#210: New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #210, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election.

New Jersey tends to be blase about our off-year elections–no President, no United States Senators, no United States Congressman, why bother going to the polls?  Yet this year the election is not insignificant.  Every elected State office is on the block, from our Governor and Lieutenant Governer to all forty of our State Senators to all eighty of our State Assemblymen.  Additionally, there are two ballot questions put forward, asking the voters to approve spending more money.

That’s certainly more than we can cover.  We’re going to limit our attentions to the state-wide issues–that is, the gubernatorial ticket and the Public Questions.  We begin with the governor’s race, and follow-up with the Public Questions in a future post.

New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Current Governor Chris Christie, considered by political pundits the most moderate Republican governor in office, is coming to the end of his second and thus is ineligible to run again.

His Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, heads the Republican ticket.

Guadagno has not been a rubber stamp for Christie.  She opposed the recent gasoline tax bill, which Christie supported, because she saw political maneuvering around it to increase state spending beyond what the bill promised to raise.  Among the leading campaign promises, she has a plan to at least cap if not reduce property taxes, by tying a ceiling on the education share of property taxes to household income and making up the difference in education costs from a state fund.  She also has plans to fix the state’s pension and health benefits programs, and talks of improving conditions for veterans.

Her running mate is Cuban-born Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo.

Rendo’s family fled Cuba, and he grew up in Union City, graduating from Emerson High School, with degrees from Rutgers University and Temple University.  His 2015 mayoral election is his earliest reported involvement in politics, but his degrees are in political science and government, and law.

Observers are expecting a strong victory for the Democratic slate, giving that party control of what they call the “trifecta”, both legislative houses and the executive.  The Democratic nominee is Phil Murphy.

Murphy’s political background includes being National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and serving as Ambassador to Germany.  Otherwise most of his experience is in economics, primarily at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.  His platform focuses on trying to bring innovation back to New Jersey–leader in invention from the time of Edison to the end of AT&T’s Bell Labs–and so improve the economy.  He speaks of increasing funding for education, but does not suggest whence this money will be obtained.

His running mate is New Jersey Assemblywoman, former Assembly Speaker, and one-time United States Senate candidate Sheila Oliver.

Oliver is strongly liberal, but has not been a popular candidate outside her district.

There are five other gubernatorial candidates in the state race.

The Libertarian party is supporting Peter Rohrman, with running mate Karese Laguerre.  Neither have any experience running for or serving in elective office; they put forward the standard Libertarian platform of less government.

The Green party offers Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, a Reformed minister who has been involved in social causes.  His running mate Lisa Durden is a political commentator, formerly a professor at Essex Community College terminated after making public statements supporting a decision by a local chapter of Black Lives Matter to hold an event open only to African-Americans.  Neither has any experience in elected office.

Veteran Marine Matt Riccardi is the gubernatorial nominee for the Constitution Party; they did not register a running mate for the lieutenant position.  His ticket is focused on reducing taxes across the board and increasing jobs in the state.  Riccardi is new to the political process.

Former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese is running on the Lower Property Taxes ticket; she is also cited in the press as the LGBT candidate.  Her running mate, Derel Stroud, has been a state Democratic party political organizer since 2009.

The We the People party has placed as official candidates on the ballot the ticket of Vincent Ross and April Johnson.  Both candidates are unknown in the political and online worlds at this point.

Those are the candidates, in brief.  Much can be learned about them online once you know their names.  The Democrats are thought to have a strong lead, but the Republicans do have a chance, particularly in an off-year election when younger Democratic voters are less likely to go to the polls.

So plan to vote Tuesday if you have given thought to the future of New Jersey and the directions the candidates would take us.

Watch for an upcoming article on the public questions.

#209: Versers Victorious

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #209, on the subject of Versers Victorious.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed 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);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99);
  10. #202:  Verser Confrontations (chapters 100 through 110);
  11. #205:  Verser Reunion (chapters 111 through 121).

This picks up from there, completing the book with chapters 122 through 132.

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 122, Slade 89

It was too soon to explain what happened, but I had to let the reader know that the characters were aware of the problems.  I’d devised the answers already, but couldn’t take the time here to give them.

I had become aware of the redundancy between both locking out the computer controls and destroying the mechanism.  I didn’t really have a good reason to lock out the computers if the mechanism was going to be destroyed, but I did have a reason to destroy the mechanism if the computer lockouts were in place, so I tried to make it all seem credible.

The barn would be Cowtown; I just needed a few places they could use in the travel for color.  The idea of having them split up had come to me more as an added precaution.

