All posts by M.J.

#207: The Gender Identity Trap

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #207, on the subject of The Gender Identity Trap.

What if it were really true,
Most girls like pink, most boys like blue?
Just what would color mean to you?

We live in a world filled with gender expectations.  Call them stereotypes if you like, but it goes deeper than that.  We have persuaded ourselves that girls, and women, have a certain inherent character that causes them to be interested in specific kinds of things, and that boys, and men, are similarly innately interested in a different set of things.

We can explore these with what we might call common sense wisdom and observation.  Boys tend to be athletic, and competitive.  We want to prove ourselves the strongest, fastest, toughest.  We communicate with our fists, and the emotions we are willing to show are all what might be called “hard” emotions–anger, jealousy, pride.  Girls, meanwhile, tend to be nurturing, interested in exploring relationships, in caring for those younger or weaker than themselves.  They are articulate creatures, talking even when no one listens, and they display the “soft” emotions–sympathy, affection, sadness.

Balderdash.

I don’t want to argue against the scientific work that has been done in this area.  Sociobiologist E. O. Wilson and his ilk make a potent argument for an evolutionary basis for gender differences, that women favor those qualities that enable them to manage child care and foraging while the men are better suited to hunting.  One does not need to be a religious person to believe that we are male and female, and that these are different.  However, I raise two objections to this concept.

The first can be stated as that generalizations are always false (including this one).  There are many men who have never been interested in sports, who have never been physically competitive or athletic, who have abandoned physical violence as a means of conflict resolution, and who are willing to let their softer emotions show and who are nurturing and caring.  There are similarly many women who are athletic and competitive, sometimes violent, sometimes violently angry.  When we identify traits as specifically masculine or specifically feminine, we are making a generalization, drawing conclusions from what we might call the “center of the bell curve”–most men have this trait, more or less, although some have it to an extreme while others seem to be lacking it entirely.  You will find men who are not at all “manly” in the stereotypical sense, and women who similarly break the mold that defines the feminine.

The second objection, though, is that these cannot truly be used to define what it is to be male or female, a man or a woman, and for a very simple reason:  we do not really know which ones are innate, or to what degree, versus which ones are learned, and to what degree.  Some little girls easily learn to play with guns and toy soldiers, while others put the guns aside and treat the soldiers like children in a schoolroom or nursery.  Some boys have no trouble playing with dolls or appreciating cute figurines, while others are ready to turn even Precious Moments figurines into combat-ready mechas.  When we have a quality that is generally true of a group, we always find that it is not universally true of the group, and even among those for whom it is true, it is true to varying degrees.  No quality is universally true of any group, unless it is itself a mandatory definitional quality of that group.  Not all those of African descent have dark skin–there are negro albinos born in some families.

We opened this with a question of color preferences–pink or blue.  Through most of the twentieth century, blue was the color for boys and pink for girls.  We might think that inherent in gender identity, as it was so common and still is generally thought to be the preference.  However, in the late nineteenth century it was quite opposite.  Blue was considered a pacifistic color, appropriate for girls, while pink was aggressive, the right color for the nursery of a male infant to encourage his masculine aggressiveness.  The matter of the right color for girls or boys proves to be entirely cultural.  We only think it innate, because it is our culture, and we are immersed in it.

Herein lies the problem of gender identity.  We have become persuaded that it is possible, first, for someone who is really, personality-wise, one gender to be born in a body exhibiting the opposite sex.  However, our conception of what constitutes the appropriate personality for a gender is constructed entirely of generalizations and cultural notions.  A boy who does not like sports is not internally a girl, any more than a girl who does like them must be internally a boy.  Whether boys play with dolls or girls with guns is in part innate, but it is also culturally learned to some degree, and a child who exhibits culturally opposite gender preferences in play is not the opposite gender, but a unique individual with unusual interests.

When people come to believe that they are the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, it is because they have been persecuted into thinking that if they really were a person of the sex they appear to be then they would have different preferences, different abilities, different qualities than they do.  We are taught, incorrectly, to think that the generalities are the definition, and that those who do not fit into the cultural expectations are aberrant.

So be aberrant.  Buck the expectations.  Be yourself, and embrace who you are as a whole person, inside and out.  I am a man.  That I raise my children and do the cooking and a certain amount of the housework and sewing and such, and that I disdain sports and physical competition, does not make me less a man or more a woman; it makes me a unique individual.  The girl who is an Olympic track star, who is competitive at the highest level of athleticism, is not therefore less a girl, less a woman; she is a unique individual, a woman with qualities that are less common in women.  Be who you are, inside and out, and don’t let anyone persuade you that anything about you was made wrong.  No one is the wrong sex on the outside for their gender on the inside, except those who foolishly let popular culture dictate who they should be instead of simply being who they are.

#206: Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #206, on the subject of Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus.

I realized that the premise of this movie was absurd enough that it was probably not going to be a serious time travel film.  Found on Netflix, the blurb simply said that Christopher Columbus arrives in Kolkata, India in the present, where two young men seek his advice in their own searches for success.

What was not evident, though, was that the movie itself was not intended to be absurd nor even comedic, and it might not involve time travel at all.  It is an Indian movie, viewed with subtitles.

Apart from the intrepid explorer himself, who plays a significant role in the story, our primary characters are called Sam and Ray.

Sam has a longer more ethnic name, but he shortened it and cut all ties with his family eight years before the story opens.  He is reasonably successful as a radio disk jockey (an “RJ” in the parlance of the film), but wants to be a musical recording artist.  To this end, he has begun dating an entirely self-absorbed girl solely because her father is wealthy enough to finance the production of an album for him–despite the fact that he has a very close relationship with a girl who adores him.

Ray is a corporate office worker who writes short stories in what little spare time he has, and wants to succeed as a writer, but with mixed objectives he also wants a promotion up the corporate ladder.  His complication is that he is clearly attracted to a girl who is his superior, perhaps supervisor, in the company, and she to him, but although he would like to pursue a relationship he is too concerned about persuading her to pull some strings to get him promoted.

One day the two young men are riding in the back seat of a car driven by one of their friends when they almost hit a man, maybe sixty or so from appearance, dressed in Italian Renaissance clothing.  They are curious and engage him in conversation, and he claims to be Christopher Columbus, the discoverer of America, or at least of quite a few islands off its coast.  Then when he swoons (and hey, wearing all that heavy warm clothing in India, it’s surprising he lasted as long as he did) they catch him, bundle him into their car, and then debate whether to take him to a hospital or take him to their home to see if he can help them find success.

That is certainly the theme of the film, that everyone is exploring, searching for something.  Columbus believes himself to be the greatest explorer, and wants to help people find what they seek, so he becomes involved in advising the boys on reaching their goals.  It is genuinely interesting, if you aren’t stymied by the slow pace, but it is not the point of our investigation.

At this point we have three plausible understandings of who this person might be.  He might, of course, be some crazy person who believes himself to be Christopher Columbus, memorized much of his history from available sources such as Wikipedia, and dresses and acts the part.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus, rumors of his death having been greatly exaggerated, still alive half a millennium later.  He might be the real Christopher Columbus leaping across time to the present.

When the film is rising to its climax the first of those is knocked out of consideration, as fifteenth century Portuguese explorer Bartholomew Diaz (first man to navigate around the southern tip of Africa to reach India by water) shows up at the apartment looking for Columbus, saying that the latter gave him the address and asked him to bring a hammock so he could sleep better.  It appears that they are genuinely who they claim to be, despite the weak explanations for their fluency in the local language and somewhat native appearance.

However, Diaz explains that he has been living in South Africa in recent years, along with Gandhi, and that suggests that they are not time travelers at all.  They simply are the continuations of their original selves from years before, still alive after their deaths.

