The Novels

Sociology 500, a Romance (Second Draft) -- The first book in the Economics 101 Trilogy.
Karel and Dan, former American football teammates and now graduate students, meet fellow graduate students Kristie and Bobbie, and the four form a steady study group.

Economics 101, a Novel (Rough Draft) -- My first sustained attempt at a novel, two-thirds finished in rough draft, and heading a little too far south.
What would you do if you and your study partner, with whom you had been seriously discussing marriage, suddenly found yourselves all alone together on a desert island?

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Sociology 500, a Romance, ch 1 pt 1 -- Introducing Bobbie

TOC Well, let's meet Roberta Whitmer. Bobbie entered the anthropology department office and looked around. Near the receptionis...

Wednesday, May 3, 2017

RFQ: Ch. 5, A Little Cosmology

Wycliffe's Sacrifice


A Little Cosmology

I had thought to avoid this little list of arcane facts, interpretations, opinions, and stream-of-consciousness. But I see that there are some who might be losing patience with all my talk of prayer and God and religious nonsense.

So, I guess I need to tell you something about the world in which this novel takes place.

Karel and Bobbie call it Xhilr.

Well, if you understand "xh" to be a glotal fricative and "lr" to be a pseudo-consonant formed by rolling the sides of the tongue rather than the tip, you might let me get away with writing it that way. To an American ear, it would sound something like a cross between "chill" and "here", but spoken somewhat gutturally.

In their language, the meaning is similar to our "earth", meaning dirt, ground, or the big clot of dirt and mud that people live on.

(Or a large, electrically neutral sink of electrons, in some dialects, although that would preferably be "xhilr zheemn".)

(And in the islands where Bobbie and Karel have been visiting, it is called a word that sounds like "Bokadakr", but I really don't want to try to explain that today.)

When I said it was far away, I certainly didn't mean "far away like Okinawa is far from Florida", and I didn't mean "far away like the Earth is far from Mars". Nor did I mean to indicate a distance like that of our solar system from, say, the triple solar system we call Algol, nor even the distance between our galaxy and the Perseus Cluster cataloged as Abel 426.

On the other hand, as distances between universes go, their universe is rather close to ours, having a cosmological constant, or, rather, a set of quintessential parameters rather similar to ours.

Which has little to do with the fact that both the length of their year and of their day are fairly close to our own, as well. (Close in terms of the relative entropic rate, which is the only meaningful way in which we can compare their time with ours.) The number of similarities after translation is highly coincidental, and rather convenient because you don't want me stopping the narrative every third paragraph or so to describe some detail about the physics of their world.

(Cough.)
God (Zhimu):
The Progenitor(s). An entity or group of entities, demonstrating very high levels of intelligence, which determined the conditions of the beginning of Karel and Bobbie's universe, and thus the physical laws under which their universe operates. Also, the Creator(s). Sometimes spoken of as Nature Itself.
"Zh" should be understood as the soft "j", or the voiced version of the lingual fricative "sh".

We might assume that they were the perfectly evolved occupants of the universe which preceded the one in which Karel and Bobbie live, if "precede" or "perfectly evolved" had any reasonable meaning in such a context.

Trying to distinguish whether this God is singular or plural stretches both Xhilran and human linguistic limits beyond repair. Let's not do that. That kind of discussion gets messy rather quickly. (As with most arguments about the nature of God, it tends to leave reason behind in chasing semantics with too few clues.)

Except, I'll mention that, while they do seem to be a collection of individuals, they are of such unity of purpose that it wouldn't matter which of them any of the children of Xhilr engaged with.

No difference in responses, no difference in answers. None of this god of fortune, god of love, god of fertility, etc. nonsense. Trying, in other words, to choose which to pray to, in order to get the response closest to the response one wants, would be an exercise in self-deceit.

(Not to mention rather unnecessary. These Zhimu want their zhinu children to be happy.)

Okay,
god (zhinu):
sentient entity -- by definition, offspring, or creation/creature of God. In certain senses, implementation of complex mathematical automata. Sometimes referred to as "soul" ("pta-maesh"). If not instantiated in a physical body, often referred to as "spirit" ("hrehi"), or, in a more jocular sense, "ghost" ("iuu-hrehi").
Pronunciation -- "pt" is a combined lingual/labial plosive, "ae" is that vowel somewhere between the "a" in "apple" and the "e" in "bet", and "hr" is an aspirated "r", as French, but more to the front of the tongue.