I was actually stuck for a place for them to go at this point; but it was obvious that once Tubrok knew who was behind the raids, he’d know where to look for them, and they were going to have to move.  It would be most obvious perhaps to Merlin, who had something of an outsider’s perspective, but knew Tubrok.

The legend of the Mystic came back to me abruptly.  I wanted to start having ordinary people attack domes, and this was a good opportunity to kick-start that.

Chapter 123, Hastings 134

My explanation for how Omigger had come to be Merlin was intact before this point, but this was the time to deliver it.  The tobacco thing was a passing point.

I decided on Philadelphia next.  After all, this was where Lauren had started, but she’d not yet freed it.  She had attacked the dome control station to steal the papers, but had not yet opened the dome.  I also had a wild idea of having them travel from the dome control station in a tour of the world only to return to Ana and Dimitri to stay there for a few days–after all, that would not be where Tubrok would look.

Chapter 124, Brown 93

The details of this came together rather quickly; the presentation took longer.  But I liked the idea of going back to Philadelphia the way she’d left it, by Speedline.  Yet I was getting close to the climactic battle with Tubrok, and I didn’t want to overdo the combat just before it.  This all seemed to work.

Chapter 125, Slade 90

At this point it was becoming necessary for me to sketch out what was going to happen in the remainder of the book.  There were a lot of things I had to do, and not much time in which to do them.

The fact that Derek could turn into Ferris Hoffman and so catch himself when falling had to be worked into a combat situation; and that meant it had to be established that Bethany had done the magic clothes.

The next assault really had to be Washington; nothing else made sense.  That also meant they were going to face Tubrok finally.  I had to come up with a way for him to make a speech in the midst of this–a magical defense that was going to cause a lull in the fighting at some point–and I had to get the dialogue down so it really made sense and mattered.

Lauren was going to die in this battle; but she couldn’t die at the beginning of it, and she couldn’t die at the end of it.  I was going to have to have another Hastings chapter, and then move away from her and back again.  It made sense at this point for Slade to wrap up the fight prelims (including the suit for Derek) and the decision to go to Washington.  My thinking was that Ana would mention it, and give some foreboding about it.  After that, Lauren will give us the movement to Washington and the confrontation itself.  Derek and Slade will then report the fight details; in that, Derek has to be thrown or knocked from some high point (or perhaps the floor beneath him has to be destroyed so he falls through?) so he can change to Ferris and catch himself.  Then the fight will continue through Lauren’s eyes, and at her climactic moment she will grab hold of Tubrok and pronounce the fire spell that killed Horta.  This will be the end of her story, but not the end of the fight, as she will verse out (and maybe take a couple of Tubrok’s lackeys with her) but Tubrok will survive.

I was thinking that Derek would see Tubrok pick himself up and revitalize himself, but now perhaps it would be better for this to be Slade.  The combat continues, with Horta and Merlin throwing enough magic around that the place starts to crumble (Tubrok will have used a darkness spell and something else to keep the sunlight out).  It would then shift to Derek.  Perhaps if Derek fell into a hole, caught himself by changing to Ferris, and then got out by changing to Morach, he would emerge from the hole a sprite, deprived of his larger weapons.  In this case, he would use the psionics he learned, and then maybe we’ll surprise everything by having the sleep drug work on Tubrok, so he goes down and can be finished by something else.  That would be a good ending, I think.  Thereafter, Merlin asks who his new student is.

That leaves me in need of a denouement.  There were good afterthoughts in the first two books, and I’ll have to think of one for this one.  Also, the first two books both ended with one of the characters in the next world.  That’s problematic for this one, as Lauren will not be in the fourth book and Derek and Slade won’t verse out of this one.  Perhaps I need to bring in one chapter of Kondor–I don’t yet know where he is, but he will be back in book four, so it’s time to start giving thought to that.

I came up with Slade’s speech about being prepared for the next thing; I figure that’s my big point in the denouement.  I did this while I was thinking over how this Slade chapter was going to go, and typed a quick draft at the end for reference.

The prophecy was a last-minute addition.  Since I already knew that it would be Derek, Lauren’s student, who finished Tubrok, I thought it would add tremendous tension for the prediction to have suggested she would defeat him and then have her die.

I knew at this point that I was entering a single combat that would last several chapters.  Lauren would get us there.  Derek would fall into a pit, and emerge as a sprite.  Tubrok would use darkness to blot out the sun.  It was going to be a long battle, with lots of combatants and lots of actions, and I was going to have to think of much more to make it work as it went.  The end of the book was about to begin.