That may be the significance here.  In the closing scene, two other young men are asked for help by someone in a military uniform who claims his motorcycle broke down and gives his name as Che Guevara.  In some way, these famous people are still around.

There might be a clue to the author’s intent in the fact that a couple times characters engage in tossing quotations from famous people at each other.  One even comments that if you become famous, silly little things you said become famous quotes.  There is thus a sense in which those famous people are still with us, still influencing us, still in some sense alive in our midst, having a sort of immortality that is manifest within the movie by their corporeal presence.

I had some concern that at some point Columbus might return to the past.  Indeed, there is pressure on him to “go back”.  However, he only returns to his ship, and we can reasonably conclude that he does not travel through time in any way different from the rest of us, he only has continued to do so for five centuries beyond when we thought he died.

So despite the notion of Christopher Columbus appearing in the early twenty-first century, there is no time travel in this one.

I appear to have access to copies of Paradox, Synchronicity, The Man from the Future, and Abby Sen, all of which have strong claims to containing time travel elements.  Watch for posts, either here on the web log or as full page analyses in the Temporal Anomalies in Time Travel Movies section of the site.

#205: Verser Reunion

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #205, on the subject of Verser Reunion.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  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 along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains 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, 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. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99);
  10. #202:  Verser Confrontations (chapters 100 through 110).

This picks up from there, with chapters 111 through 121.

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 111, Hastings 130

I’d been trying to figure out how to bring Derek’s new middle form into view.  I’d been working with the idea of Derek versing in, looking at his new body, finding his equipment, figuring out how big he was, maybe figuring out how to change his size, and then finding Lauren–and it was all too complicated.

This chapter was originally going to be a Brown chapter; I’d even placed the heading on it.  I had figured that I would have Bethany do something very complex involving potions and long rituals to enable Derek to change forms; but suddenly I thought it would work best to have Derek first seen through Lauren’s eyes.  From that, the thought of the wolves asking her to identify a creature for them appealed.  That would happen were he in wolf territory.  He was some distance from his things when he versed out, so trying to reach them would be as good a way as any to bring him through the wolf lands.  The rest was easy.

I really liked the idea of Lauren recognizing Derek as the answer to her prayer.  I’d thought of it when I thought of the prayer.


Chapter 112, Brown 89

I got hung up on the name for a couple hours.  I stumbled on Hoffman pretty much the way Lauren does, although I worked with a Mark Hoffman at the radio station.  Ferris took a lot longer.  I knew a Jeff Ferri in scouts, but didn’t think I could sell that.  Ferris is of course the name of the guy who built the amusement park wheel, as well as the character in a movie, Ferris Bueller.

I had intended for this section to cover the magic of the transformation, but felt it was bogging down.  My concerns at this point are that everyone is a bit slow, and I can’t verse Slade out of his world until I’ve got Lauren caught in combat in hers, and that’s going to be a while, as I have to do the transformation for Derek, cover the stuff about opening the dome, and plan another raid.

The vague reference to Pinocchio was an inspiration at that moment, seeming to be appropriate to the magical setting.


Chapter 113, Slade 86

I took a couple of days to try to piece together what is in essence filler, an effort to move the story forward to the next action scene.  I’m still planning on having him go down fighting, although it occurred to me that I can’t really use the efriit battle because in that case the djinn could have come to this world.  I’m back to a fight with Acquivar, now thinking that he will take advantage of his status and abuse his honor to get back to the palace, where he will fight Slade.  Slade will be clearly superior, but Acquivar’s people will join the fight, and someone will stab him in the back.


Chapter 114, Brown 90

I decided to do the ritual from Derek’s perspective.  It seemed to work best that way.  The three forms are each double/half of each other, which is within the ordinary limits established by the game rules.  In fact, I’d pushed Derek to be a tall sprite at fifteen inches so that I could get a five foot human with only two doublings.


Chapter 115, Hastings 131

I needed to hurry Slade’s story; I wanted him to enter in a fight.  This seemed the best opportunity for a fight.  But that meant I had to push forward through Derek’s information that they had to be at the site to open the dome (a decision that was really necessary to make the war against the vampires last more than a few days) to get to them actually doing it.

I also needed a credible force that would be too much for the three of them, but not so much that the addition of Slade to the mix wouldn’t balance the odds.  I’d established Slade as the better fighter, I thought, so he could more easily take out ghouls with his sword than Lauren could with her martial arts training.  This would work, I thought.


Chapter 116, Slade 87

I needed a setting in which Acquivar might reach the bedroom levels (where Slade’s possessions were) without the alarm having been raised, so that Slade could face him.  Having Slade be the last to bed accomplished that.

I also needed to make some sense of Acquivar’s presence.  I knew pretty much how it was done, but the reader had to get that–and I didn’t see Acquivar stopping to explain.  Thus Slade tells it.  This led to the idea that Acquivar wasn’t going to say much of anything.

At first I’d seen this as a serious fight, but then it occurred to me that it would enhance the battle image of Slade to have him take it very casually for the first few rounds and then, when he got hurt, to finish the game rapidly.  I also needed to have him be hit several times in close succession, so that the amount of damage he might take would be reasonably able to kill him.

I’d also decided to move him to the next “stage” of versing, where you enter limp but can immediately catch yourself.  This would have him in the battle faster than the dream state; and Slade has always been the leader in the versing stages, so that works.


Chapter 117, Brown 91

I hesitated as to whether to tell this part from Derek or Lauren’s perspective.  I went with Derek partly because it was sort of his turn, and partly because he would not know who Slade was.  This gave me the ability to describe Slade anew.

It had been rattling in my head that there were a dozen ways to get that dome closed that got around the security lockouts on the computer.  You could replace the computer with another.  You could cut the computer off and apply power directly to the motors.  Slade would be the perfect person to know how to sabotage the gear mechanism itself, such that it would require major repairs.


Chapter 118, Hastings 132

The part about destroying the gear was carefully considered; the rest was improvised.  I was in part trying to keep the narration flowing reasonably and answer as many problems as I could.  The PR problem struck me somewhat out of the blue.


Chapter 119, Slade 88

My mind has been racing ahead.  Tubrok creates a rapid response team to travel to any part of the world in response to an attack.  Derek says something about the security being a “tough nut to crack”.  Lauren figures out the acorn in time to release Merlin and drive off the attackers.  I had two problems.  One was I didn’t know where this should happen.  The other was that I didn’t want the rest of the book to be one fight after another.  Having Slade and Shella enjoy their hotel room seemed a good buffer for that, particularly as this is Shella’s first visit to someplace not medieval.

At the same time, I couldn’t make it seem too much like a modern hotel, since this is supposed to be the future, even if in some town of which most people have never heard.  Yet I didn’t want to belabor the story with gadgets.  The answer was that Slade didn’t understand much of it himself, so I could be specific enough about things that would be recognizable, and vague about things that wouldn’t be.


Chapter 120, Hastings 133

I pondered this section for a couple of days.  In that time, I changed it from a Brown chapter to a Hastings chapter.  I didn’t want to have to do Derek’s perspective on the security on the computer, and there wasn’t enough to do in front of that to make a preceding chapter.  On the other hand, I wanted to be in Lauren’s mind when she made the connection and released Merlin.

It was also during this time that I realized I could connect Merlin to Omigger.  I was already beginning to sketch this recognition by Shella, which would still be two chapters away.  That meant that Derek would describe what Merlin did, the assault which destroyed or drove away vampires, the introductions, and then Shella using the name, and then I’d shift to Slade.

