronation, very sickly but adequately, and Regan was smuggled into the royal suite in the Castle at Strelsau after dark, to attend to the continued treatment of the problem.

I also started a game for Glen on Saturday afternoon.  Oddly, all three of us working in the game room–Ahmetia, Kevin, and I–felt ill after lunch.  I excused myself for a while when Regan and Kaseeb had left, but when I returned Glenn had also departed.  He did stay on the island until it exploded, although he was trying to build a raft to escape it when it happened.  He drowned, but I was still trying to decide where he would awaken when I took my break.

I had no players on Sunday, but sat in on half a game of something called Fiasco that Kevin was running–an excellent story-driven game that I would probably recommend but that at just about the halfway point two of our players had to leave and the game could not be continued once players had left the table, so I don’t really know how it plays out to the end.

Outside the RPG room, I made one run to the dealer and artist showcase room–combined in one large area with little distinction between the two.  It was larger than I could even bring myself to run through, but apart from the rather pricey and common dice (all the standard polyhedrals, but no d30s and nothing unusual like the tiny dice or the d24 I got at the last Ubercon) I saw nothing that interested me much.  That’s not really the fault of the con–it’s that I’m not the best target audience for it.  Kevin is an expert on the paranormal, frequent lecturer on the subject, but his expertise is focused on Western phenomena.  At AnimeNEXT panels address either anime or Japan, and outside our game rooms nearly everything at the convention is about one or both of those subjects.  As Chaplain of the Christian Gamers Guild I have several years attempted to connect with someone about hosting a non-denominational Christian worship service on Sunday morning, but have never been able to figure out who that would be, and suspect it is partly because Christian worship services are not really thought to fit into their overall program.  There is also an extremely high level of cosplay here.  The few other cons I’ve attended were mostly people in plain clothes with occasional costumed characters.  Here the plainclothes attendees are more the exception, and many of the cosplayers look like cartoon characters peeled from the celuloid.  I am very impressed by their skills in this regard, and they clearly impress each other–it is typical to find a crowd of photographers surrounding a well-costumed individual.  I even saw someone I thought would make an excellent image for my Lauren Hastings character, but she was down the escalator before I could react, and I was rushing late to dinner, and I never saw her again.

I have a couple times mentioned food, and I reluctantly have to say it was disappointing.  I say I am a guest of the convention, but I’m technically listed as staff in the tabletop games section.  I don’t attend staff meetings because they’re generally held (seems like every week) more than two hours away from where I live, and although in theory one can attend via online video conferencing I have no microphone or camera on my computer.  I consider myself more a special guest, like the professional wrestlers they had performing some exhibition on Saturday afternoon.  As “staff” I get free room and meals.

It is difficult to assess the Sheraton.  Upon my arrival, there was a freak incident in which the bellhop, who was apparently required to bring my luggage to my room, spilled my coffee on the rug and promised to get housekeeping to clean it.  I never saw housekeeping, and the stain remained through our entire stay, but it was mocha so it probably stains pretty well.  A moment later I noticed that the drain cock on the bathroom sink did not open.  He promised he would have maintenance fix that as well, and it was fixed by the time I returned to the room that evening.  However, at six in the morning when one of my roommates, Paul, tried to take a shower, the tub drain was clogged.  He called the desk, and we had someone there by six thirty waking the rest of us but getting the drain cleared.  Obviously there are going to be such problems, and the response was swift, but it is passing strange that we had two bad drains in the same room.  It causes me to wonder about the plumbing and other maintenance of other rooms in the hotel, but it might be simply that we had a bad general effects roll.

