#136: Recounting Nonsense

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #136, on the subject of Recounting Nonsense.

Many people are upset that Donald Trump won, or conversely that Hillary Clinton lost, the Presidential race.  There have been quite a few suggestions even now for how this loss could be turned to victory.  Not surprisingly, one of those calls is for several states to recount their ballots to determine whether, after all, Hillary might have won.  President Obama has brushed off such a suggestion, saying that the integrity of the system should not be questioned at this point, and the Clinton camp had decided not to pursue any recounts because they had no evidence of any irregularities.  However, a petition has now been filed in one state which Trump took which had been expected to go to Clinton, with announcements that two more are pending–and although Clinton’s people are joining in the petitions to protect their own legal interests, they are not the filers.

The irony is that the person filing these petitions is Green party candidate Jill Stein.  That is particularly ironic, because Stein’s candidacy is one of the reasons Clinton lost.

img0136penn

Take Wisconsin, a state in which the final count gives Trump 1,409,467 votes, 47.9% of all votes cast, and Clinton 1,382,210, 46.9% of all votes cast.  Libertarian Gary Johnson placed a distant third with 106,442 votes, 3.6%, and Stein was an even more distant fourth, 30,980 votes, 1.1%.  The Green Party stands to the left of the Democratic party, particularly on environmental issues, and had everyone who voted for Stein voted for Clinton instead, she would have received 1,413,190, about 48% of the vote, taking the state by an even more narrow margin than that by which she lost it.  Of course, not everyone who voted for Stein would have voted for Clinton, many of them simply not voting, others selecting other candidates–but it is at least arguable that Stein cost Clinton Wisconsin.

(It should also be noted that if everyone who voted Libertarian voted Republican instead, Trump would have had more than half the votes in the state.  The Third Party Problem impacts both parties, not always equally.)

It has been announced that a petition will be filed in Pennsylvania before the deadline.  Here the third party impact is less clear:  Trump took 2,912,941 votes, 48.8%; Clinton took 2,844,705 votes, 47.6%.  Stein only took 48,912 votes, a mere 0.8%, not enough to put Clinton ahead but enough to narrow the gap sufficiently to make it more likely a recount would reverse the outcome.  (Here Libertarian Johnson took only 2.4%, 142,653 votes, which again would have put Trump over the 50% mark had they gone to him.)

Michigan is close enough that some observers have not considered it settled, and a recount almost makes sense for the loser:  Trump’s 2,279,805 votes is 47.6% against Clinton’s 2,268,193, 47.3%–and again, Stein’s 50,700 votes is 1.1% of the total, more than enough that it would have put Hillary in first place (but again Johnson’s 3.6%–173,057 votes–would have put Trump over the 50% mark).

It is overall a bad bet; Clinton must claim Pennsylvania, or she cannot overturn the election, and she must also claim either Wisconsin or Michigan.  Those two states together are not enough electoral votes to reverse the result, but Pennsylvania is not enough by itself without at least one or the other of those.  It could happen, but it’s very unlikely.

Stranger things have happened, but probably not this.

#135: What Racism Is

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #135, on the subject of What Racism Is.

This began as a Facebook thread, but found its way here for several reasons.  One is that the issue is important, and in the hierarchy of ephemera that comprises the Internet a web log post has a longer life than a Facebook thread, and so reaches more people over a longer period of time.  Another is that most (not all) of those participating in the Facebook thread disagreed; either I failed to communicate the essential point adequately, or there is a fundamental disagreement about the nature and definition of “racism”.

President Clinton's Initiative on Race
President Clinton’s Initiative on Race

An “ism”, generally, is a set of beliefs or sometimes attitudes expressing itself as a world view and thus impacting the actions of the “ist”, that is, the one embracing the “ism”, or tending toward “ist” actions, those which express the “ism”.  There are many–Marxism, socialism, and Nazism; legalism, Gnosticism, Buddhism, Mohammedanism, Taoism.  The one perhaps nearest in kind to racism is sexism, and they share some similar features.  Both involve using a biological category as a basis for distinctions that are generalizations about the group applied to individuals within it.  Sexism is the belief or attitude that one sex is better at some things than the other, when those specific supposed advantages are not specifically linked to the essential elements that are the basis for the distinction between the two sexes.  The statement that only women are designed to carry and deliver offspring is not in itself sexist because that is part of the definition of what it is to be female, in humans; the assertion that they therefore should stay home and have babies is sexist, because it places a different obligation on women than on men which is separate from that biological distinction.  (It is different in sea horses and some other aquatic life, in which once the female has handled the fertilization of the eggs she provided, she passes them to the male for safekeeping until birth.)  It is sexist to assert that men are smarter than women, in part because that is not one of the defining distinctions but in larger part because it is simply not true–men are better on average at certain cognitive tasks (especially space relations), women at others (especially linguistic abilities), and overall intellect is about equal at both the means and the extremes.  More difficult is the assertion that men have greater upper body strength–a statement that is true at the means and the extremes, that the male torso is built slightly differently than the female with upper body strength in view, but which is not true in every individual case.  So sexism is the attitude that one sex is better than the other in specific ways which are not actually linked to sexual differences, and it can point either direction–the statement that men are terrible at relationships and commitments is sexist not because it isn’t true as a generalization that women are better at such things than men, but because it is not universally true either that all men are bad at these nor that all women are good.  A misandrist is just as much a sexist as a misogynist.

Thus a racist is someone who thinks in racial categories and believes that everyone who shares a common racial ancestry automatically has specific traits universal to that group which are not part of the defining traits of that group.  Obviously it is true that there are some genetic factors that unify individual races; it is equally true that the pure genome of every race is vanishing from the world (blue eyes have become more rare as a percentage of the population than ever before).  It is not sexist to state that blacks all have high quantities of melanin in their skin, hair, and eyes, because that is part of the biological definition of negroid anatomy.  It is racist to say that all blacks have great rhythm and musical ability, even if it is intended in a complimentary or admiring sense, because it is an untrue generalization based on race.

There is, however, an attitude or notion that only whites can be racist, and that all whites are.  Part of my point is that this attitude is itself racist:  it generalizes about a group based on racial distinctions to assert that some defect is true about all individual members of the group, and further asserts that it is not true about anyone who is not a member of that group.  Racism is seen as a specifically and universally white characteristic.  That is not true.  Ask any Mexican in the United States whether there are racist blacks.  Hispanic subgroups–Mexicans, Puerto Ricans, Cubans, Dominicans–are often racist toward each other.  There has long been racism between various white racial subgroups.  The grandmother of a college friend of mine was known to have said, “Ya, but vat is a Svede but a Norvegian vith his brains knocked out?”  All those Italian jokes we heard as kids are racist; the obstacles they and other immigrant groups such as the Irish faced in employment were expressions of racism against whites–and to the black radio commentator who once opined that all they needed to do was change their names, even those who at that time were not racist could identify ethnic backgrounds by everything from idiolect to pigmentation.  The racism against Jews seemingly knows no racial barriers, as they are stereotyped by people of every national and ethnic background, often to the point of violent persecution–and in the main, Jews are white.

In Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, in the chapter in which Lauren Hastings meets Joe Kondor, when he opines that the reason she failed to notice that the bird people populating their new world were segregated based on the colors of their feathers is that she is white, it surprises her that he would think it discriminatory of her not to have noticed such a connection, but not to have thought it discriminatory to suggest that it was because she was white.  That was because she was not racist–racial categories do not matter to her at all–and he is, but does not recognize it about himself.

When Barrack Obama was elected President of the United States, many thought this marked the end of racism in this country, because a black man had been elected President.  Unfortunately, that assessment is itself, once again, racist:  if it were true that racism had ended, no one would have observed that the man was black.  My children were not at all racist, and my wife and I often found it difficult to elicit from them whether their schoolteachers or classmates were white or black without asking directly, because it was not a category by which they identified people; they offered height, weight, age, hair and eye color, but not race.  Not being racist means that in your own mind race is not more than a category of biology which is irrelevant outside of a few mostly medical matters (for example, sickle cell anemia is a genetic disorder specifically linked to the black genome).  Yet after his election racism continued, even demonstrated by his own family.  We have previously observed how Michelle Obama’s Target story demonstrates her own racism, that she believes a short white woman would have asked her to get something off the top shelf not because she, at five foot eleven inches, is tall, but because she is black.  The assumption was, once again, that the woman was racist because she was white, when any child would have recognized that the only racism here comes from that assumption, not from a short person asking a tall person for help.

All of which brings us to the West Virginia story which started this.

I am old enough to remember that it was fairly common, at least in my part of the country, to refer to someone as a “big ape” to mean that he was large and physically awkward or clumsy–lacking physical grace would be a polite way to say it.  That’s what the expression means to me, and if I were to call someone an ape–which is, frankly, just plain rude to call anybody anything insulting–that would be my intent.  I don’t think that were I to use that particular insult, I would make any distinction based on race, because the expression does not mean that to me and never did.

I am educated enough to know that in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries it was generally believed, even by many abolitionists, that Negroes were not human, but were the most advanced primates to come out of Africa, eminently trainable and even able to understand and mimic speech.  It was as it were an article of faith among the slavery faction, to the point that one Civil War Confederate general wrote in his journal that were it to be demonstrated that blacks could fight in the armies of either side, the South would lose on principle, as that would prove they were in fact human, not domesticated animals, and that it therefore was morally wrong to enslave them.  I know that the epithet of being an “ape” or a “monkey” was still in use in the early twentieth century to convey the belief that blacks were sub-human.  I have never in my now somewhat longish life actually heard anyone so use it.  I would not first think of that meaning were I to hear someone call someone an “ape”, because in my experience the other meaning is still in common use and this one is not, any more than were I to hear someone identified as a “bitch” I would take that in its early meaning of a profligate woman instead of the modern sense of a nasty one.

It might, I suppose, matter that I have lived much of my life north of the Mason-Dixon Line–but only because the men who drew the line had it turn south from the southern edge of Pennsylvania along the western border of Delaware, and so placed New Jersey on the northern side completely.  The line along the southern edge of Pennsylvania, if continued eastward, would pass through our state; we are in that sense on the border, and there are enough “rednecks” in the southern reaches of the state that the Confederate flag is not completely absent from personal displays.

Yet it should equally be noted that that same line follows along the northern edge of West Virginia–it, too, is a border state, albeit a southern one, and part of it extends north of that line as defined by the southern edge of Pennsylvania.  Where I live in New Jersey today is south of a substantial portion of West Virginia.  Historically West Virginia was a slave state and New Jersey a free state, but that was over one and a half centuries ago.  West Virginia is not “deep south” like Alabama, and New Jersey is not “remote north” like Vermont and Massachusetts.  An expression that is common or uncommon here is probably similarly used as near here as West Virginia.  There might still be people in the country using the derogation “ape” to refer to someone as sub-human, but it is the less likely usage.

From this, it appears to me to be at least plausible that the woman in West Virginia who described First Lady Michelle Obama as “an ape in heels” did not mean it in a racial sense, but only in the sense that the nearly six foot tall basketball-playing woman lacks the sort of grace we had in Jacqueline Kennedy or Nancy Reagan or Betty Ford.  I can imagine that after she said it via Twitter an electronic gasp passed through the audience and she thought, as many who accidentally say things they did not realize had sexual implications until after the words were out of their mouths, “What did I say?”  Maybe someone had to call her attention to the racial meaning of that slur, which was not in her thoughts at all.  Then, realizing how people would take what she said, she blushed brilliantly and retracted it.

I could be entirely wrong.  People who know this woman might be aware of facts unknown to us, perhaps that she is terribly racist and probably would call a black woman an “ape” in the sense of “sub-human primate”.  They might as easily know that she is not at all racist and would have said something like that completely oblivious to its racial implications.  We cannot know whether this white woman made a comment she knew was a racial slur, or whether she meant something differently insulting about a first lady who is perhaps athletic but not graceful.

Which brings the second half of the point.  Most readers, and indeed the media generally, leapt to the conclusion that because this was said by a white woman about a black woman, it must have been a racial slur.  That, though, requires thinking about the situation in racial categories–that is, judging it from a racist perspective.  If the comment had been made by a black woman, would we not conclude that she meant awkward?  If it had been made about a white man, would we be shouting that calling him an “ape” was clearly a racist attack on his status as a human being?  In point of fact, to reach the conclusion that this comment “must have been” racist, you must work from the assumption that because it was said by a white person living south of the Mason-Dixon Line (as it was actually drawn) about a black person, the white person is by default racist and intended it as a racial slur.  However, the statement “all whites are racist” is the attribution of a negative characteristic to all members of a class defined by race–and thus a racist statement by definition–and you do not cause it to cease to be racist by limiting it to “all whites living south of the Mason-Dixon Line”.

So I do not know whether the woman who stated that Michelle Obama was “an ape in heels” is racist–but I do know that all the people who, knowing no more than that a white woman in West Virginia made such a statement are insisting that it must have been intended as a racial slur because of who said it, certainly are.  If they were not, it would not have occurred to them that the race of the speaker in any way impacted the intent of the statement.

