#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.

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Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

#149: Toward the Third Novel

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #149, on the subject of Toward the Third Novel.

Many of you have been following the serialized e-publication of the Multiverser novels; if you have missed them, all the chapters and all the behind-the-writings web log posts are indexed, first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel followed at Old Verses New.  There is also now a Multiverser Novel Support Pages section 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.

I have mentioned before that the first novel was really Bob Slade’s story, but that I did not know it when I was writing it.  I only knew, as if instinctively, that he had to be the character who won the climactic battle, and just as instinctively that at that point he had finished an entire story and did not belong in the second book.  It wasn’t until some years after it went to press that I was reading extant portions of Aristotle’s Poetics and realized why that was:  the book is framed within the story of an ordinary guy, a young auto mechanic, who fancies himself a great warrior hero, who by the end of the story is that great warrior hero.  There is of course more to it than that.  Bob himself has some loose ends to his story, like his relationship with the djinni he freed from the bottle.  There’s also Joe Kondor, who has some issues that need to be resolved and who is butting heads but also becoming friends with the third character, Lauren Hastings.  She seems to be in the middle of a much bigger story, with quite a few missing pieces.

Although again I don’t know that I knew and probably would not then have said so, in a sense the second book is Derek Brown’s story.  He is if anything even more ordinary than Bob Slade as the story opens, with no aspirations to be anything, just a frightened preteenaged boy.  In the end, he saves a world–well, a huge space colony, to be precise.  He does it together with Lauren and Joe.  Joe continues to deal with his issues, and Lauren’s story is gaining momentum, but with Derek we have something of an entire story.

Those books have now been posted, and hopefully you have read them because otherwise I have probably spoiled at least some of the surprises.  I am writing this because there is a third novel in the series, fully written, and I need to discover how much interest there is in reading it.  I can’t tell you that that’s the only issue, but it is the big one.

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Nor can I tell you too much about the third book, but there are some things I can say.  It is entitled For Better or Verse, and it has been fully written but has no artwork.  It has not been edited save by me; I asked someone to edit it who said yes but has not yet returned any notes to me about it.  But I’m not unhappy with it.  Kelly Tessena Keck, who edited Old Verses New, read the draft and was not unhappy with it.  So let me tell you what I can.

Bob Slade returns.  He is reunited with some people he knew in the first book, in surprising ways, and begins a new adventure and a new chapter in his life.

We also find out what has happened to Derek, which is in some ways perhaps terrifying in itself but introduces him to an entirely new perspective on himself and the multiverse.

Lauren’s story moves forward, pulling together all the loose ends of the first two books into a massive story arc in which everything comes together.  She again faces the vampires, accompanied by several of the people she has known, this time hundreds of years in the future.

Alas, Joe Kondor does not yet resolve his issues.  He faces them again in the fourth novel, which at this point is still in the “completing first draft” phase.

I’d like to say we’ll get there, but as I say it depends in significant part on reader interest.  People who post comments to this thread or send them by e-mail, or who comment about the novels on any of the social networking sites on which it is announced, certainly will encourage continuation of the story on this site.  More than that, people who support the effort financially and so make it possible for me to pay for the hosting and Internet access make it considerably more likely that I will win the argument concerning releasing the third novel to you.  Several people are already doing this through Patreon, and their few dollars a month each are covering a significant part of the costs; those who cannot afford a monthly commitment can still make a one-time contribution through PayPal.me, in any amount that works for you.

I’d like to see the next book released.  I don’t like to ask for money, but money is needed to make things possible.  I need you to do that.

Thank you.

#148: Characters Succeed

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #148, on the subject of Characters Succeed.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have published 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 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.  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 (coverage of chapters 37 through 45),
  6. #91:  Novel Mysteries (coverage of chapters 46 through 54),
  7. #94:  Novel Meetings (coverage of chapters 55 through 63),
  8. #100:  Novel Settling (coverage of chapters 64 through 72),
  9. #104:  Novel Learning (coverage of chapters 73 through 81),
  10. #110:  Character Redirects (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),
  16. #134:  Versers In Space (136 through 144),
  17. #142:  Characters Unite (145 through 153).

This picks up from there, and finishes the last nine chapters.

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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 154, Brown 52

Derek’s darts have the twin problems (as story issues) that they are too effective and very limited.  I needed to prevent him from using them all in the upcoming battle without making it seem as if he was being stupid about his weapon choices.  Having the pack frame get caught in the hatch (and I have had pack frames catch in car doors) created a tense scene and let me take away the darts to be returned in the future.  I had not yet worked out how they would be returned to him, but I knew by this point what was happening to him after this, and that eventually he would be able to track his lost gear by the scriff sense.


Chapter 155, Kondor 94

I realized I was going to need another fight, so I needed a reason for there to be lizards on the bridge.  At this point, it was simple to prefigure the independent ventilation system, which meant that these lizards would not yet smell the meat in the galley.

Joe is stuck with his thoughts for a few minutes while Derek attempts to unlock a door.  In those few minutes he realizes just how very much the present situation seems planned, that he and Derek and Lauren all seem to have arrived in anticipation of a need only they could meet.  He tries to find another explanation, but apart from the wildest of coincidences he can’t really find one.


Chapter 156, Hastings 94

The use of the force shield limits them in two ways.  One is that it takes Lauren out of the combat; the other is that Joe can only shoot through the hole in the shield.  It gives me a different combat situation.

It also enabled me to kill a lot of lizards without doing too much description:  Lauren is my viewpoint character here, and she has her eyes closed to concentrate on making sure the shield holds.  Thus I can say that they’re shooting, and lizards are dying, and I don’t have to be more specific than that.

I’m not entirely certain what would cause a psionic shield to collapse in play, but the rules allow them to be designed in a variety of ways, and one of them would be that an impact in excess of a certain level would collapse it and rebound to the user.

This also let me intensify the combat situation while keeping Lauren out of it another couple minutes.  I knew once she was active, she would be taking the spotlight, and I wanted it to be about more than “Lauren kills a lot of creatures with a bit of help from Joe and Derek.”


Chapter 157, Brown 53

Although this chapter is in one sense about Derek facing a monster (something like the one Bob Slade faced at the end of the first book), it is also about Derek’s feelings about Lauren.  At the beginning, we see his reaction to her fall—much as a child would run to his stricken mother, or perhaps a close friend would run to a fallen friend.  There is nothing he can do for her; he has no medical training beyond what Joe taught him (the most important thing for Joe:  how to make antibiotics in a primitive world).  He recognizes that his only choice at this point is to fight the creatures.  Then as the chapter ends and Lauren’s guns echo in the room, Derek’s confidence in her surfaces:  he doesn’t think “now we have a chance;” he thinks, “we’ll make it now.”

The shorter chapters through this section gave something of a feeling of events happening swiftly.


Chapter 158, Kondor 95

As I bring Lauren back into the fight, I present her through the eyes of her companions.  She probably has a blinding headache at this point, but they don’t see that; they see her in motion, doing what she does in a fight.

She shoots it, then she leaps toward it, shoots again into its back in the middle of her flip, slams her weight onto its back, shoots again into its back, and leaps into the air before it can react.

Joe’s confidence in Lauren is not at the same level as Derek’s—he thinks “They had a chance now.”  She’s a colleague, and actually he’s never seen her fight (although Derek has not seen much of that either, only her teaching him to fight).

The trick with designing monsters always winds up that the big ones are easier to hit, but they have to be built to take more damage.  Joe’s bullets will often tear through the small ones; on the large ones, sometimes even Lauren’s .50 caliber shots lodge in its skin or do minimal damage in its thick fat and muscle.  Thus it takes a lot to kill the big one, even though it’s a lot easier to hit it.

Counting bullets is something that has to be done in game, and also in the story.  I know how many loads fit in those revolvers, so I have to track them so she doesn’t fire the gun more times than possible.  (I might have learned that from an old Encyclopedia Brown story where in recounting what happened the sole survivor of a gunfight gave himself one too many shots, and so was arrested because instead of a hero that killed the entire gang he must have been a member of the gang.)

