All posts by M.J.

#258: British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #258, on the subject of British Invaders Malcolm and Alwyn.

It was again the early 1970s; I had a pirated tape of their debut album Fool’s Wisdom.  I’m not really certain what to say about them–call it mixed feelings.

They were a short-lived band, producing only the two albums, the second called Wildwall.  I’m sure I heard the second (I know I saw it), but I don’t recall anything from it.  On the other hand, despite the fact that I must have listened to the first for several years (until my tape recorders died), I remember only two songs from it, although obviously listening to it now I recognize the rest.  I think of them as good songs, and I’ll get to them in a moment.

From the beginning, Malcolm Wild and Alwyn Wall struck me as the Simon & Garfunkel of Christian music, what was then called Jesus Music, but that they were a British duo.  I thought they were very good, and they were certainly enjoyable.  I did not know at the time that they had come to America and were friends with Larry Norman, but he wrote a song about them entitled Dear Malcolm, Dear Alwyn.

The title song of the first album, second track Fool’s Wisdom, was all the rage in my first college.  I was certainly not the only person who learned how to play it and could perform it, and indeed I performed it at my most recent concert, although I had not done so for decades, just because I’d promised to do some covers and it was a good one that I knew.  One thing about Luther College is that there were a lot of singers there and not a few instrumentalists, and it was not at all uncommon for someone to start playing a familiar song and everyone to improvise harmonies.  This song lent itself to that, and I’ll confess to having thrown in a few more modern sounds to the chorus than the original sported.  It was well-loved because of that.

I played another song from that album, though, one called Growing Old, fourth track.  I liked it when I heard it, and I learned it (it was simple, really).  I never played it in concert and never played it with anyone else, but every once in a while would play it just for myself.  Then after my father died, I happened to try to play it–months later, no connection to his death–and almost didn’t get through it.  When I put together the program for my next concert, I included it.  It was the only song that got specific mention from audience members after a two-hour concert.

I’m sure there were other good songs, and that I just don’t remember them.  They released the first two albums in 1973 and 1974, then broke up, but reunited to do a live album in ’81.  Both did solo albums, and both are now pastors.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.
  13. #256:  Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.

#257: Verser Relationships

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #257, on the subject of Verser Relationships.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have now completed publishing my first three novels, Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, Old Verses New, and For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (those links will take you to the table of contents for each book).  Along with each book there was also a series of web log posts looking at the writing process, the decisions and choices that delivered the final product; those posts are indexed with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as I am posting the fourth, Spy Verses,  I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look may contain spoilers because it sometimes talks about what I was planning to do later in the book–although it sometimes raises ideas that were never pursued.  You might want to read the referenced chapters before reading this look at them.  Links below (the section headings) will take you to the specific individual chapters being discussed, and there are (or will soon be) links on those pages to bring you back hopefully to the same point here.

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

This is the fifth mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 85 through 105.  These were the previous mark Joseph “young” web log posts covering this book:

  1. #218:  Versers Resume (which provided this kind of insight into the first twenty-one chapters);
  2. #226:  Versers Adapt (covering chapters 22 through 42);
  3. #235:  Versers Infiltrate (covering chapters 43 through 63);
  4. #243:  Verser Redirects (covering chapters 64 through 84).

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 85, Slade 117

The consideration of invisibility versus insignificancy is on one level filler, something to make it seem as if it took some time to reach their room.  It also reflects Slade’s character a bit along the way, as he ponders this.

The confrontation with Mlambo was not foreseen; I was creating this as I went.


Chapter 86, Brown 136

At this point I decided that I couldn’t use the name of the real Ambassador Harris, so I changed it to Morris.  I don’t know how old his daughter actually is, but I think the distance is pretty safe.  I know nothing about the real ambassador that is not available on the Internet to a cursory search.

On the name “Dorin”, I did a lookup of the most common given names in Romania, and it was second.  Andrei was first, but Andrei seemed such a universally common eastern European name, and Dorin had the benefits of being extremely rare in the United States while being credible as a given name to American ears.  It sounded like a foreign European name.

As I was writing it, I realized what the next twist should be.


Chapter 87, Kondor 118

A “widget” is, apparently, any undefined material object produced or inventoried in a manufacturing economy.  The word is used in such fields as law and economics in the sense of “it doesn’t matter what this is, only that there is something being made, stored, marketed, or sold.”  It thus appears quite a bit on exam questions.

I was exploring something for Joe to do, some reason for him to be here other than as a holding world.  The idea that he might discover pilfering in supplies crossed my mind.

I often tell people that “never” is too big a word, at least in the contexts in which it is often used.  Someone will question whether someone else “never” arrived, and I will observe that what they mean is “not yet” (particularly if it’s about someone coming home).  Joe’s context is different, but it’s still too big a word–he could catch someone stealing, it just would not be easy.

The theft of the vorgo is told in Old Verses New.

Joe faces the problem that even when we don’t believe it we tend to think of situations in terms of why we are there, as if there is some reason behind such events.  He keeps reminding himself that it’s not true, but also falls into the pattern of believing it is.

The discussion of the social activities was backwritten when I reached the place where I realized I’d been ignoring it.

On the read-through edit I thought of the value of electrical generators, and envisioning them portable led to vehicles, and then to water purifiers, which led to pumps, all inserted at that point.


Chapter 88, Slade 118

For a while this was the last chapter I had written.  I had started Joe in his new world, and just about here moved all the Brown chapters forward and began working on Derek’s next assignment.  I was not certain what I was going to do with the Slades, even as to whether they would stay in this world or leave it, but I was comfortable with where the story had gone.  If it were not that I needed to bring Bob to the next world with Joe and Derek, I might have ended his story here for a while.


Chapter 89, Brown 137

I did an Internet search for most popular candies in England.  I had forgotten that Cadbury was an English candy company, but there were several (delicious sounding) Cadbury candies available, plus some others that sounded enticing.  I also found Jelly Babies, and a place online to order them, so I might be trying to put together a collection of promising English candies sometime in the future.  I saved the page.


Chapter 90, Kondor 119

Reading over the last few Kondor chapters since his arrival at Fort Porthos, I came up with a direction, what was going to happen.  Someone is going to sabotage one of the main supply warehouses on the base, planting a bomb which Joe will discover and remove, but will not be able to defuse.  However, for a few chapters I’m going to have to stall that, let him settle into the base a bit.

When I started doing the backwriting to get Kondor involved socially, I recognized that I had ended the previous Kondor chapter with the statement that Vargas needed to see him, and had failed to follow up on that.  I had not had any particular ideas for that when I had written it, and now from a considerably later perspective I found myself trying to make sense of it.

There was more backwriting here, as I introduced Lieutenant Smith in the company of several other officers.  I had decided as I progressed that Smith needed to be one of the people in munitions supply, so I put him there at this point.


Chapter 91, Slade 119

I pondered long what to do with the Slades at this point, and I still don’t know–but I had a couple of good thoughts.  The first was to have Colonel Mlambo invite them to stay for dinner and avail themselves of the room for the night.  My son Kyler suggested that most players in the position in which Bob found himself wanted some downtime, a place to rest and relax, and I was mindful of the fact that General Vargas expected him to return for the next trial.  I suddenly got the notion that with his small chest of valuables he might be able to buy a small manor somewhere, rename it Slade Manor, and return to the trial with validation of his claimed identity.  So that’s the direction I struck next.


Chapter 92, Brown 138

I needed Derek to pick a particular path, in order to bring my next twist into the story.  In order to get him there, I needed to explain why he did that, instead of any of several other obvious possibilities.  That could be accomplished by the direction in this chapter, of listing the possibilities and considering the problems.