Chapter 126, Hastings 135

I had actually forgotten that there would be people in the control room when they arrived; I let this carry over to Lauren.  It took me a couple sittings to get all the way through this chapter, as I kept having to stop and think about how it should unfold.

I’d been toying with the booby-trap idea for some time.  The more I considered it, the more sense it made.

I was also uncertain how to proceed with the end; I started trying to outline the last chapters and the major events they would include.  Lauren had to verse out; Derek had to see it, I think, but he also had to fall into the pit.  After he fell into the pit, he had to turn into a sprite, and come out again; and he had to make the fatal shot.  I intended to have Tubrok block the sun with several magics, and make a bit of a speech about having them all together to destroy them.  It seems that I’ve got to start with Derek for the arrival and joining battle.  Then Slade will take the brunt of the combat, showing that they were tearing through enemies but badly outnumbered.  Lauren steps forward in her chapter; she and Merlin will be focused on Tubrok, and she’ll end her appearance in the book with that fire spell that took out Horta.  Then Derek is horrified that Lauren is gone but Tubrok, although unsteady, remains; and before he can act, the ground opens beneath him and he falls.  We have him plunging, transforming, and catching himself, and leave him on the ground below–or maybe still headed toward it.  That takes us back to Slade, who is fighting a losing battle (but then, that’s what Ragnorak is about, isn’t it?), despite Shella, Bethany, and Merlin.  Probably he plunges into battle against Tubrok, who isn’t so good against physical attacks despite being a tough kill.  Yet he’s tiring, wearing down.  Derek becomes Morach, flies out of the pit, recovers his bow and arrows from his pack, and fires the pinprick into Tubrok’s cheek.  The vampire reels and falls, and then vanishes to dust.  We go to Slade for the aftermath and Slade’s speech.

I keep wondering what to do for the final chapter.  Lauren will not be in the fourth book (although otherwise details are still sketchy, but I’m thinking of a spy story for Derek).  Derek and Slade won’t have versed out.  I’m wondering about bringing Joe Kondor in for the last chapter, although I don’t know where he is.  I don’t like that, but it might work.

Chapter 127, Brown 94

Derek is caught in that moment in which what he had intended to do, what he always did on these trips, isn’t going to work, and he has to change gears, as it were, to figure out what he should do instead.  I’ve had that problem in other situations, where I knew what I was going to do and now that for some reason that was not a viable choice I couldn’t for a moment get away from that to wrap my head around doing something else instead.

Derek is almost last through the door because despite all his skill he has very little experience fighting–he has helped them fight these battles, but he is usually “the computer guy who also knows how to use a gun”, not one of the fighters.

I’ll credit Shakespeare’s MacBeth for the inspiration for the prophecy that Tubrok would not be killed by anyone born in that world; I was always fond of that twist.  In MacBeth the charm is no man of woman born would kill him, but MacDuff announces that he was from his mother’s womb untimely ripped (born by caesarean section).  Tolkien probably stole it first–his chief nazgul had been promised that no man could kill him, but he was killed by a halfling and a woman.  My twist, of course, is that Lauren, Bob, and Derek were all born in the parallel earth, and Shella and Merlin/Omigger were born in the medieval fantasy world Slade had visited, so Bethany is the only one present who can’t kill Tubrok if the prophecy is true.

Chapter 128, Slade 91

It is a perhaps dubious supposition of Multiverser that allows pagan Bob Slade to be infused with power from God’s Holy Spirit, but it is not completely unfounded.  The assumption is that in the spirit realm there is the one Creator God, and that religions that worship that one God, whether Christianity, Judaism, Islam, or any of their offshoots, are all “close enough for mortals” to the truth; and that there are many other spirits who fall into three categories, those who are aligned with and servants of God (“alliance”), those which are openly opposed to God (“anarch”), and those who have not (yet) chosen a side (“neutral”).  Many of the “good” heads of pagan pantheons are presumed to be “alliance”, servants of God who were given charge of some group of people somewhere in the world to prepare them for the truth, and thus Odin is seen as God’s servant preparing his people ultimately to become servants of God.  Thus by serving Odin Slade is indirectly serving God, in something of the same way that a private who obeys the commands of his sergeant is indirectly obeying the Commander in Chief of the military.

I suppose that Bob delivers the moral of the story in his thoughts to himself, that “if every good man fights to his last breath evil loses, even if it takes the field.”

Chapter 129, Hastings 136

I had been scouring scripture for good verses for Lauren to use, so she would have something new in her repertoire at this point.  I’ve never been particularly good at chapter-and-verse addresses, but I might have recorded them somewhere.