The magic object is, of course, an unusual design for a nutcracker.  If you saw it next to a bowl of nuts, you’d know what it was in a flash.  Finding it in a drawer of utensils or a box of tools, it would not be at all obvious.


Chapter 121, Brown 92

I wanted to emphasize that the situation was desperate; to do this, I backed up a bit and retold the losing battle through Derek’s eyes.  This also gave me the opportunity to show Merlin completely from the outside, with no connections to who he might be.  I also decided, on the fly, that he shouldn’t kill them all; that was too much power.  The others would finish off the last of them.


This has been the eleventh behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

#204: When the Brakes Fail

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #204, on the subject of When the Brakes Fail.

It happens all the time in movies and television shows:  someone is driving, and someone has sabotaged the car so that the brakes don’t work, and frequently, too, the accelerator gets stuck so that the car is now out of control and headed for a major accident.  I have seen it enough times that what bothers me is the number of ways of slowing or stopping a car that they don’t try.  I have not been in the kind of situation portrayed in these fictions, but I have had brake trouble and have given thought to how to address the kinds of problems so portrayed.  Maybe if those people had considered the possible solutions to the problems before they happened, they would have avoided the life-threatening accident–and perhaps if we talk about the options, you will know what to do if it happens to you.

First, let’s get a few assumptions here.  First, it is unlikely that you will completely lose your brakes without warning, and similarly unlikely that your accelerator will jam; it is thus unlikely, barring sabotage, that both will ever happen at the same time.  Second, you are very unlikely to be the sort of person whom someone would attempt to kill by sabotaging your car.  That’s not to say that no reader of mine is such a person, but it’s a very unlikely sort of way to try to kill someone, and a very small percentage of the population are actually targets of killers, and even fewer of careful conniving killers with clever assassination plans and the mechanical knowledge to so rig a vehicle.  So you should probably assume that if either of these problems ever occurs to you, it is random mechanical failure, not an assassination attempt (don’t be paranoid, and don’t panic).  If both happen together, that’s a different matter, but let’s start with the assumption that only one happens.

Brakes once failed when they got wet.  Modern brakes generally don’t.  However, the regular driving brake on most vehicles is hydraulic (except for large trucks, which use pneumatic brakes because they work better with the trailers).  That means that there is a fluid, a hydraulic oil, in the lines, and pressing the brake pedal compresses the fluid which closes the brake pad creating the friction which slows the car.  Modern anti-lock brakes have a sensing system to prevent wheel lock skidding, but otherwise work much the same.  If air gets in the line, as from a leak, this can malfunction.  For both of these conditions, wet brakes and air in the lines, the first line of defense is to “pump the brakes”, that is, to press and release repeatedly over perhaps ten to fifteen seconds.  This will help dry wet brakes; it will help compress the fluid in hydraulic lines forcing the air out of the system otherwise.

If within ten seconds this is not showing any sign of improvement, the obvious second line of defense which is almost never used in the movies is what is properly called the parking brake but often identified as the emergency brake and in some vehicles the hand brake.  In cars with a center console it is frequently there as a lever that can be pulled up; in other cars, it is often a pedal by the driver’s door.  In both cases the control is ratcheted so that when pulled or pushed it locks into place until the release is pressed or pulled or otherwise activated.  The proper intended use of this brake is to lock the car in place when parked, particularly on slopes.  However, it serves as a secondary brake in an emergency situation.  It uses the same brake pads as the hydraulic brakes (although frequently only the rear brakes), but is connected to them by a cable, not a hydraulic system, and so is effectively a secondary but more direct method of applying the brakes.

There are other ways to slow a vehicle if the brakes are not working, but first we should consider the problem of the accelerator jamming.  The problem here is generally that the engine is being given gasoline and so increasing in revolutions per minute (RPM on the tachometer if you have one), and correspondingly increasing the vehicle speed.  The obvious first answer to this, in addition to applying the brakes, is gently to drop the transmission into neutral.  (With a standard transmission this can be accomplished simply by depressing the clutch, but standard transmissions are no longer standard on most cars.)  The engine will roar as it no longer has the burden of pushing the vehicle, but you will cease accelerating and unless you are pointed down a steep slope you will begin to decelerate.

The transmission can also be used to slow the car if the brakes are not responding, by downshifting.  If you do this at too high a velocity, you are likely to destroy your transmission and/or damage your engine, but if it’s a choice between thousands of dollars of damage to the vehicle and a fatal crash, that’s probably not a difficult choice to make.  This is less likely to be helpful if your accelerator is stuck, but it is an option that might reduce your rate of acceleration.  The objective is to let the engine be a drag on the velocity, although it works considerably better with manual transmissions than with automatic ones.

If you have put the vehicle in neutral but the brakes are not working and you are headed down a slope, if possible consider getting off the road.  Roads are generally designed to be smooth and provide the right kind of friction for rolling vehicles.  Shoulders are usually rougher and will slow the vehicle more, and if the ground beyond the shoulder looks flat and level it will probably slow the vehicle more.  There is the danger of hitting a hole that will damage an axle, but this will at least stop the vehicle and cost considerably less than a transmission or an engine.

You might also consider aiming for objects that will slow your car but neither stop it completely nor flip it.  Hitting a tree at high velocity is a bad choice, but a bush will collapse under the impact and slow or possibly stop the car less abruptly.  Sideswiping a tree, if you can control the vehicle well enough to do so, will also slow the car.  New Jersey Dividers–those perhaps three foot tall concrete walls with the half-parabola curved sides that often line highways–are designed to slow a vehicle and press it back into the lane from which it is coming.  In recent years, large usually orange plastic barrels have been placed in hazard locations along highways, such as construction areas; these are generally filled with water, and as such are designed to collapse when hit, providing a less than solid impact surface.

One other method of slowing an out-of-control car should be mentioned:  shut off the ignition.  If the car is in gear, the engine will immediately become a drag on the car, and in most modern cars the fuel pump will stop providing gasoline to the cylinders.  If you have power steering, it will immediately become much more difficult–but not impossible–to control the direction of the vehicle, somewhat worse than standard manual steering.  It will not affect the parking/emergency brake, and will have only minimal effect on the operating brake.

I have also considered the option of pushing the vehicle into reverse or park.  This requires overriding safeties on the transmission (it will require you to press or maneuver something to shift out of neutral in that direction), and will probably destroy it and damage the engine, but again if you are worried about dying versus destroying your car, that’s an easy choice.

So now if the thing that probably never will happen to you does, you’ve got some ideas about how to handle it.  I would like to say that I have tested them, but I am more pleased to say that apart from pumping the brakes I have never needed to, although I have tested the idea of pushing the car into neutral while driving, so that also works.  Oh, and once when I was teaching someone how to drive I had to use the parking brake to stop the vehicle before he drove in front of a rapidly oncoming car at an intersection, so that works, too.

#203: Electoral College End Run

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #203, on the subject of Electoral College End Run.

A bad idea which we mentioned in passing some years ago is apparently gaining ground, thanks in large part to Hillary Clinton’s failed 2016 Presidential bid.

The idea, which we mentioned in Why We Have an Electoral College (in the page Coalition Government), is to nullify the original Constitutional intent, that the President be selected by the States as States, by having states pass a law assigning their electors to vote for whichever candidate wins the majority of the national popular vote.  Even some Democrats recognize that the current popularity of this idea is because the losing party are sore losers, and the fact that Hillary Clinton has added her voice to the chorus only underscores that sense–but as the map provided by the idea’s promoters shows, in green, eleven states have already passed the necessary legislation.

(In fairness to Hillary, sort of, she spoke out for the elimination of the Electoral College the last time the Democrats lost the Presidency in a close race.)

