The problem of immortality

Also to be found over at Fantastic Schools and Where to Find Them.

Okay, there’s more than one but I’m going to talk about the problem of starting over.

If one is immortal (in the sense of not dying from old age–we’ll presume you can be hurt or killed) in a world where immortality is not known and accepted, where you have to hide what you are, then you face the problem of having to start over from time to time.  In times past, that might be no problem.  Change venues, show up in a new town as a wandering minstrel or other traveler from a far place and you are simply who you claim to be and are able to pass as.  Gregor the Slow, who people are starting to look at strangely because of how well preserved he is for his age disappears and everyone assumes he ran afoul of a bear or something.   Three towns over, folk who never heard of Gregor look suspiciously at the new farrier come to town but, seeing as they had no farrier of their own having one set up nearby saving them from wasting half a day to have a horse shod at another town soon wins their approval.

There can be complications, of course, but generally speaking, one does not have to go far to find people who do not know you.  You do not have to worry about any difficult to forge government documents which local rulers (whether “democratically elected,” hereditary nobles, or governors appointed by a distant imperial capital) can use to access records going back to your early childhood.  There is no worry that your picture will show up in some news carried to your previous residence leading someone from your old life to recognize you.  So long as you live a relatively quiet life, there’s essentially no risk of anyone recognizing “new you” as “old you.”

Starting over is, in general, is a fairly straightforward task.  Walk out the door.  Keep going for a while.  Set up in new place.

In the modern age, particularly in the industrialized world, it’s a much more difficult task.  There are ID’s, public records, credentials needed for jobs that tie to records leading back into your past.  There are ways around them, but they tend to put you on the outside of the law and always at risk of discovery which can complicate your life considerably.

There is one point, however, where it is much easier to slip into a new life than at other instances:  starting college.  People often attend colleges far from the places where they grew up, providing an instant excuse for being a stranger to those around you.  College entrance exams, SAT’s and ACT’s can be taken by anyone.  You don’t have to be a current high school student to take them. (I know.  I’ve done it.)  You might have to generate a false high school record, although with some research you might be able to find an excuse for said records to be lost.  And if not?  Well, if you’re an immortal with decades or centuries to prepare you should be able to find some way to introduce high school records into the system, the quiet, studious one who sat over by himself and never made much impact on people so, of course nobody remembers him.  But nobody has to remember him to look up his name in the computer and send a transcript to the college.

And so our immortal enters college where nobody can be expected to know him.  Here he can earn credentials to find work providing a visible means of support because he can’t just live on several lifetimes worth of investments (for example) without people questioning how he got that wealth and where it came from.  While in college, his problem isn’t passing his classes for the most part; after all, he’s been down this road before and probably more than once.  Rather it’s getting just those grades that fit the role he’s playing–a reasonably good but not exceptional student (which might cause people back at the high school to wonder why they didn’t remember such an exceptional student), perhaps one finally coming into his own and exceeding what he did in High School (College worked that way for me, even without being an ageless immortal into the mix).

And so he should be good for the next twenty years or so when he has to abandon his new life and start over again, probably at a new college.

In fact, this provides such a natural break point for someone to start a new life that one wonders why it isn’t used more often in stories featuring immortals in an analog of the normal world (Highlander:  The Series, as one of the better known examples).

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Another Snippet

From a Work in Progress:


Detective Ware stepped back so fast he almost jumped.  I looked down at my hand in his.  I had not even noticed his taking it.  He dropped it.

I looked at the woman he’d addressed as Belinda expecting to see raging jealousy on her face but saw only…confusion.

“James?  What are you doing here and who is…”

As I watched, here eyes drifted downward then widened.  Her face went pale.

“What in God’s creation is that?” She pointed at the vampire corpse on the floor.

“It’s a vampire!” Liz said.

I winced.  This was getting too complicated.

“I see what it is!” Belinda screamed. “It’s a dead body.  Why is there a dead body in my living room?”

I looked at Ware.  He was not going to like this but I had no choice.

“Miss,” I said, my voice sharp. “Belinda!”

She turned to face me, fury raging across her face, her mouth open to shout.  My eyes met hers.  I Pushed.

“Please, have a seat.” I Pushed through my words.  Confusion replaced fury on her face.  I pointed to a chair. “Please.  This can be explained but it will take some time.”

She lurched like a sleepwalker to the chair and sat.

Ware stared at me. “What did you just do?”

“Something I inherited from my parents,” I said. “I can sometimes…influence people.” I rubbed my temples. “I’m going to have a beaut of a headache.  It’s been too soon since…well, it doesn’t matter.”

