#444: Ability versus Popularity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #444, on the subject of Ability versus Popularity.

The world seems overrun with supposed talent contests in which ordinary people are invited to vote for the winners–the best musicians seems the most common, but other forms of entertainment are not exempt, including the best books.  I generally do not participate in these (that is, I don’t vote in them; not ever having been nominated, I cannot speak to that side of it), and I expect that people who think that I am at least nominally a friend are upset when I don’t rally to support them.  However, I think such support would usually be dishonest, reducing what is supposed to be a measure of ability to a measure of popularity.  Permit me to explain.

I have thought of this many times before, but this morning an announcer on a radio station which is a bit bigger than “local”, being a network of I think four stations covering sections of four states, encouraged listeners to go to a web site and vote for a particular contestant in a televised contest because he happened to live somewhere in the listening area.  Quite apart from the fact that the specific place he lived was at least a hundred miles from where I was when I heard this, that to me seems a very bad–and truly dishonest–basis on which to vote for someone in a talent show.  It wasn’t even suggested that the specific contestant was a listener of the station, which also is a bad basis on which to cast such a vote.  Nor did the announcer suggest that voting should be limited to people who actually saw the show.

I similarly get personal invitations to vote for people I have at least met, or with whom I have interacted over the Internet, who are participating in local contests, usually musical.  I also am encouraged at times to vote for the best books of the year.

The fundamental problem here is that I am ill-informed on the subject.  Often I have not actually heard the musician or band who wants my support–certainly my fault, that I fail to get to concerts and other venues or to watch many internet music videos, but a clear fact.  I also don’t read most of the best-selling books–I rarely read any of them, truth be told, reading books that are less familiar and usually older most of the time.  For me to vote for a band or book based on the fact that I know the artist or author without having any direct exposure to the work is itself dishonest.

So then, does that mean it is less dishonest to vote for the book I read, or the band I heard?  I think not.  If we are voting for the best book of the year, and I read one of them, on what basis am I asserting that this book is better than all the other books published this past year?  If I’ve only heard one of the bands in the competition, what value is my opinion that it is better than all the bands I haven’t heard?

When I was in radio I several times selected what I believed were the most significant Christian albums released over the year.  Arguably popularity could be a factor in significance, but I was more interested in ministry and artistic factors.  Someone once asked me what right I had to presume to review record albums, and I said, as the first point, that my job meant I heard every record released in the genre every year, and my second point that I had studied and performed music and made my own recordings, so I was intimately familiar with the process and the product.  If I chose an album as among the best, I had a reasonable and defensible basis for saying so.

Of course, people have all kinds of reasons for recommending a vote for a particular selection.  This candidate is from our home town, a member of our organization, an advocate of a particular position on an important issue, a member of a minority group, a Christian.  Every single one of those notions is a very poor basis on which to vote for the best in any group.  It devolves to a question of whom we like, and that’s not what we’re supposed to be choosing.

Thus such “talent” contests devolve into popularity contests.  I don’t like popularity contests, and maybe I’ll talk about that on my Patreon web log, but there is fundamentally a problem with determining the best based on who is the most popular–and it is a problem that infects everything in America from television shows to government.

And since it is thus dishonest to vote for who is the best on any basis other than a more than passing familiarity with all the candidates and an honest assessment of their relative merits, almost everyone who votes in such contests is dishonest.  I will not be dishonest that way, and will not ask you to be dishonest on my behalf.

#443: Versers Acclimate

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #443, on the subject of Versers Acclimate.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have previously completed publishing my first seven novels,

  1. Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel,
  2. Old Verses New,
  3. For Better or Verse,
  4. Spy Verses,
  5. Garden of Versers,
  6. Versers Versus Versers, and
  7. Re Verse All,

in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book 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 with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the eighth, In Verse Proportion,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about my expectations for the futures of the characters and stories–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued, as being written partially concurrently with the story it sometimes discusses where I thought it was headed.  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.

It was suggested in connection with Re Verse All that shorter more frequent behind-the-writings posts would work better; they proved to be considerably more work in several ways.  Thus this time I am preferring longer, less frequent posts.  Previous posts for this novel include:

  1. #432:  Whole New Worlds, covering chapters 1 through 21;
  2. #437:  Characters Relate, chapters 22 through 42;
  3. #440:  Changing Worlds, chapters 43 through 63.

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, giving them at different stages as they move through the books.