Joe’s understanding of creature behavior lets him react before the creature actually strikes, because he anticipates it.  Thus he already has his pistol drawn when the monster moves.


Chapter 159, Hastings 95

The question concerning whether Derek was really “older” is an intriguing one in any situation in which you have an ageless child.  How much of our maturity is strictly experience and how much is actual change in our bodies?

I’m not certain when I decided that Derek would use the self-destruct on the ship, but I needed to think through an explanation for why it was not a problem for all the pieces of the ship to continue pretty much on course for the station without any serious fear of danger, but it would be a problem for the ship itself to do so.  The combination of smaller pieces with the shut down of the ship defenses made it make sense.

It is Joe who offers what we might call the “Christian” solution:  we are going to give our lives to save others.  It was simple for Lauren to confirm that, once she stopped to consider it.


Chapter 160, Brown 54

I needed a reason why the team couldn’t return to the habitat.  I could have said simply that the magic failed—it was supposed to be a low-magic world—but I wanted something the reader would find “logical”.  The fact that the magic required her to walk into the mist and out again gave me an opportunity:  take away her ability to walk.

It also made sense, in a way, that both Lauren and Joe would be looking up.  Although the creatures had been spread around the room, their experience had suggested that they liked to swoop down from above.  Thus the idea of one emerging from a floor vent and catching them unprepared had merit.

Again, Joe has the military reaction, quickly finding the problem and engaging the solution, while Derek is caught off guard.

Lauren is wearing her leggings, but they’re chain leggings, and the jaw will push the chain into her flesh.  So it’s not as bad as it might have been—it possibly could have severed her leg without that protection—but it’s still bad.

As I recall, I had created the comfort bubble in part with this moment in view, and I had gone back and mentioned its use several times so that the reader would remember that Lauren has this spell that creates a comfortable environment inside a dome.  I observe that for it to work, it would have to be a hollow sphere (or at least a closed hemisphere).  Thus it could work in the worst of environments, and outer space is one of those.  Of course, I knew it was going to work here; Lauren is completely surprised that it does.

Derek’s musings about considering what you want in a world are perhaps the lesson of this book.  It is easy to be unhappy with the way the world is; one need only look at the things that didn’t work the way you wanted.  People who say “count your blessings” probably mean something more like “look at the good things, the things that are the way you really wanted them.”  If you gave real thought to what you want in life, you are in a better position to assess how much of what you have is what you wanted.

Lauren’s story really spans the first three books.  It focuses on her fight against the vampires.  Even here, she is preparing for that, learning how to be part of a team and perhaps how to lead it, honing her combat skills in real battles.  She is also training Derek, as she trained Bethany, both of whom will be fighting with her in those final battles.  She in a sense recognizes it:  she left Tubrok alive and Merlin trapped.  She does not know the details of those things, but she wants them resolved.

Lauren’s smile is because Joe called the comfort bubble a “magic” bubble—she’s wearing him down.  Of course, he doesn’t really think of it as “magic”; he assumes it is a mind trick.


Chapter 161, Kondor 96

The comfort bubble is not a force wall, per se.  Derek or Joe could float out through the wall.  They are at the moment all moving the same direction at the same speed, but if they move around too much they could begin to drift apart, and it would be difficult to draw themselves back together.  So Lauren holds their sleeves.

All three characters have the problem that they have been separated from some of their equipment, possibly by distances that defy planetary dimensions.  Lauren is attempting to give her rod and Derek’s darts sufficient momentum in the right direction to close the gap so these can be found in the next world, and she’s keeping them alive as they hurtle toward the space station so that she and Joe are getting closer to the gear they left there (and where Derek left his bicycle), but all of them will have some hunting to do when they reach their next worlds.

Joe has had to consider Lauren’s suggestion that they don’t really know they will go to another universe every time; they only know that they have never met anyone who didn’t.  Despite his seeming immortality, he realizes that he very well might still be mortal, and this could be the end.

Joe in essence tricks Lauren into letting him render her unconscious, to save her the pain of death by vacuum.  It also was needed for me to push her back, credibly, to the point that she arrives in the next world unconscious and awakens.  I had let her move forward on that “step” scale, and had to ratchet her back before the fifth book, so I used this to do it.

Derek did have that conversation with Lauren once, about how dying was painful but then he was fine, and so he goes through the pain knowing that he will come out fine on the other end.  It impresses Joe, but it’s simply Derek’s experience.

Joe should have realized an inconsistency in his ideas.  If Lauren is maintaining the comfort bubble by thought, when he renders her unconscious it ought to collapse.  However, not only does he do so without hesitating, not considering the effect it would be likely to have, he also fails to recognize after the fact that the bubble continues.  But it doesn’t continue that long.

I had stretched out Lauren’s efforts to draw her rod and Derek’s darts toward them for an extended time specifically so that it would be credible for the comfort bubble to burst at this point.  It always lasts her at least an hour, and so they have been hurtling toward the station at least that long, maybe longer, and the lost objects are also moving toward them for a while before they die.

The description of death by vacuum is brief but hopefully accurate.


Chapter 162, Brown 55

As I did with Joe at the end of the first book, I here give what happens next to Derek.  I left it uncertain, though, whether he had been rescued in space and was in some kind of healing tank or whether this was some new experience in another universe.  However, I knew what had happened, where he was, what was going to happen next; I just didn’t want him (or the reader) to know.

I dropped one point that was entirely inconsistent with the healing tanks theory, and a few others that pointed away from it.  I was going to continue to play with the healing tanks theory in the next book.  That is, of course, where his actual situation is revealed—but not too quickly.


This concludes the behind the writings look at Old Verses New.  A decision about the release of the third novel, For Better or Worse, is still pending, and should be discussed in the next mark Joseph “young” web log post tomorrow.

#147: Traditional versus Contemporary Music

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #147, on the subject of Traditional versus Contemporary Music.

I have probably had this discussion with quite a few people over the decades, but the one I specifically remember was Luterano, whom I knew only by that screen name through a small forum sponsored by a Lutheran Bible, book, and gift shop.  The short version of the story about what brought me there is that the editor of a now-defunct site called The Gutenberger had read my now somewhat outdated article Christianity, Homosexuality, and the E.L.C.A. and after some discussion invited me to write a piece for them, which was (preserved on my site) In Defense of Marriage, and this was the forum to which he directed his readers for discussion of the articles.

The discussion is about “new” “contemporary” Christian music being sung in churches and worship services, as against the older “traditional” songs found in our hymnals.  In these discussions I am usually defending contemporary music against someone who just does not like it, but who couches their dislike in claims that such music is itself wicked.  Luterano was different.  His view was that contemporary Christian music was simply bad, in the sense of being poor quality.  The music was trash, the lyrics pablum, the theology often weak, and the focus usually on the singer and not on God.  The songs just weren’t good Christian worship songs.

I should also mention that although I do not actually know anything about Luterano outside our forum discussions, my impression from those was that he was a young Lutheran seminary or Bible college student who was very serious about the Christian faith, but also the Lutheran definitions of it.

img0147hymnal

My defense of contemporary Christian music is not that it is better than traditional music.  I have a long history with traditional music, and have sung even some of the great works like Handel’s Messiah, Bach’s B Minor Mass, Mozart’s Requiem, Haydn’s Creation, and Mendelsohnn’s Elijah.  I have been known to break out into singing selections from some of these quite spontaneously; they are wonderful–and there are many other wonderful pieces that are less well known.  I have also sung Ives’ 67th Psalm, Poulenc’s Gloria, Randall Thompson’s Peaceable Kingdom–also all wonderful pieces.  However, these are not songs which your average person is likely even to enjoy, let alone be able to sing.  As we discussed in web log post #109:  Simple Songs, people need songs they can easily learn and sing.  That usually means songs with which they are already familiar to some degree.  The Reformers knew this, and frequently wrote Christian lyrics for popular folk or drinking songs, many of which are still preserved in our hymnals.