“Influence,” Ware said.  He looked at Liz. “And did you?”

I sighed. “I didn’t.  I promise.  If I had, do you think she’d be jumping up and down talking about vampires?  No.  I can’t do it often and I don’t unless I absolutely have to.”

“And you had to here?” He waved at his wife who still sat calmly in the chair.

“I’m sorry, detective, really I am, but you saw that she was about to have a full meltdown.  I just…calmed things down a bit.  No harm has been done.  I’m just buying some time to figure out what to tell her.”

“But…” Liz waved her hands at the corpse. “Vampire.”

I looked at Ware and tilted my head to the side, my lips pressed thin.  He sighed.

“Liz, sweetie, you can’t tell anybody about the vampire.”

“But…”

“No ‘buts’ Liz.  You can’t tell anyone.  Police business.”

“But…vampires.  They’re real.”

I sighed. “Yes, they’re real.  And they’re secret.  And they want to keep it that way.”

She started to speak and I held up a hand.

“A few times in the past, people became aware of the vampires.  When that happened, the vampires started to kill. Not just feed, but kill and kill and kill.  By the time they were done, a large portion of the population was dead, including anybody willing to admit to the existence of vampires.  A generation later vampires were reduced to legends and the deaths attributed to a plague.”

I wrapped my arms around myself and shivered.  I had seen Matei’s records of the event.  He had never admitted it, but I did not doubt that he had been part of that slaughter.  Whatever his behavior currently, I could never forget that he was a monster.  I hated myself for allowing myself to like the creature, knowing what I know about him.

“There are never many vampires.  There are several hundred thousand humans for every one of them.  They cannot fight you openly so if they cannot prey on you in secret, they turn to terror.  You cannot talk about this.  Nobody would believe you but it would be worse if they did.  Other vampires would come and they would kill your mother, your father, your friends, you, everyone you know.”

The throbbing in my head grew to the point of creating sparkles in my vision.  I squeezed my eyes tight for a moment then looked at Belinda.  The confusion on her face had transformed into shock.  She had heard and processed my words to Liz.

“What should I do with your wife?” I asked Ware.

“Ex,” he said absently then shook his head. “You need to release her.  You know how many rights you’re…”

I held up a hand. “Fine.”

I eased up on the push, pausing a moment to implant a suggestion that sitting and waiting was her own idea.  Shock, I thought.  Yes, shock at seeing the dead body and the blood.  Close enough to the surface that only a slight nudge presented it as a reason to obey my earlier instructions.

I released the rest of the push and sighed.  I still needed a handful of Tylenol but at least the sparkles had started to fade.

“What are you talking about?” Belinda rose to her feet like a wrathful deity and pointed a finger at me. “Vampires?  In my house?  Are you insane?”

“It’s real, Mom,” Liz said. “I saw the fangs and everything.”

Belinda turned the finger at Liz. “You stay silent, little girl”

“But Mo-o-o-o-m.”

“Silent.  This is between me, your father, and his…”

I watched her search for the word she wanted to use.

“Consultant,” Ware said. “Ms. Herzeg is up from Nashville, consultant on the recent cult murders.”

“Is that what you were doing when I came in?  Consulting?”

“Belinda, I…”

“Detective Ware got word that there was a possible threat against your family related to the cult.  He called me about it and I was in a position to get here quicker.  As it happened I was just in time to stop the attack on your daughter.” I compressed the time.  No need to tell her about my handling of the body. “Ware arrived soon thereafter and saw how close we had come to losing your daughter.  I guess it was an emotional moment.”

“Emotional.  Right.”

Ware sighed. “Belinda.  There’s no reason for you to be…”

“Jealous?  Of course not.  We’re not married any more, are we?”

“No, but…”  He pressed a hand to his face and bowed his head.

“Um, Detective?” I touched his arm. “We have more important things to deal with right now.”

He looked at me, a strange expression on his face. Frustration?  Maybe regret?

“They’re still out there,” I said. “We’ve got to get your family safe.”

His face cleared immediately.  All business once more. “Both of you need to pack up an overnight bag.  I’ll have the department take you to a safe house.”

“I’m not going with your cop buddies.” Belinda set her hands on her hips. “It’s clear I can’t stay here.  Do you know how much it’s going to cost to get this carpet cleaned?  And the walls.  God, how did you get blood on the walls?  No, I’ll take Elizabeth to my mother’s.”

Ware looked at me, a question in his eyes. “Her mother lives in Fort Wayne.”

I nodded. “Should be okay.  I haven’t heard of any activity there.”