I hate to say that the meals were a disappointment.  Three years ago the food was wonderful, breakfast and dinner buffets worth good money.  This year, breakfast was continental, and while the donuts, bagels, loaf cakes, and other basic bread products were good quality, and the coffee excellent, I had been eagerly anticipating eggs and meat and hot cereal.  Friday’s dinner included one entree, chicken parmesan, which was passable.  I was ill Saturday and lay down over dinner time, but others at the convention described the meal of pizza and pasta salads rather derisively.  Lunch all three days was hoagies and wraps, and I was fairly happy with the roast beef on Friday and the tuna on Sunday, but on Saturday I forced myself to eat half an Italian hoagie and half a roast chicken sandwich with the roasted peppers pulled off (I do not do well with spicy foods), and probably made myself ill trying to eat it.  (Kevin and Ahmetia ultimately decided that their infirmity arose from lack of sleep, having stayed up too late Friday night and arisen too early Saturday morning.)  Of course, it was food, and it was free.  The cookies were good, the homemade potato chips got mixed reviews.  Coffee, tea, and orange juice were available with breakfast, but lunches and dinners were served with Nestle’s Pure Life bottled water in tiny bottles (eight ounces each).  The coffee was swept away very quickly at the end of breakfast, but Kat and I were able to prevail upon the polite and helpful catering staff to provide us with cups to go from the kitchen mid-morning Saturday.

I approach the food issue with mixed feelings.  I am reminded of a Mad Magazine mock of a movie entitled Marooned (which perhaps presciently told the story of three astronauts stranded in space before the Apollo 13 fiasco), in which at one point Ground Control replies to the stranded astronauts, “Hey, we had to cut the budget somewhere–we couldn’t have wall-to-wall carpet and a back-up life support system.”  There are a lot of expenses involved in running a convention, and the people at the top want to see it turn enough of a profit that they have money ready to do it again the next year.  I think it unfortunate that some of my fondest memories of 2014 were about the food, which was the basis of my worst memories of 2017.  On the other hand, I had money in my pocket and there were places to eat in the neighborhood, so the fact that I did not eat well proves ultimately to be my own fault.

Ahmetia is already expecting me to return next year, so although I have not been formally invited I’m guessing at this point that’s a formality.  Hopefully this year will go well enough that I will be in better shape in every way in twelve months, so I’ll start planning for that.  I understand that there were about two thousand people (give or take a couple hundred) through the gates, and that there were some there that I know who never came by to see me, but there were some who remembered me from three years ago who know me from nowhere else, and that was an encouragement.  So perhaps I will see you there in 2018.

I also promised Regan and Kaseeb, and maybe Glen, that if they contacted me I would find a way to continue their games online.  I am contemplating adding a forum to this site for that purpose, but have not yet heard from any of them–although I expect that if I decide to do this, I will be innundated with players from previous games wanting to continue online, who are probably already thinking that I should do this.  I am considering it.  No decision has been reached at this point.

#188: Downward Upgrades

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #188, on the subject of Downward Upgrades.

I have been playing a game on a “smart” cellular phone for the past few months–obviously not constantly, but in spare moments when I am stuck somewhere like waiting for the washer to finish or for the dog to decide to come back inside.  I’m going to name it, because this complaint is in some sense specifically their fault, although they are certainly far from unique in this.  The game is called My Singing Monsters, and it’s a sort of time-eating building game with some interesting twists, the best of which was that eventually I got to create my own songs using their tools.  I reached something around level forty-three or forty-four, which was far above anyone else I ever saw playing the game, the best of whom stopped playing around level thirty.

Then the game stopped working, and I know exactly why it stopped working, and in a very real sense it is the fault of the designer, and in another sense the designer is just doing what everyone does:  I was forbidden to continue playing unless I installed the latest upgrade, but the latest upgrade was too big for the memory space on my phone.

It’s not as if my phone is filled with junk.  I have seven “apps” (that’s short for “applications” but it means “programs”) that did not come as part of the original software–Netflix, but no saved video, Kindle with only two books at a time saved locally, a remote control for my bedroom television, my bank’s access program, a voice recorder for making quick reminder notes, a program that cleans junk off the phone and monitors its functionality, and a very small program that tells me what my phone number is when I look.  I had a couple other games, but I deleted them, and very much for the reason that I just deleted this one:  without me adding any new functions to my phone, the existing functions kept using up more and more resources.

