All posts by M.J.

#219: A 2017 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #219, on the subject of A 2017 Retrospective.

A year ago, plus a couple days, on the last day of 2016 we posted web log post #150:  2016 Retrospective.  We are a couple days into the new year but have not yet posted anything new this year, so we’ll take a look at what was posted in 2017.

Beginning “off-site”, there was a lot at the Christian Gamers Guild, as the Faith and Gaming series ran the rest of its articles.  I also launched two new monthly series there in the last month of the year, with introductory articles Faith in Play #1:  Reintroduction, continuing the theme of the Faith and Gaming series, and RPG-ology #1:  Near Redundancy, reviving some of the lost work and adding more to the Game Ideas Unlimited series of decades back.  In addition to the Faith and Gaming materials, the webmaster republished two articles from early editions of The Way, the Truth, and the Dice, the first Magic:  Essential to Faith, Essential to Fantasy from the magic symposium, and the second Real and Imaginary Violence, about the objection that role playing games might be too violent.  I also contributed a new article at the beginning of the year, A Christian Game, providing rules for a game-like activity using scripture.  Near the end of the year–the end of November, actually–I posted a review of all the articles from eighteen months there, as Overview of the Articles on the New Christian Gamers Guild Website.

That’s apart from the Chaplain’s Bible Study posts, where we finished the three Johannine epistles and Jude and have gotten about a third of the way through Revelation.  There have also been Musings posts on the weekends.

Over at Goodreads I’ve reviewed quite a few books.

Turning to the mark Joseph “young” web log, we began the year with #151:  A Musician’s Resume, giving my experience and credentials as a Christian musician.  That subject was addressed from a different direction in #163:  So You Want to Be a Christian Musician, from the advice I received from successful Christian musicians, with my own feeling about it.  Music was also the subject of #181:  Anatomy of a Songwriting Collaboration, the steps involved in creating the song Even You, with link to the recording.

We turned our New Year’s attention to the keeping of resolutions with a bit of practical advice in #152:  Breaking a Habit, my father’s techniques for quitting smoking more broadly applied.

A few of the practical ones related to driving, including #154:  The Danger of Cruise Control, presenting the hazard involved in the device and how to manage it, #155:  Driving on Ice and Snow, advice on how to do it, and #204:  When the Brakes Fail, suggesting ways to address the highly unlikely but cinematically popular problem of the brakes failing and the accelerator sticking.

In an odd esoteric turn, we discussed #153:  What Are Ghosts?, considering the possible explanations for the observed phenomena.  Unrelated, #184:  Remembering Adam Keller, gave recollections on the death of a friend.  Also not falling conveniently into a usual category, #193:  Yelling:  An Introspection, reflected on the internal impact of being the target of yelling.

Our Law and Politics articles considered several Supreme Court cases, beginning with a preliminary look at #156:  A New Slant on Offensive Trademarks, the trademark case brought by Asian rock band The Slants and how it potentially impacts trademark law.  The resolution of this case was also covered in #194:  Slanting in Favor of Free Speech, reporting the favorable outcome of The Slant’s trademark dispute, plus the Packingham case regarding laws preventing sex offenders from accessing social networking sites.

Other court cases included #158:  Show Me Religious Freedom, examining the Trinity Lutheran Church v. Pauley case in which a church school wanted to receive the benefits of a tire recycling playground resurfacing program; this was resolved and covered in #196:  A Church and State Playground, followup on the Trinity Lutheran playground paving case.  #190:  Praise for a Ginsberg Equal Protection Opinion, admires the decision in the immigration and citizenship case Morales-Santana.

We also addressed political issues with #171:  The President (of the Seventh Day Baptist Convention), noting that political terms of office are not eternal; #172:  Why Not Democracy?, a consideration of the disadvantages of a more democratic system; #175:  Climate Change Skepticism, about a middle ground between climate change extremism and climate change denial; #176:  Not Paying for Health Care, about socialized medicine costs and complications; #179:  Right to Choose, responding to the criticism that a male white Congressman should not have the right to take away the right of a female black teenager to choose Planned Parenthood as a free provider of her contraceptive services, and that aspect of taking away someone’s right to choose as applied to the unborn.