“All right,” Ware said to his ex. “But you can’t tell anyone where you went, not even…”

“I know the drill,” Belinda snapped.  I tried not to use the term harpy even in my own mind, but it was a challenge. “I was married to a cop for ten years.  Don’t talk to anybody. We simply vanish until it’s safe to come back.”

“Three can keep a secret,” Liz said.

Ware chuckled. “If two are dead.”

“I’ll go pack, Dad.” She held out her arms. “Hugs.”

I suppressed the urge to smile.  Divorced or not, Ware seemed to have a close relationship with his daughter.

As mother and daughter disappeared into the back of the house I touched Ware on the arm again. “You okay?”

“How are we going to explain this to the force?” He shook his head at the carnage. “God, if you’d just shot him or stabbed him, we could make a clear case of self defense but.  Cutting his head off?  The Prosecutor will be after your scalp.  Hell, he’ll be after mine too.”

I held up a hand. “We don’t, explain anything that is.  This isn’t the first vampire I’ve taken down by a long shot.  The body?  Well, while the beheading and garlic sewn into the mouth will have it permanently dead at sunrise, I’d feel much better with the body burned to ash.  As for the blood., I’ll see if Matei can set up a very discrete cleaning crew.” I suppressed a giggle. “Do you think your ex would appreciate some new carpet?  I don’t think anything is going to get this clean.”

“Are you shitting me?” Ware stared at me. “This is a crime scene.  We can’t…”

I held up a hand and spoke softly. “This is a vampire.  As far as the public, the force, and the prosecutor is concerned it never happened.  It has to be that way.”

Ware let his head fall into his hands. “Disturbing crime scenes, moving and concealing bodies, what else are you going to have me doing before this is over?”

I frowned.  Ware had been far to easy to convince.  My frown deepened with suspicion. Matei, I thought, what did you do?  Aloud, I merely offered an oblique answer to Ware’s question.

“Frankly, detective, I don’t think you want to know.”

I hoped this would be the worst we would have to do.  I feared it was the least.

2018 Indiana State Fair

I didn’t have a chance to post yesterday because I was busy taking my daughter and a friend of hers, Erin, to the Indiana State Fair.

We started with the girls having Funnel Cake (“Cookies and Cream”)

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Rides!

 

The “skyride” to the other side of the park.

Shopping

Short break for dinner.  Athena had “loaded tater-tots”.  I’m not sure what Erin had.  I had “steak tips”.  the steak tips were seasoned heavily with, I’m thinking onion salt.  Very heavily.  Really, that was the only flavor I got out of it.  But…protein to refuel the machine.

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One more ride for the girls:

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Then, last but not least, the three of us together on one of the two Ferris Wheels.  Unfortunately, I didn’t get a good picture.  I’m guessing I the camera in my phone just wasn’t “fast” enough to stop the motion with the amount of light available.

A view of a small part of the fairground from the top of the Ferris Wheel.

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A good time was had by all.

Online Services and the Infowars Brouhaha

There have been some calls to regulate services like FaceBook, Twitter, et al so they are not able to unilaterally shut down users over things like political opinions.

Since I lean heavily libertarian I am generally opposed to any increase in government regulation of anything.  Fortunately, it would seem that all the regulation needed is already in place.

Here’s the approach I would recommend.

“Common Carriers,” like your phone service (landline or wireless) or most Internet Providers have very broad protections against liability for content carried on their service.  If someone says something actionable on the phone, the phone service is shielded from liability for that since they have no control over what someone says on the phone.  There are limits on this, but as a general rule, that’s the way common carrier protections work.   But it only works because the common carrier exercises no control over content on that carrier or it exercises only limited control (I have seen some common carriers pull the plug on habitual violations of copyright–downloading pirate videos and the like).

Once a platform starts exercising control over content, however, they’re no longer a common carrier.  If they pull some material over its content it can be argued that content that remains is because they choose to have it remain.  And, thus, they are legally liable for that content.

So, if companies like FaceBook, Twitter, Apple, Spotify, etc. want to remove material based on the content, then they should be legally liable, then, for all the remaining content since they are picking and choosing.  Let them, then, either make sure they chase down every actionable statement anybody makes on their platforms or let them and their deep pockets be party to the lawsuits over said actionable content.  Either of those things will tend to drive up their costs of operation.

This requires people willing to pursue lawsuits and lawyers willing to take those cases but given the deep pockets of at least some of those companies, they might well be attractive to lawyers willing to work on contingency.

Make pursuing biased content expensive by holding them accountable for what they do keep and the market can take care of the rest.

