#20: Becoming Novel

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #20, on the subject of The Novel Moves Forward.

This is about the creation of my book Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, now being posted to the web site in serialized form.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, so you might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  That link will take you to the table of contents for the book; links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.  There was also a previous mark Joseph “young” web log post entitled #18:  A Novel Comic Milestone, which provided this kind of insight into the first six chapters; this picks up from there.

img0020Verser

There is some essential background to the book as a whole in that previous post, which I will not repeat here other than to say that these were the first chapters I wrote directly for use as a novel, not as the script of a comic book.


Chapter 7, Kondor 3

This was the first chapter I wrote directly for use as a novel, not as the script of a comic book.

Having just come off a Slade chapter, I let Kondor make an out-of-place cultural reference to his medical coverage.  The characters were still coalescing in my mind, and this seemed an appropriate comment under the circumstances.

It is one of the questions Multiverser raises sometimes for its players:  how much can you change and still be human, and does that matter?  I wanted to start exploring it here, but I didn’t want to go too far with it.  An eye is a small thing, and it would be helpful in future adventures, but I wanted Kondor to think about the long-term consequences of replacing your body parts with machine parts.

Kondor’s reference concerning what he would see is of course recalling Geordi LaForge of Star Trek:  The Next Generation, whose views of the world are sometimes given to us as distorted multicolored visions.  Kondor’s artificial vision isn’t like that at all, but he could not at this point know what to expect and he would have been familiar with that character, and possibly some others.  Geordi is not a cyborg, of course; it’s a mix of concerns from different directions.

I realized even as I wrote the description of the vision control panel that it was going to be difficult to convey the image I had of five half-centimeter diameter wheels with roughened edges jutting perpendicular from his forearm that he would adjust with the fingertips of his opposite hand.  I’d seen them on fine tuners on a lot of equipment, but the VCR was the last I’d seen so I went with that.

I was beginning to develop Kondor’s “reverse prejudice” of favoring blacks over whites.  I began to see that there was a character development angle in this that I was going to have to address eventually, and so I should keep it in place.

Again we have the “worlds away” phrase this time coupled with “in another life”, both figurative phrases that Kondor means quite literally but knows he can say without much danger of anyone taking him literally.

I had always intended for Kondor to stay with the ship, because the world as I created it really doesn’t go much deeper than the dock areas; but I needed to find a way to induce him to do so, so I had him visit the city.


Chapter 8, Hastings 3

There are, I think, two kinds of cliffhangers–those which an author creates because he knows what he wants his character to do, and those which he creates because he does not know.  This was the former type:  I wanted to introduce the idea that Lauren had this telekinetic skill, and having her use it to save Bill was the simplest way to do so.  In a sense it makes Bill’s rescue an incidental–which really it is, something Lauren had to do to show the reader she could.

That is, Chekov’s gun over the mantel rule tells us two things.  One is what he intends, that if you introduce a detail people are likely to notice, you must use it later in the story.  The other, though, is that if you are going to use something later in the story, you must introduce it early when it is not so important.

In that sense, it would have been better for Lauren to use her telekinesis for something simple, like retrieving her coffee mug.  However, this cliffhanger was supposed to be the end of a comic book episode, and so to some degree the serious danger Bill faces is an incidental of plot, driving the story forward, and not a major plot point.  Bill never plays any significant role after this; I pretty much forgot him.

I should mention that Bill is many people, but that his name comes from one of my players whom we lovingly called The Friendly Giant, and the soft-spoken personality we barely see is also his.

The movie reference is Star Wars V:  The Empire Strikes Back, when Yoda suggests that telekinetically lifting a space ship is not harder than telekinetically lifting a pebble.

This is the first time Lauren attempts to make it appear that she has done something difficult but ordinary when she has done something paranormal.

My editor complained that it was foolish to say that Lauren was tired after work, but I could not figure out another way to transition to the fact that she was not going to go to bed because of her forty-eight hour schedule.

I should mention that that editor, Steve Darlington (whom I met online through his position as editor of Places to Go, People to Be), contributed greatly to this work.  He sent easily over a thousand comments which I addressed in the rewrite, most of which I have by now lost and forgotten.  That I mostly remember those points on which there was tension or disagreement is quite reasonable, since they were the ones that I did not simply fix but actually thought about, but it reflects unfairly poorly on him, as most of what he said was spot on and addressed directly.

The description of focusing faith through objects fits a lot of approaches to the idea without being overly committed to any one of them.  It fits the Multiverser concept of supernatural magic working by expectation, but also other views of the matter.

I sometimes joke about “offensive driving” as the counter to “defensive driving”, and I found a place for the joke here, but did not expect laughter.

The idea of using the words of scripture as the focus of faith was something my character developed in-game.  I used Koine Greek from the Greek New Testament, but I saw several pitfalls to doing so with Lauren.  It would be difficult to deal with the fonts.  I would have to translate every time for readers to understand what the words meant.  I would be limited to the New Testament unless I acquired a copy of the Septuagint and explained how Lauren got one.  So I stayed with English for her.

The statement “Lord I believe.  Help my unbelief” is the first time Lauren uses scripture in the way she is thinking of using it–a certain irony, since she does what she wants to have the faith to do.


Chapter 9, Slade 3

When I started this chapter, I envisioned a long dungeon crawl with many fights with monsters in the dark.  As it developed, I realized that this did not make all that interesting a story–or at least, I lacked the skills to make it so–and I needed to truncate it and get to the goal.

Torelle starts showing a keen intellect, something from which Slade will learn even though he does not yet realize it.

The idea that Slade does not recognize, going this direction, what he originally saw from the other is one that I learned in Scouts, periodically to look behind you on the trail so that if you return this way you will know the look of the land in the opposite direction.  Since Slade did not do that, he does not know the look of the tunnels going the opposite way.

I had mentioned the chimney in passing on Slade’s exit, and realized they would have to pass through it on the return, but also that I would have to explain why they had to pass through it.  That’s when I invented the collapsed corridor.

I never explained how Omigger knew the time.  I later did the same with Shella (in For Better or Verse, which if I live so long and support comes I expect will eventually appear on this site), and have always left it that it’s something wizards can do.


Chapter 10, Kondor 4

I faced an odd problem in describing a futuristic city:  I knew that most predictions of what the world would be like in the future were wrong, partly because they could not predict the right technological advances, but partly because they could not predict the aesthetics of their descendants.  Thus I had to give the feeling that this was a futuristic world without decaying to the tropes of the genre.  Here I was saved by the fact that this was one of the first stories I was not writing for a comic, so I could describe much of it in the negative, telling the reader what it was not like.

There are half a dozen ports of all on “this side of the loop” before returning to the home port in Sardic, but I had managed to duck describing them all by having Kondor confined to medical for the duration.  It was probably an unreasonably long confinement, but it would not have felt so to the reader who was not counting the days and the ports.  On the other hand, Kondor needed to make what felt like an informed decision to stay with the ship, and I needed to expand both his military and his medical training to reach some of the vision for this character.  A stop in Sardic and the obtaining of the medical texts there would move me in that direction.