That legislation is designed to prevent states from being obligated until there is what they consider a consensus, that is, the legislation passed by each state specifically states that it becomes effective when, and only when, similar legislation is passed by states representing enough Electoral College votes to constitute a majority of the College, 270 votes, that is, one half of the 538 electors plus one.  At that point, whoever receives the majority of the national popular vote would, by dint of this legislation, receive at least two-hundred seventy votes and win the election.

There is a flaw in the reasoning.  Let us suppose that the total is not reached by 2020, and thus it does not impact the 2020 election; but it might be reached in 2021.  However, 2020 is a census year, and the primary reason the Constitution mandates that we have a census every ten years is to adjust the representation of each State in the House of Representatives.  Following the 2010 census New Jersey lost a seat, and there is every likelihood that some States will lose and others gain seats before 2024.  That matters because the number of electoral votes each state gets is determined by the sum of its Representatives plus its Senators, and it might well be that in 2021 the states having passed the law provide sufficient votes to cause it to be enacted, but by 2024 there would not be quite as many.  This might be unlikely, but it is not impossible–New Jersey, which has passed the law and has been shrinking proportionately, might lose another seat, and Texas and Florida, which have showed no interest in passing the law, have been growing and might gain another seat or two each.

However, that is not really the significant point here.

Some years ago a young liberal actress got in serious public relations trouble when she suggested carpet bombing all the conservative states in the central United States because they were impeding the progress that the liberals dominating the coastal states were pushing.  That is an extreme example, but the fact is that several of the big states are coastal states, and tend to be liberal–California, New York, Pennsylvania.  That means on some level we’re talking about the big states trying to take over.

California is an important example.  It tends to be liberal, but is short-changed in the Electoral College because it is short-changed in the House of Representatives:  there is a cap on the number of Representatives any state can have, and California’s population would give it quite a few more seats were it not for the cap.  Let’s face it, though:  California is a large piece of real estate with several very large population centers within it.  It could plausibly dictate law and policy for the entire country just by flexing its popular vote.

That, though, is exactly why the Constitution is designed the way it is.  When the big kids tell the little kids what to do, we call it bullying, and we look for ways to punish and control it.  The Electoral College is designed to try to keep the big states from bullying the little states.

The proposed law disenfranchises the little states.  In doing so it disenfranchises the voters in those states.  There is good reason for the states to vote for the President chosen by the majority of their own citizens, and not the majority of the citizens of every other State in the Union.

We would ask our New Jersey legislators, and those of the ten other states which have already passed such legislation, to repeal it.  It is bad law.  It is also, as one author already cited has observed, probably unconstitutional–it is an effort to end run the Constitutionally-mandated process.

If not, voters in New Jersey and elsewhere should prepare to file suit against the legislature.  The law disenfranchises the voters of this state, taking from us our constitutional right to choose the candidate of our own choice, not that of the rest of the country.

#202: Verser Confrontations

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #202, on the subject of Verser Confrontations.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  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 along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains 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, 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. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus  (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88);
  9. #198:  Verser Trials (89 through 99).

This picks up from there, with chapters 100 through 110.

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 100, Hastings 126

As I was dealing with the wolves, I wondered why they should trust Lauren or care about humanity.  I realized I’d already given myself a reason:  Bethany had saved the forest for them, working with the people of Wandborough.  It also occurred to me that Lauren has always called on the wolves for aid, but they have never called on her.  It seemed reasonable to suggest that pack mother Sielle would have some problem for which Lauren was the answer.  I don’t know what it is, yet, but it gives me something for Lauren to do besides repeated commando raids on vampire government officials.

When I was playing the games that became the basis for the Philadelphia stories, the wolves did come to me for help a few times; that was a much longer story, though, than I could include in the books.  (Much of this is preserved in the older Stories from the Verse site as Journals of the Architect.)


Chapter 101, Slade 82

Most of this I realized as it was unfolding–the slack and taut ropes, for instance.  I decided on the use of the sheepshank in the midst of writing, as well.  I was thinking before I started the passage that Slade didn’t know how to find the door, and the Norns idea was getting tired, but I could have them guide him by pointing him to Shella.  I remembered that Shella had been watching, and thought perhaps I could come up with some plausible reason why she knew the way when he didn’t.  However, it wasn’t until just before I wrote it that I realized that the tower was there.  Slade’s embarrassment was thus a reflection of my own on that count.


Chapter 102, Brown 86

I discovered a numbering glitch when I was writing this; I’d numbered two consecutive Brown sections 76.  I corrected it; I hope I got it all.

I awoke with the idea of the dream, and let it simmer while I took care of some other things.  I had a lot to do today, but did not want to lose this idea.  One fragment of it, the idea that marrying might be a cause of grief, I probably got from my morning reading of Jeremiah.

I also began envisioning a bit of a battle between Derek and the king’s guards in the human city.  His aerobatics practice and his training with Lauren would finally combine into something unique to him.  I’ll have to figure out how to preserve it, but I think this could go somewhere.

I also wanted him to feel the pain of losing his family now, before he lost them.  I decided he should say goodbye to his father, but not wake his mother, but simply kiss her.


Chapter 103, Hastings 127

Adam commented a day or so ago that everyone was getting married in this book.  He didn’t know that Derek wasn’t going to reach the altar (something of which I was myself only about ninety percent certain then, and still only ninety-eight percent certain now).  Yet I did observe for him that Lauren wasn’t headed that direction.  He said he knew why this was:  it was because she was already married.  Yes, that was correct, I observed, thinking back to her tension on that in the end of the second novel.  Yet at that moment I saw something I could do with Lauren’s story that would make it far better.  I would bring Phil Hastings back as a vampire.  She never did find out what had happened to him in this world, and he had married someone else.  It was not an impossible stretch.  I could do something with it, give Lauren more depth than merely killing a bunch of vampires, and stretch the story a bit to give the others time to catch up with her.  In the midst of this, it was an echo of Bethany’s confrontation with her mother centuries before.  This time it would be Bethany who told Lauren that she could not believe it was human, and that she had to recognize it for what it was and kill it.  I thus started looking for a way to carry it in that direction.  As I write this, it seems to me that I should connect Phil Hastings with the Philadelphia area leadership somehow; I’m not yet certain how, but it would explain why Lauren arrived in Philadelphia instead of Wandborough.

The name thing was not an entirely new idea; after all, Gavin had changed his name, and that had been mentioned.  I needed a way to prevent Lauren from realizing that she was about to confront the man who was this world’s equivalent of her husband, and the name was the way to do it.  The Liberty Bell/Independence Hall idea had merit, in that having it closed and slated for demolition would provide some echo of the idea that the vampire domination was a bad thing.  I thought also that The Arena might recall Rome to some readers, although I didn’t want to push it.  I created the route on the fly (I’m not completely certain where Independence Hall is relative to the waterfront, but figured it wasn’t that close, and the sports arena is near the airport, which is the south side of the city, so things are pretty well arranged).

I also decided she needed to fight her way through.  These were no longer going to be simple run-in-and-kill-the-vampire raids.  It had to look more difficult.  I also needed to help people understand why she just doesn’t blow everyone away with the disintegrator rod.

I recalled the “old times” line that had really been something of a throwaway in the first book which had echoed in the second when they were in Camelot.  Now to have Bethany say it again more soberly I thought would have some impact.


Chapter 104, Slade 83

I remembered that there was a bar on the inside of the door, and I had to provide a way to get past it.  I also remembered the D&D Viking Handbook had said something about Viking thieves not knowing anything about mechanical locks, but understanding how to jimmy barred doors, so I figured there was a way to do it.  It seemed a simple enough approach to use the metal strip, so that’s where I went.