Maybe we need these, as well:

soul (pta-maesh):
an individual sentient entity, or zhinu. Sometimes synonymous with "spirit", but generally indicating physical instantiation: spirit + body.
spirit (hrehi):
an individual sentient entity, or zhinu, not physically instantiated.
ghost (iuu-hrehi):
generally indicating hrehi in a superstitious mode of expression.

Okay, now we can say this:
prayer (ee-noil):
generally, an attempt by a pta-maesh (zhinu) to communicate with Zhimu, or one of several classes of similar activities. Or may be considered as communion with, or reference to one's conscience. May be as simple as silent thought or meditation, or may involve elaborate ritual.
Now, these definitions are barely sufficient for the current narrative, and definitely should not be reverse-projected onto the words which I am borrowing from our own language for use in this universe.

I mean, I am not expounding a theology useful to you or me. This is a fantasy, after all. I'm just using the closest words I can find.

If you are looking for everyday meaning for the above words, don't look here, look in whatever you consider to be your own scriptures.




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[4th draft Economics 101

RFQ: Ch. 4, Wycliffe's Sacrifice

(Yet another false start:)
Priorities Change


Wycliffe's Sacrifice


This won't sound like a discussion of economics, but we should follow Wycliffe for a little while. Economics is about value, and understanding value requires background information.

Besides, Wycliffe is going to become something of a laboratory assistant for us, and we really should get to know him a bit better.



Wycliffe grinned wickedly as he put the island behind him.

"Leave them together all by themselves for three days, and let's just see if they haven't gotten together."

Now he turned his attention to his engine.

In the process of playing with the mixture, he knew he had left a lot of unburned carbon on the spark plugs. So he brought the plane up to cruise speed and gave himself extra altitude and worked a different game on the engine.

First he feathered the engine, to let the plugs cool while the plane glided for a few minutes. Then he gave the engine spark and let the air on the propellers push the engine back to ignition, then accelerated smoothly to high RPM, regaining lost altitude and speed and burning off some of the carbon on the plugs.

Wycliffe's cache of fuel was on the island where he had told Zedidiah they had set down to work on the engine. It was an island near the main shipping routes, and was often used as a picnic spot for travelers with extra time. Several of the charter pilots in the islands cached fuel and other supplies there, and most of the pilots referred to it as the cache island.
The distance out to the desert island and back to the cache island was dangerously close to the fuel limit for the plane. If he left the plugs as they were, the engine's efficiency would drop and could leave him beyond the limit. He needed all the fuel efficiency he could get, to be sure of making it back safely to his supply of fuel.

He briefly considered going back and picking them up, and then suggesting they take an alternate route where he could refuel. He could let the engine cool on the desert island and manually clean the plugs while Bobbie and Karel explored, and then they could fly to an island where he could borrow enough fuel from a friend to get to the cache island. And they could take it slow, to improve fuel efficiency.

His grin softened to a smile as he thought of the food he'd left with them. He'd packed some extra candles for a little mood, as well as for light. Then he frowned as a thought that had been nagging him forced its way to the surface.

"No salad. I forgot to pack greens and other vegetables in their food box. Shoot. Another reason to go back and get them now."

It had cost him as much as his share of the profits from the the trip to set them up with food and to secure the extra fuel. But he thought it would be worth it.

Having been jilted by the woman he had thought was the love of his life, he had some hangups about romantic relationships.

He'd been watching Karel and Bobbie for the last four months, and thinking of the woman who had left him. Sure, he had made a casual bet with Zedidiah, but it wasn't really the bet that concerned him. It hadn't been a serious bet, anyway, no money involved, just the deep wish to be see someone achieve the happiness he thought he had missed.

They already had something he had never had with Tessa. They trusted each other. They worked well together.

Bobbie and Karel had referred to not wanting to have arguments at home, but Wycliffe had never seen them argue at all. He had heard gossip, but all the gossip was shock and surprise that they were not lovers. Gossip of arguments were just as missing as gossip about midnight trysts.