I’m reaching back further.  The name “Sardic” in the novel comes from the fact that for several years it had been the name used for the home port of the Mary Piper in the game world, published in 1997.  That name in turn came from the name “Sardis”, which besides being an ancient city in Turkey was a small town in Mississippi where my father’s family lived, home of Starflight Luggage, if I have my story straight.

It was at this point that I decided Kondor would be teetotal–not exactly so, but as a general principle.  In this he is more like me, and for one of the reasons I give, that I don’t like anything to mess with my ability to think.  Thus he stays away from alcoholic beverages, starting here, the first time it mattered.

Kondor’s commitment to telling the truth because it was usually easier also began here.

I found the notion of explaining to the aliens that you were abducted by aliens humorous.


Chapter 11, Hastings 4

I had recently read that women have a preference for purple clothes, but men are more attracted to women wearing red.  I decided that this might be something Lauren would know, and so put her in red robes.  I always liked red with dark blue best, but red with gold was a close second, and gold trim on a red robe sounded like a good wizardly choice.

I’ve wanted to see The Pit built ever since I designed it in my mind.  The idea of a maze under a floor with translucent Plexiglas in places and red light below, enhanced by red spotlights in a random on/off pattern reflecting off white walls to create a feeling of fire (dimmer amber and blue lights might be needed to make the effect realistic, but I didn’t think of that then), mixed with the grill smell of flame grilled meats that some steak places capture along with a high dark ceiling to give the feeling of being at the bottom of an oubliette or similar chasm just has a fascinating atmosphere in my mind, and I have long wondered whether it would work in application.

The Goth movement was still around when I wrote.  People really did wear pale foundation and dark lipstick and eyeliner.  A Goth club would be a perfect place for undead to hide, and at the same time an unwary Goth might easily be fooled into believing that the undead were others of his ideology.

Lauren’s preference in wine is mine.  I never found any alcoholic beverage whose taste I could tolerate until friends served a Martini & Rossi Asti Spumanti at a New Year’s party.  I was pleasantly surprised, although I have since been less impressed by it.  It is what I buy when I must choose a wine for a celebratory toast.

The line about wine being good for the stomach is of course remembered from I Timothy, and would be something Bible student Lauren would recall.

The idea of an ancient book that Gavin and other vampires wanted was from Ed’s game.  I don’t recall the name of the book, but thought Book of Journeys had a good ring to it.  Most of the pieces of that story thread came from our interactions in play, although I added some details.  I don’t know that it ever mattered to me whether it was actually written by Cain, son of Adam and Eve, or by someone who attributed it to him; it only mattered that it was his name on it and the vampires believed it was his.  On the other hand, I believe it is part of the World of Darkness vampire mythology that Cain was the first vampire.

Having Jackson follow Lauren was again part of the cliffhanger technique to keep people reading.


Chapter 12, Slade 4

I wanted to put Slade into combat, to begin making him a warrior.  I also wanted him to use a bit of magic, the magic of his battle cry that calls on the gods.  At the same time, I needed to get the djinni released, and I figured the entire fight was about maneuvering Slade to the place where he could do that.

Having the match flare seemed a nice touch, given that he was battling a creature of elemental fire.

It was a weak point in my mind that Slade chose these particular bottles.  My reasoning was that this was the direction Omigger appeared to be going from the guidance of his spell, and when he went this way the efriit tried to stop him, so there was some reason to think this was where the djinni bottle was.  On the other hand, I didn’t like to make Slade that sharp that he would draw a conclusion I was not certain would be obvious to the reader, so I wasn’t really comfortable with this.  I did have him pull several bottles before finding the right one, as I figured he didn’t know how to tell what bottle it was.

It’s a simple probabilities trick that every time Slade pulls a stopper his odds of getting the right one rises.  Given twenty bottles, the chance that the first one is right is only one in twenty, 5%; but the chance that the second is right is one in nineteen, about 5 1/4%, and by the time he’s gotten to the sixth bottle he’s looking at one in fifteen, 6 2/3%.  Seen in the broader view, though, if he starts with twenty bottles and opens six, not including the fact that he opens them in sequence, there’s a 30% chance that the right bottle is one of those.  So I figured that was a good enough chance that a generally lucky guy could hit it when needed.


There was interest in the first “behind the writings” page, and if it appears again for this one I’ll produce another after a few more pages of the novel have been published to the web site.  (The problem of coming up with unique images for each such post, so that PInterest will accept the new page as a new image, will continue to get more challenging, but so far I’ve managed.)  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

#19: The Smell of Grass

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #19, on the subject of The Smell of Grass.

Just about the middle of last year (2014) I wrote two articles related to the legalization of marijuana (now combined in one page with two other articles on the subject), the first raising the question of whether the legalization of marijuana in some states meant employers could no longer drug test for it, and the second noting that the answer is yes, in most cases you can be fired for using marijuana based on a failed drug test even in a state in which marijuana use is legal.

In our search and seizure series, rather separately, we reported on cases in which the fact that an involved officer “smelled marijuana” became probable cause for further investigation.  That raises another question:  if it is legal for some but not all people to use marijuana in a given state, does that mean that the smell of marijuana can no longer be the basis for probable cause that a crime is being committed?  After all, there is now the possibility that whoever is burning the marijuana is doing so legally, and thus neither the possession nor the use of marijuana is necessarily a crime.  Are officers now forbidden to assume there is a crime in progress if they smell the drug?

In New Jersey, that has recently been answered by a state appeals court, a ruling binding on all New Jersey trial courts.

img0019Marijuana

In 2012 police in Cumberland County responded to a report of gunfire, and found George Myers sitting in a car in the area.  Police quite reasonably questioned him, but smelled marijuana coming from the car.  Based on the smell of marijuana they claimed probable cause to search Myers, and found both marijuana and an unlicensed handgun in his jacket.  Myers took a plea agreement for a five year sentence on the weapons charge, but also filed an appeal, claiming that the search was unlawful because there was no probable cause:  he might have been using the drug under the authority of New Jersey’s 2010 Compassionate Use Medical Marijuana Act (CUMMA).  He was not, but Myers maintains that the fact that he might have been meant that police could not conclude there was a crime in progress, and thus having no basis to search him would not have found the unlicensed gun, and that he could not be convicted on evidence obtained in an illegal search.

The court says no, that is not what the law means.  Marijuana is still classified as a controlled dangerous substance, and its possession and use is still criminal.  CUMMA provides an affirmative defense; it does not decriminalize the action.  The best known example of an affirmative defense is a self-defense killing:  a homicide has been committed, and it would be murder except that the victim was clearly in danger of being killed (or sometimes raped or severely assaulted) and so acted reasonably and will not be found guilty of murder.  In New Jersey, police are instructed not to arrest someone for marijuana possession if the individual “reasonably appears” to be enrolled in the medical marijuana program (usually by presenting the program identification card).