#134: Versers in Space

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #134, on the subject of Versers in Space.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

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

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

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (which continued with coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (which continued with coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (which continued with coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (which continued with coverage of chapters 64 through 72),
  9. #104:  Novel Learning (which continued with coverage of chapters 73 through 81),
  10. #110:  Character Redirects (which continued with coverage of chapters 82 through 90),
  11. #113:  Character Movements (chapters 91 through 99),
  12. #116:  Character Missions (100 through 108),
  13. #119:  Character Projects (109 through 117),
  14. #122:  Character Partings (118 through 126),
  15. #128:  Character Gatherings (127 through 135).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0134station

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


Chapter 136, Kondor 88

Joe has been building a tech base which I needed for the final adventure of this book, and since he was doing it in the previous world it flowed naturally as a continuation in this world.  He also has quite a few weeks to do it, which matters because his knowledge had to seem credible.

He realizes that the notion of jinxing your luck is a supernaturalist idea, and despite his rejection of supernaturalism he falls into that kind of thinking sometimes.


Chapter 137, Hastings 87

The disappearance of versers when they die is suddenly distressingly like the decay of vampires in the same situation—but it’s an entirely different process.  Horta was fooled, but he wasn’t entirely wrong:  he had killed Lauren, but she doesn’t stay dead.

The idea that Tubrok was so powerful he could survive being decapitated I think gave a lot more threat to him when he returns in the future in the third book.  He is dangerous already, and he will have many centuries in which to become more so.


Chapter 138, Brown 47

Lauren has been a wizard for long enough now that her use of the mental cloaking skill seems second nature.  Derek wasn’t really aware of it because she didn’t have cause to use it in the post-apocalyptic world, but she used it extensively in Vampire Camelot and Vampire Wandborough, so she’s had lots of practice.


Chapter 139, Kondor 89

Lauren and Joe knew each other in the previous book.  As they meet again, part of this has to re-establish their relationship for those who never read that book, and part of it has to show their fondness for each other despite their differences.  They thus kid each other about their respective religious views while filling in the gaps since their last meeting.

Lauren has given herself a problem, and it’s a humbling experience to realize just how arrogant she has allowed herself to get.  It is an important lesson for her here, and she learns it.


Chapter 140, Hastings 88

I have Lauren at stage 3, although I don’t really describe it other than to say that she arrived fully awake.  I’m going to knock her back a couple stages in the shifts ahead, because I need her to enter the fifth book in stage two.  That’s rare, but it happens.

Raeph Williams is named for the composer, without the Vaughn in the middle.

Lauren’s explanation of her fear, that she would find herself in a position of using power over people to survive here, reflects the danger of being a wizard.  She has to learn to serve even though she has the power to rule.


Chapter 141, Brown 48

Lauren’s strangeness is fascinating, and she’s about the right age for Raeph, so it seemed to me that a mutual attraction would be an interesting direction to take it.  She started in the first book so entirely isolated, and gradually she has been connecting to people—Bethany, Joe and Bob, Derek.  Raeph is an interesting character for this, because he’s not a verser and he’s not in any way extraordinary other than being brilliant at computers, but he’s good-hearted and interesting, and in a lot of ways he and Lauren mesh well.  So I immediately picked up how much he liked her.

Lauren treats Derek as one of her children.  It doesn’t matter that he’s aged a decade, he’s still younger than she is in every way and looks the part, and she to some degree raised him as a young verser; he is still on some level a twelve-year-old boy, and so he perceives her as a surrogate mother who rescued him when he was lost.  So they have that mother-son relationship, and it’s reflected in their interactions here.


Chapter 142, Hastings 89

Using a bit of magic to rejuvenate the ancient makeup was the first indication that at least some magic worked here, along with the psionics.  Psionics work well; magic at least works.

Twentieth century makeup techniques of the sort that Lauren would use are designed to enhance natural features, and thus they would be significantly cross-cultural.  She doesn’t have to learn much about how people of this world apply their makeup, because what she knows is good for enhancing her own features.

She notices that her one dress is more conservative than she would buy now, and that reflects how very daring she has become through her experiences.

Courtesy, too, would have some universal aspects.  Helping someone with a seat is an obvious and natural courtesy, as long as there are chairs that move.

It is always said that versers never go home, never return to their own place and time; yet for the reasons Lauren gives, that can’t really be known.  Of course, if you didn’t resume aging you would start not to fit, but that’s a separate question.  Lauren thinks she won’t get home because that’s what she was told by people who had been trying for a lot longer than she has been.  She doesn’t know it with certainty, and that makes a difference, because as she says tomorrow she might be back with her husband and her children.

I remembered in the first book my wife saying that she didn’t feel as if Lauren were credible because she was a mother who didn’t seem to miss her children.  I figured at this point the experience with Raeph would remind her of her family, and it would break out despite two centuries of separation.  Thus she cries.


Chapter 143, Kondor 90

I created the idea of a bed with controlled reduced gravity and temperature-controlled airflow in play long ago, and I like the concept so much it keeps reappearing in my space worlds.  Personally I am not certain I would be more comfortable in a warm breeze than under a blanket, but it sounds good.

The line about Joe marrying Lauren for her cooking fits the twentieth-century mindset they share, and also segues into Lauren’s concerns about her relationship with Raeph.

The distinction between the vows “as long as we both shall live” and “until death parts us” becomes important with the concept of a verser:  Lauren died, but she is still alive.  It is part of her dilemma.

Joe has never been married, probably never been in a serious relationship (army straight out of high school), but he thinks of marriage as a religious thing and therefore a superstitious idea.  A life-long commitment sealed by promises does not strike him as a practical practice.


Chapter 144, Hastings 90

I saw video phones at the Bell Telephone/AT&T exhibit of the 1964 New York World’s Fair.  A decade later I asked my father what became of them.  He said that there was insufficient interest in them, and since transmitting video required so much more data capacity than transmitting audio it wasn’t worth the effort to switch.  By now people do use video calls rather regularly via computer over the Internet, without giving a thought to the data transmission requirements.  I figured that that would be the norm for a world where large screen data systems replaced everything else, and it seems already to be happening well ahead of my expectations.

I also figured that the system would have the intelligence to connect the call when the intended recipient indicated she was there.

I have Lauren in that teenager courting situation.  There is a girlish giddiness about her in this situation—she hasn’t been the object of someone’s romantic attention for a long time, and she’s responding to it in ways she had forgotten.

It was an interesting bit of psychological trivia I picked up somewhere:  men want to sit next to women to whom they are attracted, women want to sit across from men to whom they are attracted.  (I’m pretty sure I have that right; it’s been a long time since I read it.)  Lauren sits across from Raeph because she has the choice, and it’s more natural at small tables.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

#133: Your Sunday Best

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #133, on the subject of Your Sunday Best.