That is, of course, an important point:  all “traditional” songs were once “contemporary” songs.  They were of a style and manner that was familiar to and comfortable for the people of their time, and they had lyrics which touched something in the lives of those people.

That is also probably why older established churches sing a lot of older “traditional” hymns and newer fellowships tend toward the “contemporary” music.  A fairly high proportion of those who attend the established churches grew up in those churches or churches very like them.  I know most of the hymns in the hymnal of my present home congregation because they have been in hymnals in Baptist, Presbyterian, Lutheran, Assemblies of God, Methodist, and other denominational churches I have attended over the decades, and I learned them.  There is perhaps a bit of nostalgia to them; there is, more importantly, a high level of familiarity–if you’ve been singing, or at least hearing, a song since you were in preschool of course it will seem easy to you, while the same song to someone who has never heard it might be very challenging.  I love both melodies for Crown Him Lord of All, but I would not say that either is an easy song for someone unfamiliar with it.  And it is not simply whether or not the congregant knows this particular song–those of us who have sung barbershop know how barbershop harmonies work, those who have sung madrigals understand the structures of madrigals, those who have sung Bach chorales are familiar with that kind of song, and those who have not sung or oft heard these different kinds of music find them something of an alien landscape to be negotiated with difficulty.  If a song is already like songs with which people sing along on the radio, the familiarity of style and feel will make it easier to sing.  Many, perhaps most, newer fellowships, contain a lot of people who are new Christians, who did not grow up immersed in churches and singing the songs established denominational Christians have always loved (and let’s face it, even among us there are some for whom In the Garden and At the Cross are those beloved traditional hymns and others for whom the real traditional hymns are Onward Christian Soldiers and Immortal, Invisible, depending on the histories of our own churches and upbringings).

But shouldn’t we be encouraging these new Christians to learn and sing the “good” songs instead of the “trash”?

Well, yes–but how do we decide which are which?

Face it, most songs in any category are trash.  Even most of the songs that were the number one songs on the top forty charts in the nineteen fifties and sixties today have at best a nostalgic appeal to people who are sixty and seventy years old.  The best of those songs, probably relatively a handful, have a “retro” appeal to today’s listeners.  However, in some sense the “best” of them survive the test of time, and are remembered and passed on to the next generation, sometimes redone by a new ensemble.

What makes them best?  That’s complicated.

One would like to think that the songs which combine the best music with the best words would be the ones that survive.  Regretably that is not so.  Many songs which are musically interesting with truly wonderful lyrics die on the vine, as it were, forgotten before they are remembered.  For a song to succeed at all, it must primarily touch something irrational in the hearers.  People have to connect to the song in some way, and if they do they will sing it or listen to it, and continue to do so for the rest of their lives.  And those songs are the ones that capture the attention of the generation–and then it gets complicated.

It gets complicated because at least some of those seemingly great songs are embraced because they capture something vital in that time and place, something unique to those people–and those songs fade away as the world changes away from them.  The next generation does not find the same connection and does not keep those songs, and if the generation after that does not revive them, they’re gone.  Of course, some songs will capture the hearts of several generations, and they’ll wind up in hymnals being preserved; if they skip a generation they’ll often return.  Still, over time they drop from use.  Bach is known to have written over four hundred “chorales”, effectively hymn settings; if your hymnal contains five, that’s remarkable.

In fact, in our debate Luterano exclaimed that the Lutheran hymnal contained one hymn from the third (maybe he said fourth) century, as demonstration that there was great music with great words before the modern contemporary material.  I observed, though, that we can be fairly certain that during that century Christians sang more than one song during worship; the fact that this one has survived all those generations certainly attests to its appeal to believers across the years, but it also tells us that some unknown number of other fourth century tunes were lost as they were replaced by what were then contemporary worship songs, until only one from that time remained.  In the same way already songs from the Great Awakenings are being culled, leaving only those which still speak to us today; songs from the Jesus Movement are vanishing from memory.

The contemporary songs have no better claim over the older ones than that they are contemporary.  That means that they have a familiar style and feel.  It also means that they speak to many believers where we are in this time.  Some of them will continue to speak to believers for another decade, another generation; some might still be in whatever we use for hymnals in a hundred years.  Very few will last longer than that–and by then, they will have joined the ranks of the “traditional” music, as a new kind of contemporary music dominates in the new kinds of churches that exist then.

#146: Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #146, on the subject of Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships.

I’ve told this story before; indeed, I wrote it up years ago for Dice Tales, and so I was reminded of it recently when I launched the Gazebos in the Wild Pinterest board in commemoration of that more famous Dice Tales story, Eric and the Gazebo.  Alas, Dice Tales is long gone, and although Eric lives on as a meme among gamers, Chris is less familiar.  So I thought it might be time to retell the tale.

I should also say that if any of my players remember any great stories of times in our games that need to be retold, they should drop me a note to remind me of them, and I’ll try to get them posted here.

Spaceship by Mehmet Pinarci
Spaceship by Mehmet Pinarci

It starts with Chris playing Multiverser as one of my original five test players.  I was trying to test a lot of things about the game, like how well it adapted itself to other people’s material (we encourage referees to plagiarize settings and other materials for game play, simply because the game can devour world ideas and the books, movies, television shows, games, and other sources are free for you to use in your own home games), so I decided to have a “gather”, bringing the player characters together, in an old game I always loved, Metamorphosis Alpha.  I had brought Chris there, and he had gathered a couple of followers by then, so he was something of a team.

It occurs to me that Tristan, at that time the youngest person ever to have played the game (I believe he was seven or eight), was one of the other original test players, and his character had attached himself to Chris’s.  Since Multiverser is an “I game”, the characters and players have the same names; I’ll try to keep them straight for you.

The basic concept of Metamorphosis Alpha was that earth had sent a huge colony ship out toward what they hoped would be a suitable colony world.  There were millions of people aboard, and facilities that imitated outdoor parks, huge apartment complexes, and much more.  At some point the ship passed through an unanticipated cloud of an unknown type of radiation, killing millions of people and mutating many more, and the ship, now with only computer guidance, continued its trip through space, passing the original destination with no one at the helm.  However, there were generations of humans, mutant humans, animals, mutant animals, plants, and mutant plants aboard, unaware that they were on a ship, forming new ecologies.  If it sounds familiar, yes, Metamorphoses Alpha was the precursor to Gamma World, the original post-apocalyptic game, and introduced many of the concepts and mechanics that were found in early editions of that game.  It was into this that I dropped my players.

Chris had also by this point learned and created a number of psionic skills, and was always looking to devise new ones.  He was known to be a bit reckless sometimes in that regard, but the other players often gave him reason to exercise some caution.

I had decided to put an expiration date on the world, of sorts, or perhaps to create a problem that would require their ingenuity to solve.  There was, at the top of the ship, an observation deck from which one could see space and some of the exterior of the ship, which would for the player characters explain where they were.  To make it interesting, I positioned the ship (Starship Warden) in a place where it was headed directly toward one star, and near enough that it would be evident that they were on a collision course.  They would have to figure out how to avoid this.  Chris and Tristan were the players who reached the observation deck first, and Chris immediately recognized the problem and started considering how he might solve it.  Not wanting to be rash, he decided to go away and come back the next day to try his idea once he had considered it.

What Chris wanted to do was teleport “the ship” forward to the other side of the star, so that it would bypass it completely.  He wasn’t stupid about it, though–he decided to run a test.  Taking his team, including Tristan, to the top deck, he prepared to test his idea by teleporting the ship forward ten feet.  Tiny Tristan wrapped himself around tall Chris’ leg (he did this whenever Chris announced he was going to try something crazy and dangerous hoping to avoid being separated from him), and with a successful roll on the dice Chris moved the ship ten feet forward.  It worked exactly as described:  the ship shifted forward ten feet, but everything and everyone on it that was not part of it or securely attached to it was now ten feet aft of their previous positions.  It was obvious that were he to teleport the ship to the other side of the star this way, he would leave himself and everyone else adrift in space here.  It was time to return to the drawing board.  It wasn’t a useless skill, and it was added to his character sheet, but it wasn’t the solution he needed here.