How about Another Snippet

Running late on other things, so here’s another snippet from a Work in Progress:


The alarm on my phone woke me.  I stretched.  Almost no pain in my ribs.  While the bone might not be back up to full strength, it was at least knit well enough that it didn’t hurt.  That was strange.  I healed fast, I knew that, but not that fast.

I glanced at my phone confirming the time.  It would be just after sunset in Nashville.  I also saw the message indicator.  I picked up the phone and dialed.

“Please enter your password.”

I punched in the numbers.

“You have one new message.”

“Yeah, come on,” I said while waiting for the interminable greeting to finish.

Finally, Ware’s voice came on the line. “Ms. Herzeg.  I’m afraid I haven’t found anything about the rental car.  It is not where you say you left it and it hasn’t shown up in any of the impound lots.  If I had to guess, it’s been stolen and stripped by now.”

“Damn,” I said.  There went my luggage.

Ware was continuing. “I’d like to meet with you this evening, see if there’s any way we can avoid…” His voice trailed off.  Even the hardened, experience police detective did not want to say “another massacre.”  I understood that.  I didn’t even want to think it.

“Call me after seven.  I’ll be able to pick up then.”

The message ended and I pressed the button to delete it before looking at the clock again.  Not quite seven.  I dialed another number.

“McIntire Investigations.”

“This is Herzeg.  I need the boss.”

“One moment, Ms. Herzeg.”

I waited.  A moment later I heard Matei’s voice. “Dani.”

He did not say any more.

“They redid the cast on my right arm at the hospital today.  I’m at least partially mobile on crutches.  Still need the wheelchair for any extended movements but at least I can push myself now.”

“Good.  You need to find these vampires.”

“Meeting with my police contact tonight,” I said. “I’ll see what I can find out.  Oh, and Boss?  He knows.”

“You told him?”

“He worked it out for himself mostly,” I said. “These guys aren’t exactly being discrete.”

“No, they are not,” Matei said, “and that concerns me.  We are seeing much the same in the other cases.”

“So I’m…still on my own.”

“You are.  Very well, this police officer knows.  Tell him what you need to.  If he talks, his superiors won’t believe him.  And if he becomes a problem, I will deal with it.”

“Matei you’ll…”

Matei gave a very good imitation of a sigh.  He was getting better at imitating humans. “Killing police officers draws too much attention.  I will simply alter his memories.”

I shivered.  For a moment, I wondered if that would not be worse, to be mind-raped that way.  Then I thought of Ware lying in an unmarked grave, pale and blood-drained and decided no, dead was worse.

“I’m sure that won’t be necessary,” I said. “In the meantime, the rental car has vanished.  And along with it my clothes and gear.”

“You have a company card,” Matei said. “Use it as you need it. I believe Amazon can offer overnight shipping for any clothes and items you cannot purchase locally.”

“If you’re sure that’s okay.” I could not stop a grin.  A shopping spree?  On the boss’s nickel?

“We are not hurting for money,” Matei said. “I have been putting a little away for a very long time.”

He disconnected.

I blinked and stared at the phone.  Had he just copied my “Love at First Bite” joke?  He never joked.  And he would never make a joke from a vampire parody romantic comedy.  Maybe he really was getting better at imitating humans.

Stranger things had happened.

Silencing Dissent: A Blast from the (Recent) Past

I don’t usually (never, so far as I can remember) do a “Blast from the Past” with a post so recent but the issue with Alex Jones and Infowars merits attention.

For aliens who have just arrived from the Ferenda Galaxy, let me sum up.  A number of platforms, within a very short span of time between them all permanently banned Jones and Infowars from using their services.

People point out that it’s not a First Amendment issue, since they’re not the government but private services and can choose who they do business with (so long as they aren’t refusing to do a custom baked and decorated cake, I guess–don’t worry about it, Alien just arrived from the Ferenda Galaxy, just an exercise in hypocrisy of those making the current arguments).  However, it remains a very disturbing trend.

Don’t get me wrong.  Jones is a fruitcake his “commentary” laughable.  But that’s the proper approach to dealing with it:  laughter.  Yet what I’m seeing is claims like one from Senator Chris Murphy (D-CT) saying that banning sites like Infowars is necessary to the “Survival of our Democracy”.

“Sites like.” They aren’t going to stop with Infowars.  No, there’s always someone who’s the “most extreme” example of whatever they want to silence.  And there’s always another target.  They’ve been setting precedents for some time and continue to use those precedents to quell any further disagreement with the Party line.   So, yeah, Jones it a fruitcake but, as H. L. Mencken said:

The trouble with fighting for human freedom is that one spends most of one’s time defending scoundrels. For it is against scoundrels that oppressive laws [to which I would add: corporate policies] are first aimed, and oppression must be stopped at the beginning if it is to be stopped at all.