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

Chapter 64, Brown 216

I had thought about Vashti having moved the bicycle, but decided that it wasn’t really anything worth including.

I was hung up on this chapter for maybe a couple weeks, during which time I wrote several Faith in Play articles and formatted a few of the old resurrected Game Ideas Unlimited articles to recycle as RPG-ology, and did a couple of web log posts on different subjects.  My problem was that I knew broadly what I wanted to do, having Derek reconfigure the robot to prepare food for them, but didn’t know whether that meant taking it back to their rooms to work on the computer there or taking it directly to the kitchen to set it up there.  I also knew that my secondary purpose, translating, was not going to be something for which a routine existed, because the indigs all spoke one language.

I used a base ten to base eight converter online at http://www.unitconversion.org/numbers/base-10-to-base-8-conversion.html to get the right digits for the robot identification number.

Chapter 65, Slade 189

I anticipated this, although not when I had the first fight.  Probably when I finished writing that first fight I knew I would have to have a second, and would have to find a way to make the second opponent just as good but in a different way, and when Slade had defeated both of them individually I knew that I could use a comment from him to set up a fight against both together, and that that would lead to the birds asking to be trained.  I could think of no reason why Slade would not agree to that, so it became the plan.

Chapter 66, Kondor 194

I kept writing myself into tough spots.  This was another.  I was not at all certain how to go forward with the Kondor story here.

I cut this short so I could return to some kind of discussion of Leah’s visit to the wise men, even though I wasn’t sure how that would go, either.

Chapter 67, Slade 190

I was actually not quite certain how to move forward with Derek in a way that would be interesting, and as I glanced at Slade’s previous chapter I was immediately having ideas, so I changed the sequence.

Chapter 68, Brown 217

This was mundane, but I wanted the robot to be seen to work but not wonderfully so.  I kind of stumbled into the time problem, because it struck me that Derek should order breakfast for when they awoke, but it would be difficult to say when that would be, and even more so given that it was a day on which he did not have to be at work, so he could sleep in and time would not matter.

I was still feeling my way through what kinds of things Derek could order that would translate to something in the ship’s language.

Chapter 69, Kondor 195

I pondered for a couple days, while working on the other chapters, how this would play.  My original thought was that it would be a conversation between the couple, and then I wondered whether one or more of the wise men would come to engage him in dialogue.  I still had not decided as I put the chapter heading in place.

Ultimately I decided that Leah would continue to hold her beliefs and Kondor would be unaffected.

When I got them back to the room after dinner I genuinely did not know what to do with them, but I remembered that she had asked to continue learning combat technique and that Lauren had taught fighting in a room somewhere in the palace, so I went with that with some ideas about what was going to happen next.

Chapter 70, Slade 191

I threw this together quickly, but had a sudden inspiration for the rubber ball thing, which I figured I could reveal in the next chapter.

Chapter 71, Brown 218

I had been thinking for a day or two about what Derek was going to get from his breakfast order, and the idea of baked eggs kept coming back to me.  Looking them up, I determined that in our world that usually refers to what is also called shirred eggs, like fried eggs but cooked in a shallow pan in an oven, sometimes with toppings.  I still liked the image of a couple of whole eggs in the shell sitting on the plate.  The rest was sort of cobbled together as I went, trying to fit the order literally while making something a bit alien.

I don’t like the fact that Derek and Kondor are both headed for combat practice at the same time, but I’m expecting Kondor’s to be a bit different, so I’m not too worried about it.

Chapter 72, Kondor 196

I anticipated this combat practice going in a honeymoon direction, much as their bath had done, as their brief rift is mended.  But figuring out how they were going to spar together took me longer than I expected, so I delayed the fight itself to the next chapter–which was perhaps good, because I needed to write Kondor chapters, and his story was going to have to stretch the time they were together up to the time I was going to begin the trouble that versed them out.

Chapter 73, Slade 192

At first I was going to begin with the professor, and delay the class testing, but I decided that the testing was not likely to be very interesting so I put it first.  Then I was going to do the fight, but I decided that it was a good cliffhanger to put the fight in the next chapter.  Besides, I’ve had a few swordfights already, and I’ve got several fights coming up all at once, so I’m going to have to give a lot of thought to keeping it interesting.