He came back the next day with a different idea.  As Tristan again clung to his leg, he opened a huge portal in front of the ship (it really was huge–the Warden was, if I recall correctly, twenty-five miles in diameter and football shaped) with an exit portal ten feet beyond it.  The ship began to pass into the portal and, as if it were a wormhole, to pass out ten feet away; everything and everyone aboard was similarly carried into the portal and out the other side, so it worked perfectly.  He had his solution, and it was added to his character sheet.

The next day he implemented it.

Chris never asked–I’m not sure he has ever asked even since–but I wasn’t really cruel.  I had figured that if anyone had taken sightings and done the math they would have figured out that they had a year before they would actually crash into the star–a year during which the ship would have gained momentum as gravity pulled it ever closer.  He had no idea how far from the star he was, so when he said he wanted the portal to open on the other side, I asked for some notion of where on the other side, and the answer he gave led me to understand that it was not really, in astronomical terms, far at all–maybe inside one astronomical unit.  So I let him teleport the ship to the other side of the star, but then informed him that he was really a lot closer to the star than he had been, and that gravity was slowing the ship’s forward momentum.  In a panic, he teleported the ship again, a short hop, and then again, and then on the third attempt to move away from the star he botched and teleported the entire ship into the core of a planet.  Everyone was dead, which of course in Multiverser means that all the player characters “verse out” and wind up in some other world.  I don’t remember where he went, but he had some other wild adventures, and then I tested something else.

I had put a lot of time into pirating Blake’s 7, and figuring out how to put a verser into the episodes and remove Blake.  I used this for two of my original test players, and Chris was one of them; he might have been the first one.  He did very well for quite a while, until we got to an episode which seems to have something very like magic in it, a world in which there are ghosts on a planet who are tasked with teaching people lessons about fighting.  It has a difficult set-up–I had to use three fast Federation ships under the command of Commander Travis to corner Chris with his back to this planet, and I had succeeded.  In a moment I expected it would come to a direct combat confrontation, the ghosts would intervene, and Chris and Travis would find themselves on the planet being told by the ghosts what was expected of them.  But Chris had not yet given up.  He grabbed his character sheet, and said, “I know what I’m going to do.  I know what I’m going to do.”  He thumbed through to the psionic teleport skills, pointed to one of them, and said, “I’m going to do this.”

I may have cocked an eyebrow Spock-like; I do that sometimes.  I asked if he was sure that’s what he wanted, and he was very confident.  I asked him to describe the teleport target spot to me, and he gave me a position just to the other side of the three ships that had him trapped.  I had him roll the dice.

“You succeeded,” I said.

“Yes!” he exclaimed.

“…and,” I continued, “you can see your ship adrift in space on the other side of the three Federation ships just before the vacuum of space kills you and all the members of your crew, and you leave for another world.

It was the wrong teleport spell, of course, but it was one of the most memorable moments in our games, and we have laughed about it for decades since then.  I hope you enjoyed the story as much as we did.

#145: The New Internet Tax Law

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #145, on the subject of The New Internet Tax Law.

What the Supreme Court won’t hear can hurt you.

The Supreme Court declined to hear a case appealed from the 10th Circuit, Direct Marketing Association v. Brohl, which means that the decision of the appellate court stands.  That decision means that the state legislature in Colorado has found a loophole of sorts in a very important previous case, Quill Corp. v. North Dakota, 504 U.S. 298 (1992), which has been very important to Internet sales over the past one and a half decades, in a way that means you might have to pay your local state sales taxes on purchases you make over the Internet.

img0145amazon

Quill is effectively the reason you don’t pay sales tax on purchases you make over the Internet from retailers in other states.  It actually had nothing to do with the Internet–Quill Corp. was a mail order office supplies dealer in Delaware that shipped orders all over the country, and North Dakota sued to require them to collect sales tax on any products they sold to customers in that state.  The Supreme Court set up standards by which in order for a company to be required to collect sales tax for any given state, it had to have some kind of physical presence in that state–offices, warehouses, retail outlets, even possibly franchises.  Absent these, the state had no authority to impose obligations on a business located in another state.

What states did in the wake of Quill was in essence to add a line to their state tax forms instructing residents to declare how much they owed in unpaid sales tax due to purchases made out of state.  Oddly, very little was ever reported.

Colorado had a new idea.  They could not require out-of-state businesses whose only connection to the state was through electronic communications and independent shipping companies to collect taxes for them–but could they require such companies to report the amount of such tax that was owed?  If you in Colorado spent a thousand dollars to have Amazon ship you books, movies, or whatever you bought from them, you were legally required to let the state know, and to remit the unpaid twenty-nine dollars (2.9%) sales tax–but if you neglected to mention it, the State of Colorado would be unable to determine that without legal action such as a warrant to open your banking records.  Under the new law, though, Amazon would be required to let the State tax board know of your thousand dollars worth of purchases, so that when you failed to mention it the state could send you a bill with penalties for tax avoidance.

New York’s Data and Marketing Association, an industry group (formerly the Direct Marketing Association), sued the state in the name of the executive director of its Department of Revenue several years ago when the law was enacted, and got a stay while the matter was being litigated.  It has now run its course:  the Tenth Circuit Court of Appeals has decided that the law is not an “undue burden” on out-of-state retailers, and the Supreme Court has decided not to hear the case, so that ruling stands within the Tenth Circuit and will probably be followed by other circuits.

The law has some specific limits.  It only applies to retailers with at least one hundred thousand dollars in gross sales to customers within the state, so it’s not going to impact your e-bay resale business unless you’re doing a lot better than most.  However, it is fairly certain that other states will be passing similar laws–it is estimated that Colorado will be able to collect over one hundred seventy million dollars a year in previously unpaid sales tax revenue, and numbers like that are undoubtedly going to appeal to legislators elsewhere.  It is less clear how important the definition of minimum gross sales within the state is to the decision, so it may be that some states will place the bar much lower with the result that small Internet retailers are going to have a hard time knowing where they are required to report what.  Meanwhile, language in the denial of certiorari (that means the written decision not to hear the case) from Justice Kennedy suggests that the Court might consider overturning Quill and allowing states to demand that retailers selling to state residents through such means collect and remit sales tax on all purchases.  Tennessee is already in the process of passing such a law, which might make it the test case in a few years.

Whatever else can be said, it is clear that the landscape of Internet marketing just changed significantly.  You can no longer avoid paying sales tax by ordering from out of state.

#144: Shutting Off the Jukebox

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #144, on the subject of Shutting Off the Jukebox.

You may have seen the story:  someone complained to a restaurant about being subjected to the music during dinner.

I have much sympathy with this attitude.  I often find in public places that I am subjected to music I don’t want to hear–crying-in-your-beer country songs about adultery, popular rock songs about drug use, bland elevator music about nothing at all.  I would like to replace it all with music I enjoy, rather than risk having those “earwigs”, the songs that get stuck in your head for hours that you don’t like but have heard often enough that they stick with you once you are reminded of them.

But it wasn’t that kind of music to which the patron objected.  It was Christmas music.

img0144jukebox

Again, call me sympathetic.  There is a lot of music played this time of year I really find offensive–all those terribly secular songs like Rudolph, the Red-Nosed Reindeer, Santa Clause is Coming to Town, or Rockin’ Around the Christmas Tree, that have nothing to do with the real point of Christmas.  Yet when it comes down to it, those were exactly not the songs to which the patron was objecting.  The restaurant was playing “religious” Christmas music.  I don’t know what in particular was being played–the Robert Shaw Chorale offers quite an extensive collection of sacred Christmas works, but so do Amy Grant and Casting Crowns, in a very different style.  What the patron recommended, though, was replacing Christmas music with “holiday” music, which I presume means songs like Silver Bells, Jingle Bells, maybe Deck the Halls, instead of perhaps The First Noel, Silent Night, or Joy to the World.  And so it seems that exactly the kinds of songs he finds offensive are the ones I would prefer, and the ones he would prefer are the ones I find offensive.