I knew Lauren was going to verse out here, and she was going to finish her own life by being caught in the same fire she calls against Tubrok.  However, she knows she can’t cast that spell and survive it, so at this point I’m making her aware that she’s not going to survive this combat anyway, so she’ll use the spell.

“East side, center gate” was a phrase given to me by Steve Freed, when we were both leaving Gordon College.  It is a supposed meeting place in the New Jerusalem, a way of saying I will see you there.

Chapter 130, Brown 95

I was facing several issues at this point.  One was, if the death of Tubrok closed the chasm into which Derek was falling, he would be buried in it; of course, it might not do that, and in the end it seemed better that it not.  Another was that if Tubrok had just died, the enemy would be routed and the battle ended, but that wasn’t the way this was to go:  Derek had to deal the fatal shot.  So I shifted to Derek’s perspective as he is still falling (probably a moment ago) in this pit, and dealt with bringing him back to finish the battle.

I don’t know when I decided that Ferris Hoffman would be the answer here, but it was to me significant that the form that he had disdained became the one that saved him.  Had he stayed Derek, he would have crashed and died; had he become Morach he would probably have dropped the rifle and seen it damaged.  Only as Ferris could he slow his fall and keep the rifle.

It seemed important to make the statement that Lauren had won, that this was her victory, even though Derek fired the fatal shot.  I had realized at some point that although the first book was Slade’s story, and the third book perhaps another story about Slade, and the middle book Derek’s story, the three books together formed Lauren’s story arc, the story in which she faces and ultimately defeats the vampires, and the death of Tubrok here, in the same battle in which she died, means that she won.

Chapter 131, Slade 92

Maybe, though, the moral is in Slade’s conversation with Derek, regarding each moment in life preparing us both for the end and for the next moment.

I glossed over a minor issue:  Lauren is the only member of the group that had a way to pay for things.  Bethany was going to work on something, but we never saw her do so; so they don’t really have any money for a place to stay.  On the other hand, they’ve got three wizards, so they’ll probably come up with something.

Chapter 132, Brown 96

I found a way to wrap up the book, mostly talking about the fact that there were many other worlds, and reminding the reader that we did not know where Lauren went or where Joe was.  Joe would return in the beginning of the next book; Lauren would wait for another book after that.  Derek and Bob were still here, and I would need a chapter to send them on their way to new places, but of course I was setting up that expectation as well.

This has been the twelfth and final behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  There is hope that the fourth Multiverser novel, Spy Verses, will soon appear on the web site, if there is interest and continued support from readers.

#208: Halloween

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #208, on the subject of Halloween.

An internet friend tagged me in a Facebook thread in which he had raised the question of the Christian response to Halloween.  It’s a subject we were addressing here in America at least as far back as the early 1980s when I was working at Christian contemporary radio station WNNN-FM, but my friend is in Europe, and the holiday is just making its first inroads there, so he wanted some feedback from people who had already reached a decision one way or another and had time to apply it and decide whether it worked.  I posted most of this there, but decided to tweak it a bit and repost it for a more general audience here.

If I have my history right, a lot of the trappings of Halloween come from the Celtic celebration of Samhain, which was a sort of new year celebration.  Like the Jews, the Celts ended a day at sunset, and so the year ended the night before the morning of the new year, a celestial event halfway between the equinox and the solstice.  That night was a sort of “no man’s time” during which the dead could walk the earth–not necessarily a bad thing, and I think in some places table settings were laid for the ghosts of recently deceased relatives, although people avoided going out without some sort of protection because of the potential for malevolent spirits of the restless dead.  Protections included carrying a gourd or turnip with a candle inside and a frightening face carved through it, or wearing a costume to appear to be something frightening yourself.

The Roman Catholic Church quite sensibly recognized that you can’t deprive people of their holidays, so they attempted to co-opt them.  Samhain was replaced by All Saints Day, the celebration of the lives of all the Capital-S-Saints and particularly the martyrs who either didn’t have their own days or whose days were overlooked because, let’s face it, no one celebrates every day

(well, almost no one.  I remember as a child seeing a birthday card that said, “Happy Birthday to a Man who Only Drinks on Holidays” and then inside had three hundred sixty-six listed holidays including such gems as Birthington’s Washday and several repetitions of Bluebeard’s Wedding Anniversary.  However, it is not really possible to celebrate every day and still live an ordinary life, and if you celebrate every day in some sense it ceases to be a celebration at all.)

Since Catholicism began the day at sunrise, the night before All Saints Day became All Hallows Eve, or Hallowed Evening, or Hallowed Even’, or Hallow’e’en’, our modern Halloween.  In that sense it was always a “Christian” holiday, but like most of our Christian holidays borrowed and attempted to Christianize the practices associated with the holy days it replaced (e.g., much of our Christmas tradition comes from Yule, and even some of our popular carols use the word).