Chapter 93, Kondor 120

I had set this up to be a Joseph Kondor chapter, and then pondered what to write for several days.  The problem was that I knew where I was going with both Slade and Derek, and what some of the intermediate steps were, but with Kondor I knew only what the next big event would be that took him out of this world, not what would happen before that to bring him to it.  So I decided to delay Joe and go back to Bob, who probably really had the most to get through before I removed him.  It would create the feeling that very little was happening with Joe, which wasn’t exactly true but was the right feeling.  Then when I started backwriting I decided I needed Kondor chapters, and inserted one here.  The off-duty relationship stuff was what was really needed, and this was all about that.

This also got me thinking about a companion for Kondor–not a love, but a sidekick sort of companion.  I liked the rough sketch of a personality I created here for Zeke, and was thinking in that direction, trying to figure out when I could integrate someone like that into Kondor’s life and how to do it.  I became more intrigued by the idea, and returned to fill in some description.


Chapter 94, Slade 120

As mentioned, I had set up a Joseph Kondor chapter, and then pondered what to write for several days and wrote this instead.  Thus this was originally chapter 93, and then got bumped.  Not much happens in it.


Chapter 95, Brown 139

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 94 to 95.

I toyed with several British-sounding names before settling on Richard Lloyd Williams.  He was a minor character, but he needed a name.

Research is so convenient today.  I was going to have the meeting in a bakery, and place it near a street corner near the embassy, but when I called up the map of the area it brought up markers to several eateries, including an Orygyns Specialty Coffee, about a minute’s walk from the embassy, which looked like as good a place as any.


Chapter 96, Kondor 121

I had skipped Kondor because I knew what was going to happen but not what was happening.  I had decided he would reach the next world first, but that it couldn’t happen quite yet.  Then I restored Kondor in chapter 93, and this got bumped from 95 to 96, and from Kondor 120 to Kondor 121.  I had not yet written chapter 93 when I made this 96, but had some ideas percolating for the social interaction part.

I began formulating the possibility that Zeke would go with him–even came up with a reasonable explanation of how that happens–so I decided to go back and give him more of a description.  I also expanded their relationship here.


Chapter 97, Slade 121

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 96 to 97.

I debated for several days whether to attempt to create the dinner conversation or merely reflect on it after the fact.  I decided that I really couldn’t duck it–at this point it was in a sense critical to the story, even if nothing would come of it.  So I had to figure out what they would say to each other, and the starting point seemed to be that Slade had made that suggestion about the conspiracy to keep the war going to provide a unifying common enemy.

In Mlambo’s statement about what “we” all are taught, the first version that went through my mind was “as all blacks are taught”, but before I got to typing it I realized that he would not say that.  He doesn’t think of himself as “black” but as “normal”, part of ordinary humanity.

I realized as I was writing this that in order to say what I wanted to say I was going to have to push Slade out of his vocabulary a bit.  To get there, I decided that if Shella provided a couple words for him when he needed them, the readers would overlook the rest of the stretching.


Chapter 98, Brown 140

When I added a Kondor chapter as 93, this got bumped from 97 to 98.

The three Romanian expressions Derek uses are the only three I remember from my own three weeks in Romania (not true–I remember that something like “freeshka” means dessert).  They mean idiomatically, in sequence, “what does this cost”, “thank you”, and “you’re welcome”.  I never saw them in print, but since Romanian is written in the Cyrillic alphabet I would have to transliterate them anyway, so I’ve provided a phonetic representation of how I would say them, figuring that’s how he would say them.


Chapter 99, Kondor 122

In my reconstruction process when I decided to get Kondor more socially integrated, I also moved this chapter up from 99 to 98, and of course it was renumbered Kondor 122 and then bumped back to 99.

This came together in pieces.  First, I thought that it would help stall things if they found a missing person with a name similar to Kondor, that they might think was misfiled.  I was thinking Joseph Sanders.  Then I decided that he must be a captain and a doctor, which doesn’t seem a stretch as M.A.S.H. gives the impression that all doctors in the army hold the rank of captain or better.  I decided he would be lost in transit, that he left his original location and never arrived at his destination, without any clear indication of what happened.  In the next steps I decided that his destination was the other Colonel Roberts (I had to look back to find B Company), that his first name was actually listed as John, not Joseph, and that he had come from a combat area.  Then I decided that Company B was an operation whose primary job was retasking personnel who for whatever reason were leaving their present assignment but staying in the military.  That meant that if Kondor was Sanders, he was probably being sent there so they could find somewhere else to send him, and Roberts could make the argument that he could use the man here now for a while until they found that other job.  That got me where I was.

The last decision was that it wouldn’t be a formal meeting but an informal passing on the grounds.


Chapter 100, Slade 122

This had been chapter 98 before I started reordering things to accommodate more social interaction for Kondor.

I had come up with this plan to create Slade Manor already, and now I put it in the book.  I was expanding on the detail as I went.

When I went to reference the trial, I realized I didn’t remember the name of the officer who raised the matter.  I typed the title “Lieutenant” and then put in the “what’s-his-name” to show that Bob didn’t remember either, and then went digging.  I noticed that the name did not appear at all during the trial, but the rank of Captain did, and that it wasn’t until Slade was discussing his departure plans with Vargas that the name “Captain Lee” appeared.  I had Shella provide it, and Slade repeat it with an emphasis on the rank.


Chapter 101, Brown 141

This had been chapter 100 before I inserted the extra chapter as 93 to facilitate Kondor’s story.

I’d moved Derek into a difficult situation, and now I had to get him through it.  Thus I had him consider his options.  I did a check of what psionic skills I would permit in this world under the rules of the game, but then decided that the only one he had tried was the mind reading (which is his best) and that he probably wouldn’t rely on the others without testing them.  I had specifically given him the darts because I knew this was coming, but had to figure out how to make it work–and what Derek would do next.


Chapter 102, Kondor 123

This had always been chapter 102, and after I added the extra chapter 93 I moved this up to keep it in that spot, as part of getting the extra space for Kondor’s social interaction.  It had been Kondor 122, increased to 123.

I was not exactly filling space, but trying to explore how I was going to get to my big exit moment in this story.  I had determined that someone, some anti-United faction somewhere, was going to plant a bomb, probably in the ordinance storehouse, and that Kondor was going to find it and, not being trained in defusing bombs, remove it from the building, only to be killed when it detonated.  I thus needed to start setting up a credible base for such an attack.

I also realized at this point that I was making a mistake in the Kondor story, because he wasn’t interacting with the other soldiers.  I realized it because as I was writing about the lack of racial tensions I thought it would make Kondor uncomfortable to have a white girl in the cafeteria show an interest in him, and the other soldiers encourage him to get to know her–and I recognized that there was no indication that he knew any of the other soldiers.  He had no friends here; other than the commander and his two top officers, all the people were faceless.  That was going to require some backwriting to fix.  I added material to chapters 81, 84, 87, 90, and then inserted a new chapter 93, bouncing a lot of chapters one place and resequencing some to bring Kondor back into step with the others.

Again I added the social sequence later, and I was creating it as I wrote.  Mary’s drink went from soda to coffee to hot tea to hot chocolate in seconds (tea was actually typed and deleted) as I tried to give her the right personality on the job.

It was also at this point that I went back and added the security detail at the munitions supply warehouse, so I could introduce Lt. Smith earlier and have him where I wanted him.


Chapter 103, Slade 123

This had been chapter 101, but I moved it when I reorganized to make more time for Kondor’s social interactions.

The problem I faced with the Slades at this point was that I had to get through a lot of probably less interesting stuff without either boring the reader or giving the feeling of having skipped it.  In Thumbwars one of the funniest lines is when after not having actually rescued Princess Leia they are leaving the Death Star with her and she says, “I escaped somehow.”  It’s funny because it’s so wrong, plot-wise, and that’s what I’m trying to avoid here.

I had decided that Slade was going to claim to be a refugee, a Lord Slade from a manor further north that had been overrun by the blacks, who had grabbed a small bit of his treasure and was hoping to find a new home.

I did the combat scene so it wouldn’t seem like they simply leapt to their new location.