Chapter 74, Brown 219

Before I got to this chapter I had my second dose Moderna COVID vaccine, and I lost the weekend to the adverse reaction (mostly fevers and exhaustion).  I’d had COVID last year, and it was not nearly as intense as the vaccine reaction, although it’s been suggested that the reaction was bad because I’d had the disease.  It was thus several days before I started it, and a couple more before I finished.

I had three hold-ups.  One was where to put the room.  I knew, and I checked, that I had put the galley two decks below the officers’ quarters; I did not remember if I had a reason for that at the time.  That left me with the question of what I had intended for the deck between, and whether that was a good place for officers’ recreation facilities.  It occurred to me that I could put the gym on the same level as either the living quarters or the galley, but I didn’t want that area to feel like it was sprawling.  I ultimately decided on the deck between, mostly because nothing else really made sense there.  I had considered deck crew quarters, but there was little sense in the enlisteds being between the officers and their galley, and I would have to put the enlisted galley somewhere.

The second hold-up was specifically what to do about combat practice for Derek and Vashti.  They had done this together before, but always with the other princesses, sometimes also with Lauren.  I’d never had them one-on-one, and wasn’t sure how to handle that.  Still, with only rather nebulous ideas and a check of their character sheets for weaponless combat abilities, I decided to tackle it.

The third was trying to get a sense of the gym itself.  There was this imbalance between trying to keep it alien while making it useful for humanoids.  Obviously everything would be smaller–but the ceiling would still be high, because even if their games were different they would have similarities, throwing objects and such.

Chapter 75, Kondor 197

I realized well before I got here that I was going to have three practice combat sessions in a row.  However, I knew this one was going to be different, so I wasn’t too worried about it.

Chapter 76, Slade 193

In the extended time I had since setting up this match, I had given consideration to how to make it more interesting, and in what way the professor would be more talented than the students without being a genuine threat to Slade.  My first thought was what I had heard called Florentine, the use of a cape in the off hand.  (Florentine covers much more than that, but that was sufficient for Slade’s level of understanding.)  I realized when the thought first struck that he could not be proficient in double-blade fighting because then the students wouldn’t be seeking that training from Slade.  I gave some thought to having him use a flex weapon such as a chain in the off hand, noting that Slade had practiced against Lauren, but decided that someone who could use a sword and a chain could certainly use a sword and a dagger.  So I went with my first instinct.

Chapter 77, Brown 220

I was starting to flounder again with Derek.  It wasn’t that he wasn’t doing important and interesting stuff; it was that there wasn’t much way to make it interesting in the story.

Chapter 78, Kondor 198

This was composed of fragments that had come to mind–the idea that they actually were teenagers and newlyweds, the thought that her brother Mohammed would have to return home but Kondor could do as he chose, and the realization that Mohammed was not yet married and I was gradually whittling down my pool of princesses.  My choice of Ketty was based largely on really internalized impressions of the girls and a very few notes–I decided that Sarai had the pretty face because Derek had called her Lashes, and something about Ketty and the scarf made me think she was a bit bubbly and personable.

I have decided that they will be going to Leah’s family home with Mohammed; I think, too, that Zeke will go with them, mostly so he can see where it is and what it looks like for psionic and magical purposes.

Chapter 79, Slade 194

I started this chapter the same day I wrote the previous Kondor chapter, but was wearing out so I left it as I was beginning the third paragraph.

I decided I had been away from the engineering and construction threads long enough that I could return and view the progress.  I also decided to bring up the notion that there was probably going to be a war, because as was observed previously, if Slade arrives, trouble follows.

Chapter 80, Kondor 199

I had marked this chapter for Derek, as a kind of automatic selection, but the next day came back and decided that I could move forward with Joe and let Derek sit a bit.  That would hopefully give the impression of time passing on the spaceship while he worked on the various projects that would not be so interesting in the telling as they are in his experience.

I was, however, faced with the question, that Joe and Leah were going to discuss their plans, and probably include Zeke in the discussion, but should that be in the text or merely mentioned as backstory?  If it were just Joe and Leah I would almost certainly make it something referenced, that this was what they decided, but the fact that their decision impacts Zeke changes that.

The reasons Zeke gives are in fact the reasons I had him go with them.

Chapter 81, Slade 195

I had less idea what to do with Slade at this point, but not as little as I had for Derek, and mostly I needed a chapter to delay Kondor’s trip.  I decided that the development of the telephone was a good next step for the team that had created the telegraph, although I felt very much as if I was probably boring my readers with the technical explanation.  Well, maybe.