And that’s why we have our freedom of expression laws.  As we noted, the point of Ray Bradbury’s wonderful Fahrenheit 451 is precisely that if we permit everyone to veto any expression he finds offensive, there will be no expression left.  We can turn off the jukeboxes and retail store sound systems, and protect all our customers from the possibility that we might play something that offends them.  While we’re at it, we can shut off those music-playing-while-you-are-on-hold telephone systems, too.

We will be the poorer for it, of course.

As far as playing religious Christmas music, it should be noted that religious Christians are the reason we celebrate the holiday.  I know that people are going to object that many religions everywhere celebrate a holiday on or near the winter solstice, and Christians only put Christmas there to usurp the holiday celebrations that were already happening–but that’s not what I mean, either.  In the nineteenth century people were expected to work six days a week, with time off on Sunday for church, and the Federal government followed that pattern.  However, late in the century it was observed that on Christmas Day so many Federal workers called out “sick” in order to go to church that it was impossible to run government offices on the skeleton crew that reported for work.  Thus a decision was made simply to give everyone the day off with pay, and it was soon put into law (along with New Years Day, Independence Day, and Thanksgiving Day, which had previously been established as a national day of Thanksgiving but not a holiday).  Banks followed suit, because there were certain things banks needed to do when they were open that could not be done if the government was closed, and gradually the rest of the world caught up.  We can debate the ethics of Christians calling out sick to go to church, but the fact is that it was that action which gave us paid holidays.  Very few Christians go to church on Christmas Day anymore, but at least we celebrate it with our music and other festivities.  So if you don’t like the religious music, at least say thank you that there were enough people who thought the day was important enough to warrant a religious celebration that the rest of us got a paid day off work.

But beyond that, every single one of us has to tolerate some music we don’t like, because every single one of us dislikes something others like–whether it is a distaste for Beethoven or Beatles, for Rap or Rock, for Country or Classical, show tunes or ska, Ives or Jazz, there is no music that pleases everyone, and “no music” does not please everyone, either.

The jukebox worked on something of the “majority rule” system:  the owner tried to stock it with the records people were most likely to pay money to hear (the origin of “Top 40” radio), and the people picked the songs they wanted.  Not every public facility can accommodate everyone’s tastes, and so the owner or manager or someone in an executive position (even if it’s only the night waitress) picks something.  In some places, those choices are based on scientific consideration of what kind of music will get customers to spend more money; in some they are based on what the management thinks people will enjoy; in some it is based on what the manager likes, or what is available.  Most of us have no say in what kind of music people play in the establishments we frequent.

The person who complained was within his rights, and certainly in some sense was right to do so:  the management of a retail business of that sort should be aware if his music is hurting his business, and so needs to know the opinions of his customers.  It was not, however, entirely unpredictable that a large number of customers, and an even larger number of people in the outside world, would enjoy the Christmas music and encourage the owner to continue playing it.

The customer who doesn’t like it will have to decide whether the benefits of eating there are worth the aggravation of music which he does not like, or whether there is another restaurant which caters to people who want different music, or no music at all, whose food, service, and prices are as good.  That’s the way it works.

#143: A Geographical Look at the Election

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #143, on the subject of A Geographical Look at the Election.

For most of my life, I remember presidential races which ended sometime late on the night of Election Day when one of the candidates took the stage, conceded the election, and congratulated the opponent; then the other candidate took a different stage, thanked his supporters, said a few respectful words about his opponent, and started working toward his term in office.  Politics was still something of a “gentleman’s game”, and the losers lost gracefully and the winners won graciously.

This time, the losers refuse to accept their loss.  It is one of those elections–not for the first time–that majority of voters supported the losing candidate, and so there has been blame cast on the Electoral College system, and calls for recounts, and most recently suggestions that the Russians hacked the election process.  With the Wisconsin recount actually increasing the margin by which Trump took the state, the Michigan recount discovering massive fraud in many of the precincts won by Clinton, and the courts blocking the vital Pennsylvania recount, they are getting desperate.

For myself, I am worried that the polarization of America is going to lead to some sort of civil war.  I look not so much at the population but at the geography of the matter, and have reason to worry.