Chapter 105, Brown 87

Most of this I felt my way through–the difference between mentally visiting a place and being there, between traveling the streets and flying above them, and the telekinetic lock picking were all things I created during the day I wrote this, although I wrote part in the morning and part in the afternoon, and so had time between to think through the end of the chapter.


Chapter 106, Hastings 128

Part of the idea was for Lauren to face the same tension Bethany had faced, to have to kill a vampire that looked like someone she loved.  I also had it in mind that this might free her from her concerns about being married to Phil, although I don’t yet know how that will work.  It only now occurs to me that this fits well with the marriage thread of the book, as well as leading to the climax of the vampire thread and the Merlin connection.


Chapter 107, Slade 84

I’d given some thought to a quick fight scene for Slade, in which a guard came through the door and he stabbed the man through the throat and tossed him off the wall; but it seemed too violent for this moment in the story, in which a quiet takeover seemed the order of the hour.  I glossed over how many men were on the wall and how they were silenced, for much the same reason.

I considered whether Odette’s dagger should find a target, and decided against it.  I had not yet decided how to verse them out of this world, but I was eager to see a scene in which Acquivar disclaimed any interest in saving Odette.


Chapter 108, Brown 88

I’d played out this scene in my mind a few times; still, there were elements that I devised as I wrote.  The guard on the door and the food cart were both created at that moment.  I had envisioned the confusion in the room, several people being brought down by arrows, and the use of telepathy to reach the ruler (whose title I never did decide).  The idea that people did not know sprites could talk seemed reasonable, particularly since elves didn’t even know they existed.  To expand that to suggest that humans didn’t know elves or gnomes existed also seemed reasonable.  The simple rule to establish peace seemed an acceptable solution to the problem, and let me move forward.  I’d imagined some agreement being reached, and then someone very like a gardener or maintenance man bursting in and “dealing with the problem” over the objections of the ruler.  It seemed to work well enough.


Chapter 109, Hastings 129

As I prepared to write this, a number of ideas connected.  One was that Lauren and Bethany would pray for someone to come; Derek was already on his way, but they couldn’t know that, and it would be a valuable story point.

Another was the idea that Lauren, as powerful as she is, finds her real strength in building teams, of bringing people together who compliment each other.  It is perhaps a theme in Lauren’s story that she almost always works with others, that she forms teams that work well.  In Philadelphia, she brought the human hunters together with the werewolves against the vampires; in the parakeet valley she worked with Joe and Bob to rescue Speckles; in Camelot a good part of her reported adventures involved questing with Sir Sagrimore, and in the end she brought the villagers together with the werewolves against the vampires.  In the futuristic post-apocalyptic world she turned an adventuring party into a university faculty that continued after she had gone.  In Wandborough she worked with Bethany against the vampires, and then in Terranova Habitat she teamed with Derek and Joe.  She was alone on the tropical island, but her task there was to practice and learn, and now that she is back in the vampire future world she is building a new team.

I had long been thinking that Derek was going to develop the ability to change between his three forms–the sprite, the human, and the mid-sized something.  As I thought about the turns ahead, I realized I could make this work much more convincingly by having Bethany use her magic to give Derek this ability.  It would also bring him to Lauren more quickly.

A lot of this chapter was written to provide the space I needed to bring in the prayer.


Chapter 110, Slade 85

The idea of Odette confessing from the battlements had been in my mind for quite a while.  What I hadn’t worked out in advance was the movement of armies to get to this position.  I glossed some of that, but I think it was credible.

At this point I had again lost my chance to kill Slade and send him to the next world; but with Derek on the way, I wasn’t ready for him anyway.  I was envisioning Slade and Shella appearing in the midst of some battle, recognizing Lauren in trouble, and coming to her aid, and that wasn’t going to happen until I managed to handle the arrival of Derek.

The idea that formed in my head at this point was that Slade was going to fight some fire elemental, an efriit of some sort.  It should be a major battle, taking at least a chapter, maybe two.  I haven’t figured out how to set it up yet, though.


This has been the tenth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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#201: The Grandfather Paradox Solution

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #201, on the subject of The Grandfather Paradox Solution.

Award-winning science fiction author Larry Niven.

I sent birthday greetings to a time travel fan on Facebook–one who deserves special mention, as he has provided copies of several time travel movies analyzed on our Temporal Anomalies site–and in response received a discussion of a time travel issue.  I would have said that this is addressed already on the site, but I recognize that the site has become unwieldy in some ways and it’s difficult to find, let alone absorb, it all.  I have edited his comments for space, and added links to references on the site for those who are uncertain of the terminology.

I’ve been thinking about Niven’s Law (ie the popular “if you change it in the past it stays changed even if you undo the time travel” version).

Here’s the thing–without it, it seems to me that things work by magic.  Let’s use the old example of going back and killing my grandfather as a child.

Fixed time this is just impossible….

Parallel universes, no problem….

Replacement theory is where it gets interesting (of course).  Let’s first postulate that I’m not going back to kill Granddad.  Let’s say instead that I’d discovered in talking to other people that there was some sort of childhood toy in my granddad’s house…that was extremely rare, and if I went back and got it I could sell it for a fortune in the future….Unfortunately while I’m back in the past I interrupt a burglar, he shoots at me and misses but kills my granddad who was hiding behind the couch watching this armed burglar tussle with me….

So…I haven’t erased my motivation for going back.  However, obviously if I never exist, I can’t go back, which means that I won’t interrupt the burglar, which means he won’t shoot….

But what exactly happens?  What does the burglar see?  Does he just see me vanish into thin air?  That’s what I mean–there’s no real known phenomena that would cause that.  And in fact he wouldn’t see it anyway, because the whole idea is that I could never have been there in the 1st place.

I think in reality, if time travel is possible at all…either Niven’s Law must exist or else something like Hawking’s Conjecture must be true (the one where he says that you will be physically unable to successfully perform any actions that would create a paradox…).  I find the Conjecture even less likely (it pretty much falls under your “God won’t let it happen” thing).

Mind you that doesn’t get off the hook with “uncaused causes“.  There’s no perfect answers.  It just always seemed weird to me that things could magically change just because I remove the reason for the change.

This happens to be exactly the problem that is resolved by the standard concept of the infinity loop, two histories each of which causes the other.  My reader has missed this, falling into the notion presented by other time travel stories, perhaps most notoriously the ending of The Philadelphia Experiment II, in which the death of the childless father causes the son, a moment later, to dissolve into non-existence.  The reality postulated by the theory is much less complicated.

The postulated problem suggests that when I travel to the past I accidentally cause the death of my own grandfather.  The questioner then wonders whether I flicker out of existence, but recognizes that the problem is more complicated, that in fact if I never existed I never made the trip to the past and the burglar never shot at me.  That, though, means he never killed my grandfather, and I am able to make the trip to the past.  This much the question recognizes; it then gets caught in trying to make both versions of time real simultaneously, as if the death of my grandfather means that I must immediately vanish.  This fails to grasp the significance of causal chains, which we will here review.

In all of our science, we have causal chains:  A causes B, B causes C.  If B does not happen, C does not happen, because C only happens if caused by B; similarly, B only happens if caused by A, so if we prevent A, we prevent B, and in so doing we also prevent C.  This is simple for us in most situations, because of two “rules” that have always applied to everything we have observed.  One is that causes and effects have always happened in temporal sequence, that is, A happens before B and B before C even if only infinitessimally (the hammer strikes the firing pin which compresses and ignites the gunpowder which drives the bullet out of the shell, all in a fraction of a second but that fraction divided into sequential fractions).  The other is that once a cause has brought about an effect we are unable to remove the cause.