As of the end of last year there were a bit shy of four thousand persons so enrolled in the entire state, out of almost nine million residents, so it is generally unlikely that any particular user is going to be enrolled.  However, the decision was not based on this probability assessment, but on the nature of the law itself:  just as it is never really legal to kill someone threatening you with bodily harm but will be excused if it was reasonable for you to believe the threat was genuine and imminent, so too it is never really legal to possess or use marijuana in New Jersey but will be excused if you have been authorized to use it under the medical marijuana program.  It is important to understand that, because just as this ruling only applies in New Jersey, the law itself only applies in New Jersey; the laws will be different in other states, and the exact nature of the treatment of marijuana users under the law is going to be the key to whether probable cause can be assumed.  Had the law stated that it was not illegal for such persons to possess or use marijuana, that might have led to a different outcome; what it actually said was that their illegal possession and use of the substance will be excused based on medical necessity, that in essence their crime will be overlooked by the system.

So do not think that the fact that medical marijuana is legal in New Jersey means that the smell is no longer evidence of a crime.  In fact, although it is a technicality, medical marijuana is not legal in New Jersey, it is simply a crime that is excused under those circumstances.  That is not at all the same thing.

#18: A Novel Comic Milestone

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #18, on the subject of A Novel Comic Milestone.

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

img0018Novel

From time to time I pick up my old books and read them again.  I don’t think this is conceit.  For one thing, I pick up and reread books by quite a few authors–Tolkien’s trilogy, Moon’s Paksenarrion series, the Teddy London Books by Henderson, anything by C. S. Lewis, and many books that are of no particular interest but that someone gave them to me and I have them here.  For another, writing an ongoing series requires that I maintain continuity, and thus that I remember the histories of my characters, including the negatives.  It is relatively easy to remember all the things they have done; it is much more difficult to remember the things they could not do, such as that Bob Slade was never a Boy Scout.  So I read them.

Why that matters is that when I read them, I remember things few others would know.  That is, I remember what I was thinking when I wrote them, and why I wrote what I did, and what I changed and what it was originally.  I remember conversations with editors, conversations with friends, discussions, decisions, ideas.  Perhaps they are worthless; but perhaps someone might be interested in how the writing process developed over time.  That seemed worth sharing, and so periodically, if traffic to these pages shows interest (I get specific page traffic reports on the blog; for the web site otherwise I only get total traffic and have to guess at what’s popular by the e-mail and comments) I’ll keep it going.

Originally, Ed Frost, briefly President of Valdron Inc, wanted to launch a Multiverser comic book.  It fell to me to write the stories, which were originally sketched in a panel-by-panel format.  The plan was that the first issue would introduce Kondor and Lauren, then the second issue would continue Lauren and introduce Slade, and then the third issue would continue Slade and Kondor, and from there we would rotate the stories so that each issue contained stories from two characters, each character vanishing every third issue.  For better or worse, after I had written six installments, what became the first six chapters, the artists said it could not be done without significantly more staff, and the comic was dropped.  I later picked up the stories and began restructuring them into novel form.  That makes these first six chapters something different from the rest, because while they were being written this was envisioned as the beginning of a comic book series running three separate characters, and with the seventh chapter it was being re-thought as a unified novel.

One aspect of the original comic book plan was that each section had to end on something like a cliffhanger; that is, because it would be sold serialized, you had to want to read the next part of the story so you would buy the next comic to see what happened.  Thus there is a fair amount of action in the early chapters to create that kind of tension.  Apart from that, though, I had long ago observed, reading Lord of the Rings and Dune, that having stories set on multiple stages with unanswered questions in each pushed the reader forward, wanting to know what would happen next to Frodo or Paul Atriedes, and so I tended to retain that concept of ending chapters at a point at which the reader wants to know what happens next, and then jumping to a different character.  Had I stuck with the comic book concept, of course, it would have been possible to follow the chapters of one specific character; it is not impossible to do so, and some who have read the book and then returned to it have followed one particular character through all his (usually Slade’s) chapters, but since they eventually come together it becomes necessary to read the intervening chapters to know what the character does between his own story entries.  The character by which each chapter is identified is in essence the viewpoint character, the one whose perceptions, thoughts, and feelings give us the events.


Chapter 1, Kondor 1

My recollection is that Jim Denaxas gave me the Kondor name, although I am uncertain of that.  I wanted a name that would convey strength; this character was from the beginning envisioned as what might be called disciplined, having a structured life and approach to reality and a strong moral core.

At the time I started writing this, all Multiverser player characters started in NagaWorld, which was a world created by E. R. “Ed” Jones.  It is a world with many secrets, and I did not wish to reveal them in the novels, but I did not at that point wish to suggest that these characters had not been to the one world which, in my mind at the time, all characters knew.  (That changed in the early years of play, first because I did not wish to post the secrets about NagaWorld to online sources, then later because we learned that for the purpose of demo games it was better to begin players in worlds that did not have the potential for long-term play.)  Thus all three characters make allusions to different parts of NagaWorld.  For Kondor, it is suggested that he began in or near the Glass City, and was killed by one of the “giant robot spiders” that patrol its streets.  The first paragraph briefly references that fight, and the story continues from there.

Kondor draws largely from a character renamed Peter Adams in the game books, originated by Richard Lutz, whom I never met nor saw.  The concept that he was military arose partly from the fact that Ed Jones had been military and had playtested the earliest Multiverser games with military players on bases around the world, including Lutz.  It was fairly standard in those days that player characters took their standard duffel bags, and were killed by some army experiment, so Kondor’s start recalls that.

The Mary Piper was a world I had created for Multiverser:  The First Book of Worlds (which also contains NagaWorld).  It had in some ways been a demonstration of a principle, that you could use the same ideas to create very different worlds by changing setting or genre elements.  In this case, the world book presented side-by-side two trading vessels, one in a post-medieval early gunpowder world, the other as an interstellar spaceship.  I wanted Kondor to start on the spaceship, because I wanted one of my three stories to begin in a science fiction setting, and this was a setting I had already designed and could write fairly easily.

I made First Officer Jamison black because it gave me an easy way to describe Kondor:  with twenty-seven crewmen there was a reasonable chance that one of them would look generally like him, and given that I wanted Kondor to convey an air of discipline, making it the first officer gave me that.  Jamison has been black in every game version I have run since, although prior to that it was never mentioned.

When I run the space version (called Mary Piper Beta) it is always supposed to be a surprise to the player character that he is on a spaceship.  I wanted to capture that, too.


Chapter 2, Hastings 1

I created Lauren Hastings so I could tell some of the stories from the games in which I was a player.  Because in that sense she would be me, I wanted to make her different, although I long wondered whether I made her a woman because she was so like me and I needed her to be different, or whether I made her so like me because she was a woman and I needed that point of contact.

Her first world (after NagaWorld) was also mine, except that when Ed Jones ran me in this vampire-filled world (a variant of the World of Darkness published by White Wolf) it was set in Chicago.  I have never been a city boy, and do not know my way around even those cities I have visited; but my real-life exposure to Chicago amounted to having ridden in my father’s car a few miles along the beltway as boy and hearing some years after that that they built the Sears Tower, which gave it the tallest building in the world at that time taking the title away from New York City.  I moved my character to Philadelphia because I had been at that point living in its New Jersey suburbs for a while and knew I could make at least a few real geographical references with accuracy.