I recently heard a radio announcer talking about dressing up for church.  I think he was parodying the idea, because he said he didn’t want to wear a tie but wanted to wear one of those Elizabethan collars in which William Shakespeare is sometimes depicted.  It brought back to my mind a question I had often considered over the years, ever since a friend raised it back in college:  why do we, or many of us, dress for church?

img0133suit

I had always thought that people dressed for church to show respect to God.  I had also thought that a bit silly, because to my very Baptist mind God was not more present in the church than He was in the bathroom, and if it was disrespectful to God to enter His presence in less than our Sunday finest, we should never pray in our pajamas before bed–something I was always taught to do.  When the issue arose, I made that point–and was surprised that not everyone thought that was the reason.

Of particular interest, my friend Walter Bjorck had what I would have said was the exact opposite view.  He said that he thought people dressed for church because they could.  After all, well into the twentieth century most people worked farm or factory or labor jobs, jobs that required them to get dirty and sweaty and so to wear clothes that could take the dirt and the wear.  Sunday was for many the only day of the week on which they were not working, and thus the only day on which they did not have to wear those work clothes.  People, he maintained, like to get cleaned up and dressed up once in a while, just to make themselves feel better.

I agreed that if that was the reason, there was in essence no harm in it.  I was never one who liked to dress up in that way–I always wanted clothes to be comfortable, and never cared how they looked.  Thus if this is the reason, it is good reason for anyone who wants to dress in fancy clothes for church, but not good reason to make me do so.  Make yourself comfortable, and I will do the same.

In considering the matter since, though, I have recognized that there are other reasons for people to dress for church, and not all of them are good.

Some people consider dressing for church to be a sign of respect for others who are in church.  They consider it rude if you don’t wear a tie, as if you don’t care about the people with whom you share the sanctuary.  I can almost see that, but frankly I think their perceptions are skewed.  I don’t think it rude for you to visit me in your normal clothes.  You’re welcome to visit in whatever you wear to work, or whatever you wear around the house if it meets public decency standards, or whatever you’re comfortable wearing.  I would not expect anything different if we went to the same restaurant, or the same public meeting, or the same concert.  Why should I be impressed that you dressed up for church?  Don’t do it on my account; I won’t do it on yours.

And that raises the slightly different reason people dress up, and the reason I dress up on those rare times when I do.  Some people dress to impress.  I do it when I have to appear in court.  To a lesser degree, I do it when I am on stage, paying attention to what I wear.  I do it in essence to manipulate your opinion of me.

That, it strikes me, is not a good reason to dress for church.  My opinion of you, and your opinion of me, should not be based on what we wear, particularly in church, but anywhere else as well.  I promise not to dress to impress you when we’re in church; I will wear my ordinary clothes, although to please my wife I will try to make sure the T-shirt isn’t ripped or stained.  I don’t mind if you want to dress for church, but I do mind if you do so to manipulate my opinion, or anyone else’s opinion, of you.  If you’re dressing to impress people in church, stop it now.  Better that you should come to church in rags and suffer the ire of people who think it rude (such shallow people need to come to grips with recognizing the value of people rather than the price of clothing) than that you should be attempting to manipulate others by your appearance.  That’s fine in court, and it’s fine on stage, and its fine if you’re running for public office or campaigning for support for an important issue or leading others in a business or other organization that requires they respect you.  It is not fine when you are gathering with people who are supposed to be family, who are supposed to love you as you really are and not as you pretend to be.

If it makes you feel better to dress up for church, that’s fine.  Don’t judge those who do not share that.  They might specifically be dressing down to avoid the sin of dressing to impress; they might be avoiding tempting you to the sin of showing them favoritism.  There’s no requirement in the New Testament that says we have to dress for our gatherings.  There is one that says we have to love each other as we are, and not show favoritism to those who dress well or snub those who dress poorly.  You’ll find it in James, if you missed it.

#132: Writing Horror

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #132, on the subject of Writing Horror.

I don’t write a lot of horror, but I have managed to write some–if you’ve followed the Derek Jacob Brown stories in Old Verses New you can see that I took him through several horror stories (Spoiler Alert an onlooker in Cask of Amontilado, a haunted house, a castle in a swamp populated by a couple of perhaps gruesome creatures, a slasher set at a summer camp), and I’m told by some readers that these are rather frightening tales.  On the other hand, the main story arc for the Lauren Hastings stories which begin in Verse Three, Chapter One is set in a World of Darkness-type vampire setting, and it’s not at all horror–more a kill monsters and get stronger kind of experience.  I don’t like to read horror, although I have done so when people have given me books that happen to fall in that genre, and I don’t watch horror movies unless there is a compelling reason to do so (Terminator and Time Lapse to analyze the time travel elements, Alien, because, well, it’s Alien, classic science fiction with monster on the loose, design by H. R. Giger, kind of a must-see to be literate in geek culture).

However, I think I understand a few things about horror which might help the aspiring writer–or referee–come to grips with how to do it.

img0132cthulu

One of the aspects that makes horror frightening is atmosphere.  This is why when people tell ghost stories around the campfire they speak in soft and often slow tones.  It forces the listener to work to hear what’s being said.  The same story told in an ordinary voice loses a significant part of the fear factor.  Similarly, stories told in broad daylight are not as frightening as those told when the lights are low.  If you’re running a game, these are factors you can sometimes include.  Of course, if you’re running it at a table at a convention, surrounded by a dozen other referees running a dozen other games, the light and noise levels are undoubtedly outside your control–but there are still ways you can create atmosphere, by drawing the players in to focus on you, and keeping the descriptions terse.

In writing, there are other tricks.  E. R. Jones once pointed out to me that in one passage in which Poe did not want to loosen the constricted feeling of the story he wrote that someone “unclosed” a door–avoiding the word “open” so as to avoid the glimmer of openness that would come with it.  If you are writing from the perspective of a character, you can incorporate the character’s own feelings and responses.  When I had Derek in the house which he was correctly thinking was haunted, I wrote

Should he risk leaning on a door, which might open into a room in which might be, he tried not to be too specific in his thoughts, anything?

It encourages the reader to fill in the horrors that might be there from his own imagination–and another thing Poe sometimes recognized (as in the end of The Pit and the Pendulum) is that what I can get you to imagine is probably more frightening than anything I can actually describe.  It is the more frightening because it is vague in your mind–you don’t know exactly what it is you fear, but you know that you fear it.

Beyond atmosphere, though, there is the question of risk.  You can read sports scores in the voice of a ghost story, and the only people who will be frightened are Cubs fans.  The reader or player has to have something at stake.