This has been a habit of the software industry for a generation (well, in software terms that’s probably twenty generations, but it’s only a few decades).  Once upon a time making a program “better” involved writing it such that it used less space, had fewer command lines, and did as much with less resources.  Now it seems that making a program “better” means bloating it with more code to provide features the user never requested–if I’m using my phone for directions and I plug it into the power supply, that cleaner program shuts down the running map program and locks the screen; it did not do that when I first installed it, but included that “feature” which I consider a “bug” in one of the upgrades (and there is no option to disable it).

Of course, the hardware manufacturers are even more supportive of this practice in connection with phones than they were with computers.  At one time when the resource demand grew too great you could upgrade the computer–install a larger hard drive, more on board RAM, faster processor, better sound or video card.  With a cell phone, you can’t even add memory–oh, you can put in an SD card, but the system is designed to prevent you from running programs from it, so you can only store media there (I have a thirty-two megabyte card hosting a dozen photographs and a lot of empty space).  Ultimately if you run out of room on the phone you either have to delete programs or you have to buy another phone.  Industry hardware executives are of course hoping ultimately you will be forced to the latter.

So I hope that the My Singing Monsters designers hear that they lost a player because they upgraded beyond his phone’s capacity, and give some thought to whether it’s really worth making the program bigger to add features no one requested, and also that the rest of the cell phone software industry might take to heart the idea that in many cases the best way to improve a program is to make it smaller, remove worthless code and features, and have it accomplish what it is essentially made to do with a much lower use of system resources.

I’m also hoping for world peace, the brotherhood of all mankind, and a perfect hot fudge peanut butter sundae.  I might get one of those.

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#187: Sacrificing Sola Fide

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #187, on the subject of Sacrificing Sola Fide.


My Gordon College friend Walter Bjorck has apparently been posting a series of suggestions concerning how to create a genuinely Christian genuinely non-denominational fellowship.  He has been doing this via Facebook–which I find a particularly poor medium for that kind of thing, both because it is challenging to find all the posts in the series and because it provides a rather limited opportunity to respond and discuss.  To the former, I have no easy answer for him (try a web log, or possibly start a Facebook group?), but for the latter I have removed a piece of the discussion hither.  It happens that shortly after he posted this it was his birthday, so I was alerted to visit his page and saw this, and was prompted to respond here:

6. Justification by faith. All Christians believe in justification by faith, but Protestants went a step beyond by saying justification by faith alone. Both views must be allowed, understanding that all viewpoints have usually agreed that true faith produces godly works. We should also understand that Christians have agreed that fallen human beings cannot produce good works apart from the grace of God in Christ. Christians agree that Christ alone lived a sinless life and fulfilled the mission that Adam and his descendants have failed to fulfill.

Let me mention that Walter is one of those people whose intellect impressed me.  In our collegiate days he would visit meetings of various unorthodox groups (Jehovah’s Witnesses, Christian Science) and discuss with them how their views differed from Evangelical Christianity, and why the latter was more likely true.  That he was able to do this at all impressed me; that he did it in an open and friendly non-confrontational way which created dialogue and got people listening even more so.  So as I come to his ideas here, I think it important to express my admiration of his ideas and his efforts.

I must also mention that this is the only item on the list I found, but I found part of the list (without links) and recognize that there are some other issues on it I would find problematic and might eventually address if I manage to locate his comments on them.  Overall, I think C. S. Lewis was right when he somewhere said that what divides Christians is not that we disagree about the important things but that we disagree as to what the important things are.  I have a wonderful example of this, reported to me by Presbyterian Reverend John Highberger who said that an Episcopalian priest commented to him that Episcopalians and Presbyterians would never get together because Episcopalians go forward to receive communion and Presbyterians have it delivered to them in their pews.  It sounds silly to the Presbyterian that this would be an issue, but that specific act conveys a tremendous amount about the beliefs of the two denominations:

  • To the Episcopalian, the priest is a representative of Christ and God, and so standing as Christ gives the bread and wine to the individual individually, an act of communion between the individual worshipper and God.
  • To the Presbyterian, the minister is an officiant, a servant performing the ritual, which partly for convenience is done all at once by everyone so that everyone is involved in the service continuously (i.e., no one is sitting awaiting his turn to be involved again) and which incidentally connects the worshippers to each other as they take the bread and then the wine simultaneously, corporately as one body.