The blast mentioned was also the way my character left Nagaworld, trying to create a kau sin ke that was a psionic device and getting caught in the explosion that came from my botch.  I actually had some problems at this point, because I was giving Lauren the backstory of having stayed at Umak Tek, the city that “I” built in Nagaworld, and conducting at least that one of the same experiments I had conducted, but was not making her the architect of the city, so I was always a bit uncertain exactly what she actually did while there, other than learn a lot from what I had left behind.

My wife’s comments on the first draft included that she did not find Lauren credible because a young mother who had been separated from her children would have thought about them more.  I integrated a lot more of that before it went to the editor, but I do not now remember which comments were part of the original effort to define her and which were added later.

I had a kau sin ke, a gift from my players for a game prop, but a real weapon nonetheless.  Like Lauren, I played with it a bit, but never had any training; still, I could flick the end out threateningly and flip it back to my hand, spin it in a figure eight in front of me, and snap it like a whip without hurting myself; and I had a character in another game, a D&D variant, who was expert in it, so I’d spent some time thinking about how it could be used.

Gavin and Jackson were very much Ed’s inventions originally; I’m not certain whether I even changed their names.  I had come to realize that Ed not only plagiarized most of what he used, he encouraged the practice for gaming, so I was always careful about what I took from his games–not because I was worried about stealing from him but because I was worried that I would take something he had stolen from someone else.  However, he expressed confidence that Gavin was an original of his, and Jackson was never developed beyond sidekick muscle, so they were safe choices.

I had a bit of trouble when Lauren says she is not a scientist.  I had played that scene, and said that I was an alchemist, by which I meant that I had dabbled in the chemistry of another world to create some of the materials I was using (which Lauren also uses, but never claims to have created herself).  Yet the “Alchemist” title was to some degree associated with that character, and I did not want to connect it to her.  My eldest had become “the Psientist”, but I realized that were she to use that word it would not sound to the ear different from “scientist” and it would be foolish to suppose Gavin to have heard something different.  Thus I fell back on “psionicist” as the best available choice.  Since most of Lauren’s powers to that point were psionic, it fit.

The Pit was inspired by a place Ed presented called the Succubus Club, but I changed it.  For one thing, I wasn’t certain he hadn’t lifted that from some other source.  For another, it was too blatant.  There are a lot of restaurants that use the word “pit” in their names, and I thought that one called simply “The Pit” would be able to slip under the radar as a hellish reference most would take as simply a name for a place that flame-grilled steaks and chops.

Father Matthew James was taken from a player character belonging to one of Ed’s players, who had been playing as a human vampire hunter in that universe for quite a while and, along with the other player character, was running scared.  Ed injected my character into their game to give them a boost, someone to help them and get them moving in a positive direction instead of playing defense.  I changed the name and am not certain I remember the original.  He was a priest, though, and many of the details here are from that character.  The mission, too, was part of his background, but it had a different name.  I gave the priest two Bible names, partly because I knew I could remember them.

I liked Saint George as the name of the mission; my editor Steve Darlington did not, saying that it was rather militant (George was a knight and dragon slayer, according to the legends).  However, his criticism only strengthened my resolve, and I addressed it by having Lauren recognize the peculiarity of the name.

I knew that Lauren in her future was going to visit this world in its past, but although I made Jackson wary I had not yet decided she was going to have encountered him in that past.

When I picked the date for the paper, it was for me the near-term future.  As problems delayed events it loomed closer, and I worried that I should push it back; but the eclipse–well, that should be mentioned when it arises.

My Australian editor did not know the names of the people I placed in significant positions in the United States, and I had to tweak some of the headlines, too, to make them a bit more depraved.  His rational tolerance saw no problems with pagan religions having more visibility and he had never heard of Ashtoreth.  I swithered on the subject of how to get the impact I wanted.


Chapter 3, Slade 1

I wanted a middle name for Robert Slade, and it was again Jim Denaxas who suggested “Elvis”.  He said to trust him.  The name has never mattered yet, but I always remember that he said it would be useful.  It does to some degree give him a rough date–obviously his mother was an Elvis fan.

From the beginning, Slade was very much a cross between the characters of Ed Jones and Chris Jones.  He was tall and lanky, like Chris, and was never entirely serious about anything; but the Nordic religion and the justification for it came from Ed’s character.  Both of them are dark-haired, but I wanted Slade to be blonde partly for contrast against the other characters (I always envisioned Lauren as a brunette) and partly because a blonde Norse warrior is more appropriate.  Yet I wanted him to be a bit awkward and humorous.  Since this was originally intended as a comic, I suppose that some of the influence came from DC Comic’s Super-Elastic Plastic Man, a superhero who seemed to joke his way through his adventures.  I wanted Slade’s antics to bring smiles to faces, and so set a different tone from the other two.  It seems to have worked–he is usually the one readers mention liking most.

I had started Kondor in a science fiction setting that was space-based, and Lauren in a modern horror setting (although not so much a horror story), and since part of the point was to show that Multiverser could handle all kinds of worlds I wanted something on the swords-and-sorcery medieval fantasy line for Slade.  I thus went for a D&D style dungeon crawl, and rather than worry about how I would induce Bob to go on such a quest, I simply dropped him in the dungeon and gave him the task of finding his way out.

A lot more of Bob’s story was for the eye, and I had more trouble converting it to text than the others.  Right up front, I had envisioned mostly black panels with partial illumination when the torch lit, but only sketchy images of the attacking beast.  I thought of him as less disciplined than Kondor, less educated than Lauren, definitely blue collar, working in an auto repair shop of some sort.  This also gave him tools, which I wanted to have because it would let me do some of the Gamma World game stuff about using tools as weapons.

His reference to pirating parts places him at what is perceived in NagaWorld as some kind of industrial complex spanning the northern horizon but is known to be a fully automated battlefield in which machines fight each other.  This meant that my three characters were all in the same world, but far enough from each other that there was no chance they would have encountered each other prior to this.

I wanted to pepper his speech with a lot of references both Norse and modern cultural, and started immediately, with the name of Loki and the Wizard of Oz quote about fire for the scarecrow.

I have never used a self-lighting blowtorch, but I would think they exist.  I can see easily enough how to make one.

I’ll credit Telly Savalas with the stick match idea.  I’d read about different ways people attempt to quit smoking based on different stimuli causing them to smoke, and Kojak’s lollipops are a replacement therapy for the constant hand-to-mouth contact smoking offers.  I went with stick matches, because a lot of boy scouts carry a match in their mouth around camp just to have it convenient (I think I may have done so at one time).

The Cerebus-model three-headed dog or wolf is a popular dungeon game monster, and it let me bring in the gaming reference and set the tone of a monster-filled tunnel complex.

Ed and I both flipped invisible coins; there’s an article entitled Game Ideas Unlimited:  Invisible Coins that talks about them.  Thus I borrowed the coin flipping from Ed, but made it real and gave it power by incorporating the prayer to the fates.