And he could tell they liked each other. There was nothing awkward or forced between them.

They must have been planning the research project for at least a year before they came, and he couldn't imagine why they would have kept running away from each other for so long. Being a former E-P-ist himself, he thought he understood about eternity, too. Denying each other the happiness he had never been able to obtain was just a crime.

After a few minutes of running the engine at high tach to heat the plugs and burn off the carbon, he brought the engine back to a high cruise speed, and the engine's rhythm was feeling good. So he radioed Zedidiah and told him the same story he was planning to tell their professor -- that, having set down on the cache island to look at the engine, they had decided they wanted to take a few days' vacation. And they had enough food in the emergency kit.

He figured he could straighten out the details later, when Bobbie and Karel were safely together at last.

Then he set the autopilot, set his alarm, and took a nap.



When the alarm woke him up an hour and a half later, he found that a strong crosswind had been blowing steadily for some time, and had blown him significantly off course. He corrected course and got the plane pointed back towards his cache island. But now the wind had shifted more, and he was pushing into a headwind.

Feeling a tightness in his throat, he cut his engine speed back to its most efficient and hoped that the headwind would ease, and that he had cleared the plugs well enough.



With less than an hour remaining to the cache island, he was watching the fuel gauge rather anxiously. The trip really had been too close to the edge of the plane's fuel range.

In reasonably good conditions, it probably would have been safe enough. But he apparently hadn't been able to get the plugs completely cleared. Combined with the extra distance from being off course, and the headwind he hadn't accounted for, he was in danger of running out of fuel.

Rushing the return trip at first had also been a mistake.

He tried to raise Zedidiah again on the radio, but for some reason he wasn't getting any answer.

Then the engine's rhythm became a bit too smooth, and he knew he was running on fumes.

Actually, engines don't run on fumes. The last few ounces of fuel remaining in the fuel lines is not enough to maintain fuel pressure, and engine noise drops as power output drops. Saying "running on fumes" evokes the feeling of the engine's reduced output as it uses the last of the fuel.

When the engine lost power completely, he feathered it, letting the blades turn free to reduce drag. He trimmed flaps and ailerons for all the distance he could get in the last glide and wished for the island to appear on the horizon.

He tried the radio one last time. No answer. So he focused on maintaining his glide for as long as possible and thought about the danger he had put Karel and Bobbie in. It finally occurred to him that making the decision without asking them was, in fact, kidnapping, and might possibly end up contributing to rape.

At twenty feet above the water and no island in sight, he pulled the nose up a bit to slow down before contact. He considered putting the landing gear down for drag, but instead concentrated on getting into the water smoothly.

The belly of the plane dipped in the water and left a wake behind as the water slowed the plane. He had managed to keep the nose from dipping down, keeping the plane from tumbling.

Now he was thinking about the dinghy he had left for them to maybe take a joyride in. It would not be enough to get them to to an inhabited island, and that fact worried him. As the plane slowed down and started to sink, he opened the door and jumped out and swam away from it.

He put the plane behind him, thinking that would be the best way to target the island that should be up ahead, removed most of his clothes, and started swimming with a conservative side stroke.

(Why did he forget all his emergency training here?)

If he could make the island, there would be supplies, and he would have a chance to contact someone to send after Karel and Bobbie. He'd probably do jail time, but at this point getting them back safely was his first goal.

After the plane sank, he kept track of direction by the sun. It was low in the sky, so he kept it where it had been when he put the plane in the water, just to his left and ahead of him, and kept swimming, shifting from one side, then to his back, and then to the other side regularly, to conserve his strength.

While he swam, he worked out the distance in his head. Even with the most hopeful estimates, he was looking at swimming more than twenty hours. But he had no choice.

Finally, he started to pray.

"God, I hope you're out there. It's been a while since I talked to you last."

Stroke, stroke, conserving his energy.

"I've done some bad things. But this time I've really screwed up. Without help, I'm going to die before I can tell anyone where Karel and Bobbie are. I thought I was doing something good for them, but I was wrong."

Breathe even, stroke easy.

"It's my fault that they're in danger, but if I don't get back, who will find them? Please help me make it to the cache."

Face the sky, mouth out of water, stroke, breathe, rest.

