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you better shop around

In Tapestry, the fantasy campaign I run sessions of in Poway every month or two, the adventurers have returned from a long overseas voyage, bearing exotic cargo, and made huge amounts of money off it—their total sales came to just over 20 times the original investment. One of the players decided that her character was going to look for a wife, so that he'd have someone to look after his business while he was away on his next voyage.

This looked like an opportunity for some serious roleplaying, so I wrote up three women with different backgrounds and qualities, and had Hanno's mother take him to meet all three of them. And I invited three of the other players to take the roles of the three women, figuring this would be less dull than having Hanno's player and me monopolize the game time. Happily, all three players brought their characters to life.

Hanno himself is Wealthy (5x the average city dweller's assets) and Status 1 (usually associated with having 2x the average city dweller's assets; Hanno has spent so much time away on trade ventures that he hasn't gained any standing at home, other than "you can see he's well off"). Both are likely to increase as a result of the next session, when we figure the impact of the recent earnings.

His first meeting was with Iltani, a young woman, just old enough to be courted, who has the opposite pattern: Status 2 (a good family name) but only Comfortable Wealth. Her father inherited his business and has not been as successful at running it as his own father was, and Iltani is a bit desperate to find a suitable husband—even one of lower standing, like Hanno, so long as he can support her current Status properly. She's conservative and strongly focused on practical skills, from Housekeeping to Merchant and Finance. Hanno and his mother called formally on her and her mother and had a very polite conversation, in which Hanno made a good impression on her, enough so that she brought out her heirloom game board for the Game of Twenty Squares (a game about boat racing) and played a round against Hanno, narrowly beating him; her play was slow and thoughtful. She didn't talk about any of the more intellectual subjects that Hanno was also interested in.

Next he met Belessunu, also Status 2, but in her case it's a descent from her family's Status, as they're Filthy Rich and can support her at Very Wealthy (20x average); she's artistic and bohemian, associates with entertaining people of lower standing, and has travelled to a foreign country to buy silks and other exotic goods. She came to visit Hanno at his home, wanting to size him up before inviting him to be her guest, and found him very entertaining, as they had lots of common enthusiasms; in fact she ended up staying to dinner and meeting his apprentice, Onofrio, from a family in a different foreign country. It came out that what she really would like would be to go along on Hanno's next voyage and see new lands for herself, rather than staying behind and keeping his business going.

Finally, his mother took him to dinner at the house of the scribe, Tabnit, who helped manage her rental properties, where another guest was Tabnit's client, Ettu. She had originally been a servant in his house, but when she showed that she had learned to read, he started teaching her, and eventually helped her get into the Guild of Scribes. She's actually at the low end of her profession, having Average Wealth and Status 0, but she's making her way up, partly through being good at figuring out whether and how an employee was diverting a business's funds. She and Hanno talked enthusiastically about linguistics (his hobby) and cryptology (hers) and got along really well.

So now Hanno has three women to look at, each not quite what he wants: Iltani is a little young and he wouldn't have much to talk about with her; Belessunu is eager to travel; Ettu is ambitious for her own career and actually didn't realize that she was being looked at as a possible wife till Tabnit clued her in privately. And at this point it's up to Hanno's player. I offered her the option of having Hanno do his own search, and if he does, I have three candidates for him: one a really bad choice, one a little less suited than the other three but possibly acceptable, and one really good, if he gets a really good dice roll. I'll be interested to see where this goes. . . .


I got back not long ago from my second day in a courthouse, as part of a jury selection pool from which I was eventually excused.

During the selection process, the judge explained to juror candidates, over and over, that they were there to decide on the facts of the case, but not on the validity of the law; that it was their duty to make their decisions based on the law and on the judge's interpretation of the law, and not on their own views of what the law was or should be or what was right. And of course that's completely orthodox; nearly every jury is told the same thing. But as I listened to it, repeatedly, it kept sounding worse to me every time.

In the first place, if the goal is to evaluate the facts, I don't see that jurors are especially good at that. I remember when I served on a jury, and we were told the four elements of "assault with a deadly weapon," and all the other jurors were convinced that find evidence for ANY ONE of those elements was enough to convict. (Lunchtime was approaching, and I think they all wanted to get done quickly—as the poem says, "Wretches hang that jurymen may dine.") The other juror candidates in the current pool didn't seem any better are making distinctions or reasoning carefully. And I've heard similar things from friends who've been on juries. If I were to be tried, I think I would rather waive a jury and have the judge evaluate the facts.