I think the original function of the room was to give Slade a magic torch, so that the farce of the perpetual flashlight would not become a problem.  However, by the time I was writing this I realized two things–one, that dungeon crawls and brief combats were not all that interesting, and two, that if I were going to make this story interesting I was going to have to turn something into a quest and add some characters.  Thus rather early realized that he was going to emerge to discover his three future companions; and I also knew that they would need a reason to return that would include bringing Slade with them.  The story of the djinni in the bottle began to take form, and I listed “bottles” among the junk.

My imagery of the tunnels is formed probably from three sources, one the caves of the Smokey Mountains I visited on family vacations as a child, the second years of running D&D games, and the third some glimpses of eighteenth and nineteenth century forts, particularly Fort Mott which guarded the mouth of the Delaware River and had a tunnel leading under the river to a companion fort on the other shore.  That tunnel has never been open for my exploration, but it can be seen from the New Jersey side.

My three companions were designed as typical fantasy characters, the fighter, wizard, and thief, and were fleshed out significantly only later.


Chapter 4, Kondor 2

Again, I never had given any thought to the race or color of any member of the Mary Piper crew until I had Kondor aboard.  I was at that time sharing the draft with a fan who happened to be black, who felt that color would be a natural connection for a black man out of place, and would make him feel more comfortable (and after all, if there were no non-white humans in this universe, would they not wonder what he was?).  So I made Walters black to create a point of connection, that Kondor related well to one of his crewmates.

Looking back, this may have been the beginning of Kondor’s incipient racism.  I had not planned it, but it emerged from this.

The sound of the impacts of kinetic blaster fire was my guess at what a weapon would do that hit you with a ball of force; I thus envisioned the invisible missiles as golf-ball sized spheres of forcefield, and assumed that they would bounce off walls with a thud.  This had the advantage that they would be likely to do serious blunt trauma to living targets but unlikely to put holes in spaceship walls.  The M-16 was more problematic, but here I just assumed that the walls had a built-in resilience that would deflect bullets if they were not too direct.

It is rare in Multiverser for characters to receive crippling injuries, but it happens.  Ed Jones’ character is noted for having a robotic arm.  I wanted Kondor to have some kind of mechanical prosthetic, and this seemed the best way and the best place to get it.  More on that when we get there.


Chapter 5, Hastings 2

I avoided using the name “plastic steel” for the polymer-like material of which many of Lauren’s things are made, partly because it struck me as cliché despite the fact that it’s the term I use for that material in play.  Her armor is again like the armor my character made for himself.

Again there was originally a visual expected here, of Lauren sitting in the chair and gradually slouching away into a doze; but that would not work quite so well in text, and since my wife had suggested giving more attention to missing her family I put some of that here on the rewrite.

My character spent a long time in NagaWorld getting in shape and working on acrobatics, and I wanted to introduce that in Lauren early so it would not be a surprise later.  She’s not really combat-trained at this point, but has been working with jumps and flips and other acrobatics and gymnastics moves as well as with what she might do with the weapon.

In the game, the priest did a number of things which I knew priests would never do–put holy water in a drinking glass and communion wafers in a sandwich, for example.  I wanted to create a similar but credible layer of defense.  I began with the assumption that vampires had to be invited onto holy ground, and Father James’ house was a church rectory and therefore consecrated.  His invitation is carefully worded to invite Lauren inside but not to invite a vampire.

The mirrored tiles on the walls were a later addition.  In the original first draft Lauren was never described until Joe Kondor saw her in chapter 105 (I had, of course, assumed initially that there would be pictures of her in the comic, so a description for the artists would be separate), and when I described what he saw my wife had her immersion snapped because she had always envisioned Lauren as a blonde.  I nearly always envision my female characters as brunettes, but I’d never said so; thus I had to find a way to get her description in earlier in the story, and this gave me the opportunity to do so.  It also helped that vampires are said to have no reflection, and therefore a mirrored front hall would tend to reveal trouble while looking stylish.

Whenever I have one character explain something to another, I always remember Diana Rigg’s Lady Holiday saying to Miss Piggy, “It’s plot exposition, it has to go somewhere.”  Even though it makes perfect sense for Father James to explain the world to Lauren, I tried to make things happen around it that so it wouldn’t be all talk.  Had it been a comic, these would have been done in flashback panels; but dialogue doesn’t work that way.

Jake Williams was also the translation of another player’s character to the book, again with the character name changed.

The backstory in the game had the parishioner leaving his money to Father James and the priest retiring; I recognized immediately that that was entirely unlike anything that was likely to happen in the Roman Catholic Church, and so changed it to a trust fund with the priest as named trustee.  That’s still a bit iffy, but I think that the church might allow something like that.  (I’m a bit touchy about stories that have clergy do things inconsistent with their own faith.  Part of that stems from the movie From Dusk Till Dawn, in which a lapsed Baptist pastor creates holy water to use against vampires–a deal breaker for me, because holy water is a sacramental concept used mostly by Catholics and similar “high church” denominations, and does not exist at all in the non-sacramental Baptist tradition.  I also seem to recall a mystery in which the detective recognized that a supposed minister was a fraud because the appointments in his office were inconsistent with his claimed denomination, and if you want to use details like that you have to get them right when they don’t matter.)

The explanation of her telepathic abilities was needed because the editor didn’t understand how it worked when I tossed it in unexplained.  It is pretty much the standard rule for Multiverser, but I’m also fairly sure it was the standard rule for the psionics in the original Advanced Dungeons & Dragons™ psionics rules, so it seemed natural to me.

The reference to her sleep schedule in NagaWorld is because one of the “alien” aspects of that world is the forty-hour day, twenty of daylight and twenty of moonlight.  Players struggle to adjust to it in some way, and the longer a character is in that world the more likely it is that he will fall into some kind of long-day sleep schedule.  Twenty-seven awake and thirteen asleep seems to be plausible, and then to stretch it an extra four hours somewhere would not be that difficult if you were already accustomed to that kind of schedule.

Again we have a cliffhanger ending that was supposed to push the reader toward the next issue.


Chapter 6, Slade 2

It was a thought I had pretty much at this moment, that in our world a person raises his hands to show that he is unarmed and not going to attack, but that if a wizard would attack by raising his hands and releasing energy from them in such a world that move would be seen as aggressive.  Thus I had Torelle warn Slade not to raise his hands.

Omigger’s reaction to the phrase “auto mechanic” was perhaps the beginning of my games with Slade’s use of modern references his companions would not understand; this one, though, was innocent–it did not occur to him that they would not know.  On the other hand, it probably inspired his attitude of using modern references specifically because his friends would not understand them and he would find them humorous in the context.  He is essentially telling jokes only he would get, but the reader also gets them (I hope).

My image of Torelle at this point was tall, handsome, probably similar to Slade but not quite as tall and more evenly built.  He has something of a commanding voice, not quite Brian Blessed but strong and confident and proper–oh, and an American accent.