I actually was stuck in the middle of this chapter for several months.  I tried to enlist two people to come aboard as co-authors and give me ideas, and ultimately simply decided that Shella would answer the question about what food they had, they would eat, and they would continue.  While I was writing that I realized that they really wouldn’t have much food, and the only obvious way to get more would be to head for the white lines, so I pointed them that direction.  This was also when I decided to go back and add more to the Kondor story, although actually I had finished this and started writing the chapter which now stands as the previous chapter before I did that.

As a boy I had noticed that the bread and rolls my mother purchased from the “real” Italian bakery had very thick hard crusts.  I later noticed that the common rolls in Romania were worse.  Decades later I realized that this protected the soft interior from vermin, and I would wager also kept it fresher.


Chapter 104, Brown 142

I had thought through a good part of this chapter and the next while expanding the Kondor story, but couldn’t quite make it all work right.  The e-mail was an abrupt solution to the first problem, and then I split the next part to another chapter.


Chapter 105, Kondor 124

I was going to make this two chapters, but it unfolded so swiftly and smoothly that I realized breaking it would give me a very short second chapter.  I was now committed to taking Kondor to the final world.


This has been the fifth behind the writings look at Spy Verses.  If there is interest and continued support from readers we will continue to publish this novel and the behind the writings posts, and prepare the fifth novel to follow it.

#256: Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #256, on the subject of Harry Thomas’ Creations Come Alive.

If you have no idea who Harry Thomas is, you are certainly forgiven.  I saw what I take to be his one independently-released album, and may have heard something from it, maybe once.  I met him in the early eighties; we had two friends in common.  Harry isn’t really important for his music, though; he is important for everyone else’s music.

Sometime in the early 1970s Harry started a radio program called Come Alive, and an associated organization called Come Alive Ministries.  It was a popular show in some ways, and causes me to digress because it illustrates a significant problem with Christian radio.

WNNN had Harry’s program before I arrived.  As I have mentioned, I came to the station in the wake of a massive restructuring when new owners acquired the business and were persuaded that the only people who listened to “religious broadcasting” were retirees older than themselves.  The previous programming staff were grateful to have Harry’s program at all; the new ownership wanted to know why he didn’t pay for airtime–and therein lies the problem.

Before I was born, radio worked with programs, frequently live radio dramas, sometimes prerecorded ones, and other types of shows.  People tuned in to hear their favorite programs–much as it was with television when I was a kid, that people knew when their shows were going to air and made sure they watched the right station.  That stopped being true of radio stations, replaced by a model in which the station format was the show–that is, you tuned to this station for rock music, that station for classical music, the other for continuous news.  You expect to find the kind of programming you want by going to the station that has it.

Christian radio is still largely on the old model, but with a twist.  People who want to put a program on the radio pay the radio station for air time, and ask their listeners to support the program.  In most cases the program also has a second revenue stream, such as a church congregation that believes this will bring people to their services, or a line of books or tapes for sale to listeners, or conferences or meetings which raise money.  It is very like vanity publishing, that people who want to be on the radio pay to be on the radio and hope that it will bring money to cover the costs.  Yet radio doesn’t really work that way–people who turn on the radio and don’t hear the particular kind of programming they seek change the station.

Harry’s program was a Christian contemporary/rock music program, and it was apparently good–good enough that secular rock stations were paying him for permission to air it.  It worked for them, because it was officially a religious program but had a sound similar enough to their format that it wouldn’t drive away listeners the way, say, a Sunday morning church service would.  So Harry was being paid to release his program to secular radio stations, while Christian stations like mine wouldn’t air it because he wouldn’t buy air time.

All of which suggests that the programs on Christian radio stations are there not because people want to hear them but because people are willing to pay to play them.  I sometimes listen to preachers when my local radio station goes away from the good music to the teaching and preaching, because I know some of them, and because, well, I’m a professional Bible teacher, and once in a while I learn something, even if it’s only what obvious mistakes others are making.

So Harry had a good show.

He then arranged a small outdoor concert, and it worked, so in 1979–the year I reached the radio station–he went one step bigger and launched Creation, a Christian rock festival now believed to be the longest continuously running festival series and the largest, with the original now known as Creation Northeast and a second on the opposite side of the country known as Creation Northwest.

I said I had two friends in common with Harry.  One was the Reverend Jim Bracken, founder of Mission Teens, a rehab not far from the radio station.  I think he must have taken me to Harry’s home in Medford once.  The other was a college classmate, Big Brother Archie Bradley, who worked Harry’s security department and got me on staff for Creation ’83, when I met and interviewed several artists.  I’ve talked about that before, and will do so again.

I hear ads for the upcoming Creation festival, June 27th, and I wanted to post this before that happened.  I don’t expect to be there.  However, researching this article has made me aware that Harry Thomas, now in his seventies and quite infirm, has recently been arrested and charged with sexual misconduct involving minors.  The details have all been kept secret, and his attorney has submitted a not guilty plea, while his ministries have all suspended his involvement for the present.

As their church website says, pray for all those involved.

We’ll get back to the musicians next time.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252:  Petra Means Rock.
  12. #254:  Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.

#255: On Sveen: Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #255, on the subject of On Sveen:  Divorcees, Check Your Beneficiaries.

It’s a good thing it’s summertime, because the Supreme Court is taking us back to Minnesota, this time for Sveen et al. v. Melin and the first look at the Contracts Clause of the Constitution in a quarter of a century.  Sound dull and esoteric?  Well, no–it cost Kaye Melin a substantial amount of money, and might similarly impact an unknown number of divorcees throughout the country.  As Ambrose Bierce once said, “Death is not the end; there remains the litigation over the estate.”

Let’s start with the facts.

In 1997 Mark Sveen, father of two children by a previous marriage, married Kaye Melin.  The next year he bought a life insurance policy, naming her as beneficiary and his two children as contingent beneficiaries.  The ordinary expectation with life insurance is that it is a contract, that upon the death of the insured a sum of money will be paid to the primary beneficiary or beneficiaries, but in the event that the primary beneficiary predeceases the insured the money will be paid to the contingent beneficiary or beneficiaries; if they have also died, the money is paid into the estate to be distributed in accordance with the will or by the laws applying to intestate estates.

In 2007 the couple divorced, apparently amicably.

In 2011 Mark Sveen died.

Apparently neither of them had been made aware that in 2002 the Minnesota legislature passed a law stating that when a couple divorces each divorced spouse is automatically removed as beneficiary from any legal documents of the other.  It was apparently a surprise to Melin.  She claims that she and Sveen specifically left her as beneficiary on that policy partly because they were still friends and partly because the payments were made from their joint account.  However, the stepchildren claimed the money was theirs, based on this law.

The trial court agreed with the stepchildren, the Circuit Court overturned in favor of the divorced spouse, and the Supreme Court has just restored the original judgment.  Women’s groups are aghast, and Melin appears to have been cheated of her reasonably expected benefit by the stroke of a legislative pen of which she had no notice.

Justice Gorsuch is on the side of the women.  He says that there is absolutely no way that the application of this law in this situation can survive even modest scrutiny under the Contracts Clause of the United States Constitution.

The Contracts Clause appears in Article I Section 10 Clause 1.  It reads “No State shall enter into any Treaty, Alliance, or Confederation; grant Letters of Marque and Reprisal; coin Money; emit Bills of Credit; make any Thing but gold and silver Coin a Tender in Payment of Debts; pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility.”  The critical point is the “Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts”.  Everyone agrees that this was because early state legislatures were often passing private legislation excusing influential citizens of debts to foreign creditors, and the Federal government (particularly the Federalist party) saw the danger that such unilateral cancelations of loan contracts would impede much-needed foreign capital investment in the new nation.