This electoral results map of Illinois, copied from Politico, is typical of "blue" states taken by Clinton:  a few patches of "blue" in the populous areas within a sea of mostly red.
This electoral results map of Illinois, copied from Politico, is typical of “blue” states taken by Clinton:  a few patches of “blue” in the populous areas within a sea of mostly red.
  • In Alabama, Trump took fifty-four of sixty-seven counties–over eighty percent–leaving just thirteen for Clinton.  Perhaps more significantly, he had over seventy-five percent of the vote in twenty-three of them–Clinton successfully doing so in only two.  Of course, Alabama was a strong win for Trump overall, with 62.9% of the vote to Clinton’s 34.6%.
  • Alaska was not so strong a victory for Trump, with only 52.9% of the vote, but a lot of voters went to third-party candidates there leaving Clinton a paltry 37.7%.  The state apparently has only one county, so while the state is not massively for Trump, it does seem to be massively against Clinton.
  • Arizona was a close one, with only 49.5% of the vote going to Trump and a strong 45.4% going to Clinton.  Eleven of fifteen counties went to Trump there.
  • Arkansas was another strong Trump win; of seventy-four counties, Clinton took only eight–under eleven percent–leaving sixty-six for Trump, along with 60.4% of the vote to her 33.8%.  He also took more than seventy-five percent of the vote in nine counties–more counties than she took total–with her best about sixty-two percent in one county.
  • California of course went strongly for Clinton, with 61.6% of the vote to Trump’s 32.8%.  However, of fifty-eight counties, Trump actually took the majority of the votes in twenty-five–about forty-three percent, leaving thirty-three for Clinton.
  • Colorado was a close win for Clinton, with 47.2% of the vote to Trump’s 44.4%.  However, Trump had majorities in forty-one of sixty-four counties, almost two-thirds, leaving Clinton only twenty-three.  Further, in eleven of those counties Trump took at least seventy-five percent of the vote, a feat Clinton only achieved in one of them.
  • Connecticut was a bit better for Clinton–she took 54.5% of the vote to Trump’s 41.2%.  She even took most of the small state geographically–six out of eight counties.  She did not get as much sixty percent of the vote in any one of them, though.
  • Delaware also went to Clinton, with 53.4% of the vote to Trump’s 41.9%.  However, only one of the three counties went for Clinton, the other two supporting Trump, one of them very strongly.
  • The District of Columbia is not a state and has no congressional representation, but it does get three electoral votes; 92.8% of its tiny population went for Clinton, 4.1% for Trump.  Obviously it does not have counties, so like Alaska it is a single unit.
  • Trump took a slight edge in Florida, with 49.1% to Clinton’s 47.8%; I’m surprised Jill Stein didn’t call for a recount there, but that might be a politically sensitive issue there.  However, the geographical disproportionality is tremendous there:  Of sixty-seven counties, Clinton took only nine–a little more than one eighth–leaving fifty-eight for Trump.  Further, he took better than seventy-five percent in eleven counties, and she did not approach that level in any.
  • Georgia was Trump, at 51.3% to Clinton’s 45.6%.  Again, though, the geography is overwhelming:  Clinton had thirty of one hundred fifty-nine counties, giving one hundred twenty-nine–over eighty percent–to Trump.  In forty of those–a quarter of all the counties in the state–he took over seventy-five percent of the vote; Clinton reached that mark in only two counties.
  • 62.3% of Hawaiian voters went for Clinton, and only 30.1% for Trump.  Here Clinton had a strong showing, taking majorities in all four counties, all between sixty and sixty-five percent against Trump’s twenty-five to thirty-five percent.
  • Idaho was 59.2% for Trump, 27.6% for Clinton, but it is even worse than that.  Clinton only placed first in two of forty-four counties, and there were seven counties in which she placed third behind an independent candidate popular in the western states named Evan McMullin, coming out of the Republican party and thus reducing Trump’s support.
  • Clinton took Illinois with 55.4% of the vote to Trump’s 39.4%, but the geography again is against her:  of one hundred two counties, she took only eleven, giving ninety-one–almost ninety percent–to Trump.  He took nineteen of those with better than seventy-five percent of the vote; Clinton’s best showing was just shy of that.
  • Indiana went to Trump with 57.2% of the vote to Clinton’s 37.9%.  On top of that, only four counties favored Clinton, the other eighty-eighty going to Trump, and her best showing was not quite sixty percent, while again Trump took more than three quarters of the vote in nine counties.
  • Iowa has ninety-nine counties, of which ninety-three went to Trump, only six to Clinton.  He took the state with 51.8% of the vote to her 42.2%.  It was a more moderate victory–he took three quarters of the vote or more in only four counties.
  • Trump not only took Kansas with 57.2% of the vote to Clinton’s 36.2%, he took one hundred two of its one hundred four counties, fifty-three of them–more than half–by at least three quarters of the vote.
  • Kentucky has one hundred twenty counties, and Clinton took the majority of votes in two.  She did take 42.7% of the total vote, losing to Trump’s 62.7%; he took more than three-quarters of the vote in fifty-seven counties.
  • Trump had another strong win in Louisiana, with 58.1% of the vote to Clinton’s 38.4%.  Louisiana doesn’t actually have “counties” because it calls them “parishes”, a throwback to the fact that it was originally organized as a French territory, but they serve the same function, and Trump took fifty-four of sixty-four, leaving ten for Clinton.  He took thirteen of those with seventy-five percent or more of the vote; Clinton took one of hers at that margin.
  • Maine is one of the two states that apportions its electoral votes according to the percent of voters, and so Clinton’s 47.9% of the vote got her three of those votes, Trump’s 45.2% garnishing him the remaining one.  Although the map looks a lot “redder” than “blue”, it’s because the seven coastal counties Clinton took are a lot smaller, geographically, than the nine much larger inland counties that when to Trump.  All of these were close.
  • Maryland strongly favored Clinton, with 60.5% of the vote going to her, 35.3% to Trump.  The map, though, shows that Clinton’s support was localized to the suburbs of Baltimore and of Washington, D. C.–she took six of twenty-three counties plus Baltimore City (counted separately from Baltimore County, which she also took), leaving seventy percent of the counties for Trump.  She had strong victories in two of her counties, taking at least three quarters of the vote, but he did as well in one of his.
  • Massachusetts is entirely blue–Clinton took every one of fourteen counties.  She got three quarters of the vote in one of them, and state-wide took 60.8% to Trump’s 33.5%.
  • As we noted, the recount in Michigan has uncovered massive voter fraud in many districts taken by the Democrats.  However, the numbers before the recount gave Trump 47.6% of the vote to Clinton’s 47.3%, and despite the claim that it is supposed to be a “blue” state, the map is mostly red–seventy-five of eighty-three counties went to Trump, leaving Clinton with eight.
  • Clinton squeaked out a victory in Minnesota, with 46.9% of the vote to Trump’s 45.4%–but again the blue state looks very red.  Of eighty-seven counties, only nine went to Clinton, seventy-eight to Trump.
  • The geography is not quite so lopsided in Mississippi, where Clinton took twenty-four of eighty-two counties, not quite a third, four of them with better than three quarters of the vote; but Trump took the other fifty-eight counties, seventeen of them with at least three quarters of the vote, and took the state with 58.3% to her 39.7%.
  • Show me Missouri, and I see a solid Trump win with 57.1% of the vote to Clinton’s 38.0%.  Geographically I see an even stronger showing, as Trump took majorities in one hundred twelve of one hundred fifteen counties, leaving Clinton to claim only three, plus St. Louis City (counted separately from St. Louis County, which she also took).  Trump took at least three quarters of the vote in sixty-six of those counties, more than half; Clinton did so well only in St. Louis City itself.
  • Montana also went to Trump, 56.5% to 36.0%, and again even more dramatically looked at geographically.  Clinton took only five of fifty-five counties, about nine percent against Trump’s ninety-one percent, fifty counties.  He took eighteen of those by at least seventy-five percent of the vote, one of them by over ninety percent.  In two of the five Clinton won she actually took less than fifty percent of the vote, but beat Trump due to strong showings by Libertarian candidate Gary Johnson.
  • In Nebraska, Clinton took majorities in only two of ninety-three counties, and in both she had less than fifty percent of the vote, Libertarian Gary Johnson making a strong showing.  She took only 34% of the vote to Trump’s 60.3%, and he sixty-three counties by at least seventy-five percent of the vote, four of them by over ninety percent.
  • Clinton took Nevada, 47.9% to 45.5%, but she only took two of the seventeen counties in Nevada, the other fifteen going to Trump–and she didn’t actually have a majority of the voters in one of the counties she took, while Trump had at least three quarters of the votes in four of his counties.

    Are you noticing a pattern here?