Early Reformation Christians objected to the catalogue of Capital-S-Saints, and so their objection to Halloween was that they didn’t like what the Catholics were celebrating.  Thus they chose to use the day to honor the Reformation.  Modern Lutherans still often celebrate Reformation Day, but think it was created to escape the Pagan holiday, when it was a reaction to the Roman one.

In my experience, celebrating Halloween all my life, it has always seemed to be a modern secular holiday–something like our Memorial Day or Independence Day without the national idolatry, or our Thanksgiving without the non-sectarian religious undertones.  It is a cultural celebration, not a religious one.

Someone mentioned having read something by a former Satanist priest favoring Halloween.  I don’t know who they read, but the two most popular–Mike Warnke and William Schnoebelen–have both been discredited.  They have never had any connection to Satanism or Witchcraft, and frequently confuse the two as if they were the same thing (which they are not).  Both made a lot of money by selling their sensationalist stories of fictional experiences they invented and claimed as true.  Further, modern witchcraft–Wicca–has no history prior to the nineteenth century, so any claims they make to holidays are co-opted from information preserved by Christians.

Certainly there are children who are better off being shielded from horror stories.  Frankly, there are adults for whom that is true, and I tend to avoid horror movies and television because I don’t care for that kind of frightening if there isn’t some redeeming aspect to it.  That’s definitely a “weaker brother” issue:  some people very much enjoy such stories, and even gain faith from the notion that whatever evil is in the world, God is greater.

Touching on costumes, certainly you can limit them to dressing as “good” characters (although that becomes a definition issue at times–is a soldier a “good” or “bad” character?  What about a magician?).  On the other hand, psychology has found some benefit in “being the monster” as a way of defusing our fears of the monster.  The kid who is afraid of ghosts might be less so after being one for Halloween, because suddenly the ghost on the outside is just a person on the inside, and he knows the ghost isn’t dangerous.

I figure it’s neighborly to participate in Halloween, and every year we give out canned or bottled soda and/or water (kids need something with which to wash down all the candy).  A few times we’ve printed our own “Living Water” leaflet to tape to the containers, although in recent years the costs in time and money have been challenging. Still, kids look forward to finding our house, and we have made connections with some people through this–and we’re not otherwise particularly neighborly, I think.  The time when people knew their neighbors is behind us; we’re too mobile a society for that, and we tend rather to interact with people based on common interests rather than geography.  Halloween might be the only event that preserves that neighborhood interaction.

I suspect that when Nikolaj tagged me he knew he was asking for a long answer (in my mouth, all stories are long), so I hope this helps him and anyone else reading.

#207: The Gender Identity Trap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #207, on the subject of The Gender Identity Trap.

What if it were really true,
Most girls like pink, most boys like blue?
Just what would color mean to you?

We live in a world filled with gender expectations.  Call them stereotypes if you like, but it goes deeper than that.  We have persuaded ourselves that girls, and women, have a certain inherent character that causes them to be interested in specific kinds of things, and that boys, and men, are similarly innately interested in a different set of things.

We can explore these with what we might call common sense wisdom and observation.  Boys tend to be athletic, and competitive.  We want to prove ourselves the strongest, fastest, toughest.  We communicate with our fists, and the emotions we are willing to show are all what might be called “hard” emotions–anger, jealousy, pride.  Girls, meanwhile, tend to be nurturing, interested in exploring relationships, in caring for those younger or weaker than themselves.  They are articulate creatures, talking even when no one listens, and they display the “soft” emotions–sympathy, affection, sadness.


I don’t want to argue against the scientific work that has been done in this area.  Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson and his ilk make a potent argument for an evolutionary basis for gender differences, that women favor those qualities that enable them to manage child care and foraging while the men are better suited to hunting.  One does not need to be a religious person to believe that we are male and female, and that these are different.  However, I raise two objections to this concept.

The first can be stated as that generalizations are always false (including this one).  There are many men who have never been interested in sports, who have never been physically competitive or athletic, who have abandoned physical violence as a means of conflict resolution, and who are willing to let their softer emotions show and who are nurturing and caring.  There are similarly many women who are athletic and competitive, sometimes violent, sometimes violently angry.  When we identify traits as specifically masculine or specifically feminine, we are making a generalization, drawing conclusions from what we might call the “center of the bell curve”–most men have this trait, more or less, although some have it to an extreme while others seem to be lacking it entirely.  You will find men who are not at all “manly” in the stereotypical sense, and women who similarly break the mold that defines the feminine.