Gorsuch agrees that it would be possible for Minnesota to pass such a law which going forward impacted future insurance contracts.  That is, once the law is on the books it is presumed that anyone buying a life insurance contract is made aware that divorce will alter the beneficiary status, because the law exists.  However, the point of the Contracts Clause is to prevent states from altering contracts retroactively–that is, whatever Sveen believed he was contracting at the time he purchased the policy is what Sveen should get, and that means that since he named Melin as beneficiary and had no notice at the time that this would be changed without his knowledge or explicit consent, he should get what the contract says, and that means his primary beneficiary Melin should receive the proceeds.

Justice Kagan, writing for the 8-member majority, disagrees.  She says that the State is simply creating by law what it perceives to be the normal expectation of divorcees, that if they have failed to remove their divorced spouse as beneficiary on their policies it is undoubtedly an oversight.  Melin’s claims to the contrary in this case are immaterial, and the law certainly permitted Sveen to contact his insurer and reinstate his divorced wife as beneficiary, so it was a simple matter to correct.  Indeed, had the life insurance policy been included in the divorce settlement decree, that would have overridden the effect of the law.  Further, Sveen has lost nothing because the insurance policy was paid to his contingent beneficiaries; he has gotten what he wanted.  No significant term of the policy was altered.

If that sounds like garbage to you, it did to Gorsuch, too.  Even the majority admits that the beneficiary is a significant part of the contract, and Gorsuch would say the most significant part.  There was evidence that Sveen did not “change” the policy to “restore” the initial primary beneficiary because he was unaware that any such change was necessary–his copies named Melin, and Melin’s testimony suggests that this was what he wanted.  The notion that failing to remove a divorced spouse as beneficiary would be a simple oversight but that failing to restore such a spouse to that position without any notice that it had changed could not possibly be an oversight is completely incomprehensible.

However, even the dissent agrees that laws such as the one in Minnesota can affect subsequently purchased policies and trusts and similar financial instruments, and the majority has stated that they can be retroactive.  Quite a few states have such laws, which are an ordinary part of state regulation of the interpretation of the intent of a decedent where any point is unclear.

Thus the short version is this warning:  if you have gotten divorced and you have any legal instruments by which one spouse has named the other as beneficiary, and these have not been specifically assigned in the divorce decree, check to be sure that these will be treated according to your expectations and not cancelled by a state law of which you are unaware which is attempting to enforce what the legislature presumes is your actual intent despite your contractual statement otherwise.

#254: Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #254, on the subject of Miscellaneous Early Christian Bands.

There were probably more Christian bands back then than anyone remembers, although not nearly so many as there are today.  I’m going to hit a few that were perhaps more obscure and less remembered.  These are perhaps awkwardly sequenced, because they don’t make a lot of sense grouped together anyway.

Let’s start with a fellow named Lewis McVay, because I remembered the title and cover of his album, Spirit of St. Lewis.  I remember thinking at the time that it was clever.  Today I recognize none of the tracks titles, but listening I immediately recognize Lost But Not Forgotten, which must be the one we played most, but I also remember Sit Down.

The reason he’s mentioned here, though, is because in looking for him, I discovered that he had been an original member of a band called Mustard Seed Faith, which was one of those bands I’d heard existed but about whom I never heard anything more.  Hearing them now I would say they had a light pop sound, at least as far as the tracks surviving on the Internet indicate.  As I was researching other bands, I also discovered that there was someone in the same band named Oden Fong, and the tracks I hear from him were quite a bit beyond the Christian rock of the day, and I’m disappointed that I never heard of him back then.

There was also a band that released several albums in the 70s, of which we had the one called Love Note.  Honestly I probably would have forgotten this band entirely were it not for my memory of a name.  I recently heard a DJ (Rudy on the Radio on Lift-FM) say that he was playing a song from Steven Curtis Chapman’s first album released in 1989, and I knew it had to be wrong.  I remember nothing about Steven Curtis Chapman but that we were sent something about or by him by early 1984 (when I left the station), and I spent quite a bit of time trying to determine whether this was the Steve Chapman who was in Dogwood and who subsequently released several albums with his wife under the moniker Steve and Annie Chapman, of which again we had one which I think was the original self-titled one and is completely forgotten.  I can’t find any evidence of a Steven Curtis Chapman as early as that, but I do see albums in 87 and 88, so he was certainly around before 1989; I am persuaded that he is a different person from the other Steve Chapman.

I want to mention a band called Jerusalem, not merely because their logo looks familiar so I must have seen one of their albums, but because the tracks I’ve heard on the web are very good, and for another reason as well.  There is a group on Facebook that insists there was no Christian Heavy Metal music until Stryper appeared in 1984.  I never heard Stryper; they were a rumor when I left the station that year.  I also admit to having no clue exactly what distinguishes heavy metal–I’ve never heard more than a few hits (and see the Petra article about hits) from Metallica or AC/DC, and don’t know their sound.  However, in reading about Jerusalem I find reviewers from 1976 identifying them as a “Swedish heavy metal Christian band”.  So maybe the reviewers were wrong, but at least there’s some evidence of Christian metal prior to Stryper.

Finally, my researches recalled to my attention Sweet Comfort Band, which did a smooth mellow jazz rock sound in the cuts I remember.  Looking at their album covers, I remember more than one disk, and several titles from their discography bring songs back to mind, such as I Love You With My Life, I Need Your Love Again and Got to Believe from their Breakin’ the Ice LP.  I feel like I should remember songs from Hold On Tight, but none of them sound familiar other than the finale More Than You Need.

There were a lot of other bands, and some of them are still on the list ahead.  This gives some idea of the variety of what was out there.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246: The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.
  11. #252: Petra Means Rock.

#253: Political Messages at Polling Places

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #253, on the subject of Political Messages at Polling Places.

You may have heard that the Supreme Court, in a 7-2 decision, struck down Minnesota’s law forbidding the wearing of anything “political” when you go to the polling place to vote.

One of the appellants was turned away from voting for wearing a shirt like this.

The case is Minnesota Voters Alliance et all. v. Mansky et al., and continuing his interest in leaving a mark on I Amendment law, Chief Justice John Roberts wrote the majority opinion.  The law is a fairly common sort, the court identifying thirty-six other states and the District of Columbia as having similar laws.  In New Jersey we have N. J. Stat. Ann. §19:34–19 Insignia at polls

19:34-19. No person shall display, sell, give or provide any political badge, button or other insignia to be worn at or within one hundred feet of the polls or within the polling place or room, on any primary, general or special election day or on any commission government election day, except the badge furnished by the county board as herein provided.

A person violating any of the provisions of this section shall be guilty of a disorderly persons offense.

It does not appear that the New Jersey law would withstand the scrutiny of this case, because of the problem the majority had with the use of the word “political”.  That word, it argued, was too broad; and when they questioned the State’s attorney at oral argument it became more problematic.  An NRA shirt would always be banned, but a Rainbow flag shirt would only be banned if there were an issue of gay rights on the ballot.  A shirt displaying the text of the I Amendment (freedom of speech, press, religion, and association) would always be permissible, but one with the text of the II Amendment (right to bear arms) would always be excluded.  Guidelines issued by the State to polling place judges did not, in the Court’s view, clarify the matter.

Justice Sotomayer dissented, joined by Justice Breyer.  Their objection could be summarized as stating that the decision is premature, that they should not have decided the case but deferred it to the Minnesota State Supreme Court.  The majority claimed that they could not imagine any interpretation of the law as written that would pass muster with its concerns, but the dissent said that in matters of state law that have not yet been interpreted by the state, it is if not normal at least common for the Supreme Court to ask the State’s highest court to provide its understanding of the law, and then determine whether that understanding passes constitutional muster.  This law has been in place for over a century, dating back to the end of the nineteenth century when polling places were often filled with hecklers and vote privacy was minimal.  Until this case (seven years ago) it has never been challenged and no one had been prosecuted for violating it, nor had anyone been refused the right to vote.  It probably has been applied reasonably, even if the Supreme Court doesn’t know how, and an opinion from the State courts would have been an appropriate step before striking down such a long-established statute.