But in the second place, I don't think that limited role is why juries were built into the American constitutional system as a safeguard for freedom. Historically, juries refusing to convict was part of the struggle over laws like the Alien and Sedition Acts; and often those refusals to convict were a reflection of political and legal dissent.

In fact, it seems to me that the judge's instructions reflected a basic misunderstanding of the constitutional role of the jury. She was treating jurors as if they were functionaries within the judicial branch, unskilled draftees recruited to carry out a specific, narrow task. But I think the jurors are meant to be there as citizens. And citizens, as Hamilton explained, stand above all three branches of government; it's their consent that empowered any agency of government to act. It seems to me that a jury is a sample of the citizenry, for the purpose of giving the citizenry the chance to disavow, and even stop, judicial acts done in their name; to say, in effect, "Now hold on, that's not right!" That's akin to the origins of equity, which grew out of kings saying, "I don't care what the law says—that's not right and you can't do it," but adapted to a republic where the people and not the king are sovereign; and it's akin to the Roman institution of the tribune, a magistrate who had the power, not to command action, but to stop other actions, veto laws, and even shut down government. It's a way to bring the people into the judicial process directly, and to let them disavow a law. And I can see a point to that function. But it's a function that the standard admonition is designed to thwart.

On the other hand, a jury that can do this can also do it for bad purposes. It can refuse, for example, to convict a gay-basher, or the leader of a lynch mob, or a man who shoots his wife's lover. So it's not a safe power to allow, and the risks have to be thought about.

Still, when I listened to that instruction, explained over and over, I kept imagining myself being called to account for a verdict I had voted for, and saying, "I vass only followink orrders!" I really have doubts about whether a juror who accepts those orders from a judge is worth having, let along worth giving a constitutionally protected role to.

a metaphor

This one just came into my head: Specie is fixed point money. Banknotes are floating point money.

a new scam, I think

Just now, I received a phone call from a man with a South Asian accent, and with "boiler room" noises in the background. He verified my name, asked if I had received a new Medicare card, and then said, "We need to validate it in the system." So I said, "No, you don't," and hung up. I had actually visited the local Social Security office yesterday, and while I was there they confirmed that I was signed up for Medicare; but in any case this had all the earmarks of an ID theft attempt.

I have to say it really impresses me how enterprising phishers are about coming up with new lines of bullshit to talk people out of confidential information.

Heinlein again

In the aftermath of reading Heinlein's letters, I took another look at several of his books, including the two late novels I can endure to read, Job and Friday. The latter is about a young woman who's been damaged in all kinds of ways, and is rebelling against it: Her society doesn't consider her to be human, a number of countries would kill her if they identified her, the churches believe she has no soul, and most people like her ("artificial persons") are subject to indentures imposed without their consent—that is, slavery. This is not something Heinlein is advocating; his entire oeuvre is filled with hatred of slavery and its excuses, and Friday in particular makes it clear that Friday has been deeply injured. And yet . . . we learn about Friday's indoctrination regarding sexual conduct, including the things that were "not tolerated" in her attitudes toward it; and, disturbingly, they're an almost exact fit to the attitudes Heinlein himself portrayed a lot of women characters in his other novels as holding.

It also bothers me that we see Friday approached sexually by several other women, and accepting it, and in one case becoming part of a couple with another woman for several weeks; and yet the action mostly evades any consummation of those approaches, and in the one case where it doesn't, the sexual activity is kept offstage. It gives me the impression that Heinlein wasn't comfortable with lesbianism, and I really wish he had not tried to write about it.

it is accomplished

A few minutes ago, I made one last pass through my current GURPS project, trimming out a few more words here and there, and concluded that I had done as much revising as I could productively do. Now it's a case of waiting for the "playtest" (actually a peer review) to start. My book is one of several in the queue, so I don't know when that will be. . . .

I triumph!