In a game, this is usually accomplished by creating a threat to the life of the player character.  If I am invested in my character and you create a credible threat that means a high probability that he will be killed, and there is little or nothing he can do to prevent it, I am going to be fearful.  But there is that condition in that:  I have to be invested in the character and afraid of losing him.  This was a serious problem for Multiverser in relation to horror, because character death is not the end but only a shift to a new stage of adventure, a move to another world.  We thus had to explore other ways of creating fear in the players; versers laugh at death.

One way is frequently used in fiction:  get the reader, or the player, invested in the life of another character.  That’s why children are so often threatened in horror stories, because we might not care whether the gruff hero lives or dies, but we want to save the kid.  Vulnerable women or girls are also frequently put in this role, so we’ll hope that the hero can save the girl.  When I’m writing or running the slasher summer camp story, I want you to like my campers, because then when my slasher starts killing them you are frightened not so much that he will kill you but that he will kill these other nice kids you’ve gotten to know–and possibly leave you, the stranger who cannot account for himself, as the prime suspect in their deaths.

It is also important to remember that some things are worse than death.  In Multiverser‘s The Web, the danger is not so much that the character will be killed, but that he will become wrapped in a spider-like cocoon, and his nerve tissue will be taken a little at a time over a very long period, leaving him more and more crippled the longer he is held.  In play that world also uses several other tricks, such as beautiful objects which are highly dangerous, seemingly friendly creatures who are treacherous, and a penalty against all actions that “matter”, creating a focus on the futility of effort.  The point is to deprive the player of any hope of preserving his character intact.

That ultimately is the thing to recognize about fear:  it is the opposite of hope.  To make your target fearful, you have to take away hope–and if you take away those hopes one at a time as the situation gradually becomes more bleak, you build fear slowly, until in the end the character either accepts his doom or fights it in futility.

That is the objective of horror, done right.  You still might pull a happy ending out of the hat, but once you do you’ve broken the mood and left the genre.  In horror, everyone dies, but the last ones only die when the last vestige of hope has failed.

#131: The Fat Lady Sings

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #131, on the subject of The Fat Lady Sings.

The votes are in, the polls are closed, the counting has nearly been completed, and it is clear that political outsider Republican Donald Trump has received more than enough electoral votes to become the next President of the United States.  It’s over.

The losers are sore; they don’t want it to be over.  Consummate politician and Washington insider Democrat Hillary Clinton received slightly more of the popular vote (less than one half of one percent, six hundred thirty thousand eight hundred seventy-seven (630,877) more votes than Trump out of one hundred twenty-seven million five hundred ninety-two thousand one hundred seventy-six (127,592,176) cast).  There are a lot of people who think that this means she should be the next President.  Some of them are petitioning for Electors pledged to Trump to “jump ship” and vote for Clinton instead, even if they are required by state law to vote for the candidate to whom they are pledged.  Break the law, they say; pay the fine and save the country from this despicable Republican.  However, a lot of voters want this “despicable Republican” to be President, and there is a degree to which his victory is a vindication for one of the principle concepts of the Electoral College.

img0131trump

We’ve discussed the Electoral College before, in Coalition Government, and to a lesser degree before that in The Birth Certificate:  Ballot Requirements; it is that system by which we the people do not vote for the President but for the Electors who will vote for the President.  Ironically, it appears that the Framers of the Constitution wanted it to be a system that usually failed–the way the text is written, if several people are running for President it is unlikely that one of them would receive a majority of Electors, which means that the Legislature would get to pick who it wanted for its Executive (that is, “the person who executes the directives of the legislature”) from the shortlist provided by the College giving us the sort of “executive does what the ruling party wants” streamlined government typical of the Parliament/Prime Minister structures of other countries.  It rarely happens that way, because very early we learned that a two-party system results in one of the candidates usually getting fifty-percent-plus-one of the votes in the College, and so most people vote for one of the two major parties and the President generally is chosen in the first vote.

Yet this underscores another important point:  The President of the United States was never intended to be primarily a representative of the People of the United States.  The office is established in such a way that he represents the States, the electors being chosen by the States according to such permissible methods as each State chooses.  Most States choose to vote as blocs:  whichever candidate gets the majority of voter support within the state, that’s the candidate for which the state votes.  The point is not for the voters to vote for the President; the point is for the voters to tell their individual States whom the State should support for President.  The States then appoint the person wanted by the majority of the States, weighted by population.

And that is what happened here.

James Nolt wrote an excellent article in The Street (Pundits Just Don’t Get It:  Here Is the Real Reason Why Trump Won), in which he observes that the “rust belt” states went to Trump.  These are the homes of the manufacturing unions–steel workers, automotive workers–and they have seen their jobs vanish overseas.  Trump promised to do something about it.  These are the homes of struggling farm laborers, displaced by immigrant farm workers.  Trump promised to do something about that.  His plans sound radical–cutting back on the immigration of low-wage immigrants, placing high import duties on foreign manufactured goods–but they are plans that go against the status quo, that oppose the progressivist universalist concept of a world market where workers who have to pay American-level prices have to compete with workers willing to take third-world-level wages.  Pennsylvania, Ohio, Michigan, Missouri, Wisconsin, West Virginia, the Dakotas–these states all want someone in Washington who will change the rules of the economy game so that ordinary working class people once again stand a chance.

I suppose that Bernie Sanders might have appealed to them with his socialist views.  He was not an option.  Trump was the only candidate in the race that supported policies that gave hope to those workers, and whether or not those policies are practical, whether or not they can be implemented, whether or not they would work, workers wanted to give him that chance.

What it means is that the Democratic Coalition is cracking:  labor no longer believes the Democrats have their best interests in view.  Support for more immigration is not in the interests of labor.  Support for free trade agreements is not in the interests of labor.  Republicans may have worked to break union strangleholds on jobs in some states, but Democrats have taken the union vote for granted while ignoring labor concerns, and now they’re losing it.

States where people want economic change, and not the more-of-the-same promised by the Democrats, voted for Trump.  And the President of the United States is chosen by the States, the clear majority of whom (of fifty-one (which includes the District of Columbia) twenty-eight certain, one more still counting but probable, one of four votes from Maine) supported him.  (Clinton took twenty certain, one more probable but still counting, and the other three votes from Maine.)  Those States were heard.  Trump is now President-elect, and we can hope that whatever he does will bring jobs back to America.

#130: Economics and Racism

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #130, on the subject of Economics and Racism.