The form of the act itself expresses the theology behind it.  In this case, Episcopalians go forward because the act of going forward matters to them; Presbyterians remain in their pews because it does not matter.  I am disinclined to believe that either represents first century practice or the origin of the ritual, but on some level that’s not the point.

There is a degree then to which Sola Fide, “Faith Alone”, matters to Protestants.  Yet the deeper question is, should it?  Should we be willing in the name of Christian unity to sacrifice this doctrine, one of the defining identifiers of Protestantism, or should we maintain it?

I think there is a problem with the Reformation doctrine of faith, but I do not think it is in this aspect of Sola Fide.  For those who do not understand it, Sola Fide means that faith is the only means of obtaining grace and thus the only way to obtain salvation, and specifically justification.  Nothing else matters but that you have faith in Christ.  If you do not have faith in Christ, nothing else will ever be sufficient to earn God’s forgiveness; if you do have faith, nothing else will ever add anything to that salvation or reduce it in any way.

For those for whom Sola Fide is not a correct doctrine, there must of course be some alternate means of justification.  Two candidates are commonly mentioned.  Walter references one, good works.  The other is technically known as “means of grace”, which we will explain in a moment.

In regard to faith and works, I am going to mention Dr. J. Edwin Orr, who visited us at Gordon College and addressed us on this subject (among quite a few others).  I will be citing some of his statements on it.  The issues are, can one obtain justification by doing good works without faith, and if one has obtained justification by faith can that be improved by works?

The first question suffers from the issue of the perfect score, the 4.0 grade average, “batting a thousand”.  To be “justified”, as in the colloquial definition “just as if I’d never sinned,” you have to be perfect.  Doing good works doesn’t earn you points because that’s the default–you lose points every time you fail to do good works.  As Dr. Orr suggests, if you think that doing good works will make up for bad ones, ask your local police chief whether it would be all right for you to murder your spouse if you build a clinic first.  To earn justification by good works you would need to be perfect every minute of your entire life–including all that time before you realized that you needed to be perfect.  That not being humanly possible, you are going to need grace, and thus presumably faith, and you are now looking for justification based on works plus faith–not much different from justification based on faith plus works, addition being commutative.

So the other side of the question is if you are justified by faith, what can works add to this? Can you then be more justified?  If being justified means being treated as if one is sinlessly perfect, without flaw or blemish, what can be added to that?  Or are those justified soley by faith somehow less justified, regarded as less perfect, than those who are justified by faith plus works?

Certainly works are part of our salvation.  However, as Dr. Orr put it, we are saved by “the faith that works”, that is, faith that inspires us to act differently–and at this point maybe we should stop and identify what “faith” actually is.

One of the complications is that the New Testament has only two words for the concept we call “faith”, a noun and a verb–which would not be problem but that we recognize that there is a range of meaning in those words which we then attempt to capture by rendering the word to different English words in different contexts.  We take the one verb and make it “have faith”, or “believe”, or “trust”, or “be faithful”, all of which are valid senses of the word–but then we think that because the English words are different the meaning is different.  We do much the same with the noun.  Fundamentally the sense of the verb is to trust, and the noun then refers to that trust.  Being justified by faith means that by placing our trust in Christ we are treated as if we had never failed, never done anything wrong.