The second objection, though, is that these cannot truly be used to define what it is to be male or female, a man or a woman, and for a very simple reason:  we do not really know which ones are innate, or to what degree, versus which ones are learned, and to what degree.  Some little girls easily learn to play with guns and toy soldiers, while others put the guns aside and treat the soldiers like children in a schoolroom or nursery.  Some boys have no trouble playing with dolls or appreciating cute figurines, while others are ready to turn even Precious Moments figurines into combat-ready mechas.  When we have a quality that is generally true of a group, we always find that it is not universally true of the group, and even among those for whom it is true, it is true to varying degrees.  No quality is universally true of any group, unless it is itself a mandatory definitional quality of that group.  Not all those of African descent have dark skin–there are negro albinos born in some families.

We opened this with a question of color preferences–pink or blue.  Through most of the twentieth century, blue was the color for boys and pink for girls.  We might think that inherent in gender identity, as it was so common and still is generally thought to be the preference.  However, in the late nineteenth century it was quite opposite.  Blue was considered a pacifistic color, appropriate for girls, while pink was aggressive, the right color for the nursery of a male infant to encourage his masculine aggressiveness.  The matter of the right color for girls or boys proves to be entirely cultural.  We only think it innate, because it is our culture, and we are immersed in it.

Herein lies the problem of gender identity.  We have become persuaded that it is possible, first, for someone who is really, personality-wise, one gender to be born in a body exhibiting the opposite sex.  However, our conception of what constitutes the appropriate personality for a gender is constructed entirely of generalizations and cultural notions.  A boy who does not like sports is not internally a girl, any more than a girl who does like them must be internally a boy.  Whether boys play with dolls or girls with guns is in part innate, but it is also culturally learned to some degree, and a child who exhibits culturally opposite gender preferences in play is not the opposite gender, but a unique individual with unusual interests.

When people come to believe that they are the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, it is because they have been persecuted into thinking that if they really were a person of the sex they appear to be then they would have different preferences, different abilities, different qualities than they do.  We are taught, incorrectly, to think that the generalities are the definition, and that those who do not fit into the cultural expectations are aberrant.

So be aberrant.  Buck the expectations.  Be yourself, and embrace who you are as a whole person, inside and out.  I am a man.  That I raise my children and do the cooking and a certain amount of the housework and sewing and such, and that I disdain sports and physical competition, does not make me less a man or more a woman; it makes me a unique individual.  The girl who is an Olympic track star, who is competitive at the highest level of athleticism, is not therefore less a girl, less a woman; she is a unique individual, a woman with qualities that are less common in women.  Be who you are, inside and out, and don’t let anyone persuade you that anything about you was made wrong.  No one is the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, except those who foolishly let popular culture dictate who they should be instead of simply being who they are.

#206: Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #206, on the subject of Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus.

I realized that the premise of this movie was absurd enough that it was probably not going to be a serious time travel film.  Found on Netflix, the blurb simply said that Christopher Columbus arrives in Kolkata, India in the present, where two young men seek his advice in their own searches for success.

What was not evident, though, was that the movie itself was not intended to be absurd nor even comedic, and it might not involve time travel at all.  It is an Indian movie, viewed with subtitles.

Apart from the intrepid explorer himself, who plays a significant role in the story, our primary characters are called Sam and Ray.

Sam has a longer more ethnic name, but he shortened it and cut all ties with his family eight years before the story opens.  He is reasonably successful as a radio disk jockey (an “RJ” in the parlance of the film), but wants to be a musical recording artist.  To this end, he has begun dating an entirely self-absorbed girl solely because her father is wealthy enough to finance the production of an album for him–despite the fact that he has a very close relationship with a girl who adores him.

Ray is a corporate office worker who writes short stories in what little spare time he has, and wants to succeed as a writer, but with mixed objectives he also wants a promotion up the corporate ladder.  His complication is that he is clearly attracted to a girl who is his superior, perhaps supervisor, in the company, and she to him, but although he would like to pursue a relationship he is too concerned about persuading her to pull some strings to get him promoted.

One day the two young men are riding in the back seat of a car driven by one of their friends when they almost hit a man, maybe sixty or so from appearance, dressed in Italian Renaissance clothing.  They are curious and engage him in conversation, and he claims to be Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, or at least of quite a few islands off its coast.  Then when he swoons (and hey, wearing all that heavy warm clothing in India, it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did) they catch him, bundle him into their car, and then debate whether to take him to a hospital or take him to their home to see if he can help them find success.