There’s a solid argument there, but the majority apparently didn’t believe the State court could provide a viable response and didn’t wish to delay the matter.

Thus there is a good chance that whatever rule your state has regarding wearing political messages to the polling place has just been ruled unconstitutional.

#252: Petra Means Rock

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #252, on the subject of Petra Means Rock.

There will be quite a few links in this article, because despite the fact that my view of this band was limited to a very small fraction of the time they were playing, I heard a great many excellent songs from them.  They were not the rockiest band out there, but they were among the best.

I know I saw their first reported self-titled album, probably the year it was released or the year after while I was in college.  I’m not sure whether I ever heard it, but I knew they were about as cutting edge a rock band as was found in Christian music in the early 1970s.  It was in a sense their Washes Whiter Than album which reached us at the radio station not long after my arrival which introduced me to the band, and taught me something about radio airplay and the music industry.

When I was in high school, maybe even before that, people would say to me about The Doors that if the only songs of theirs I’d ever heard were their radio hits, I didn’t know what they sounded like.  At the time I thought this stupid.  After all, wouldn’t a band’s best songs be their hits, and wouldn’t those best songs be the best examples of their sound?  However, although the album was a collection of guitar, keyboard, and vocal-driven rock songs, the cut that got the airplay was Why Should the Father Bother?, a wonderful song built on three voices, three acoustic guitars, a string section, and subdued instruments–something that could be played by any Christian radio station in the country that could play The Gaithers.

I didn’t get it then, but they repeated the trick with their next album, Never Say Die, whose title song was a pop-rock piece, and which featured such rock songs as Chameleon, Angel of Light, Killing My Old Man, Without Him We Can Do Nothing–all mellower in the studio than they are in live videos–but the song that got the airplay was again a quiet piece, the opener of the album, almost a children’s song in its sound and structure, Coloring Song.

That’s when I got it.  Most of the songs Petra played would never have gotten airplay on most of the Christian radio stations at the time.  Yet each album had one song heavily promoted by the record companies for airplay on all those stations, and that way Petra fans who listened to these mellow stations as the default option for Christian music would learn that there was a new Petra album and would go find it.  They refined the trick with the next album, in which the title song itself, More Power To Ya, was the gentle guitar vocal and keyboards piece that got the broad airplay, and the album itself continued to push the envelope with songs like Stand Up, Second Wind, Rose Colored Stained Glass Windows, Run for the Prize, and Judas Kiss.

In the opening seconds of Judas Kiss the band included a bit of a joke.  At the time, a lot of Christians had found a new way to attack rock music, claiming that if you played the records backwards you could hear satanic messages in the vocals.  The idea was so ridiculous that everyone was joking about it.  One comedian claimed that he played a Black Sabbath album backwards and it said “Praise Jesus” and “Glory to God”.  Petra contributed to this by recording and reversing the words, “What are you lookin’ for the devil for when you oughta be lookin’ for the Lord?” in the first seconds of that track.

I’m afraid that by the time their next album, Not of This World, reached the radio station I was already handing the reins to my replacement, and I never heard the disk.  However, Petra has produced twenty albums, two of them in Spanish, and although they officially disbanded in 2006 they kept reuniting to produce a bit more and play another concert.

They were one of the greats, and I still listen to them today; but they weren’t my favorite, I think.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244: Missed The Archers.
  8. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.
  10. #250:  Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.

#251: Voter Unregistration Law

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #251, on the subject of Voter Unregistration Law.

As I was reading the majority opinion of Husted, Ohio Secretary of State v. A. Philip Randolph Institute et al., 584 U. S. ____ (2018), I wondered how anything so obvious could possibly have been a controversial five-to-four decision along ideological lines.

Then I read the dissent, and realized that this was not a simple case, and it is not a mystery why it kept flip-flopping its way up the ladder to the Supreme Court.  Ultimately, though, it comes down to whether when we read the statute we read it as and or or.

Here’s the background.  Prior to 1993–which for some of you seems like ancient history, but is really not that long ago–state governments had a lot of ways of removing voters from the registration lists so that they couldn’t vote.  One of the most egregious was that if you missed an election one year the system concluded that you had either moved or died, and removed your name from the lists with the result that if you arrived the next year you would discover that you weren’t registered and couldn’t vote.  To remedy this, the Clinton administration passed the National Voter Registration Act (NVRA), which both required states to maintain current voter registration lists (which included removing ineligible voters) and limited how they could remove persons from the list.  It was tweaked a bit in 2002 when Bush (the second Bush) signed the Help America Vote Act (HAVA), which attempted to clarify some of the statements in the previous law.  Ohio has a system which it maintains is consistent with the requirements of those laws, by which it removes persons from the voter lists based on a multi-step process.  The majority agrees; the dissent disagrees.

It will help significantly to look at the statutes themselves, large portions of which Justice Breyer appends to his dissenting opinion.

The focus of discussion begins with §8(b) of the NVRA

Any State program or activity to protect the integrity of the electoral process by ensuring the maintenance of an accurate and current voter registration roll for elections for Federal office—

(2)

shall not result in the removal of the name of any person from the official list of voters registered to vote in an election for Federal office by reason of the person’s failure to vote.

The HAVA modifies that to say solely by reason of the person’s failure to vote, probably because of confusion with §8(d).  That section lays out a somewhat complicated process for verifying that a voter has moved out of the voting district in which he is registered.  The simple way is for the registrant to confirm in writing that he has moved.  The law recognizes that a lot of people won’t do that, and so provides an alternate method involving sending (by forwardable mail) a postpaid return card which permits the recipient to respond confirming that he still lives at the stated address or that he does not.  If the card is returned, the registrar of voters accepts the statement as true and the matter is resolved.  If the card is not returned and the voter does not vote in the next two federal elections he may be removed from the list.  (Federal elections occur every other year because terms for The House of Representatives are two-year terms.)

At issue is under what circumstances such a card can be sent.  §8(c) specifies that if the state obtains change of address information from the Post Office, it must verify that information by following the procedure just outlined.  However, §6(d) specifies that the same confirmation process should be used if voter registration materials are sent to a registrant by non-forwardable mail and are returned as undeliverable.  It thus appears that there is more than one way by which the registrar of voters might have reason to believe that a voter has left the voting district, triggering the §8(d) process.

Here is where it gets tricky.

Ohio’s system works like this.  If a registered voter fails to vote for two consecutive years, or to engage in any other voter-related activity such as signing petitions, a forwardable post-paid return card is sent to that voter’s registered address.  If the card is returned, that’s the end of the matter.  If the the card is not returned, Ohio gives four additional years (covering at least two Federal elections at least one of which is a Senate race and one a Presidential race) to vote or engage in other voter activity, after which the non-voting voter is removed from the voter registration list.

The majority says that this is a reasonable method, perfectly in keeping with §8(d).  The failure to vote alerts the registrar of voters that this person might not live here anymore, and because the person fails to respond to the return card confirming their presence and at least two additional Federal elections pass in which they do not vote, they can be removed.  The majority takes the language in §8(b)(2) to put an end to the practice of removing voters solely for failure to vote by requiring the confirmation process of §8(d).  They note that some states send such cards regularly or randomly to confirm addresses, and Ohio’s system complies with their understanding of the §8(d) process.

The dissent says that such cards are for confirmation of information gained by some other means, such as from the Post Office (§8(c)) or through a different mailing verification process (§6(d)).  They assert that the point of §8(b)(2), that no one should be removed soley for failure to vote, means that failure to vote cannot be the trigger to send the returnable card.  They claim that the §8(d) confirmation process must be triggered by something other than failure to vote.

Perhaps the strongest point in favor of the dissent’s position is that one of the stated purposes of these two laws is to increase voter registration and prevent eligible voters from being removed from the list inappropriately.  The fact that someone doesn’t vote for a couple years does not mean they are no longer in residence in the district, and the fact that they fail to return a postpaid card confirming that they are present is not a particularly telling confirmation of anything.  As the dissent argues, the majority of people probably won’t bother returning such a card.