Chapter 82, Kondor 200

I had to ask my fans for help coming up with the word “palanquin” when I realized that Leah would travel in one.  Thanks to Bryan Ray for providing the answer.  Also thanks to Chor Kun Chin, who gave me “litter” and “sedan”.

I wanted to capture some of the details of the trip, but this is mostly color.

Chapter 83, Brown 221

Again the impetus for putting this chapter here was mostly to break up the Kondor story and keep it moving.  However, there was much for Derek to do, and learning to fly the smaller ships was one of the essentials.

Chapter 84, Kondor 201

I didn’t expect the journey to last three chapters, but it was giving me some story and some character interaction.

This has been the fourth behind-the-writings look at In Verse Proportion.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will endeavor to continue with more behind-the-writings posts for it and another novel.

#442: The Song “Call to Worship”

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #442, on the subject of The Song “Call to Worship”.

It’s easy to explain why this song was not on the original “short list” for the Extreme Tour demo:  it’s short.

I hesitate to say that I wrote it in high school.  I think that BLT Down, the band that was precursor to The Last Psalm, used it on one occasion in 1972 to open a church service; I know that The Last Psalm sometimes used it as a concert opener.

I made this vocals-over-midi-instruments recording as part of the nostalgic collection of recordings of Last Psalm songs for Jes Oldham.  It has never been one of my favorites, but it is more a function song, a bit of modern liturgy.

I’ve had an odd relationship with liturgy over the decades.  Growing up in Baptist and Presbyterian churches, there was very little of it, and it was constantly in flux.  I remember creating worship services at summer camp, and specifically attempting to use the bits of liturgy as teaching tools.  The more liturgical churches generally had the same words repeated week after week, and this seemed to me to be vain repetition.  It wasn’t until I was in college that I read C. S. Lewis’ piece on updating the Anglican liturgy (in God in the Dock) that anyone explained to me the value of saying the same words week after week, which, according to him, meant you didn’t have to think about the words but could focus on the Person to Whom they were addressed.

I still don’t do well with liturgy, but I get it.  It’s like singing familiar worship songs, or praying in tongues, the worshipper freed from thinking about what he is saying so he can focus on God.  Liturgy just doesn’t work that way for me.

Because this song predates my reading of that essay, it has an aspect of trying to teach something to the congregation.  I know now that that’s not really what liturgy is for in liturgical churches, even if Baptists and Presbyterians use it that way.

Call to Worship.

So here are the lyrics.

God is our Father, this church is His home.
Let us now praise Him with our thoughts and our song.
Come into His presence and sing to His name,
Let Him run your life–you won’t be the same.

God is our Father, He’ll live in your heart.
Once He’s inside you, He never will part.
So when you leave here, wherever you go,
Take Jesus with you, let His glory show.

I can only hope you benefit from the song in some way.  I will continue with additional songs in the future.


Previous web log song posts:

#301:  The Song “Holocaust” | #307:  The Song “Time Bomb” | #311:  The Song “Passing Through the Portal” | #314:  The Song “Walkin’ In the Woods” | #317:  The Song “That’s When I’ll Believe” | #320:  The Song “Free” | #322:  The Song “Voices” | #326:  The Song “Mountain, Mountain” | #328:  The Song “Still Small Voice” | #334:  The Song “Convinced” | #337:  The Song “Selfish Love” | #340:  The Song “A Man Like Paul” | #341:  The Song “Joined Together” | #346:  The Song “If We Don’t Tell Them” | #349: The Song “I Can’t Resist You’re Love” | #353:  The Song “I Use to Think” | #356:  The Song “God Said It Is Good” | #362:  The Song “My Life to You” | #366:  The Song “Sometimes” | #372:  The Song “Heavenly Kingdom” | #378:  The Song “A Song of Joy” | #382:  The Song “Not Going to Notice” | #387:  The Song “Our God Is Good” | #393:  The Song “Why” | #399:  The Song “Look Around You” | #404:  The Song “Love’s the Only Command” | #408:  The Song “Given You My Name” | #412:  The Song “When I Think” | #414:  The Song “You Should Have Thanked Me” | #428:  The Song “To the Victor” | #433:  The Song “From Job” | #436:  The Song “Trust Him Again” | #438:  The Song “Even You” | #441:  The Song “Fork in the Road” |

Next Song:  How Many Times