When the sun set, he started looking for stars to get his bearings. It took about a half hour for him to find the stars he was looking for, but he did, and he kept swimming and praying.

After about ten hours, he was wishing he had somehow kept a life-preserver vest from the emergency supplies. He wouldn't have been able to swim very well, but maybe he could have been found by a boat or plane within a few days instead. The sky started getting light again, and he checked the sun's position and kept swimming.

About noon, he started losing strength. Thoughts of Bobbie and Karel kept him swimming for maybe an hour longer. Then he just lost consciousness.

Light graying to dark.

Complete blackness.





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Monday, May 1, 2017

RFQ3: Ch. 3, Priorities Begin to Change

(Yet another false start:)
Framing Story


Priorities Begin to Change


Now that we have read the framing story for this simplified economic system, we can perform the first thought experiment.

You may note that this is not the simplest economic system we could, ideally, describe. Part of the reason for that is that we already think we know too much about the subject.

Part of what makes physics difficult is when we describe (for example) a cannonball and a feather interacting with the earth in a vacuum to children who haven't really ever picked up a cannonball, much less properly experienced a vacuum.

But most children have played with marbles and balls and feathers. And their intuition will usually betray them.

Playing with planets as physics toys requires a bit of preparation. Simple is often not simple without preparation.

A proper Adam and Eve story requires laying too much groundwork -- and there's too much of the models inside my head that I would have to explain explicitly if I were to just start off telling you about the Adam and Eve of Karel and Bobbie's world.

Even the uninhabited island location is a bit outside the ordinary experience, but it's much more within reach, I think. If we've never been to one, we've heard about such things, and I can tell you more about their island as we go.

I thought, by the way, of stranding Wycliffe on a different desert island, for his experience going one-on-one with nature and God. But he needs to have a bit more direct interaction with God than that, for our experiment to proceed.

God. I keep talking about God. Maybe you are an atheist. Or, maybe you don't think you can believe in my God.

No problem. You understand that the universe we live in is a product of natural laws. For the purposes of this novel, their God is the expression or embodiment of the natural laws by which their universe operates. In a sense, their God does not just own their universe, but their God is their Universe.

And praying is how they consult with their conscience, how they compare things with the impress of the laws of nature within their heart and mind.

Let's continue with Karel and Bobbie's story.



"Where is Wycliffe going?" Bobbie asked, half to herself, as they watched the airplane disappear over the horizon.

Karel shrugged. "I suppose he needs to do more prolonged tests on the engine. I hope that's what he's doing. Or maybe he's going back to civilization for parts or something."

They looked around themselves at the island as a few minutes passed. They could see the beach stretching fairly straight away from them, and the sea seemed smooth enough. Inland, the land sloped up gently for a ways, with a small mountain off in the distance.

"How long do you think it'll take?" Bobbie leaned back on one of the trunks.

"How should I know?"

A few minutes passed without conversation.

"What time is it now?"

Karel looked at his watch. "One twenty-six."

"Just wanted to know." Bobbie paused for thought. "Do you think he was acting a little strange?"

"Strange?" Karel thought for a moment. "Well, you know that most of the people out here are not what we would call normal back home."

"And?"

"It would be hard to tell what strange might mean for him." He laughed. "The island natives are a little easier for me to read."

"I think he was acting a little strange."

Karel looked around the beach again, then at Bobbie. "Maybe so. You need something to keep the sun off you, I think."

"No, I'm okay. But I'm thinking maybe we should move our stuff up the beach a bit. The tide line seems a little close here."

"He should be back before the tide rises too far. I hope."

Bobbie drew her knees up under her chin and thought.

Then she said, "Let's explore."

"Agreed. We've been sitting here long enough." 

And they stood up and dusted themselves off a bit.

"But we need to keep the beach and the luggage in sight."

"True."

Karel picked up a stick of driftwood and drove it into the sand upright. Bobbie watched him check his watch and the position of the shadow.

"East seems to be that way." He pointed out across the water.

"I do hope we're not here long enough to find out for sure."

They walked north, along the beach, first. After walking about five minutes, Karel drove another stick in the ground and checked directions.

"The beach seems to be curving a little towards the west."

"Do you want to draw a map?"

"If we had the time, it could be interesting."