The majority points to the statute on that, noting that both the Federal legislature and the State of Ohio believed that the non-return of such a card would be an adequate indicator that the person has moved.  The argument is that a person who does not vote and does not return the card is not being removed “solely” for failing to vote, but for failing to vote over the course of six years and failing to return a confirmation card.  The question is whether the state can send the confirmation card based on two years of failure to vote, or whether that constitutes removing them “solely” for failing to vote.

In favor of the majority, though, if §8(b)(2) means what the dissent claims it means, it is poorly worded.  The majority reading is not at all awkward or implausible, and the Ohio system appears to fit the §8(d) requirements with room to spare.  Despite the ranting of the minority, the majority opinion does seem the more natural reading of the text.

The upshot is that the Ohio system stands, and many other states with similar systems will not be challenged.  Removal from the voter rolls solely for failure to vote is not permitted, but it can be the trigger that leads to an inquiry by mail as to whether the voter still lives in the district.

#250: Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #250, on the subject of Original Worship Leader Ted Sandquist.

The peculiar thing about Christian rock music in the 1970s is that it was almost all evangelistic.  As I noted before, during the Jesus Movement if you were a musician it was assumed God had called you to be an evangelist, or at least to play at evangelistic rallies to attract unbelievers to hear the message.

Today the expectation is entirely different.  We expect our musicians to lead worship.  It doesn’t even occur to us that this puts them squarely in the realm of pastoral ministry, but helping people approach God is the task of pastors, and that’s what worship leaders do.  In the seventies we didn’t really have these–even Chuck Girard’s previously mentioned Sometimes Alleluia isn’t really so much a worship song as a song about worship, an instructional as it were.  Yet one person appeared on the scene who understood that not all music ministry was evangelistic, who led worship and who wrote and recorded songs that were focused on worship.  His name was Ted Sandquist.

Sandquist was a leader in a community that had its own place in the history of the Jesus Movement, The Love Inn in Freeville, New York.  One of the other leaders there was Scott Ross, who as a radio disk jockey came out of the drug culture into being an evangelist, reaching into schools as part of an anti-drug program.  Guitarist Phil Keaggy (still to come in our series) was also there for a time.  It was something of a community or possibly commune dedicated to the pursuit of Christian faith and practice, something like a modern version of a monastery but without the gender restrictions.  Its very name hints at the connection between the hippie movement and the subsequent Jesus movement.

I mentioned having heard Sandquist and spoken with him after a concert he and Keaggy did somewhere in north Jersey; those comments are mentioned in web log post #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, and are what I most remember about him.  However, I was exposed to his album of the time, The Courts of the King, and remember Lion of Judah from it.  He was accompanied by the people at Love Inn.  I sang and played his song All That I Can Do many times before I recognized that the melody came from another famous bit of worship music (I have since wondered whether he or anyone else ever realized it).

Yet the best song I ever heard from Ted Sandquist goes by several names.  I knew it as Eternally Grateful, but I see online that it was also known as I Am Grateful, I Am, You Are Messiah, You Are, and I Am Eternally Grateful.  It was co-written with Keaggy–and there is not a single copy of this song anywhere online that I can find.  It was released on his 1984 album Let the Whole Earth Be Filled, but Jeff Zurheide and I were singing it at least a decade before that.  Its absence from the web is a serious loss to Christian worship music.

*****

The series to this point has included:

  1. #232:  Larry Norman, Visitor;
  2. #234:  Flip Sides of Ralph Carmichael;
  3. #236:  Reign of the Imperials;
  4. #238:  Love Song by Love Song.
  5. #240:  Should Have Been a Friend of Paul Clark.
  6. #242:  Disciple Andraé Crouch.
  7. #244:  Missed The Archers.
  8. #246:  The Secular Radio Hits.
  9. #248:  The Hawkins Family.

#249: A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #249, on the subject of A 2018 AnimeNEXT Adventure.

Last year in An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience I reflected on being a guest of the convention–a minor guest, listed as staff, but brought there because as a role playing game designer I hopefully add something to the experience of convention goers.  I’m looking at it through a different lens this time, hoping to give something of my own experience.

I suppose the story really starts months ago.  Last summer, shortly after my guest appearance at AnimeNEXT, I was hospitalized for emergency surgery and lost quite a bit of time recuperating.  Complicating it greatly, two days after I was hospitalized my wife fell and broke a hip and a foot, and was also hospitalized for emergency surgery followed by extended rehabilitation.  In what would have been a comedy of errors had it not been so serious, three of our sons were working at cross purposes trying to resolve issues with the house so that we would be able to maneuver in it while convalescing, with wheelchair and walker and such, and when I came home in the middle of this it was in an uproar.  I don’t know that I contributed much to it, but after perhaps a week my wife came home, and I was there for a few days helping her get settled before I returned to the hospital for another couple weeks and she was struggling to get along without me with the help of two of those boys and a neighbor friend of theirs.  We took a long time to convalesce, and things are still not entirely normal–which meant, among other things, that I had serious doubts about whether I would be able to get to the convention myself, and whether she would be able to manage without me for a few days.  She still doesn’t drive, even though she’s back to work, so I have to drive her.

I’m not sure whether it was the last week of April or the first week of May, but one night when I drove my wife to work the most reliable car we have broke down, and that put a dent in our transportation.  I had one of my sons pick me up, and used a different car in the morning to retrieve my wife from work, and AAA towed the car to the nearest AAA approved service station, which happened to be a few blocks from home, which was quite convenient since work is fifty miles away.  I was beginning to worry that I wasn’t going to make it.

Why should I worry?  Well, if you read the aforementioned linked article, you know that I was present in 2014 and 2017, but that in 2015 and 2016 last-minute disasters prevented my attendance.  I thought we were potentially facing another, particularly since one of the cars on which we rely belongs to a son who spends the school year driving around the country in a company car and then uses his car, which is legally my car so that he doesn’t have to pay insurance and garage fees during most of the year just to have it, for the summer.  So I was anticipating losing a car, on an uncertain date, complicating transportation further.

Then a few weeks prior to the convention I ran out of printer ink.  I was in the middle of printing the first draft of the next novel for online publication, and I’m collaborating with someone on this one, so an exchange of printed pages has been part of the process.  Printer ink might not be that important, but it is important, and with the car in the shop (for the entire month) and an expected cost estimated with a variable of about two hundred dollars more or less, I had to be careful about spending money.  HP makes a reliable all-in-one printer which I’ve been using for near a couple decades now, but they have a policy of underpricing their printers and then overpricing their ink cartridges.  Complicating it further, apparently the cartridge mine uses has become less commonly used, so that it wasn’t on the shelf at my local Walmart when I finally decided I needed to buy one.  The convention was two weeks away, and I went online and found a place that sold their own replacement cartridges, and ordered some.  They arrived about a week before the convention–and two out of two black cartridges were defective, in different ways.

I will credit SwiftInk for great customer service.  Their online help gave me suggestions for trying to make them work (cleaning the contacts), and when these failed promised to ship replacements immediately, which they did.  Unfortunately, those replacements did not arrive until after the convention began, so I had no print capability.

If somehow you don’t know, I go to conventions to run Multiverser, the roleplaying game I co-authored with E. R. Jones.  I take a stack of books; they’re out of print, and I don’t have any copies of the rules other than my own, but I have several of the world books and a couple others.  I also have a small (probably twenty-two pocket) file case in which I have a lot of papers, including unpublished worlds that I use, worksheets for magic skills, and on-the-fly character creation papers.  As noted, last year when I returned from the convention there was a lot happening, and I wound up hospitalized not too long thereafter, and never gave another thought to those books and papers.  At least they got put away–the suitcase that I used was left in the living room until one of my sons decided to move it outside to get it out of the way, and when I found it this year it was ruined.  It went through my head a couple times in the hectic days before the convention that I ought to find the books and papers and make sure I had everything, but then part of me was uncertain I was going to go at all, and part of me recognized that if I didn’t have printouts of the needed papers there wasn’t anything I could do about it anyway, not having printer ink.