Time travel erases both of those rules, and therein lies our confusions.

In the present circumstance, the original history has Burglar invading Grandfather’s house, observed perhaps by grandfather but otherwise unmolested.  Decades pass and Traveler learns of the valuable toy in Grandfather’s attic.  Having access to a time machine, he travels to a time when he believes he can obtain the toy without changing anything significant in history.

  • There is an issue here which is not addressed in the problem:  we do not know how Traveler became aware of the presence of the toy in the attic, but if he removes it too soon he might well break the chain of information such that he does not know about the toy.  For example, if his information about the toy comes from the estate sale records, the toy will not be listed there once he has removed it.  However, our theorist having been careful on all other points, we will assume that Traveler got the information through a source that predates his effort to steal the toy.

He arrives in the past, and interrupts Burglar, who in attempting to kill him accidentally kills Grandfather.  There are scores of steps in this causal chain, but simplifying it we have A: Traveler travels to the past; B: Traveler interferes with Burglar; and C: Burglar kills Grandfather.

However, there was a causal chain in the original history in which Grandfather sired Father who sired Traveler, who eventually left for the past.  Our logic problem recognizes that because Grandfather is now prematurely dead, Father will never be born, and Traveler in turn will never be born.  It is precisely because the original causal chain has been disrupted that Traveler is never born–there is nothing magical about that, and no one imagines that it is.  We understand completely that if you remove the cause of an effect, the effect never happens; if you kill someone’s grandfather before he has children, the grandchild is never born.

Yet exactly the same rule applies at the other end.  If Traveler is never born, he never makes the trip to the past, which means A: Traveler travels to the past never happens.  Since A is the cause of B: Traveler interferes with Burglar, B never happens, and since B never happens, C: Burglar kills grandfather, also never happens.  If it applies to the A-B-C sequence that is Grandfather sires Father, Father sires Traveler, then it also applies equally to the A-B-C sequence Traveler travels to the past, Traveler interferes with Burglar, Burglar kills Grandfather.  The removal of the cause A undoes the effects B and C.

We balk at this because what we perceive as inaction in the future is becoming a cause of a change in the past, and we feel as if whether or not the past can be changed it can only be changed by someone traveling to the past.  However, if we look at it a different way, it might become clearer.  If I know that Gary traveled to the past, leaving tomorrow, and that what he changed altered history in a disastrous way, in theory I might attempt to travel to the past and prevent him from making that mistake, but could I not just as easily act to prevent him from making the disastrous trip?  (I admit that this would cause an infinity loop, but the point is only that preventing the trip to the past will prevent the changes to the past just as surely as traveling to the past to do so would.)  At the same time, we are mistaken to think of “not traveling to the past” as inaction.  It is much more properly different action, and different action becomes a different cause that has a different effect.  Further, since the effect B which is the cause of the effect C is itself the effect of A, if A is undone–if Traveler does not go to the past–then B is also undone–Traveler does not interfere with Burglar–and C is in turn undone–Grandfather is not killed.

But we return to what it is that Burglar experiences when his stray bullet kills Grandfather, theoretically undoing the existence of Traveler.

I admit that it is plausible that this event will cause time to unravel entirely, and the universe will cease to exist.  I think, though, that this is a bit extreme, and further it seems to require that the universe “knows” that history has changed in an irreconcilable way.  I don’t think the universe can know anything of the sort–for the universe, despite the fact that someone arrived from the future and became a new cause, this is the first time through these events, and as far as the universe “knows” (if it can be said to “know” anything in any sense), this is the history that exists.  It does not “know” that the man who just died is the grandfather, and thus the necessary cause of the life, of the Traveler who incidentally caused his death.  It has to “discover” that by playing through the events which follow.

There is thus an interweaving of two histories, in a sense.  Traveler comes from a universe in which Grandfather had a child.  The history of the universe is being rewritten, event by event, cause by cause, moment by moment, but it has not been rewritten yet.  Since under replacement theory there is ultimately only one history of the universe, each moment that is created erases and replaces the moment that was the same time in the other history.  That means the cause of Traveler’s presence in the past, cause A, has not yet been erased, and so Traveler still exists in the past even while his history is being erased and rewritten.

Ultimately the moment comes when cause A needs to happen in order for effect B, in the past, to be supported.  If we had an N-jump, that would happen.  To use our example modified, there was no Burglar, Traveler successfully collected the toy and stored it in a place where he could recover it in the future, and returned to the future without significantly altering the past.  Thus as the moment of his departure approaches he is the same person planning the same trip, and at the right moment he does so, cause A creating effect B, his arrival in the past.  This creates a stable history, and we have a sort of diverging hiccough:  because traveler leaves for the past on schedule, time continues into the future based on the history Traveler created and now confirmed.

However, with Burglar in the mix, we know that Grandfather died and Traveler was never born.  That means cause A never happens, and effect B never happens–we already know what happens if no time traveler arrives from the future, because that was the original history.  Burglar passes through the house unmolested, Grandfather survives to sire Father who sires Traveler.  That results in Traveler making the trip, creating the other history.

In no history does anyone simply disappear.  In no history does something inexplicably change without cause.  The difference between the original history and the altered history is that in the altered history someone arrives from the future and introduces causes that create a different set of events leading to its own undoing, while in the original history no one arrives from the future and so events follow the undisturbed path of events to the moment when someone decides to change them.

I should note that in all of this we experience the changes at the speed of time.  There is a sense in which at the instant Grandfather dies, Traveler ceases ever to have existed–but that only happens because of the intervening causes and effects which fail to bring him to life.  We experience those events at the speed of time; using time travel we presumably could skip ahead to the outcomes in the future.  That, though, means that in some sense all of those events happen instantaneously–and as I have suggested in The Spreadsheet Illustration, it can be understood as all happening simultaneously–it is Einstein who said that time exists so that everything would not happen at once, but if the nature of time is such that time travel is possible, the reality is that everything does happen “at once”, and time exists so that we can experience the causal chains in the order in which events cause each other.  So in that sense the moment Burglar kills Grandfather, Traveler ceases to exist, but his non-existence can only be discovered by following the causal chain to the moment when he fails to arrive in the past.

I hope this clarifies the problem and the solution.  I should mention that we previously addressed the matter in relation to a supposed “multiverse” solution in web log post #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem just over a year ago.

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#200: Confederates

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #200, on the subject of Confederates.

General Robert E. Lee–perhaps the most recognized name on the Confederate side of the American Civil War–never owned a slave.  He did marry into the Custis family, descendents of Martha Washington and heirs of the estates of George Washington, some of which had slaves, but he was not an owner.

I mention this because there is a great deal of misunderstanding about the Civil War and about the Confederacy in particular.  To hear the scuttlebutt, all Confederates were bigoted racists and all northerners enlightened equalitarians.  Neither of those claims is true, nor is it true that the war was about slavery–slavery was a bit more than incidental, but ultimately a side issue.  Yet today people are fighting over flags and statues that were part of that history, trying to remove them and in the process erase an important part of our history that is relevant today to matters that have nothing to do with race or bigotry.

Between the ratification of the United States Constitution and the initiation of the Civil War there was a lingering unanswered question concerning the exact nature of this “more perfect union” the document was intended to create.  To citizens in every State, the State was a State–New Jersey had the same status as Denmark, Pennsylvania as France–and these individual independent countries had joined a treaty organization, something like NATO or the United Nations or the European Economic Community.  We came to each other’s aid for the common defense, agreed not to place tarriffs against imports and exports between each other, and met together to create laws on which we generally agreed that would bind all of us and were necessary to promote trade and interaction between us.