"I think we could make the time. We could put off our return a day or two, after we get back to the main island, and then have them fly us back out here to explore."

"Sounds fun. Maybe so. Wycliffe would approve. So would Professor MacVittie and our parents. Heh."

Bobbie smiled at the thought, too.

"Let's head inland a bit."

"Sounds good."

After about a minute of walking, the beach's level had risen five feet or so, and the sand began to be covered with grass. Another minute brought them into low shrub and high grass, and another brought them into thicker, taller wild woods.

Karel said, "We could lose track of the stuff if we go further."

"I think I do want to come back here to explore." replied Bobbie, and they turned back and walked south, keeping just outside the tree line. Passing the luggage on their left, they continued for another five minutes.

"Still heading slightly east. If we've been walking about 80 yards a minute, we've covered about a half mile of beach. The beach doesn't curve much here. Let's save this for when we come back."

"Sounds good. So, Karel, we are coming back after Wycliffe fixes the plane."

"Yeah. We can let him think he persuaded us to have an adventure."

"We could ask him to be our chaperon." Bobbie laughed.

Karel chuckled. "He'd be an interesting chaperon."

They walked down to the water and both of them took their shoes off and waded in. Bobbie kicked a bit of water at Karel, getting his clothes wet, and they laughed.

"Really nice water."

"Definitely going swimming when we come back here."

"Yep."

Carrying their shoes, they followed the water line back to below where the luggage was sitting in the sand.

"Is it almost two?"

"Yeah. Maybe we should move the luggage up to the grass, anyway."

"I'll need your help with my trunk."

"Sure. And I'd appreciate it if you helped me with mine. I'm not quite into proving I'm Atlas today."

"Hah."

They cleaned their feet and put their shoes back on, and then moving the luggage occupied maybe ten minutes. They had a trunk and a suitcase each, and there was Bobbie's purse, and Karel's shoulder bag, and a backpack each, along with some other small personal stuff of Bobbie's, wrapped in a scarf.

"I didn't really think about it at the time, but is it a little odd that Wycliffe put our personal stuff off, too?"

"Maybe. He is taking a long time."

And there were also supplies from the plane -- a box of emergency supplies, and the rubber dinghy and the tent each in its own canvas carrying bag. And there were two boxes that they hadn't really taken notice of until the rest of the luggage was moved.

"What're those?"

"Something of Wycliffe's?" Karel picked one up. "There seems to be a tag on this one."

Bobbie picked up the other, and they carried the boxes to the grass and set them down. Karel looked at the tag, but what he had thought was a tag was an envelope. "Oh, for, ... It says, to us."

"Huh?" Bobbie took the envelope and read it. "To Bobbie and Karel." The envelope was not sealed, and inside was a card with a heart and a Cupid's arrow drawn on it.

"You guys need a vacation. There's enough food in these boxes. I'll be back in three days. Have fun."

"That ..." Karel didn't know whether to laugh or cry.

Bobbie turned the card over to see if there was any more. "I'll call your professor and tell him you decided to postpone your return for a little adventuring. There aren't any dangerous animals on this island. Don't worry about a thing. See you in three days. Love Wycliffe." And she took a deep breath.

"How sweet." she said. "In a twisted sort of way."

"Meddling busybody." Karel muttered.

They each thought their own thoughts for a minute or two.

"Professor MacVittie will uhm, have mixed feelings about this." Karel started.

"I have mixed feelings about this! Flying out from the main island early in the day, with time for a little hiking and a picnic, and flying back after a day trip, that would have been a fun vacation."

"Mmm hmm. Yeah. Fun."

"We might even have had Wycliffe or Zedidiah join us while we camped out for a night. But this is not going to make our bishops happy, either."

"Or us. Blast Wycliffe. Legally, this is kidnapping."

"And a bit worse. But swearing at him won't bless us."

"Okay. Bless him."

More silence. Then Bobbie laughed. "Yes, bless him. I think we should pray."

"Indeed." Karel shook his head as he got down on his knees. "I'll go first?"

Bobbie also knelt down. "Please. It'll give me some time to calm down."

Karel prayed for Wycliffe to be forgiven, and for his heart to be softened, and for their safe return to civilization. Then he prayed for help for him and Bobbie, that they would be guided and kept out of spiritual danger as well as physical.