When I was in law school, one of my fellow students explained to me how he got his masters degree by proving something everyone already knew.  As I read a recent article, I couldn’t help thinking that the several cited studies were guilty of exactly that.  They demonstrated that the prevalence of racism in a society is inversely proportionate to its economic health:  as unemployment rises, so does racism.  That doesn’t say that economics are the cause of racism, but that they are a contributing factor.  I really hope that doesn’t surprise you.

img0130cash

It is inherent in our human existence that we want to survive.  We see this survival instinct in creatures as low as cockroaches.  Linked to that notion of survival is the desire for comfort and abundance–if we have better shelter, we are safer, and if we have more food, we are protected against hunger.  Thus almost every one of us wants more than he has.  That is not limited to poor people, or even middle class people–wealthy people usually find that there are things they want that they can’t buy.  It is a phenomenon known as rising aspirations:  the more money you have, the more things you want to buy with it.  And it’s actually easy to understand why that is.

Economies fluctuate.  They get better and worse.  This happens globally, nationally, and even on the individual level.  You have a job, and you make enough that you can afford to splurge on lunch out twice a week.  Then you get a raise, and now you have more money.  Now you eat lunch out three times a week.  Your personal economy is booming.  But then the price of bread goes up, there’s a new gas tax–the extra money is no longer extra, and you have to cut back to eating lunch out once a week.  You feel like you’re going backwards, and in a sense you are.  So is everyone else, of course, but you don’t feel the pinch on anyone else.  You think you should have more than you have, that you should be able to eat lunch out three times a week, or even every day, because you work hard and you deserve it.  You want to know why you aren’t doing better than you are.

You also think that your children should be able to do better, and your siblings, your family generally; and that sometimes extends to your ethnic group, particularly if you are in an ethnic group that has faced discrimination in the past–the Italians, the Irish, people who arrived in America poor and struggled in the working class to rise to a higher level.  We deserve better, is the mantra.  It extends beyond to “people like me”, and becomes contrasted against “people who are different”.

And what you see is that there are some people who are not part of your group who are doing well, doing better than you are.  You are out of work, and these others have jobs.  You are struggling to pay your bills, and these others have nice cars, nice houses, jewelry, meals at restaurants.  They have it good.

It doesn’t matter whether most of those people who are not part of your group are in situations as bad or worse than yours; the fact that some of them are doing well means that those “different” people are getting the money, the food, the jobs, that “should” be going to you and your people–because you deserve better; and that means that people who have what you don’t have have taken it from you.  It’s not fair, and it’s their fault.

And it is so comforting to have someone to blame, to be able to say to yourself that it is not your fault, not some deficiency in you.  It’s because those Jews cheat to get ahead, or those Hispanics are taking all the jobs, or those Chinese are willing to work for a substandard wage.

Racism, seen thus, is our own attempt to view ourselves as better than someone else.  The details are trappings, added to justify our judgments.

Thus when the economy is poor, when unemployment is high and money is not going as far as we remember, racism rises as we blame those who are different from ourselves for putting us in this situation.  It doesn’t matter whether it’s whites deriding Hispanics for taking jobs at low wages, or blacks blaming whites as oppressing them and keeping them out of work, or Hispanics accusing blacks of mistreating them, or everyone blaming Jews for continuing to be successful in hard times.  Our racist attitudes increase when we need someone to blame for our own hardships.  Yet even if it is true that our economic hardships are not our fault, that does not mean they are someone else’s fault:  economies fluctuate, and not everyone can be on the top of the curve.  The fact that you are not reaching your aspirations does not mean it is anyone’s fault, even if it clearly is not your own.

It would be so much better if we could pull together and get out of this economic slump.

If only it were so easy.

#129: Eulogy for the Record Album

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #129, on the subject of Eulogy for the Record Album.

The record album is, if not dead, dying.  This relatively short-lived art form has fallen from popularity, and may soon be as forgotten as the vinyl long-play record that made it possible.

img0129abbey

It might be useful to recount some of the life of this entity.  We touched on this in web log post #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry, but we’ll review relevant portions of that and continue with what is specifically of value in connection with the record album.  Originally, Thomas Edison’s recordings were one song per cylinder, but when his competitors forced him to move to disks they became one song per side.  Over time, as we described, we reached the point where a long-play twelve-inch vinyl disk running at thirty-three and a third revolutions per minute could put almost half an hour of stereo music on each side.  (There were a couple of quadraphonic albums made, but the technology failed to become popular.)

Initially a record album was probably not much different from a photo album–a collection of pictures whose only connection is that the same person took them, probably around the same time and place.  Even with early pop-rock albums, this was still the case:  early Simon and Garfunkle records are good examples of this, a collection of songs which are together only because Simon and Garfunkle recorded them.  However, gradually something else emerged:  the album as an art form in itself.

It was inevitable that it would happen.  Album art was becoming a major concept, as the twelve-inch square covers were a wonderful size for creating interesting images, and the interesting images were part of the marketing of the album.  Yet more thought went into creating albums not so much as collections of separate songs but as performance programs in themselves.  Albums like The Beatles’ Abbey Road and Tommy by The Who are prime examples of this, in which the songs connect together to create an impression, even a story.  Not every album was done this way, but it was becoming enough of the norm that it was the expectation:  the album itself says something, and was intended to be heard in its entirety, each song introducing the next, following from the one before, from a starting point to an ending point much as a symphony or an oratorio.

Indeed, when we went into the studio to record Collision:  Of Worlds, one of the points I made was that we were recording an album, not a demo.  The songs should be arranged so that they created a cohesive whole.  With a demo, you put three different songs on the disk representative of your range of style and know that you’ll be lucky if the target audience ever hears the second; you can put four, but the fourth probably won’t be heard unless the first three are truly impressive and show a range of style that warrants saying you do more than just those first three songs.  With an album, though, the transitions should be smooth, the story should advance with each song, it should all be told one step at a time.  The listener should come away at least feeling as if there was a message.

That doesn’t always happen, particularly in the hamburger mill in which record companies pressured bands to create new albums.  Artists sometimes went into the studio with no idea what they were going to record, and wrote the music while they were there–resulting in disjointed and uneven collections of compositions and performances which they then tried to promote as something meaningful.  Critics often complained that such albums contained one good song which was popular and ten or eleven others that were created as filler so there would be an album, and that complaint was sometimes valid.

Sometimes valid–but not always.  For one thing, artists almost invariably have great difficulty evaluating their own material.  It is known that Sir Arthur Conan Doyle hated Sherlock Holmes.  I can tell you which of my songs have the most meaning to me, which most impress me musically, which were the most challenging to write–but I can’t tell you which ones have the best audience appeal or are the most popular, generally.  That is, the songs I think are “good” are not necessarily the ones the audience likes.