Omigger always has a refined British accent in my mind.  The name is itself a British joke.  Some years before we saw a Peter Davison Dr. Who episode in which they kept making reference to a great ancient Timelord, which was pronounced OH-mih-guh, and we took it to be “Omigger”; then we saw the title, which was “Omega”, a word which Americans pronounce oh-MEG-ah.  My wife missed the joke at first, not realizing how the name I wrote was pronounced, until she heard me reading the story to our sons.  I think she said, “You didn’t,” in that inflection that means “I can’t believe you did that.”

Filp is modeled very much on Vila Reston of Blake’s 7.  All my thieves owe something to him.  The mealy-mouth voice is part of it, although I’m less clear on the accent–he sounds more southern U.S. than British particularly in his old age in the third book, and I’m not so particular on his voice here other than that it always has that mousy frightened sound to it.

The three are classic D&D in their dress and equipment.

There was a “MacDonald’s Tavern” in I think Montvale, New Jersey, at which I ate maybe twice or thrice, but it had a rustic atmosphere that inspired my conception of the tavern here, with wooden tables and simple chairs, a lot of visible rafters and plain wood paneling, and a cluttered and busy feeling.

The idea of stew containing “some kind of meat” recurs particularly in my medieval settings.  Usually no one asks.

Originally the family name was “Coriander”, which I probably knew was a spice but I lifted from the bookstore in The Never-Ending Story.  The editor did not like a fief named for a spice, so I changed it to “Corlander”, grateful for the ability to do a global replace with word processing.  I only more recently learned that “Coriander” is called “Cilantro” in the United States, which is probably why an Australian editor thought first of spices.

Filp becomes the character who expresses confusion over the things Slade mentions, beginning here with the chimney.  Torelle, meanwhile, becomes the one who is confused by Slade’s view of the world, the questions he asks, the things he expects people to take for granted.  It begins here with Slade’s interest in who started the war, when Torelle’s view is that wars are a normal part of feudal life.

The phrase “worlds away” was picked up here by Slade and later by Kondor, the sort of phrase people use figuratively which they could use literally and not be noticed for it.

The Caliph of the West Wind is, I think, a character one of my D&D characters met in Ed’s D&D world, a djinni in a bottle which my character released.  I thought the notion of a middle eastern style hierarchy quite appropriate to the world of the djinn, so I took the concept.  I’m not sure whether efriit are as well known as djinn, but then most people would have called the D-J-I-N-N-I a G-E-N-I-E, so I was probably aimed at an audience with some fantasy education at this point.  I figured eventually they’d figure out what an efriiti was.

Those who were aware of the original comic book panels, including particularly my eldest son, were disappointed by the text section describing Slade’s training.  It was originally supposed to show Torelle teaching and criticizing and saying, “You’re using that sword like a mace,” and then saying that he would instead teach Slade to use a mace.


If there is interest in this page, I’ll produce another after a few more pages of the novel have been published to the web site.  (The hardest part, actually, will be coming up with unique images for each such post, so that PInterest will accept the new page as a new image, but that’s my problem.)  Feedback is always welcome, of course.

#17: Interstellar Quick Temporal Survey

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #17, on the subject of Interstellar Quick Temporal Survey.

As we did with Termintor Genisys, we are giving a quick one-shot look at the temporal issues in Interstellar–a star-studded science fiction epic film well worth seeing, Michael Caine, John Lithgow, Ellen Burstyn, and Matt Damon in supporting roles behind a lead of Matthew McConaughey and Anne Hathaway in completely serious (not romantic or comedy) roles.  I must thank Lamont for providing the opportunity to view a digital copy.  I am not certain this time whether there will be a followup full analysis, because there probably is not that much that won’t be covered in this short piece, and the digital copy is not so good, with occasional garbled dialogue.  Still, the essence of it came through.

img0017interstellar

For most of the movie, time travel is not an issue.  It does an excellent job of presenting the time dilation effects of relativity–how gravity and motion cause time to run at different rates for persons in different frames of reference.  As a result, The main characters, McConaughey’s Cooper and Hathaway’s Brand sent on a spaceflight through a wormhole to another galaxy then spending a few hours on a planet orbiting a black hole where every hour on the surface is seven years back on the ship and back on earth, are still young when his children are grown.  I was a bit uncertain about their experience of passing through the wormhole.  My understanding is that there is no time, and thus no temporal experience, of such a trip, but movies have usually treated it otherwise because it is a difficult experience even to imagine, nevermind to show.

This story almost made it, with only two minor problems that might be fatal.  Our time travel elements appear when Cooper sacrifices himself, falling into a black hole with the booster rocket that propels Brand toward the safety of her destination.  There is a bit of a flaw in that:  the only ways dropping the booster gives the ship more momentum are if the ship is pushing against the booster as it releases (the “kick” of recoil on a gun) or if the ship has other engines and wants to reduce mass (the reason launch rockets drop spent stages).  Either of those might have been so, but that was not the explanation given.  In any case, Cooper and the robot TARS (voiced by Bill Irwin) both cross the event horizon and find themselves in what seems to be an engineered Escheresque three-dimensional space, by means of which Cooper discovers that he can get behind the bookcase in his daughter Murphy’s room before he left for this flight and become the “ghost” she always said was in there, knocking books off her bookcase and tampering with things in the room to some small degree.  He gives her the coordinates he needs to find the secret NASA installation at which he will become the pilot of this trip–our first problem, an obvious predestination paradox–and also gives her the data the robot recorded on crossing the event horizon of the black hole in a form she will unravel decades later when she is at NASA working with Brand’s father on a formula to crack gravity and so move huge numbers of people into space and on toward new colonies.  He and the robot are then somehow dumped out of the black hole into open space not far from the colonies his now ancient and dying daughter Murphy made possible near Saturn, and is last seen in a stolen ship rocketing toward the wormhole to go find Brand at the new colony she is establishing (with zygote stockpile technology) on the one planet that proved potentially successful as a colony world.

The way to see it is to begin with an original history.

Earth is dying, but there is a secret NASA project working on a way to move humanity into space.  Some unidentified “they” with scientific and engineering skills far superior to our own abruptly drops a wormhole near Saturn, connected to a distant galaxy with a dozen planets having the potential to support life, and a dozen survey teams are sent.  Three of these on planets fairly near each other are still sending regular beacon signals, so NASA sends a crew, equipped with stasis chambers that slow aging, through the wormhole to determine which, if any, will be the best place for the new human colony.

The complication is that somehow Cooper and Murphy have to discover, or be discovered by, NASA.  There is no obvious simple solution for this.  NASA at this point is a top secret clandestine organization which had been disbanded by the government because it cost too much to maintain, and then restarted covertly because even though no one could politically defend spending money on it, it became obvious that the earth was dying and humanity’s one hope was to go elsewhere.  Cooper does not know NASA exists.  Meanwhile, they know who he is, and would love to have someone with his piloting skills at the helm of this flight, but with so many deaths and such poor records they do not believe he is alive.  Somehow, though, one of them has to do something that catches the attention of the other.  Perhaps NASA launches some kind of test rocket that Cooper observes, and he backtracks the trajectory.  Perhaps Cooper’s self-driving farm machinery comes to the attention of someone at NASA, and they discover who he is.  These are unlikely scenarios, but something must have happened that connected Cooper to NASA.