  • Our “new” states start, alphabetically, with New Hampshire, where Clinton took 47.6% to Trump’s 47.2%.  Although it is a lot closer, again geographically Trump is favored, taking six of ten counties.  All of them were close.
  • New Jersey was 55.0% for Clinton, 41.8% for Trump, and for once she got the slim majority of counties–twelve of twenty-one, leaving nine for Trump.  Most counties were close; in none did either candidate take three quarters of the vote.
  • In New Mexico, the vote went for Clinton, 48.3% to 40.0%, but the geography slightly favored Trump.  He took the majority in nineteen counties, Clinton in fourteen.
  • New York, where Clinton was once Senator, went for her by 58.8% to 37.5% for Trump, who considers it his home state.  Still, of sixty-two counties, Clinton took majorities in only sixteen, leaving Trump forty-six counties, less than one percent shy of three quarters of them.  She took three quarters of the vote in four of those counties, all of them containing parts of New York City.
  • By the population, Trump edged out Clinton in North Carolina with 50.5% of the vote to her 46.7%.  She did better here geographically, taking twenty-four of the one hundred counties, not quite a quarter.  Trump took at least three-quarters of the vote in nine counties; Clinton did so in only one.
  • Further north we have North Dakota, which Trump took with 64.1% of the vote to Clinton’s 27.8%.  Trump also took all but two of fifty-three counties, twenty-one of them with at least three quarters of the vote.
  • In Ohio, Clinton took only seven of eighty-eight counties, and 43.5% of the vote against Trump’s 52.1%.  In a dozen of his eighty-one counties Trump took at least three-quarters of the vote.
  • Where the wind comes whistling down the plane in Olklahoma, it blew solidly to Trump, with 65.3% of the vote to Clinton’s 28.9, and every one of seventy-eight counties, and in more than half–forty-three of them–he took more than three quarters of the vote.
  • Clinton took Oregon, 51.7% to 41.1%, but again the map is mostly red–she took eight of thirty-six counties, two ninths, less than a quarter.  Clinton took at least three-quarters of the vote in one county, Trump in three.
  • Pennsylvania looks very close by the numbers, with Trump’s 48.8% squeaking past Clinton’s 47.6%, and a court ruling preventing a recount, but again geographically it does not look close at all.  Of sixty-seven counties, Clinton took only eleven, leaving fifty-six for Trump.  Clinton took one of those counties by better than three-quarters of the vote; Trump did so in seven.
  • Rhode Island, the smallest state geographically, where Clinton won with 55.4% of the vote to Trump’s 39.8, has only five counties; Trump took only one.
  • The geography is also better for Clinton in South Carolina, although still there she took only fifteen of forty-six counties, and only 40.8% of the vote to Trump’s 54.9%.  Clinton took better than seventy-five percent of the vote in one county.
  • Not so far south in South Dakota, sixty-one of sixty-six counties went to Trump, five to Clinton, as he took the state with 61.5% of the vote to her 31.7%.  He took sixteen of those counties with three quarters or more of the vote–more than three times as many at that rate than she took at all, although she did take three quarters of the vote in one of her counties–and one of his he took by better than nine out of ten votes cast.
  • Three of Tennessee’s ninety-five counties did not go to Trump, who took 61.1% of the vote in that state to Clinton’s 34.9%.  He took forty-eight of those by at least seventy-five percent of the vote.
  • It sounds good to say that in the next state Clinton took the majority in twenty-five counties, and with at least three-quarters of the vote in three of them–until you say that the state is Texas, and of its two hundred fifty-four counties that’s slightly less than ten percent, leaving two hundred twenty-nine for Trummp.  He took one hundred thirty-eight of those with at least seventy-five percent of the vote, eight of them with at least ninety percent.  He took the state with 52.6% of the vote to her 43.4%.
  • To say that Clinton placed first in only three of Utah’s twenty-nine counties is to understate how poorly she did there.  In only one of those three did she get more than half the votes, and that barely, and in fourteen of the twenty-six Trump won she placed third, behind that previously mentioned independent candidate popular in the western states, Evan McMullin, who also did well in Idaho, and who also tied her in a fifteenth second-place position here.  Despite this three-way race, Trump took five counties by at least seventy-five percent of the vote, and took 45.9% of the total against her 27.8%.
  • Clinton did manage very nearly to sweep the small state of Vermont, taking 61.1% of the vote to Trump’s 32.6% and holding a majority in all but one of its fourteen counties.
  • She also took 49.9% of the vote in Virginia, where Trump got 45.0%.  Virginia counts most of its cities separately from the counties in which they are situated.  She took twelve of the ninety-four counties and twenty-eight of the thirty-nine cities–generally small blue dots on a largely red map.  That’s ninety-three voting districts going to Trump, forty to Clinton, and he took sixteen of his counties by at least three-quarters of the votes, which she accomplished in five of her cities.
  • In Washington, they stopped counting after just over ninety percent of the precincts had reported; only seven of the thirty-eight counties were complete, of which Trump took six.  If we include all the counties, unfinished, Clinton took about twelve, Trump about twenty-six.  (One county, counted as for Clinton, is close enough that the uncounted votes may be about sixty times as many as the difference between Clinton and Trump there, so it is being generous to say she took that county.)  Of the votes counted, 54.4% went to Clinton, 38.2% to Trump, so although almost nine percent of the state remains unreported, it would not be sufficient to reverse the state outcome–only the national total.
  • West Virginia went strongly for Trump, 68.7% to Clinton’s 26.5%.  It is not surprising that he took majorities in every one of its fifty-five counties, twenty-two of them with at least three-quarters of the vote.
  • The recount in Wisconsin, as mentioned, reportedly found a few more votes for Trump; the originally reported totals gave him 47.9% against Clinton’s 46.9%.  Clinton’s strength gives her only thirteen of the state’s seventy-two counties, fifty-nine going to Trump.  She did take better than three-quarters of the vote in one of the counties on her list.
  • The last state on an alphabetical list, Wyoming, is also the one in which Trump had the best showing at 70.1% to Clinton’s 22.5%.  He did not take every one of the twenty-three counties–only twenty-two, leaving one for Clinton.  He did take fifteen of them with at least three-fourths of the votes.

So what’s the point of all this?  If you did the math (of course you didn’t, that’s my job), you noticed that if we count by reporting counties/cities, Trump took two thousand six hundred twenty eight, to Clinton’s four hundred eighty-three–84% of all the places in the country where voting was counted.  You might also note that if we average the percentage of votes each took in each state, Trump took 48.97% to Clinton’s 45.24%–that is, a greater percentage of people counted state by state preferred Trump.  He clearly is favored geographically.

So who cares?  Why should it matter if more places want Trump to be President, if we live in a democracy, and more people want Clinton?

And that is exactly what the Democratic party wants you to think:  all those people in all those places which are mostly outside the cities don’t matter and should not really be considered in how we, the urbane people from the urban centers, want to run the country.

They are actually counting on this for the future of their party:  the demographics say that people who live in these high-population-density areas tend to vote Democratic, and they are increasing in numbers faster than those in the more sparsely populated Republican areas, and so using the fact that we are a democracy they can bully the outnumbered rural and light suburban people into their plans.  As one of my rural friends commented, “How rude”.

But the fact is that we are not a democracy.  We are a federated republic–and the difference is important.  This is not you, me, and some maybe one hundred fifty million other voters deciding how to run our country.  We are not, first and foremost, a union of individuals, but a union of states, of political entities comprised of individuals.  This is about New Jersey and Utah, California and Colorado, Florida and New York, about three thousand counties in fifty states and one political district, coming together to agree as to how they, as separate political entities, will govern themselves collectively.  It says, inherently, that the people in the boondocks will be heard, will have a say in how they are governed.

Yet the people who want to cancel the Trump victory want to disenfranchise these people in the name of “democracy”.  These are the same people who complain that the country has tried to disenfranchise blacks, women, and other minorities.  Their entire political strategy is based on disenfranchising those with whom they disagree–despite the fact that these are the people who, in the main, provide our corn and our beef, our potatoes and our milk, our national petroleum, even to a large degree our fresh water.  Do you really want to tell these people that you don’t care about them, that they should not have a say in how their country is run?

The rural people won this time; they’ve lost a few over the past decade, and that’s the way the system works, passing the lead back and forth between the progressives and the reactionaries for a while, eventually (usually) settling to a middle ground which is more progressive than we were and not as progressive as the radicals wanted us to be.  But if you take this victory away from them, it’s going to hurt in ways that are likely to come back–not, perhaps, a civil war, but certainly a change in the way the producers of our necessities regard the massed consumers who are living in the urban areas and pretending that the people on whom their lives depend are inconsequential.

I don’t think that it will happen, that Trump’s victory will be overturned, but I thought all of those calling for it should give some consideration to what they are really saying.

The statistics in this article were compiled by hand from Politico; I apologize if there are any mistakes.

#142: Characters Unite

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #142, on the subject of Characters Unite.

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 (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),
  16. #134:  Versers In Space (136 through 144).

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

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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 145, Brown 49

Lauren uses a telepathic thought projection skill to project a “pattern” of how to do this into the minds of her companions.  We have not seen the skill used before, but it makes sense that she would have developed it in order to teach the “inner powers” to Bethany.  It is even plausible that she learned it from Merlin, who taught some of the inner powers to her as well.

Technically, watching what someone does with their mind to do something is not the same as reading what someone is currently thinking—e.g., your brain controls your movements when you walk (to some degree—muscle memory is also involved), but when we think of reading someone’s thoughts we do not expect to pick up the way they move their feet to maintain their balance as they walk.  However, reading what someone does is technically reading a different part of their mind, so Derek is adapting what he just learned to a new application.


Chapter 146, Kondor 91

One of the lessons to which Lauren keeps returning is that the ability to do something is not necessarily the license to do it.  Joe begins to see that as he experiments with reading minds around him.

I realized about this point that this book was already considerably longer than the first—this is the twentieth chapter past the last number of Verse Three, Chapter One.  Although I knew that a lot of writers tended to have the books get longer as the series progressed, I also knew that I was going to have to bring this to an end soon.  Thus Lauren did not get to stay here very long, and I was beginning the final mission.

Lauren has a solid argument for why each of the three of them should be part of the mission.  There are other good reasons for it, that is, other skills they bring to the table that will prove useful, but she’s right in the basics.

In creating the problem of the incoming ship, I had to figure out how to make it something that the space station people couldn’t handle.  I would be a while working out why it was the way it was, but at the moment I merely had to describe the problem.