That is certainly the theme of the film, that everyone is exploring, searching for something.  Columbus believes himself to be the greatest explorer, and wants to help people find what they seek, so he becomes involved in advising the boys on reaching their goals.  It is genuinely interesting, if you aren’t stymied by the slow pace, but it is not the point of our investigation.

At this point we have three plausible understandings of who this person might be.  He might, of course, be some crazy person who believes himself to be Christopher Columbus, memorized much of his history from available sources such as Wikipedia, and dresses and acts the part.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus, rumors of his death having been greatly exaggerated, still alive half a millennium later.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus leaping across time to the present.

When the film is rising to its climax the first of those is knocked out of consideration, as fifteenth century Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz (first man to navigate around the southern tip of Africa to reach India by water) shows up at the apartment looking for Columbus, saying that the latter gave him the address and asked him to bring a hammock so he could sleep better.  It appears that they are genuinely who they claim to be, despite the weak explanations for their fluency in the local language and somewhat native appearance.

However, Diaz explains that he has been living in South Africa in recent years, along with Gandhi, and that suggests that they are not time travelers at all.  They simply are the continuations of their original selves from years before, still alive after their deaths.

That may be the significance here.  In the closing scene, two other young men are asked for help by someone in a military uniform who claims his motorcycle broke down and gives his name as Che Guevara.  In some way, these famous people are still around.

There might be a clue to the author’s intent in the fact that a couple times characters engage in tossing quotations from famous people at each other.  One even comments that if you become famous, silly little things you said become famous quotes.  There is thus a sense in which those famous people are still with us, still influencing us, still in some sense alive in our midst, having a sort of immortality that is manifest within the movie by their corporeal presence.

I had some concern that at some point Columbus might return to the past.  Indeed, there is pressure on him to “go back”.  However, he only returns to his ship, and we can reasonably conclude that he does not travel through time in any way different from the rest of us, he only has continued to do so for five centuries beyond when we thought he died.

So despite the notion of Christopher Columbus appearing in the early twenty-first century, there is no time travel in this one.

I appear to have access to copies of Paradox, Synchronicity, The Man from the Future, and Abby Sen, all of which have strong claims to containing time travel elements.  Watch for posts, either here on the web log or as full page analyses in the Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies section of the site.

#205: Verser Reunion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #205, on the subject of Verser Reunion.

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);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99);
  10. #202:  Verser Confrontations (chapters 100 through 110).

This picks up from there, with chapters 111 through 121.

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 111, Hastings 130

I’d been trying to figure out how to bring Derek’s new middle form into view.  I’d been working with the idea of Derek versing in, looking at his new body, finding his equipment, figuring out how big he was, maybe figuring out how to change his size, and then finding Lauren–and it was all too complicated.

This chapter was originally going to be a Brown chapter; I’d even placed the heading on it.  I had figured that I would have Bethany do something very complex involving potions and long rituals to enable Derek to change forms; but suddenly I thought it would work best to have Derek first seen through Lauren’s eyes.  From that, the thought of the wolves asking her to identify a creature for them appealed.  That would happen were he in wolf territory.  He was some distance from his things when he versed out, so trying to reach them would be as good a way as any to bring him through the wolf lands.  The rest was easy.

I really liked the idea of Lauren recognizing Derek as the answer to her prayer.  I’d thought of it when I thought of the prayer.

Chapter 112, Brown 89

I got hung up on the name for a couple hours.  I stumbled on Hoffman pretty much the way Lauren does, although I worked with a Mark Hoffman at the radio station.  Ferris took a lot longer.  I knew a Jeff Ferri in scouts, but didn’t think I could sell that.  Ferris is of course the name of the guy who built the amusement park wheel, as well as the character in a movie, Ferris Bueller.

I had intended for this section to cover the magic of the transformation, but felt it was bogging down.  My concerns at this point are that everyone is a bit slow, and I can’t verse Slade out of his world until I’ve got Lauren caught in combat in hers, and that’s going to be a while, as I have to do the transformation for Derek, cover the stuff about opening the dome, and plan another raid.

The vague reference to Pinocchio was an inspiration at that moment, seeming to be appropriate to the magical setting.

Chapter 113, Slade 86

I took a couple of days to try to piece together what is in essence filler, an effort to move the story forward to the next action scene.  I’m still planning on having him go down fighting, although it occurred to me that I can’t really use the efriit battle because in that case the djinn could have come to this world.  I’m back to a fight with Acquivar, now thinking that he will take advantage of his status and abuse his honor to get back to the palace, where he will fight Slade.  Slade will be clearly superior, but Acquivar’s people will join the fight, and someone will stab him in the back.