It is that aspect of complete justification that becomes the problem for any doctrine of “faith plus”.  If we say that those who add works to their faith are “more justified” than others, then we have unquestionably said that those others are “less justified”.  However, in all of Jesus’ parables about judgement, the outcome is always black and white–no one is told, I’m sorry, you can come to the party after we clean you up a bit.  Either you are completely justified and “in”, or you are not completely justified and “out”.

Arguably, in quite a few different senses some are “more saved” than others.  The penitent thief on the cross had enough time to make a confession of his own sin and his trust in Christ, and received a promise of salvation without anything else (and it is difficult to imagine that he had no ill thoughts toward those who would be watching him struggle for life and then breaking his legs so he could no longer do so).  Of some we might recognize that they went through far more trials and struggles toward a life of devotion to Christ than most of us; for others, we might recognize that they seem closer to God, more changed, more loving, than most people.  Some people clearly are able to trust God through far worse challenges than others, and so seem to have–and to need–more faith.  Grace expresses itself differently for each individual it touches.

Yet there is a sense in which that is an illusion.  If I ask whether you have faith, I must mean do you trust God completely.  That faith might be more or less tested, and all of us will fail on one point or another during life, but that trust means that we also trust He forgives our failures, and that the tests we fail were there to make us stronger.  Trusting God completely is in that sense a yes/no proposition–either you do or you don’t.  Trusting Him enough for the problems that come in life is different, but only in the sense that the problems come to teach us to trust Him completely.

What, though, of “means of grace”?  These are often called “sacraments”.  The Roman Catholic Church has at least a half dozen of these; the Baptists as a rule have none.  Lutherans have a couple, and it is more difficult to tell exactly what things are and are not sacraments in other denominations.  Baptism and that bread-and-wine ritual for which we have at least four distinct names (Mass, Eucharist, Communion, Lord’s Supper) and many times as many theologies are the two most commonly recognized.  I have never been a “means of grace” person, so I am sure to misrepresent this, but the theory seems to be that you use up the grace you were given in the past and have to replenish it, and that the performance of these rituals by authorized persons delivers more of God’s grace to you.  It is the difference between the belief that justification by faith at a specific point in your life forgives you for all the wrongs you have not yet committed and the belief that you have been forgiven for everything you have done so far but need more grace for those wrongs which you continue doing.  However, it also involves the recognition of a priesthood as a conduit of grace–you do not receive forgiveness by confessing your sins, exactly, but by being given forgiveness by God’s representative.  It again suggests that the grace of initial total justification is less than total, and needs to be supplemented if you are to have any hope of heaven.

Yet to some degree this might be less egregious than faith plus works, because it seems fundamentally to be faith plus faith.  That has not always been so, or at least, not everyone has so understood it–stories of Spanish conquerors in the New World having priests throw water at Native Americans and pronounce the ritual words so that when the Spanish armies slaughtered them they would go to heaven suggest a mechanical magical process by which the power of the ritual releases grace even on those who do not have faith, but this is still based on the theory that someone else has faith by proxy, that the faith of the one performing the ritual releases grace on the unbeliever.  So “means of grace” are fundamentally about faith, faith in God through a ritual believed to have been instituted by Him for the purpose of conferring grace on His people.  I don’t believe in the ritual delivery of grace; I do believe in grace through confession and prayer and other aspects of a personal relationship with God, though, and accept that for some people, at least, those personal aspects might include rituals which have no meaning to me.

Ultimately, then, it seems that justification must be by faith only, or it fails to be justification at all.

On the issue of the relationship between faith and works, I recommend my Parable of the Boiler, elsewhere on this site.

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#186: Worlds Change

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #186, on the subject of Worlds Change.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

There is also a section of the site, Multiverser Novel Support Pages, in which I have begun to place materials related to the novels beginning with character papers for the major characters, hopefully giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66).

This picks up from there, with chapters 56 through 66.


History of the series, including the reason it started, the origins of character names and details, and many of the ideas, are in those earlier posts, and won’t be repeated here.