Making it worse, Cooper must believe that it was unreliable:  when he gets the chance to send a message to himself in the past, he sends the location of NASA, which means that however he got that location in the original history he wanted himself to have it sooner, or more precisely, or in some way that meant sending it to himself was better than relying on however he found it in the original history.  He thus erases the original cause, and thereafter believes that he would not have found NASA had he not sent himself the coordinates.

From there everything works, as long as we accept the premise that there is some alien life form which has taken an interest in the preservation and advancement of humanity, the “they” which builds the wormhole and which creates the three-dimensional space inside the black hole to enable Cooper and TARS to communicate to the past.  At the moment Cooper decides that “they” are actually a future version of “we”, that the wormhole and dimensional engineering inside the black hole were created by humans from the future, the story collapses.  Before humanity can travel through the wormhole to the distant galaxy and establish colonies in space that will enable us to survive someone must create the wormhole, and if we are dependent upon our future selves to do this and cannot survive without it being done, we die here on earth and never become those future selves.  The only way such a scenario works is under fixed time theory–a bleak fatalistic conception of time under which the story works, but which in its essence undermines the hopeful future the film presents.  It also requires acceptance of the uncaused cause of multiple events which only happen because they cause themselves.

Of course, the solution to this is simple:  Cooper is wrong.  The wormhole and the dimensional space were built by an alien race with an interest in preserving humanity.  They never introduce themselves because the dimensional differences between them and us are overwhelming, but they did this in part so that we would know they exist.  Leave it to humans to conclude that the help that saved us came from ourselves, and miss the point entirely.

So that’s the story.

Meanwhile, a DVD copy of Terminator Genisys has arrived, and I am going to return to work on that analysis, although apparently I am going to have to do a bit of review of the previous movies in the series to get a few points right.  For other work on time travel and time travel movies, see the site section Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies and other articles in the time travel and time travel movies sections of this blog.

#16: The New First Amendment Speech Delimiter

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #16, on the subject of The New First Amendment Speech Delimiter.

The town of Gilbert, Arizona, recently had a local ordinance struck down by the United States Supreme Court in the case Reed v. Town of Gilbert, 576 U.S. ___ (2015).  Justice Thomas’ majority opinion was joined by Chief Justice Roberts, and Justices Scalia, Kennedy, Alito, and Sotamayer, and there were three concurring opinions, written by Alito (and joined by Kennedy and Sotamayer), Justice Kagan (joined by Justices Ginsberg and Bryer), and Breyer.  All nine justices agreed that the law was unconstitutional on its face, Kagan saying that it failed even “the laugh test”.

Courtesy Google Maps

We might consider this odd, since the appeal came from the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals, which had upheld the ordinance saying it saw no problem with it.  That is significant, because the majority opinion inherently alters the face of first amendment law, although Kagan’s concurring opinion disagrees with that alteration–yet apparently the circuit court would not have been right anyway, which is part of the confusion here.

The problem arose because of a sign ordinance.  It is fairly standard for communities to regulate the posting of signs, both for safety and for “beautification”, the overall appearance of the community, and to distinguish signs into categories.  Overall, this particular ordinance stated that signs may not be posted without a permit, then gave twenty-three categories of signs that were exempt from the permit requirement, but gave different standards for different categories.  One of the categories is “Temporary Directional Signs Relating to a Qualifying Event”, loosely defined as public meetings of a non-profit organization, and the restrictions on these are rather strict.  Two other categories are discussed in Roberts’ opinion, “Political Signs”, which are intended to influence an election, and “Ideological Signs” which are intended to influence public opinion more generally.  The limitations on such signs included the maximum size, where they might be posted, when they could be posted, and when they would have to be removed.

The plaintiff and appellant in the case is a church whose place of meeting was constantly changing.  It was the practice of the church to post signs announcing the location of the Sunday morning service on Saturday morning and remove them around noon on Sunday.  The code, however, stated that such “Temporary Directional Signs” could not be posted more than twelve hours prior to the event, must have the time and date on them, and had to be removed within an hour after the event–and the town code enforcement agency fined the church twice for non-compliance with these regulations.  Trying and failing to reach some kind of accommodation on the matter, the church took it to court, and was twice rebuffed before receiving Certiorari, that is, having the Supreme Court agree to hear the matter.

In the first paragraph the opinion says that the categorization of the signs is “content based” and therefore will not withstand “strict scrutiny”.  This was where the Court differed from the lower level decisions, which concluded that the distinctions were “content neutral” and therefore faced only “intermediate scrutiny”.

At issue is the circumstances under which the government can regulate speech, and although here it is about speech in the form of posted signs, the opinion is such that it would apply to speech in all media.  In Constitutional Law, laws which might impinge on constitutionally-protected rights are subject to “scrutiny” of different levels.  “Intermediate scrutiny” in essence means that there has to be a definable government interest and the law must address that interest in a fair and balanced way that does not impinge unreasonably upon individual rights.  “Strict scrutiny” means that the government must demonstrate that it has a compelling interest in regulating the conduct, and the means of regulation is the least intrusive means of so regulating it.  Very few laws survive strict scrutiny once it is invoked.  That is, in fact, the reason for the Hobby Lobby-related cases:  a Constitutionally protected right was threatened in a way that forced the government to prove that its objectives were compelling and there was not a less-intrusive way to achieve them.

Traditionally in free speech cases the distinction has been made between “content-neutral” laws, which receive intermediate scrutiny, and “content-based” laws, which receive strict scrutiny.  Content-based laws are primary those that attempt to quash the expression of a particular opinion or which reveal specific information; if the government wants to block the publication of a particular article it has to prove that it has a legitimate compelling government interest in doing so and cannot achieve that objective otherwise.  An example would be a law that criminalizes the publication of classified documents, in which the government argues that such publication threatens national security.  It also extends to block laws barring discussion of particular topics–if the government wants to ban discussion of the commercial use of nuclear power, it thereby interferes with the marketplace of ideas impermissibly.  On the other hand, if a municipality wants to regulate how big signs can be, where they can be posted, and similar matters not related to what the sign is saying, that’s content-neutral, and always has been.

What the Court did in Gilbert, though, was expand the definition of “content-based”.  It said that because the the ordinance regulated signs based on the nature of the information they communicated–e.g., giving directions to temporary meeting locations, promoting candidates for election–and that the regulations distinguished different kinds of signs for different restrictions, it was inherently “content-based”, and therefore faced strict scrutiny.  The lower courts had not thought so, seeing these as content-neutral because they did not distinguish what group was meeting, or which candidate was being promoted, and therefore were unbiased in regard to content; the Supreme Court said that was a mistake.