Chapter 114, Brown 90

I decided to do the ritual from Derek’s perspective.  It seemed to work best that way.  The three forms are each double/half of each other, which is within the ordinary limits established by the game rules.  In fact, I’d pushed Derek to be a tall sprite at fifteen inches so that I could get a five foot human with only two doublings.

Chapter 115, Hastings 131

I needed to hurry Slade’s story; I wanted him to enter in a fight.  This seemed the best opportunity for a fight.  But that meant I had to push forward through Derek’s information that they had to be at the site to open the dome (a decision that was really necessary to make the war against the vampires last more than a few days) to get to them actually doing it.

I also needed a credible force that would be too much for the three of them, but not so much that the addition of Slade to the mix wouldn’t balance the odds.  I’d established Slade as the better fighter, I thought, so he could more easily take out ghouls with his sword than Lauren could with her martial arts training.  This would work, I thought.

Chapter 116, Slade 87

I needed a setting in which Acquivar might reach the bedroom levels (where Slade’s possessions were) without the alarm having been raised, so that Slade could face him.  Having Slade be the last to bed accomplished that.

I also needed to make some sense of Acquivar’s presence.  I knew pretty much how it was done, but the reader had to get that–and I didn’t see Acquivar stopping to explain.  Thus Slade tells it.  This led to the idea that Acquivar wasn’t going to say much of anything.

At first I’d seen this as a serious fight, but then it occurred to me that it would enhance the battle image of Slade to have him take it very casually for the first few rounds and then, when he got hurt, to finish the game rapidly.  I also needed to have him be hit several times in close succession, so that the amount of damage he might take would be reasonably able to kill him.

I’d also decided to move him to the next “stage” of versing, where you enter limp but can immediately catch yourself.  This would have him in the battle faster than the dream state; and Slade has always been the leader in the versing stages, so that works.

Chapter 117, Brown 91

I hesitated as to whether to tell this part from Derek or Lauren’s perspective.  I went with Derek partly because it was sort of his turn, and partly because he would not know who Slade was.  This gave me the ability to describe Slade anew.

It had been rattling in my head that there were a dozen ways to get that dome closed that got around the security lockouts on the computer.  You could replace the computer with another.  You could cut the computer off and apply power directly to the motors.  Slade would be the perfect person to know how to sabotage the gear mechanism itself, such that it would require major repairs.

Chapter 118, Hastings 132

The part about destroying the gear was carefully considered; the rest was improvised.  I was in part trying to keep the narration flowing reasonably and answer as many problems as I could.  The PR problem struck me somewhat out of the blue.

Chapter 119, Slade 88

My mind has been racing ahead.  Tubrok creates a rapid response team to travel to any part of the world in response to an attack.  Derek says something about the security being a “tough nut to crack”.  Lauren figures out the acorn in time to release Merlin and drive off the attackers.  I had two problems.  One was I didn’t know where this should happen.  The other was that I didn’t want the rest of the book to be one fight after another.  Having Slade and Shella enjoy their hotel room seemed a good buffer for that, particularly as this is Shella’s first visit to someplace not medieval.

At the same time, I couldn’t make it seem too much like a modern hotel, since this is supposed to be the future, even if in some town of which most people have never heard.  Yet I didn’t want to belabor the story with gadgets.  The answer was that Slade didn’t understand much of it himself, so I could be specific enough about things that would be recognizable, and vague about things that wouldn’t be.

Chapter 120, Hastings 133

I pondered this section for a couple of days.  In that time, I changed it from a Brown chapter to a Hastings chapter.  I didn’t want to have to do Derek’s perspective on the security on the computer, and there wasn’t enough to do in front of that to make a preceding chapter.  On the other hand, I wanted to be in Lauren’s mind when she made the connection and released Merlin.

It was also during this time that I realized I could connect Merlin to Omigger.  I was already beginning to sketch this recognition by Shella, which would still be two chapters away.  That meant that Derek would describe what Merlin did, the assault which destroyed or drove away vampires, the introductions, and then Shella using the name, and then I’d shift to Slade.

The magic object is, of course, an unusual design for a nutcracker.  If you saw it next to a bowl of nuts, you’d know what it was in a flash.  Finding it in a drawer of utensils or a box of tools, it would not be at all obvious.

Chapter 121, Brown 92

I wanted to emphasize that the situation was desperate; to do this, I backed up a bit and retold the losing battle through Derek’s eyes.  This also gave me the opportunity to show Merlin completely from the outside, with no connections to who he might be.  I also decided, on the fly, that he shouldn’t kill them all; that was too much power.  The others would finish off the last of them.

This has been the eleventh 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.