That’s complicated by the aspect of popularity.  We’ve cited this before:  what makes a song popular is the appearance that it is popular.  Most people like the songs they think their friends like.  It’s more a social phenomenon than a measure of quality.  Many “singles” were released in which no one knew which side would get the airplay and become popular, but only one side did–the other was called the “B side”, and most people were completely unaware of what songs were on the flip side of most of their favorites.  The fact that a song is or is not popular cannot be a gauge of whether it is any good, in large part because no one could have known whether it would have been popular prior to its release, and in large part because popularity itself is not a measure of what is good.

Why does any of this matter?  The new marketing technology now has it arranged so that you can buy any song you want from any album, and ignore the rest of the album.  If you want a copy of Colour My World from Chicago’s self-titled second album (the first was Chicago Transit Authority, the second Chicago, sometimes called Chicago II for clarity), you can buy it and not get Make Me Smile or 25 or 6 to 4.  And that becomes the problem on several levels.  One is that albums often contain many good songs you will never hear because you bought the one song that you did hear.  Another is that you take the songs out of context–both Make Me Smile and Colour My World are part of what was called a “song cycle”, seven titles that formed a story unit within the album, but most people don’t know that and don’t know the other five songs because these have been excerpted from their original places.  Another is that you might like those songs you’ll never hear–and even if you don’t like them today, if you bought the album and listened to it you might discover that next week, year, decade, a song which meant nothing to you at the time now has significant meaning to you.  The first time I read The Chronicles of Narnia, what was originally the fifth book (now usually listed as the third), A Horse and His Boy, did not impress me.  A few years later I read the series again, and suddenly the imagery of Aslan having guided what seemed ordinary coincidental events to bring the right person to the right place at the right time to save his people rang so true with me that it quickly became my favorite entry in the set.  The fact that a song on an album does not catch your attention the first time through does not mean it’s not a great song that’s going to touch you deeply at some moment in the future, and you deprive yourself of that possibility by ignoring the songs on the album that aren’t your first choices today.

Besides, the concept of the album as a unit is part of the artist’s effort to convey his message.

I was on the air at WNNN-FM when Dan Peek released his first solo album, All Things Are Possible.  Peek was one of the founding members of the band America (Horse With No Name, I Need You), and it had become known in the Christian music industry, at least, that he had long prayed that if God allowed him to become successful with the band he would use that fame as a platform to declare his Christian faith.  The title track from All Things Are Possible has potential in that regard:  it was rising not only on the Christian charts but on the pop music top forty as well.

When I interviewed Peek, though, I asked him about whether he had any concerns about the fact that his song, whose title was drawn from the New Testament to suggest that Jesus made the impossible possible, was being embraced as a popular love song, and particularly among homosexual couples.  He agreed that it was possible to hear the lyrics–All things are possible with you by my side; all things are possible with you to be my guide–and miss the intended meaning, but that certainly anyone who listened to the album would know what it was about.  The true meaning of the song was, to some degree, dependent on whether the listener had heard it in its intended context.  What the artist was trying to say was not coming through to millions, because they heard what they wanted to hear, not what he wanted to say.

There is a degree to which the listening audience perhaps does not care.  If I like a song, I like it for what it means to me, and not for what it was trying to convey.  Yet that attitude does the artist a disservice.  The people who create communicative art do so to communicate, and if I’m not listening to what they’re trying to say, I am ignoring them and abusing them.  If someone has created something I have enjoyed, do I not owe it to that creator to understand why he did it?

Yet this death was inevitable.  When the MTV cable television channel went on the air, its first song was Video Killed the Radio Star, and it seems that it has moved beyond that such that the Internet has killed the record album.  Even many of my acquaintance who are serious about the music to which they listen don’t acquire albums or listen to them, preferring to compile their own favorites lists–easily done, and you only hear the songs you’ve already decided you like without having to listen to songs that did not appeal to you the first time you heard them.  We can say that the music industry lost something, but perhaps now artists will focus on producing individual songs that appeal to our short attention spans instead of major works that call us to invest something in the bigger picture.

I will miss the album, despite the fact that I have never been wealthy enough to afford to buy more than a few over the decades.  As a musician, though, I will have to adapt to the return of the what I thought antiquated singles market mentality, and focus on single songs instead of collections.

#128: Character Gatherings

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #128, on the subject of Character Gatherings.

With permission of Valdron Inc I am publishing my second novel, Old Verses New, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first one, you can find the table of contents for it at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  There was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; the last of those for the first novel is #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One, which indexes all the others and catches a lot of material from an earlier collection of behind-the-writings reflections that had been misplaced for a decade.  Now as the second is being posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains spoilers, and perhaps in a more serious way than those for the previous novel, because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book or how this book connects to events yet to come in the third (For Better or Verse)–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them, or even put off reading these insights until the book has finished.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

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

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

  1. #74:  Another Novel (which provided this kind of insight into the first nine chapters along with some background material on the book as a whole),
  2. #78:  Novel Fears (which continued with coverage of chapters 10 through 18),
  3. #82:  Novel Developments (which continued with coverage of chapters 19 through 27),
  4. #86:  Novel Conflicts (which continued with coverage of chapters 28 through 36),
  5. #89:  Novel Confrontations (which continued with coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (which continued with coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (which continued with coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (which continued with coverage of chapters 64 through 72),
  9. #104:  Novel Learning (which continued with coverage of chapters 73 through 81),
  10. #110:  Character Redirects (which continued with coverage of chapters 82 through 90),
  11. #113:  Character Movements (chapters 91 through 99),
  12. #116:  Character Missions (100 through 108),
  13. #119:  Character Projects (109 through 117),
  14. #122:  Character Partings (118 through 126).

This picks up from there, and I expect to continue with additional posts after every ninth chapter in the series.

img0128stars

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


Chapter 127, Hastings 84

Morgana’s lesson about true power has its own value, but it also explains why she’s not a villain here.
The lesson about not revealing the extent of your power is very similar to the one about magic being more about what they think you can do than about what you actually can do.  It’s a good lesson, re-couched here to cover that which is not magic as well:  the reputation of strength can keep you out of a fight.


Chapter 128, Brown 44

Derek notices the value of perspective, that an outsider sees similarities where an insider sees differences.

One aspect of Derek’s movements through TerraNova at this point is that it should increase the impression of how huge it is.

The reader of course recognizes Joe; Derek has never met any verser other than Lauren, so he reasonably expects to find her—and is quite reasonably surprised.


Chapter 129, Kondor 85

The comment about getting in trouble by carrying guns even when there weren’t any rules was supposed to recall the fiasco at the bank.

Once again Joe gets the advantages of learning about a new world from another verser who is already there and settled.