During this weekend's visit to Poway (I was there to run a session of Tapestry, my GURPS Fantasy campaign), I played a round of Settlers of Catan with my hosts. This started out with her repeatedly rolling numbers that gave him and me resources, but not her, and both of us were pulling ahead of her. I kept getting such large hands that I was worried about having the Robber played on me and losing half of the current hand; more than once, I traded in four cards of one resource for the one card of another resource I needed to do a particular build. He was doing particularly well with building the longest road..

Then she was able to play the Robber first on him (by rolling it randomly) and then on me (by playing a knight) in the same turn! This pulled her ahead and slowed him down. I did a lot of road building and took longest road away from him—in fact, when I connected my two roads I got a length of 14, which was only one less than the maximum possible—so I built one more road to get the bragging rights. In the meantime, she was building a lot of towns and cities, and scoring largest army. So I was at 8 points, and she was at 9, with 10 needed to win.

Then I came up with another really huge hand, and figures I had better play it. I built a city with some of my resources; then I offered to trade for brick, and he took my up on it, accepting my stone card, which really surprised me. And that gave me enough to build one more town in an empty stretch of my amazingly long road, going from 8 to 10 in one turn, which gave me the win.

That was gratifying, but what really pleased me was having things work out so that I got a 15-segment road, something I've never seen before. . . .

(Earlier in the weekend we played several sessions of Sparkle Kitty, a much lighter game, but one I find a surprising amount of fun.)


In Stranger in a Strange Land, the titular character, Valentine Michael Smith, travels to Washington, DC. We're told that the city is 3^4+3^3, or 108, Martian years old. A Martian year is 687 days, so that's 203 years.

The surveying on Washington started in 1791; the federal government moved there in 1800. That gives the current year in Stranger as somewhere between 1994 and 2003.

A very early chapter says that the second human expedition to Mars, which found Smith as the sole survivor of the first expedition (born there and raised by Martians), departed a quarter century after the first. That puts the first human expedition at sometime between 1969 and 1978, or between 8 and 17 years after the novel was published. Since the first expedition was four married couples, Heinlein is envisioning really rapid advances in space technology, much more rapid than the real world attained. Not to mention a third world war sometime not long after the first expedition, and the creation of a world government with its own police and military after that. By now the main events of the novel are more than a decade in the past.

keep on Trekkin'

C and I just watched the final episode of Season 1, "Operation: Annihilate" (a remarkably uninformative title). In the course of the story, James Kirk's brother Samuel Kirk and his wife Aurelan died, leaving Peter Kirk, the captain's roughly 10-year-old nephew, an orphan. I don't think we ever saw him again. I wonder why Roddenberry didn't put him into the Wesley Crusher role? Did Kirk have any other siblings who could adopt him? The whole question just seems to be dropped by the episode's end.

even Heinlein nods

I just picked up and reread The Rolling Stones, one of Heinlein's juveniles for Scribner's, and to my taste one of the best. One of its better known episodes is the "flat cat" episode, where the Stone family acquire a Martian animal called a flat cat, a pancake-shaped furry animal that attaches itself to hosts, snuggles against them, and purrs. After 64 days, it gives birth parthenogenically to eight flat kittens; after another 64 days they have kittens; and after 64 more days those kittens have kittens—and Heinlein says there are 513 kittens.

Now, we start with 1 flat cat. The next generation is 8; the third is 64; and the fourth is 512. But the sum of those numbers is 585. The number Heinlein gives is the sum of the first and last generations, implying that the intermediate generations died—which he doesn't mention and presumably didn't mean to have happen.

And there's a deeper point than that. If Fuzzy Britches had had another litter when her kittens had kittens, that would have been 9 flat cats giving birth to 72 kittens, for a total of 81; and if they all had kittens, it would have been 648 kittens, for a total of 729. So it appears that each flat cat had only one litter. That's certainly a possible life history—but it makes no sense for an animal that reproduces once to go on living afterward, apparently indefinitely. Certainly the flat cats should die by the time their kittens reproduce, and they could very well die right after giving birth, as there's no mention of nursing or other parental care. But Heinlein doesn't show any of them as dying. So really, the numbers ought to have been even higher!

Heinlein liked to put explanations of how vital it is to study mathematics into his juveniles, and The Rolling Stones has one, early on. It's ironic to find him miscalculating a simple geometric series expansion!