Complicating it further, as the date approached it became known that my wife, who works alternate weekends, would be working that weekend.  At first I thought that was the kibosh, but I realized after mulling on it for a few days that the convention started early Friday, with staff arriving starting Thursday night, and ran through Sunday morning; Sunday was the quiet day, generally.  If I could check in on Thursday night I could be active on Friday and up until lunchtime Saturday, get home in time to get organized and have my wife at work Saturday night.  I was not able to get confirmation for that from, well, anyone anywhere, but it became my plan, at any rate.

Transportation was settled a couple days in advance.  The car that was in the shop was going to be finished that Thursday, and my son whose car it is and I would retrieve it and bring it home.  He and his wife were interested in playing at the convention, so they were going to drive me in and back; as it turned out she was feeling ill the day I had to go, but he still did the driving for me (again, thank you).  He dropped me at Bally’s, where I was billeted, and I told him to stay in Atlantic City until he heard from me in case something went wrong.

Something did go wrong, but first I stood on line for probably half an hour.  I was very irked when a young and not unattractive girl took advantage of the attentions of a young man to cut in line right in front of me, but stifled my passive-aggressive tendencies and waited until it was my turn.  Then they asked for my ID.  I had not driven myself to Atlantic City, and I did not have a current copy of my license on my person.  With all the hospital visits and doctor offices wanting my ID, it got separated from my wallet and I wasn’t carrying it.  I had two older licenses, but the hotel would not accept these despite the fact that they were photo IDs, because they had expired.  They were not unsympathetic, and attempted to call the person running housing for the convention, Connie Ngo, but Connie didn’t answer her phone.  I was stuck.  I couldn’t keep my driver in the city all night, but I couldn’t send him away without knowing I had a room.  I texted him to return to get me, and started toward the exit; but I remembered that I had Connie on Messenger (because I had wanted to confirm that there would be no problem with checking in on Thursday night), so I messaged her.  She responded to the message and called the desk clerk, and I was approved and given a room key.

We were four to a room, technically, but only one of my roommates had arrived, and one had had to cancel at the last minute, and the remaining one I did not see until Friday night.  My roommate introduced himself by first name only, and I admit that it takes me several tries to learn names, and I only saw him awake one other time when I was barely so myself.  He offered a variety of snacks he brought from home.  I stuck one of the two key cards they had given me in a pocket and tossed the folder containing the other on the dresser, and never saw it again, but I slept with the card in my pajama pocket and kept track of it all day (I have this freaky thing about losing keys).  I laid claim to one of the beds and slept until morning.

At this point I’ll say a few words about the hotel.  I was in the Sheraton last year.  The room at Bally’s was considerably nicer.  I think the room itself was larger, and it had a couch large enough for a bed in addition to the two beds (and the first roommate had brought his own cot) so we didn’t have to share.  The bathroom is larger, with a large shower stall.  I had some concern that there were no safety railings inside the shower (I’m getting old, and am not always completely steady on my feet), but that’s often the case.  The Sheraton, as I recall, had a shower/tub, but I’m a bit tall for most bathtubs and so prefer showers.  It was overall a nice room.  I do not know, however, whether that’s because all the Bally’s rooms are nicer than the Sheraton rooms.  I was in the Garden Tower, and it may be that those are better than the standard rooms.

One thing that bothers me, though, is that if you wanted WiFi you had to pay for it separately.  McDonalds and Walmart can manage to give their customers free WiFi.  I’m not sure why one of the biggest casino hotels in one of the major resort centers in the Western Hemisphere can’t manage such a trivial amenity–but indeed I was reminded that the same rule held at the Sheraton last year.  I’d have used it to watch Netflix on my Kindle, I expect, but I had had the foresight to download a couple things to the Kindle for that purpose in advance, and I could handle Messenger, which I also have on the Kindle, on my phone.

I awoke alone, and had not yet checked in with the convention staff, but I took time for prayer and study and got a shower and a respiratory treatment before packing the essentials and walking the several blocks to the Convention Center.  That is one advantage of staying at the Sheraton:  it is physically attached to the Convention Center, being right across the street and having an enclosed pedestrian bridge between the second floors of each.  That doesn’t mean it’s close–it’s a long walk inside the Sheraton just to get from the rooms to the bridge (there are banquet halls between the two), and I remember lugging my gear using a wheeled cooler as a handtruck and case between the buildings.  I knew that there were free buses between Bally’s and the convention, but that you had to have your convention ID to use them, so the first time I had to walk.  Had I been earlier the night before I could have checked in there, but I was slow packing everything (the suitcase having been ruined, it took a while to settle on a high-quality reusable grocery bag for my clothes) and thought getting into the hotel was more important.  I made the walk to the center and found my way to operations, which was in the same room as last year, and was soon properly badged.  I then found Kat, my boss as head of Tabletop Gaming.  She was telling one of the photographers to get some pictures of how overcrowded the board game room already was on Friday morning, to show that our department could make good use of more space.  I told her I was going to take the Jtney (the bus) back to Bally’s and return with my thirty pound box of books, dice, and game materials, then grab some brunch somewhere.

Time to address the food.  That was an issue last year.  It was considerably better this year.  Instead of providing scheduled meals they gave us eight vouchers, each good for up to fifteen dollars at any of the several food outlets in the Convention Center itself except the Beer Garden.  Breakfast was still a challenge, as reportedly only one of those outlets opened early, and it sold out of breakfast sandwiches quite quickly both days I was there.  I was late enough on Friday that they already had their lunch menu going, and I bought a personal pizza, a cup of coffee, and a single-serve Minute Maid Tropical Blend juice, which was fourteen dollars and change–but hey, they must pay exorbitant rent to have space inside the convention center.  When I got back to the table, though, I already had players waiting, and so I sipped my coffee while running a game for a couple hours, and then when they scattered to other convention attractions I ate a cold pizza with a bottle of juice, and can’t really speak to the quality of the pizza.  The next morning I was earlier; they had gluten free bagels, which I decided not to eat (and was told my someone that this was a good decision), but instead got two cinnamon danishes, a small Jimmy Dean bacon, egg, and cheese biscuit, coffee and juice.

By Friday afternoon I had heard that there was a place to buy food inside the dealer room, so I decided to try that next.  They were a pirate-themed grill, and advertised steak sandwiches and burgers.  I asked for one of their ten dollar bacon sirloin cheeseburgers, and was told that they were out of bacon, so I went with the eight dollar version without bacon, added lettuce, onion, mayonnaise, and catsup, with a bottle of Minute Maid Orange juice and a cup of hot chocolate, self-served.  It was rumored that their fries were good, but at five dollars I could see I wouldn’t be able to buy a drink and stay within the voucher.  Anyway, the burger was large, tasty, and filling, and I went back the next day.  At that point I was preparing to leave the convention, my ride being almost there, and so I spent two vouchers to get two bacon cheeseburgers and one without bacon.  I gave one of the bacon burgers to the son who drove to get me (and he devoured it in the street before we drove away, but said it was really very good, but economical as he is he would not have paid ten dollars for it; I figure that’s a good price for deluxe burgers nowadays, and again they have an incredibly high rent on their space).  I brought the other two home and shared them with my wife, who is not a fan of bacon.  The grill bent over backwards to make it possible for me to transport these, which were usually served in open topped boxes, and should be commended for that.  I left my remaining coupons with Ahmetia, my co-host in the RPG room, figuring she could use them.  Because of the high prices, I often saw people using a fifteen dollar voucher plus a bit of pocket cash to pay for their meals, and while I avoided that I did so partly by not buying some things I might otherwise have eaten.  That’s not a complaint; I tend to overeat anyway, and didn’t really need the fries.