Chapter 67, Hastings 115

I spent a lot of time thinking about this world; and I decided that it would be best if those plans of Tubrok’s allies had come to greater fruition–a loss of faith, and other things which put the vampires in a place where they could step out from the darkness.  The elimination of sunshine was on the top of the list; at first I was going to use smog for this, and even considered giving Lauren a magic gas mask or something; but then, enclosed cities were a staple of sci-fi, and would work as well.  Destruction of the ozone layer necessitating protection from the solar radiation would become my excuse for this, and the cities would be climate controlled, connected by underground bullet trains, and otherwise completely accessible to the vampires.

I was still trying to figure out whether I could use some sort of survival of the fittest justification to mold the law such that it was not a crime for a vampire to kill a mortal, and thus prevent anyone from acting against the vampires in force.

I also decided that Lauren was going to get a glimpse of things before she was attacked, by a weak but hungry vampire that took her (in T-shirt, cutoffs, and sneakers) as an easy meal.  She would have to beat it without any of her weapons (all of which are in the cart), which means psionics, magic, and hand-to-hand combat.  This lets it be a tough fight against a weak opponent, and gets her to kit up before continuing.

I also decided that her presence would be quickly recognized, and she would be put to flight; having her running from the enemy would be a good start, and give me time to bring the others to her.

I started the three items with the card; it quotes Philippians 4:19, And my God will provide all your needs according to His riches in glory in Christ Jesus, but in Greek so that it wouldn’t be immediately evident.  I figured it would somehow provide her with money or the equivalent wherever it was used, and I would figure out how as I went, although sticking it in a cash machine seemed the best place to start.  I made it gold because that fit its function for some worlds.

The second item I already discussed; John 8:32, The truth will set you free, is the verse.

Even as I wrote the words, “The third object”, I had not decided what it was.  But I’d been toying with an idea of a cross on a chain that would protect her directly against magic–otherwise she would be particularly vulnerable to detection, location, scrying, and remote attacks.  But she doesn’t wear it yet, because she has to be detectable long enough for her to figure out some of what’s happening here.

Chapter 68, Slade 71

Breakfast suddenly occurred to me; of course, it’s late afternoon for them, but they just awoke.  I remembered that this was right near the inn, so that seemed the logical place to go.  The rest sort of fell into place.

I had actually completely shut down the computer and was about to go to bed when I thought of the last paragraph.  I wanted the number of soldiers they saw pass them on the road to be sufficient that it would be clearly dangerous, and toyed with whether thirty cavalry was better than thirty infantry, or whether twenty cavalry was sufficient, and in the end jumped it up to forty cavalry so it would look like a more difficult challenge even to those who did not equate the fact that they were cavalry with making them more dangerous.

Chapter 69, Brown 75

I described the world of humans pretty much as I’d imagined it, as a sort of weak late medieval society.  Inter-human war was logical in that setting, although I’d not considered it before.  It also meant Derek was practicing his scrying.

The digression into history sort of surprised me, but made sense.  I was at this point thinking of combining the development of the famed pixie drugged arrows with my original notion of demonstrating that sprites were human, too.  Derek would have known that there were peaceful ways to oppose oppression; but history was never among his interests, and he wouldn’t have that kind of knowledge on which to draw now.

The discussion of history led naturally to the story of Tonathel.  I’d never considered that I might include this tale in the book, or even what the details of it were; but suddenly Derek needed an example of peaceful resistance, and this would be the first place he would look.  Thus I set it up.  Oddly, it had taken me a few days of consideration to find the beginning of this chapter, to figure out how I was going to get from the previous one to giving Derek what he needed to know through scrying and asking; and when I got to the story of Tonathel, after writing the rather fragmentary introduction, I again set it aside to consider in more depth what Morani would tell about this story.

Chapter 70, Hastings 116

I liked the name Ana for my seer; it probably came from Anna the prophetess in Luke, although using Anastasia for Ana actually came from E. R. Jones’ high school sweetheart, whom I never met.