Chapter 130, Hastings 85

I had actually forgotten the aspect of sleeping in the daytime, but then, it’s probably because Lauren had changed her sleep schedule in the parakeet world and had not changed it again; plus the fact that in the Camelot and Wandborough settings it was not so simple to work at night and in the post-apocalyptic with Derek there was no reason for it.  I remembered it here, and wondered why Lauren had not been traveling by night, but of course it simply had not occurred to her, having adapted to a more normal schedule.

I liked the idea that she had been forced to stay awake until she told Bethany this.  I knew Lauren would die tonight, and the idea that God would not let her die without allowing her to convey that bit of information to her student had a lot of appeal.


Chapter 131, Kondor 86

Comparing ways in which they were killed is actually a common pastime of verser player characters.  After all, sometimes the stories are funny, and sometimes there’s an aspect of one-upmanship—a bit like comparing scars.


Chapter 132, Brown 45

Eric Ashley advanced the notion that universes had weak walls in specific places that resulted in versers landing in those places frequently.  Although it might explain gathers, I always thought he was taking as evidence something that didn’t really happen:  referees will often use the same worlds, such as the Mary Piper worlds, for different players at different times.  Eric took that to mean that those characters were landing in the same worlds, but I took it to mean that they were landing in different worlds that were nearly identical to each other.  No one who ever landed in any of my Mary Piper worlds ever met an indigenous character who had ever met any other verser.

Derek at this point becomes my impartial judge between Lauren’s supernaturalism and Joe’s naturalism.  He will continue trying to make that decision for a while.  It gave me a new way to put the issues in front of the reader.


Chapter 133, Kondor 87

Ed had never run kids in his experimental games, or I think in any of his games, until he began playing with us.  I had always had the rule that my kids could join our Dungeons & Dragons™ game when they could read and write and add and subtract well enough to take care of their own character papers.  Ryan was thus nine years old when he started in Ed’s Multiverser experimental game.  Not quite certain what to do with someone that young, Ed used a botch to age the character several years.  Finding ways to age younger player characters has since become a part of the game, and I ultimately do that some for Derek, but at this point Joe knows nothing of that.  From his perspective, Derek will always seem twelve.

Joe’s insistence that you would have to prove the existence of magic before accepting any possible instance of it underscores the failure of that view:  he has faced magic himself, but does not believe it exists.

I was stalling Lauren’s chapter a bit so I could establish Derek and Joe a bit better in TerraNova before I brought her into it.


Chapter 134, Hastings 86

The grouping of Tubrok, Horta, and Jackson was carefully considered.  Lauren would from this know that she could not win.  She would know that anyone she fought in the future she could not kill in the past.  Then, though, that told her that Bethany was similarly protected—having been alive in the future, it could not be that she would die now.


Chapter 135, Brown 44

I read about trinary computing systems in Omni in the early ‘80s.  Binary computers worked originally with on/off switches, and gradually were improved to charged/uncharged storage cells on a chip; we thus have millions of “bits” organized into “bytes” that hold the coded information for the computer.  However, the idea of a trinary system is that those same chargeable cells could be charged either positively or negatively, or uncharged, and thus where our binary bits are 0/1 our trinary bits are -1/0/1, or more functionally 0/1/2.  An 8-bit binary bite has potentially 2^8, or 256, potential values, but the same space converted to a trinary system has 3^8, or 6561, potential values.  Since computer speed is largely a question of how tightly you can pack information, this drastically improves performance, provided you can operate it stably.  However, the languages are completely incompatible, so an entirely distinct coding system is needed.

Biocomputers were also discussed in Omni.  They use something akin to RNA molecular coding instead of electrical coding.  Since they work on the molecular level, they are again an advance on miniaturization and thus a potential improvement in speed.


I hope these “behind the writings” posts continue to be of interest, and perhaps some value, to those of you who have been reading the novel.  If there is any positive feedback, they will continue.

#127: New Jersey 2016 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #127, on the subject of New Jersey 2016 Election Results.

We provided some advance explanation of the two Public Questions which were on the ballot, and did a quick rundown of the major candidates in the twelve congressional districts, and now we’re following up with the election results.  After all, with a lot of these events there is a great deal of coverage in anticipation of the moment, and then if you blink, you miss the outcome.  That shouldn’t be.

In the Presidential race, New Jersey consigned its fourteen electoral votes to the loser, Democrat Hillary Clinton, as Republican Donald Trump won comfortably.

Map of New Jersey's Electoral College vote, from Google, 3:00 Wednesday morning.
Map of New Jersey’s Electoral College vote, from Google, 3:00 Wednesday morning.

Public Question #1:  Constitutional Amendment to permit casino gambling in two counties other than Atlantic County, went down hard, about four to one against.  That means for the present casino gambling will be confined to Atlantic City, and the city will have to figure out how better to manage what it has.

Public Question #2:  Constitutional Amendment to dedicate additional revenues to state transportation system, ran very close, but sometime after midnight had clearly passed by a narrow margin, under fifty-five percent of the vote favoring it.  That means the state government will be forced to put the gasoline tax revenue into a dedicated account strictly for use by the Department of Transportation, which was the justification for the tax originally.

In the House of Representatives, all the incumbents were re-elected easily except in Congressional District 5, where Republican incumbent Scott Garrett was hurt by Libertarian Claudio Belusic in his race against Democrat Josh Gottheimer.  The Libertarian’s two-point-two percent of the vote was the best of any Libertarian candidate in the state (Libertarian Presidential candidate Gary Johnson took two percent of the vote in the state, the best showing of any third-party candidate), but even apart from that Gottheimer would have edged out a victory, with fifty-point-five percent of the vote in his favor.

This tips the balance of New Jersey’s Congressional delegation, which for the past several years has been evenly split with six Republicans and six Democrats; with Gottheimer replacing Garrett we will be sending seven Democrats and only five Republicans to Washington.  Nationally the Republicans still hold the House, with two hundred thirty-six seats, a few lost from their current majority.  In the Senate, Republicans also lost one seat (in Illinois), but still hold a bare majority at fifty-one.

Here are the incoming United States Congressmen from New Jersey by district:

  1. Donald Norcross, Democrat, Incumbent.
  2. Frank Lobiondo, Republican, Incumbent.
  3. Tom MacArthur, Republican, Incumbent.
  4. Chris Smith, Republican, Incumbent.
  5. Josh Gottheimer, Democrat, Newcomer.
  6. Frank Pallone, Democrat, Incumbent.
  7. Leonard Lance, Republican, Incumbent.
  8. Albio Sires, Democrat, Incumbent.
  9. Bill Pascrell, Democrat, Incumbent.
  10. Donald Payne, Jr., Democrat, Incumbent.
  11. Rodney Frelinghuysen, Republican, Incumbent.
  12. Bonnie Watson Coleman, Democrat, Incumbent.

That gives us the shape of our Federal Government for the next two years.