Yet lingering in the background of all this was what we might call the Federalist question.  Federalists like James Madison saw the central government as having ultimate authority over the state governments, that whatever was stated as Federal law was binding on all the member states.  Democrats like Thomas Jefferson saw the individual states as the ultimate authorities, lending their authority to the Federal government for the better functioning of the whole.  The Constitution did not decide that issue; had it done so, it would not have been ratified.

Abraham Lincoln, a Republican, believed in the Federalist vision of a united nation, a single country governed from a central authority.  He also happened to believe that slavery was wrong, but it was an incidental which he strongly downplayed during the campaign, promising that he would seek no law regarding slavery during his first term of office.  The majorities in northern states wanted the country more united.  The north was becoming highly industrial, building transportation networks, turning into a tightly knit unit in which business was done between Boston and Chicago more easily than ever before, and a unified legal system was to the benefit of such a system.  The south was still an agrarian society, separated by muddy roads and driven economically by the field production of cotton and other cash crops.  To northerners, Massachusetts was becoming a piece in a larger puzzle of tight-knit countries more and more connected to each other.  To southerners, Alabama was an independent country that signed a mutual defense and trade treaty with a bunch of other distant countries.

The fear southerners had of Lincoln was not really that he would end slavery–he had little chance and no intention of doing that any time soon.  It was that he would move the union more toward the central government model preferred by the north and strip the powers of the individual member countries in the process.  We see the same kinds of conflicts in Europe as they begin to adopt unified currency and banking regulations.  So when this icon of unification was elected, states that wanted to maintain autonomy seceded, and the remaining states decided that was not something they could do under the terms of the treaty, leading to a war to decide whether the Federal Government or the State Government had ultimate authority.

Of course, the elephant in the room was the one difference that had been a conflict between north and south for generations, that the southern economy was built on a slavery model and many northerners found this immoral–not that they believed blacks were any more human than the southerners believed, but that they were more on the order of animal rights activists trying to protect an exploited creature.  Because of the ongoing balance of slave and free states in the Senate, there was no real chance of meaningful legislation on that subject–but a tightening of the concept of Federalism would mean that unified laws would gradually come into being, and that was a threat.

So the question over which we fought the Civil War for five long bloody years was whether a member State of these United States had the authority to ignore Federal Law if it wished to enforce its own policies instead.  Then it was an entirely theoretical matter, as there were no Federal laws to enforce against the rebelling states, but the answer to the question turned out to be no, once you are a member of this union you are bound by Federal law, which trumps State law when they conflict.

So what the Confederates were defending, although they could not have known it, was the right of California to ignore Federal Immigration Law; and the right of Colorado to ignore Federal Drug Law.  The answer we were given then is no, Federal Law is enforceable within the member States, and the States cannot contradict it with their own laws.

So it seems to me that at least some people who are calling for the removal of Confederate markers and Confederate history actually favor that for which those Confederate soldiers fought and died–the right of states to pass laws and enforce policies contrary to those of the Federal government.

It had nothing, really, to do with slavery or bigotry.  It had to do with questions we are still facing today.  Instead of tearing down reminders of history for wrong reasons and ignorance of their significance, let’s try to gain from them the lessons of the past for the future.

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MJY Blog Entry #199: Time Travel Movies that Work

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #199, on the subject of Time Travel Movies that Work.

A few weeks ago, one of my readers specifically asked what time travel movies I thought actually worked, temporally.  My musings on this were interrupted by an extended hospitalization, but I have felt for a while that I ought to be writing something about time travel and for various reasons have not been able to obtain copies of any new time travel movies, so here’s a review of some of the old ones.

Paul Nigh’s ‘TeamTimeCar.com’ Back to the Future DeLorean Time Machine

Let’s clear out a few issues first.  The first two Terminator films, and the third, were all “workable”, but they required a tremendous number of less than probable events.  That is, if we were in the world where the onscreen stories were occurring, we would know that we were in a statistically unlikely world, but if we were in the world from which those events might have arisen we would be very foolish to trust that things were going to work that way.  A lot of our movies are like that, and I’m not going to include a lot of movies which “work provided a lot of improbable events occur”.

There are also a couple of movies that land on the time travel desk which “work” because either there is no time travel within the film (although time travel issues are raised) or we don’t know any details about it.  Terminator Genisys [edit] Salvation is noteworthy in this regard, as there is a lot of concern over what happens if Kyle Reese is killed before traveling back to become John Conner’s father.  Also in this category is the very enjoyable Safety Not Guaranteed, in which we are never entirely certain whether the machine actually does travel in time until the end.  These are good movies and technically time travel movies that work, but do so because the time travel is outside the frame of the film.

The first movie that genuinely impressed me as near perfect was Twelve Monkeys.  It still is impressive, although there are problems with it that I missed because I had not yet recognized them.  Perhaps the biggest is that it appears they are using a time travel projector/collector, and as we saw in Timeline they are seriously problematic.  That problem is resolved if, as we suggest in the beginning of our Twelve Monkeys analysis, the return trip is not initiated from the future but based on a timer that determines when he returns.  So although there are more caveats than there once were, this is still on the list of the better films.

Source Code genuinely blew me away, because it works brilliantly–but not as a time travel story.  Explaining what it actually is would be a major spoiler, but if you have not seen it, do so, and then read the analysis.

I genuinely love Eleven Minutes Ago.  It is a quirky independent film in which a time traveler accidentally crashes a wedding party, falls in love with one of the bridesmaids, and woos her by returning to the party in eleven minute segments out of sequence.  The most difficult part of this film is the card trick, but even that has a better than even chance of working.

Also on the list of films that work is Los Cronocrimines a.k.a. TimeCrimes.  It is certainly temporally convoluted, but with a few not entirely unreasonable assumptions we obtain a working story.  The time machine itself in this instance suffers from the same problems as that devised by H. G. Wells:  once someone is using it, why are they not inside it if someone else tries to use it to travel the same temporal path?  However, since no one knows a way to travel through time, we tend to avoid looking too closely at the methods suggested.

That is also the main problem with Time After Time, in which H. G. Wells pursues Jack the Ripper into the twentieth century.  The end of the movie might create some genetic problem issues, but that is beyond what we know from the film.  Of course, this works largely because the time travel is only at the beginning and not part of the larger story.  There are a few temporal hiccoughs in the beginning, though.

I should mention Back to the Future, the first part.  It has some nonsense in it concerning what happens to the photo and to Marty when it appears that his history is being undone, and in the end it should not be the Marty we know but the affluent Marty who grew up in that affluent home whom we see in the future, but otherwise this does a reasonable job of producing a replacement theory story.  The sequels are fraught with impossibilities and problems, but I saw the original at its twenty-fifth anniversary showing and thought it stood the test of time, even though this was the second analysis (the third film) I had written.

The Star Trek movies deserve mention, particularly Star Trek IV:  The Voyage Home.  There are some problems with it, but in the main it holds together.  The other three time-travel-based films in the series are all over the map, from the disastrous Generations to the slightly problematic First Contact to the challenging Star Trek (2009).

Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban was a surprise because I knew that the time travel in the book did not work, but discovered that because of one small change that in the movie did.  It’s not perfect, but its functional.

I also need to mention Flight of the Navigator, which lands on the list because we are provided with the A-B timeline only, with Davey being delivered to the beginning of the altered C-D timeline at the end of the film.  That of course changes everything, and we don’t see how, but we can envision a solution to the time travel problems (indeed, more than one), and so reasonably can include it in movies that work.