I needed names for these people.  I took Padowski from my eldest’s girlfriend, and then needed given names to match.  Dimitri and Anastasia aren’t perfect, but they were close enough given that this was an American setting and the future.  I probably grabbed Anastasia from the book of that name (although more from the Disney movie version); Dimitri probably came from my Greek illustrator Dimitrios, although I’d heard it used as a Russian name at some point.

I made Ana a seer primarily so that her grandson would stop Lauren based on instructions.  I expect to do more with it, but as yet I don’t know what.

The unfolding of the story needed to avoid Tubrok’s name; and I was stuck for a title for him.  The communist idea of a party chairman who actually pulled the strings behind all the elected officials worked well in a global situation.

Masculinizing “Lauren” into “Lorne” was an interesting twist, given the typical expectation some have of angels being men.

My wife once bought me a card that read, “You’re the answer to my prayers” on the front.  The interior said, “You’re not what I prayed for, exactly, but apparently you’re the answer.”  I remember that frequently when I think of answers to prayers.

Chapter 71, Slade 72

I spent a lot of time considering how Slade would get past forty cavalry, and then didn’t write that part yet.  But I did create the idea of getting to the inn while the soldiers were sleeping, and then stealing their horses.

I also decided that at least part of the cavalry would be in position to hold the pass against them.  I had not yet decided how he would get past them.

The musings on time are something I get in my time travel e-mail about once a year–someone tells me that time isn’t real, but is something man invented.  I have to explain the difference between the thing itself and the way we measure it.

I don’t know how Shella knew that twenty minutes had elapsed; it just seemed like exactly the sort of thing she would know.

Chapter 72, Brown 76

I was pretty much winging it on the school stuff.  It had started with an idea for social interaction, but then it was becoming the equivalent of Hebrew School (which friends of mine had to attend).  It was also obvious that Derek didn’t have to work at just about anything in this life, except learning this language, so I wanted to make it seem like effort.

My thinking about the sprites who dropped out was that their parents would take them out if it was clear that they did not have the interest or discipline to continue (which is often tied to ability, I think); but that from Derek’s perspective he wouldn’t know this.

The flying tricks I wrote years ago, as part of the journals of a character in a role playing game who happened to be a winged elf.  He had been an aerialist in his youth, until an accident had killed his fiancé.  I decided that those ideas were at least worth bringing in as color, and might lead to something more.  I’ve wanted to find a way to bring Derek into human contact, and making him part of an exhibition team might get me there.

I also thought to bring in the girl.  It will probably be a young love interest, but not more; what will happen when Derek verses out I couldn’t say, although perhaps if they are good friends by then she’ll tag along as an associate.

I’m also more and more moving in my mind toward the development of some sort of pixie sleep drug for spritish arrows.  If Derek can develop a non-lethal weapon that sprites could use effectively against humans, that would turn the tide.  He would probably still try diplomacy first; but it’s not going to work–humans won’t agree to equality with sprites, unless sprites demonstrate military advantage.

Chapter 73, Hastings 117

I had pondered how Lauren was going to discover that the city was enclosed, and how she was going to get outside.  The more I considered Dimitri and Anastasia, the more certain I was that it would never occur to them to mention that the city was enclosed–how could it be any different?  Then the telepathic link to Bethany came to mind, and I decided to use that.

I had determined previously that the cross would block efforts to locate Lauren by magic or psionics.  At first I’d some idea of vampires finding her, so that she would realize the need.  But Ana provided a simpler way to set that up.  This didn’t mean she couldn’t be found–only that it would be difficult to do so by magic.

There was in this a confusion I had overlooked.  Lauren is so like me in so many ways that I forget when she is different.  She doesn’t carry a copy of the Greek New Testament or any grammar or vocabulary books; she relies on her English version.  It isn’t that she never studied Greek; it’s that she did so so long ago that she doesn’t remember enough to really crack this.  Bethany was not terribly well versed in Greek, either; but we’ll cover that.