By now I have this entirely out of sequence, but that’s not really a problem.  I’ve left out the games, only hinting at them to this point.  Time to remedy that.

By the time I got to the table with my pizza late Friday morning, Navya and Cory were waiting, and I began the character creation process.  Ahmetia, who has several years of Multiverser play under her belt, is very good at selling people on playing at my table, and Kat reminded me that she played a session at Ubercon a decade ago and thinks it’s a really great game, so I get referrals.  As we were moving forward with their character papers, Johanna arrived and joined us.

You’ll remember I said that the printer mattered.  My On-the-Fly Character Creation system uses four printed sheets on which players record information.  The fourth sheet is the simplest, being there strictly for the world list and stage number.  The third is equipment and the second skills, and of course you can have multiple sheets of skills and equipment.  The first, though, is the most complicated, with name, aliases, attributes, averaged attributes, best relevant attributes, bias levels, weaknesses, and character description all mapped onto a single page–and when I opened my file, I had only the second and third pages printed.

It wasn’t a disaster.  After all, I know what goes on the first page, and I had a couple of yellow pads, so everyone wrote out the first page longhand.  There was a second problem, that I had only one pen, and my first two players had no writing implements; I discovered another, though, an old four-color pen, in the game materials box, and when the third player arrived she had her own.  Not long after that, Ahmetia delivered a handful of pencils and some scrap paper, which was a big help as the weekend continued.  We put together their character papers, started them on the Tropical Island, and got them all gathered together with Michael di Vars, who explained to them what was happening.

I had eight players over the weekend, seven of whom sat and listened to Michael explain that they had died and any time in the future that they die they’ll come back to life in another universe just like this time, and not one of them balked, called him crazy, or demanded proof of this insane explanation.  Ah, well, it’s fun when it happens, but I’m not going to spoil it.  I was working out where each of the original trio was going to go next when they died, but suddenly they all had to run before that occurred, the game ended, and I ate my cold pizza and ran to the loo.

I returned to find Corderro waiting.  We got him up and running on the Tropical Island, and he had a long conversation with di Vars and then asked if the senior verser would be willing to spar a bit in unarmed combat.  As it happens, di Vars is extremely good at many weapons across the technological spectrum, but never really took much interest in unarmed hand-to-hand.  Corderro was high level professional, third degree black belt in a martial arts style.  At hand-to-hand he was fifty percent faster than di Vars with a very slight edge on accuracy, with the result that he outfought the killing machine in two one-minute rounds.  He lasted long enough for the volcano to blow, took a nasty rock to the head, and was out of the world–but also decided to leave the game there.  That’s a bit of a shame, because I knew where I was going to send him.  (Hint:  he has a beard.)

I’ll interrupt this recounting of games to recount the night.  I was the first one back to the room, partly because after seven I figured there was no point in starting a new game, I got and ate the aforementioned cheeseburger, and called it a night.  I moved my box of books to the board game room, which gets locked overnight, and took my bag of personal effects to the Jitney to ride back to the hotel.  I wasn’t up long, taking time to find something innocuous on the television that would lull me to sleep (Transformers, which I’ve seen before), set early alarms, and went to bed.

An hour later I was awakened by banging on the door.  It took a moment to get organized and answer it, and I almost didn’t catch the departing offender, but it was the roommate I’d met accompanied by the roommate I hadn’t met, having gotten themselves locked out.  I let them in and went back to bed, only to have my cell phone ring while I was getting in.  My youngest son, who lives not far from Atlantic City at the moment, had apparently not realized that I was going to be at the convention this weekend, and having failed to get his mother on her phone decided to try mine.  We talked for several minutes, and apart from me suggesting that if he couldn’t reach his mother he should try his brother I don’t remember any of it.  I then settled down to sleep.

Someone silenced the television at some point, but I was asleep by then.  I noticed it in one of my brief periods of overnight awareness.  I think I awoke before my alarm; in any case, I was the first up, and I packed my things, left the room, went back because I realized I’d forgotten my bottle of Barq’s Root Beer and discovered that I’d also forgotten my box of tissues, and then went downstairs and checked out of the hotel.  It was not quite seven thirty, and the buses didn’t run until eight, so I got some prayer and study time on a park bench near the hotel parking garage entrance under the shelter of the building as it poured rain a few dozen feet away.  At eight I walked the short couple blocks to the bus stop, boarded a waiting Jitney, and was soon joined by a crowd of others headed to the convention.  I had promised Kat I would text her when I was up, which I did around seven-thirty but with the caveat that I wasn’t going to get there until the buses started, and she said she was already awake and working on getting the room unlocked.

I put my stuff in the RPG room, but the board game room was still locked; I asked someone working that room to bring my box to me when it became possible, and went to obtain the aforementioned breakfast.  Returning, I did a bit more study while nibbling on part of the breakfast, but then Steven arrived.  I still didn’t have my materials, but there were pencils and pieces of scrap paper on the table, so I set aside my breakfast and attended to starting his character sheet.  The books came, I got him started on the island, and Hannah and Tia arrived.  I had actually bumped into them twice in the halls, and Hannah must look like someone I know because I thought I recognized her, but apparently she’s not who I remembered.  Having met me and introduced themselves, they came to try the game, so I started setting up their papers.  Having finished their first page, I turned to their skills, still juggling Steven through his time on the island, and Austin arrived and joined the character creation process.  I was hitting my stride, though, and got that moving well.  Steven met di Vars, and got a feel for what was happening, but then said he had to leave just about the time I was launching Tia, then Hannah, then Austin.

Austin made a comment about having to leave soon, so I ignored the die roll and had him reach di Vars first.  He decided on cautious discretion, and remained behind the tree line watching.  Tia, second to arrive, decided that she needed help more than caution, and called out, receiving an invitation to join him.  By the time Hannah arrived, she could see Tia sitting by the campfire, and as they were friends before the verse they recognized each other.  Austin left the table, and di Vars explained things to Tia and Hannah, and then before we got much further they, too, said they had to leave.

I feel a bit foolish that I did not mention it to Navya, Cory, and Johanna, but perhaps they’ll find their way here somehow.  Corderro jogged my thinking, so I invited him, Steven, Austin, Hannah, and Tia to continue play on the M. J. Young Net Forum.  I know several of them wrote that down, but as I write this none of them have arrived.  That’s kind of a shame, because I know where I want to send several of them, but we’ll give them some time to find their way.

I’ve got one other aside.  Last year, within minutes of my arrival, I saw a girl in costume who would have made a good picture for my character papers for Lauren Hastings.  She looks a lot like most representations of Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft, so I often find pictures that work.  This year I saw someone, not quite as good but passable, again as I was headed for check-in.  Again I never saw her again.  It prompted my brain, though, to consider that I should look for people who might be suitable images for those character papers.  After all, Slade looks a lot like Thor, I’ve got a couple of American soldiers, someone might come as a sprite which would be good for Derek, Shella is a witch, and I’ve recently added a few characters including a dark-haired Arabian princess.  I saw no one the entire time who fit any of these images.  It was a bit disappointing in that regard, but then I’m not all that well versed in anime and recognized very few of the characters I did see.  Someone was Deadpool.  That’s about it.

When I got home, the household was hoping that since I had left the convention already I could run a game for them.  I somewhat wearily with apologies explained that the reason I was home was because I had to get some sleep and do the work driving that night, and then tackled what had to be done to be ready for that.

I must also thank Kate and Tris for holding down the kitchen in my absence.

Here’s hoping that I can do another convention next year, if not sooner.  I don’t know that I would say I have fun, but it is a high point in my time to be reminded that people like the game, even if it didn’t sell terribly well.

I think that about covers it all.  Thanks for reading, and thanks again to the convention for inviting me again.  Here’s hoping that I was not more trouble than I’m worth, and perhaps there will be another invitation next year.  It’s an interesting way to spend my birthday weekend.