Bobbie concurred with a heartfelt amen, and then added her own concerns:

"... Father, we don't know what the future will bring, but please, keep us from doing anything that would offend our future companions or prevent us from being married in the temple. ...."

And Karel concurred with an equally heartfelt amen.

Temples and marriage?

I should mention that E-P-ism has a lot in common with the way commonly known as Mormonism in our world.

A temple in the E-P religion is a place where covenants of an eternal nature are made, and marriage is one of those. But individuals and couples wishing to enter into those covenants are asked to maintain a certain moral decorum that Wycliffe had not considered carefully enough when he made his plans for his little practical joke.

I think, had he stopped to think about it, he would have taken Zedidiah's advice to heart and just brought them back to the airport on the main island.

They stayed on their knees, listening with their hearts. And got an answer:
Wycliffe is in my hands. 
Karel looked puzzled and checked with Bobbie. She nodded, she'd felt the same impression.

Karel again prayed. "Father, if Wycliffe is in danger please protect him. And we do hope that he will be able to return in three days, as he promised."

Bobbie added, "We'd rather it were sooner, if he could change his mind, but please at least bring him back by then."
I want you two here, now, for a while. I know how to save Wycliffe's soul, and I know how to save yours. It's time for both of you to start preparing.
Bobbie and Karel looked at each other and repeated together what they had each felt, watching each other's eyes as the words matched exactly.

Then they prayed together for Wycliffe's friends and family, and then for their own, as they realized the possible meanings of the impressions they had received.

When they felt they had prayed sufficiently, they decided they should follow the impression they had received to prepare.

Karel dug into the emergency supplies while Bobbie opened the boxes of food that Wycliffe had prepared for them.

"Bread, cheese, water. Sausage. Thoughtful of him about the water. Wine. We won't need that."

"Keep it in case we need crude antiseptic. We have one tent. It could fit four in an emergency. You get that. I'll make a lean-to or something. Oh, good, we have a water filter and some fishing string and hooks. Rope. A hand shovel, an axe, a good knife. It looks like a good scout packed this, or someone who knows what one needs in the wilderness. We'll be okay for a while." And he put the supplies back carefully.

Was that Scout? No, scout. Either way, really. They had something like Boy Scouts, too.

Bobbie closed the boxes of food and got her lunch out of her purse. It was an egg salad sandwich. "How careful do we need to be with our food?"

Karel got out his lunch. "Let's eat what we've brought, so it doesn't spoil, and then we'll start exploring for real. We'll set the tent up before it starts getting dark." He paused.

"Bobbie."

She looked up. "What?"

"Where I was reading in The Book on the plane this morning. Book of Ioba."

Of course it was not the Book of Job in the Bible of our world. But it was an account of one of the holy men of The Book of their world, whose life was taken as a parable of patience. And it had verses like this:
You've let this man gain a lot of wealth. He's living the good life. That's why he's being such a good person. If you reach out and take away all the good stuff that you've let him get, he'll start behaving and talking badly enough pretty quickly. Just try it and see.
And God gave the deceiver permission to test Ioba. But He said, Only the material wealth. You may not harm his health or his family.
Bobbie nodded. "That's in the first chapter. God doesn't hate us, he just figures he can let us be tested."

"I reckon so."



Let's watch the values Karel and Bobbie put on things, and consider how those values change as their understanding of their situation changes.

Also, let's think about what Wycliffe has exchanged with Bobbie and Karel, and to what purpose.

And we can think about the ways in which Bobbie and Karel have been cooperating and sharing, and what it is that allows them to cooperate and share.

If I tell that story in full here, it will distract us, so let's save that for another time. But we can think about what it might be that allows them to do the unusual things they do together on the island.

Note how their ideas and priorities were in agreement when they prayed, and how that sense of unity allowed them to hear the answers they got.

Prayer? Perhaps you still wonder about that. Bear with them on this. We all have this connection in our hearts with the forces that created our universe, whatever we call those forces.

The Book? E-P-ism has its scriptures. One of their books of scriptures is a book which they share with other religions around them, and it is usually called, The Book or The Holy Book. And it is similar, as I say, to our Bible.

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