There are other time travel movies I like and would recommend, not because they work easily but because they’re funny (Frequently Asked Questions About Time Travel, Blackadder Back & Forth) or engaging (Happy Accidents, The Time Traveler’s Wife) or intriquing in their ideas (The Jacket, Next), but you can read my analyses of those and many other films, along with theory discussions, correspondence, and other articles, indexed from the main Temporal Anomalies in Popular Time Travel Movies page.

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#198: Verser Trials

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #198, on the subject of Verser Trials.

With permission of Valdron Inc I have begun publishing my third novel, For Better or Verse, in serialized form on the web (that link will take you to the table of contents).  If you missed the first two, you can find the table of contents for the first at Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel, and that for the second at Old Verses New.  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 along with the chapters in the tables of contents pages.  Now as the third is posted I am again offering a set of “behind the writings” insights.  This “behind the writings” look definitely contains 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, 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. #157:  Versers Restart (which provided this kind of insight into the first eleven chapters);
  2. #164:  Versers Proceed (which covered chapters 12 through 22);
  3. #170:  Versers Explore (which covered chapters 23 through 33);
  4. #174:  Versers Achieve (chapters 34 through 44);
  5. #180:  Versers Focus (chapters 45 through 55);
  6. #183:  Verser Transitions (chapters 56 through 66);
  7. #186:  Worlds Change (chapters 67 through 77);
  8. #191:  Versers Travel (chapters 78 through 88).

This picks up from there, with chapters 89 through 99.

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 89, Slade 78

I had been thinking about the trial quite a bit since the arrest, when I realized that Slade had given away the book.  I remembered that Filp had said the peasant wasn’t with the soldiers.  I almost went back and changed the text, so that Slade would have kept the book.  I realized, though, that the book could be carried to court by the enemy, quite inadvertently, and brought in that way.

The note that appealing to the King’s impartiality was a way to influence him caught my fancy, so I had to include it.

I decided it was time for Shella to call him Bob.  It seemed the right name at that moment.

Saying that the story of recent days would not have made a good book was, of course, a bit of a self-conscious joke.  Perhaps all stories make good books, if you know how to tell them; or perhaps in creating this one, it was necessary to include bits that would be good to tell.


Chapter 90, Brown 82

The manufacture and testing of the potion seemed a necessary step; it also gave me an opportunity to get a bit of action into Derek’s story at that moment.

The idea that he had to explain it to his father struck a chord with my young test audience.

The use of the pronoun “it” for the antecedent “the man” was intentional, distancing the sprite version of Derek from humanity.


Chapter 91, Hastings 123

At this point in the story, I’m trying to construct the foundation of something that will let Lauren have a lot of action bringing down vampires, but hold off the climactic confrontations against Tubrok until after Derek and Slade arrive.  I figure Derek will work out the computer hacking part, and get the domes opened.  I also expect that I’ll leave Merlin with Derek and Bethany (I haven’t figured out yet whether Slade survives the battle) to continue battling vampires after Lauren is gone and Tubrok is dead.

I particularly liked the idea that the domes served no real function, but were built for a lot of reasons none of which were good.

In high school I toured Romania with a high school choral group.  It was part of a cultural exchange program, so we had a guide provided by the government.  That was at a time when the Jesus Movement was in full force in our communities, and some of my classmates engaged the guide in discussion about why he would not become a Christian.  His answer, simply, was that in Romania you were either a Christian or a member of the Communist Party, and the advantages of the latter were so plainly evident that that is what he had chosen.  I think that memory may have influenced this notion about the Superiority Party:  if you want to be anything important in society, you have to become a vampire, so people are eager to join.


Chapter 92, Slade 79

I decided immediately after the trial scene that Slade would be at dinner and the king would not be, but that the prince, who is a bit less cool than his father, would raise the matter of the book.  I also thought Slade would not take that well, but Shella could shine in her function of cool intermediary here.

I also had sketched out the preparations for war to some degree.  Sir Matthias is named for the apostle of that name.


Chapter 93, Brown 83

The reaction of the elders was carefully considered.  I did not think they would be enthused; on the other hand, it would make the story longer and much more difficult were they opposed.  Thus it became Derek’s task to convince them.


Chapter 94, Hastings 124

I realized that I was going to have a lot of vampire combats ahead, and I had to keep these interesting while at the same time not overburdening the text with them.  The idea of entering the scene as a fight was ending, and of referencing several fights not described, also let me give the impression that Lauren had now been here for a while and was working toward her ultimate goal.

The teleport idea had occurred to me along the way.  I realized that there was an ability in the game books to trace teleport paths, and it was too much to think that no one in this world would have it, or that they would not work for Tubrok.  Thus creating a difficult trail seemed appropriate, and I gave some consideration to how that might be done.

I liked the decapitation blow that had been used on Tubrok in the second book, and thought it made sense for Lauren and Bethany to work on perfecting that.  It also seemed that I couldn’t allow it to be instantly fatal on all vampires, or they would cease to look dangerous.  Here it presents itself as more of a finishing blow, something they launch when they know they have an opening.  The teamwork aspect also appealed to me.

It is one of those things you find in eschatological studies, that people want to know who the beast is and so sometimes believers use the name for someone or something they think will be the antichrist.  There was a computer in Europe decades ago that was to run the financial systems of the banking world to which one of the people involved in its development gave this name, precisely because it was used in Revelation.  The fact that Tubrok is inhuman and feeds on humans made the name natural here, but it is part of the apocalyptic feeling already hinted in a previous chapter when Lauren said that possibly only the return of Christ would completely destroy the vampires.


Chapter 95, Slade 80

The time it takes to go to war in this milieu was worth bringing out for contrast.  The complications of having Shella ride with them took some thought to resolve.

I also lingered a bit over the troops on the road, and whether they would fight.  I decided it was not necessary and not profitable to anyone.  In my mind I’m moving toward a battle of significant proportion, but coupled with a sort of guerilla action Slade leads to take the castle.


Chapter 96, Brown 84

The marriage was in part a delaying tactic, so that something would be happening in Derek’s life besides the pending war; it was also put there because of Slade’s wedding, so that I could do something different with this.  Although I had been swithering about whether to have them marry and take Dearie into the verse with Derek, by this point I’d decided that really wasn’t going to be a good choice.  Maybe I would bring Derek back to find Dearie later, but for now I needed to keep him single.

I’d also decided on the conversation with the elf, which I bumped to the next chapter because I felt it needed to break at the moment the engagement was announced.


Chapter 97, Hastings 125

The wolves came to my mind at just about this time, and I thought it not unreasonable that Lauren would not have thought of them sooner, so I brought them into the story again.

For Garith, I wanted another growlish name, and that was the best I had at the time.  Sielle was actually named for a dog belonging to a crazy landlady we had our first year of marriage; but the dog was named Sienna, after the paint color.


Chapter 98, Slade 81

At this point, I was looking for an out for Slade, stalling Lauren until I got people to join her, and trying to bring my threesome together without running roughshod over someone’s story.  A commando raid seemed better than a major battle.

There was on the edge of my brain a movie in which the couple is in a bind, but she’s got a gun.  He says, “I love you,” and she says, “I know,” and as he turns to face the villain she shoots him (the villain).  It took me several years to realize that it came from Star Wars.


Chapter 99, Brown 85

I’d been thinking about this conversation for a while.  I’m decided that Derek never married Dearie, but it won’t be for his choice.

The line “You’re committed now, or you will be” is of course a joke to be said when you have decided to say or do something that will seem crazy.  I know I’ve said it before I wrote it here, but don’t know whether it’s original with me or whether I heard it somewhere else.


This has been the ninth behind the writings look at For Better or Verse.  Assuming that there is interest, I will continue preparing and posting them every eleven chapters, that is, every three weeks.

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