Chapter 74, Slade 73

Thinking about Slade’s problem gave me part of the answer to Derek’s.  Slade could have used chloroform to knock out the guards; he had nothing like that.  Derek did have something like that–in another world, he got the porcuperson darts, with a strong sedative agent in them.  They’re around somewhere, and if he can find them he can analyze the chemistry and attempt to reproduce the drug as sprite sleep drug.

I didn’t have a solution to Slade’s problem when I started.  I didn’t want to use something so obvious as a sleep spell or hypnosis or something; I saw the problems inherent in killing the guards; yet I wasn’t certain how to proceed.  I gave some thought to trying to gag them abruptly, but this seemed unwieldy.  As I was writing this, I got the better idea.

I had decided that up to half the cavalry would be waiting at the pass; I was already working on strategies for that.  I figured Slade would attempt to disable as many horses as he could, and then rush the line and go for the border.  Once over the line, he would face combat with a handful of the cavalry, but before the fight could begin soldiers from the neighboring kingdom would arrest them all and escort them to the king.  The king had been told by his priests that he needed to send soldiers there immediately.

In this regard, I regretted having arranged for Slade to give the book to the peasant.  It occurred to me that everything would fall into place if the princess were the daughter of the king of the next country, and Slade could produce the book.  I almost went back and changed it (I had already read that part to my youngest two sons, who were keeping me on pace with this book).  Then I realized that the soldiers could very well have captured the peasant, in which case the captain of the cavalry would have the book, and not know its importance.  Thus if I found a way for Slade to recognize this, the book would arrive to the person best able to do something about it quite without Slade knowing who that was.

Chapter 75, Brown 77

I was not certain what to do at this point; I didn’t want to leap over to Derek at sixteen, but I didn’t want to bog down in details either.

I had started writing of Derek’s twelfth birthday (only that he noted it) when I remembered that I’d been thinking about a sibling for him.  It had been a long stretch since Derek was born; I hadn’t really intended that.  So I decided this was normal for sprites.  I hesitated for a long moment over whether it should be a brother or sister; I decided it should be a brother because suddenly Paul Atriedes’ sister came to mind, and although I did not at this moment intend for the sibling to have any real part in the deliverance I didn’t want to risk paralleling that book.

At this moment, my reading to Evan and Adam caught up with me; I had read chapter 74 before I wrote 75, and had to write 75 for the next night’s reading.  I shuffled the stuff about the twelfth birthday to my notes, and gave consideration to the telepathy bit.  I wasn’t certain how it would turn out, but was happy with what I got.

Chapter 76, Hastings 118

The talk about the words of prophets was spur of the moment.

I had several times swithered about whether to bring Lauren out in Salem County (New Jersey), as I at least was familiar with the territory and could guess it would still be part rural in three hundred years.  In the end, I decided it was the best choice.  I pushed the Speedline through because people are always talking about extending it, replaced a U.S. highway with a mass transit bus, and chose a spot that had reason to stay at least partly rural:  the rodeo.

I was also thinking about whether to take Dimitri along for the fight ahead, but had a lot of reasons not to do so at this point.

Chapter 77, Slade 74

Of course, I had the broad outline of this in my mind for several days before I wrote it.  Slade would shoot at the legs of the horses (I debated this a long time, as it is so unlike chivalry and yet such a good tactic), and then break through the line.  Acquivar’s people would pursue in smaller force.  Soldiers of the king, alerted indirectly by Majdi, would arrest all.  What I didn’t have was the detail, which I filled in as I wrote.

The notion that the blaster shots would be unaffected by wind was something that seemed obvious to me, but it’s not clear that Bob would actually know that.  On the other hand, he probably thinks (incorrectly) that wind would not affect bullets, so he is extrapolating from that.  The blaster discharges a ball of gravitic/kinetic energy, which wind would not shift.

This has been the seventh behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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