Chapter 147, Hastings 91

The good-bye to Raeph was an important scene to resolve Lauren’s involvement here.  She was not in this world long, but it was an important step in her view of herself and her world.  He would not matter again, but the fact that they had these few days would matter in her story in the future.


Chapter 148, Brown 50

Lauren has decided that she can walk the twilight to reach the ship.  She does that by magic, and to do it she has to have a very clear unique image of her destination—we already know what happens if she gets it wrong, from the Camelot story.  So she uses her clairvoyance to search, trying to close on the ship in huge jumps, and then trying to get an image of something inside the ship.  We get to see what she’s doing, because Derek has already developed that “watch how this psionic skill works” skill.

The problem with atmosphere in zero gravity is one that people miss—convection currents which cause air temperatures to become relatively uniform happen because cold air is heavier than warm air, and as it falls it pushes the warm air up, creating motion and causing the air to mix.


Chapter 149, Kondor 92

The encouragement of having someone believe in you often has this aspect of wanting to be as good as they believe.  It here motivates Joe to do this well, and to believe he can do it, because Lauren believes he can do it.

I needed some kind of alien predator that would look frightening and not be a retread of something else.  I went with a dragon/lizard/snake motif.

Using the capture rod to crush something to death was invented at this point.  As far as I know, no one had ever used it that way, although it was Ed’s invention.

A laser scalpel as a tool for cutting something from a high-powered electrical circuit has the distinct advantage that you don’t actually touch anything with anything conductive.  That’s why he chose it.


Chapter 150, Hastings 92

Lauren has been thinking of this as a rescue; when Joe prepares for a fight, she realizes it’s more on the order of a raid, and she’d better be ready to fight.

Lauren thinks through a lot of reasons for using the capture rod as her primary weapon, but omits the most obvious one:  it’s in her hands, and she has no other way to carry it.


Chapter 151, Brown 51

The difference Derek notices between his own response to the fallen bit of metal and Joe’s response is the difference between Joe’s trained combat mind and Derek’s minor experiences:  Joe quickly determined that the metal was not itself important, but that it might have been tripped by something dangerous overhead.  Derek is stuck on the object that fell.

The notion that pipes and cables constituted a sort of high-tech jungle canopy occurred to me here:  it provided potential habitat for the predators.

The idea of using an opponent trapped in the force field bubble as a club to hit other opponents was also new here.

Lauren is probably right about swapping the power packs:  if they trade, they change ownership.


Chapter 152, Kondor 93

The idea hit me that if you were generating gravity artificially and you had elevators, it would be logical to have the gravity generation decrease when you rose and increase when you descended, so that there would be no change in the feeling of movement.

This side trip to the galley was primarily because I needed to make the mission more difficult without cluttering it with a series of fights along the straight route.  Diverging to the galley in order to distract the lizards had an advantage in telling the story.  I wound up running them into a fight anyway, but it was considerably less like trying to fight your way through packs of creatures on the way to the bridge.  It also seemed a reasonable plan to lure the creatures away from their path.


Chapter 153, Hastings 93

I had the problem with Lauren that the three rods were all useful, but she couldn’t effectively carry more than one, and even that limited what else she could do.  Thus here she drops the capture rod, and is without it for the rest of the book.

I decided that creatures that glide would not do well in narrow vertical tubes with ladders.  They might have been in there when the gravity was out, but if so they’d probably have fallen to the bottom within the first ten minutes of struggling.


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.

#141: The Solution to the Romans I Problem

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #141, on the subject of The Solution to the Romans I Problem.

We began this miniseries with The Sin in Romans I, where we stated

…ultimately there is only one sin listed in the first chapter of the Book of Romans:

…they did not give Him the glory or the gratitude that they owed Him, robbing Him of what He justly deserved….

We were deriving that from Romans 1:19ff.  We then continued in Immorality in Romans I to explain that the “sins” we see described in that first chapter–the immorality, homosexuality, and total depravity–are not given to us as the proof of guilt but as the demonstration of punishment, that God punishes those who fail to recognize and thank Him by delivering them to the desires that destroy them.  We ended that article with the thought

…if these are the punishment of God, why would I want them?  Obviously, there is this draw that they have, because people are drawn into them, and many Christians will admit being tempted in those directions.  The black hole of death pulls everyone toward it.  The message of the gospel includes that Jesus saves us from this, that He enables us to be free from this death.

Then I noted that there was something else, something I had missed before.  The third article, Societal Implications of Romans I explained that, that this judgment came not primarily on individuals who rejected God but ultimately on the society itself:  you could be innocent of the moral degradation of the world around you, but it was worsening, drawing in those around you.

The question here is, what can we do?  The answer is what the answer almost always is:  we need to repent.

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Some of you probably just said, “Yes, Chaplain, we need to get all those sinners, all those fornicators and adulterers and homosexuals and lesbians and generally depraved people out there, to repent and turn to Christ.”  If you said that, you missed the point.  Of course those people need to repent; but judgment begins with the house of God–and all of that, here in the first chapter of Romans, was the punishment, not the crime.  The one sin–the only sin–Paul identifies in the first chapter of Romans is failing to acknowledge God and thank Him.

Of course, we think that we do acknowledge God and thank Him.  After all, we say grace before meals, gather on weekends for worship services, make sure we set aside a little time every day for devotions–how are we not acknowledging and thanking God?

The fact is we give too much credit to ourselves, and in a lot of ways that we not only do not recognize as taking it from God but find admirable.  We are idolators, worshipping God sometimes and other gods at other times.

Our number one idol is ourselves.  We thank God for the food, but we think that we obtained it by our own labor or resourcefulness.  We do not really think that God provides our food, our homes, our clothes–we think all of that comes from our own effort.  We fail to recognize God’s kindness to us in providing all this.

There is also a great deal of patriotism:  we worship our nation.  There has certainly been much about our nation for which we should be grateful to God, but in the words of Romans 1:25, we worship the creation (“ktisis”, meaning any created object or act of creation, frequently rendered “creature”) rather than the Creator, thinking that our nation and its founders gave us what ultimately came from God.  I have been in churches where on patriotic holy days they have sung patriotic anthems and recited the Pledge of Allegiance as if it were one of the creeds.  Those who pledge allegiance to America are serving two masters.  Thank God for America, but pledge allegiance only to God, and acknowledge Him as the giver of all good gifts.

There are quite a few of us who worship capitalism and the free market.  Don’t misunderstand me:  capitalism is a brilliant and effective human method of driving a society toward prosperity, but it is not a Christian system at all.  Its central concept is that everyone not only will but should act in the most selfish self-serving way possible to bring about the maximum benefit for the most people.  A Christian system would work on the premise that everyone should and will act in the most self-sacrificing loving way possible to help others, which makes it surpisingly similar to socialism.  The problem is that most people–even most of us who espouse Christianity–are more likely to act in capitalist ways than socialist ways, and if you’re building a system it is more practical to design it to fit the way the majority of people actually do act than the way we would like them to act.  Capitalism works well precisely because people are in the main selfish and unloving; socialism fails for the same reason.  Yet we treat capitalism as if it were a codicil to the gospel, part of the divine plan.  We do not need to abandon capitalism as a society, but as Christians we need to recognize it is not the source of our prosperity but a tainted tool through which God has managed to deliver it to tainted people.

I could probably continue with our idols.  We always think that our prosperity comes from something tangible, instead of recognizing the real source of all the good we receive.  That is the repentance–the “metanoia”, the “thought change”–that we need.  We need to stop thinking that we have earned the good things we have, that we have built a society that provides them, that we should thank our nation for being a place where such prosperity is possible, and get beyond all of that to recognizing that God has delivered good things to us.  If we fail to thank Him for what He has given us, to acknowledge Him as the source of all the good in our lives; if we continue to share the credit due to Him with others who are at best instruments of His kindness; the wrath will continue to fall on our world, and we will be buried in the depravity that has grown exponentially in the short time that I have been alive to see it.