Mr. Murphy, 1984 was a cautionary tale, not a how-to.  And Newspeak, where you rewrite the language to mean something completely different, was a bad thing.

And so, this past May I wrote the following in response to a much smaller precursor of the current case:


A couple days ago I wrote about the Origins Game Fair screeching.  This is part of a larger scheme where people, almost entirely from one end of the political spectrum (or one corner if you are into two-dimensional descriptors) of attempting to silence any dissent.

You know, it’s pretty sad when fictional characters make more sense than people who at least pretend to be real human beings.  Consider, for instance, on the case of some pretty extreme examples, what Captain America had to say about actual, self-identified neo-Nazis (and not the “Everyone I don’t like is a Nazi” that’s become so popular these days) and their Jewish extremist opponents in a long-ago issue of Captain America:

“All my life I’ve had a habit of making speeches.  Some people have criticized me for it.  They may be right.  Because I cannot express with words the horror I feel at seeing what you’ve done here today.

Don’t you realize that in your attack, you’ve attacked your own freedom as well?

The Freedom that guarantees all ideas–both noble and ignoble–the expression that is imperative if our society is to survive!

[Ed:  speaking to Jewish protestor] You!  Can’t you see that in stooping to your enemy’s level–you’re being made over in his image–that you’re becoming the very thing you loathe?

[Ed:  Speaking to Neo-nazi] And You!  In your fear and ignorance you deny reality!  Rewrite history!  I wish I could take you back with me to the day we liberated Diebenwald [Ed:  Presume this is the name given to one of the death camps in the Marvel Universe]–let you smell the stomach-churning stench of death–let you see the mountain of corpses left behind by the corrupt madman and murderer you idolize!

You two aren’t interested in the truthare you?

You’re only interested in your own self-consuming hate.

Two of  a kind.

Freedom of speech means that, yes, even people who are saying vile things have a right to speak.  You don’t have to listen to them, but you do not have the right to silence them, to prevent them from assembling (so long as it’s peaceable), from renting halls or air time, or even for speaking at your campus so long as there are people at your campus who want to hear them and they fill all the rules (which should not include limitations on content) any other speaker has to fulfill.

No, speech that you disagree with is not violence.

Let me cite another fictional character, Mike Harmon from the novel Ghost (Oh!  John Ringo, No!) to kind of illustrate the idea:

“You’re not with the police?” the girl said, totally confused.

“Oh, come on,” Mike scoffed. “I know you’re an airhead, but use at least one brain cell. Do the police commonly shoot people through the leg to get information?”

“Well, they beat people up,” Ashley said, with relentlessly liberal logic.

“Did those guys beat you?” Mike asked, gesturing at the dead terrorists.

“Yes,” Ashley said, sobbing gently.

“Would you like me to shoot you through the knee so you can tell the difference?” Mike asked, puzzling over the load list.

If you think speech is violence there are only two possibilities:  you’re a complete moron (and that’s an insult to complete morons) who has never experience violence and lacks even the rudimentary ability to imagine what it’s like, or you are lying.

I know which way I bet.

Speech is not violence.  It might incite violence, and when the incitement is immediate and direct, then that might be a cause to intervene, but just saying things you despise is not.  Examples:

  • “I hate brown haired people and wish they’d all die.” Allowed to say.  You’d be an idiot and I’m allowed to mock you and say that you’re an idiot that should eat a bag of dicks and choke.
  • (Pointing, with an angry mob listening to you) “Seize that (brown haired) guy over there and beat him to death with sticks.” No, that justifies some intervention.

In most cases, the proper thing to do when somebody says things that you consider utterly outrageous, even vile, is given by another fictional character (oh, there was a historical person of that name, but this is a fictional adaptation).  Rameses from The Ten Commandments (and while Charlton Heston may have been the “star”, Yul Brynner owned that movie):

Let him speak that men may know him mad.

Because if they are really that outrageous, then the more they speak, the more they’ll be ridiculous.  And the more people will turn away from them because they are so ridiculous.  You don’t have to silence them.  They are their own worst enemies.

However, when you go out of your way to silence them, once again what’s happening can be summed up by another fictional character, Tyrion Lannister from Game of Thrones:

When you tear out a man’s tongue, you do not prove him a liar.  You only show the world that you fear what he might say.

So, if you’re so afraid that what they say is so much more persuasive than what you say, you need to take a long hard look not at them but at yourself.  Why do you lack confidence in your ability to defeat their words with words of your own?

Maybe the weakness is in you.