So big deal, towns cannot regulate the placement of signs which give directions to church services and Alcoholics Anonymous meetings and Boy Scout picnics differently from other kinds of signs.  How does that matter in the big picture?  It matters because of that new definition of content-based speech.  In Springfield, Illinois an ordinance banning panhandling in certain parts of the city has been struck down because it is based on the “content” of speech begging for money.  A South Carolina statute that barred the use of “robocalls” for “political” and “commercial” topics but not others (for example, robocalls to alert families to school closings were permitted) has been invalidated because it is content-based.  The applications of the new definition of “content-based” are going to have far-reaching repercussions, one of the concurring opinions noting that a lot of Fedieral regulations concerning product labeling, safety notifications, and personal privacy are in jeopardy.

So our freedom of speech just got a bit broader.  We may be living in interesting times.

In addition to blog entries with the appropriate tags, see also the article Freedom of Expression.

#15: The 2015 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #15, on the subject of The 2015 Election Results.

I previously gave a quick look at the anticipated election.  You have by now probably heard the national news–Democrats did not win in Virginia, and there are quite a few other stories hitting the national headlines.  I feel only that I am obligated to give you some notion of the situation in New Jersey.  That previous mark Joseph “young” web log entry, #12:  The 2015 Election, identified all the candidates in all the state-wide races.  This article will be much shorter, and is here to tell you who won.

img0015Seal

The short answer is that in the main the incumbents won.  Here are the exceptions.

In district one, Republican Sam Fiocchi was unseated in a close race by Democrat Bruce Land.

In district five, where Democratic incumbents Gilbert Wilson and Angel Fuentes did not run for re-election, they have been replaced by Democrats Patricia Jones and Arthur Barclay.

In district eleven, Republican incumbents Mary Pat Angelini and Caroline Casagrande were edged out by Democratic challengers Eric Houghtaling and Joann Downey.

In district sixteen, Republicans incumbent Jack Ciatarelli was re-elected, and it appears that Republican incumbent Donna Simon was edged out by Democrat Andrew Zwicker in a very close three-way race including Democrat Maureen Vella in a very close last place.

In district twenty-two, Democratic incumbent Linda Stender did not run, but was replaced by Democrat James Kennedy.

In district twenty-four, Republican incumbent Alison McHose did not run, but was replaced by Republican Gail Phoebus.

In district thirty-one where Incumbent Democrats Jason O’Donnell and Charles Mainor did not run, they were replaced by Democrats Angela McKnight and Nicholas Chiaravalloti.

In district thirty-three where Democratic incumbent Carmelo Garcia did not run, he was replaced by Democrat Annette Chaparro.

Assuming the sixteenth district seat goes to Democrat Zwicker, the Democrats have increased their hold on the Assembly from forty-eight/thirty-two to fifty-two/twenty-eight.

That’s the election coverage for the Garden State this year.

#14: Two and a Half Years for Clearing a Browser History

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #14, on the subject of Two and a Half Years for Clearing a Browser History.

O.K., that is admittedly an overly dramatic heading, and not entirely accurate, but it is rather close to the truth of the matter.

The defendant was Khairullozhon Matanov, a twenty-four year old legally resident alien who drives a cab the Boston area.  He was a known associate of Tamerlan and Dzhokhar Tsarnaev, and had dinner with them following their attack on the Boston Marathon.  He apparently spoke with them several times after the bombing, then saw their pictures on the FBI and CNN websites, attempted to contact them again, and then went to the local police to be interviewed by a detective.  It has never been alleged that he was involved in the bombing or had any knowledge of it before hand nor any certain knowledge of it after the fact.  He was simply a friend of the bombers.

img0014matanov

However, before he spoke to the police, he attempted to delete videos from his computer and erase his browser history, and to give his cell phone to someone else.  When he was interviewed he downplayed his relationship with the Tsarnaev brothers, and said that he had not seen them since having dinner with them several days before the bombing.  One can certainly understand why a Muslim citizen of Kyrgyzstan in the United States on a work visa would be reluctant to be seen as too closely associated with a pair of terrorist bombers, but the police still consider that obstruction of justice, an effort to lie to investigators in an ongoing investigation to obscure facts that might be relevant to the case.  The FBI seized his computer, questioned him, and charged him.

He pled guilty–not because he believed he had done anything illegal, but because conviction for the destruction of “any record, document, or tangible object with intent to obstruct a federal investigation” under the Sarbanes-Oxley Act can carry a sentence of up to twenty years in federal prison, and prosecutors were offering him a two-and-a-half-year sentence in a plea bargain agreement.

It seems fairly clear that Matanov was not involved in the bombing and knew nothing about it; it seems likely that even after the fact the Tsarnaevs remained tight-lipped and his repeated (mostly unanswered) calls to them were probably his effort to learn whether or not they were involved.  No one has asserted that there was any evidence on Matanov’s computer or cell phone of anything other than that he was a Muslim who knew and was in touch with the Tsarnaevs immediately before and after the bombing–the only evidence which could have been obtained from him would have related to the movements of the bombers over the long time before and after the attack.  However, he evidently thought that the combination of evidence that he was a Muslim and he knew the defendants was likely to lead investigators to suspect him of involvement in the bombings, and so he attempted to minimize any such evidence that they might find were they to investigate him.  The sentence seems a bit harsh for a gut fear response to the possibility of being implicated in a terrorist act, and it is not clear what it accomplishes, but he was probably right that the particular law under which he was charged was broad enough and severe enough that he could probably go away for a long time.  After all, he really was attempting to obstruct a federal investigation–he did not want them to know that he was friends with the bombers and had dinner with them that evening, because even to himself it probably seemed absurd that he would not have known they had committed this act.

I think it unlikely that I have any friends likely to become terrorist bombers in the near future, or indeed likely to be gunmen in the next tragic mass shooting.  Statistically that’s certainly true.  On the other hand, I’ve got a lot of Facebook “friends” and Twitter and Pinterest “followers” and LinkedIn “connections” and such, and I belong to several Yahoo! groups–I rub electronic elbows with a lot of people I’ve never met.  Further, I am pretty sure Matanov had no idea that his friends the Tsarnaev brothers were terrorist bombers–I expect that is why he kept attempting to call them even after he saw their pictures on the news, trying to get them to tell him that it was a mistake, they were not involved.  It seems rather clear that most of his efforts to clean his computer were attempting to erase any connection to them and any suggestion that he might be a radical Islamic terrorist.  Yet the wording of the law is such that had he suspected there was something wrong with his friends and attempted to erase any connection he had to them before the bombing, he might as easily have been charged with the same crime.  That means that it is within the realm of possibility that someone I know might suddenly go off the ranch, and the fact that I deleted files on my computer or cleaned my browser history around the same time that it happened could become evidence that I was intentionally destroying evidence.

It is a search and seizure law that might just be too open-ended, or too serious.  It has the potential to turn a little crime into a big crime very quickly, even accidentally.  It sounds like something Congress might want to consider adjusting.  Sure, we want destruction of evidence with the intent of impeding a federal investigation to be a crime; it does not seem, though, as if Matanov’s efforts to distance himself from a couple of friends whom he no more suspected would be terrorist bombers than anyone anticipates the identity of the next mass shooter (he seemed like such a quiet person) is the kind of crime the law was intended to punish.