We presumed to make a suggestion #159:  To Compassion International, recommending a means for the charitable organization to continue delivering aid to impoverished children in India in the face of new legal obstacles.  We also had some words for PETA in #162:  Furry Thinking, as PETA criticized Games Workshop for putting plastic fur on its miniatures and we discuss the fundamental concepts behind human treatment of animals.

We also talked about discrimination, including discriminatory awards programs #166:  A Ghetto of Our Own, awards targeted to the best of a particular racial group, based on similar awards for Christian musicians; #207:  The Gender Identity Trap, observing that the notion that someone is a different gender on the inside than his or her sex on the outside is confusing cultural expectations with reality, and #212:  Gender Subjectivity, continuing that discussion with consideration of how someone can know that they feel like somthing they have never been.  #217:  The Sexual Harassment Scandal, addressed the recent explosion of sexual harassment allegations.

We covered the election in New Jersey with #210:  New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election, giving an overview of the candidates in the race, #211:  New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions, suggesting voting against both the library funding question and the environmental lock box question, and #214:  New Jersey 2017 Election Results, giving the general outcome in the major races for governor, state legislature, and public questions.

Related to elections, #213:  Political Fragmentation, looks at the Pew survey results on political typology.

We recalled a lesson in legislative decision-making with #182:  Emotionalism and Science, the story of Tris in flame-retardant infant clothing, and the warning against solutions that have not been considered for their other effects.  We further discussed #200:  Confederates, connecting what the Confederacy really stood for with modern issues; and #203:  Electoral College End Run, opposing the notion of bypassing the Constitutional means of selecting a President by having States pass laws assigning their Electoral Votes to the candidate who wins the national popular vote.

2017 also saw the publication of the entirety of the third Multiverser novel, For Better or Verse, along with a dozen web log posts looking behind the writing process, which are all indexed in that table of contents page.  There were also updated character papers for major and some supporting characters in the Multiverser Novel Support Pages section, and before the year ended we began releasing the fourth novel, serialized, Spy Verses, with the first of its behind-the-writings posts, #218:  Versers Resume, with individual sections for the first twenty-one chapters.

Our Bible and Theology posts included #160:  For All In Authority, discussing praying for our leaders, and protesting against them; #165:  Saints Alive, regarding statues of saints and prayers offered to them; #168:  Praying for You, my conditional offer to pray for others, in ministry or otherwise; #173:  Hospitalization Benefits, about those who prayed for my recovery; #177:  I Am Not Second, on putting ourselves last; #178:  Alive for a Reason, that we all have purpose as long as we are alive; #187:  Sacrificing Sola Fide, response to Walter Bjorck’s suggestion that it be eliminated for Christian unity; #192:  Updating the Bible’s Gender Language, in response to reactions to the Southern Baptist Convention’s promise to do so; #208:  Halloween, responding to a Facebook question regarding the Christian response to the holiday celebrations; #215:  What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means, reacting to Facebook applause for our anniversary with discussion of trust and forgiveness, contracts versus covenants; and #216:  Why Are You Here?, discussing the purpose of human existence.

We gave what was really advice for writers in #161:  Pseudovulgarity, about the words we don’t say and the words we say instead.

On the subject of games, I wrote about #167:  Cybergame Timing, a suggestion for improving some of those games we play on our cell phones and Facebook pages, and a loosely related post, #188:  Downward Upgrades, the problem of ever-burgeoning programs for smart phones.  I guested at a convention, and wrote of it in #189:  An AnimeNEXT 2017 Experience, reflecting on being a guest at the convention.  I consider probabilities to be a gaming issue, and so include here #195:  Probabilities in Dishwashing, calculating a problem based on cup colors.

I have promised to do more time travel; home situations have impeded my ability to watch movies not favored by my wife, but this is anticipated to change soon.  I did offer #185:  Notes on Time Travel in The Flash, considering time remnants and time wraiths in the superhero series; #199:  Time Travel Movies that Work, a brief list of time travel movies whose temporal problems are minimal; #201:  The Grandfather Paradox Solution, answering a Facebook question about what happens if a traveler accidentally causes the undoing of his own existence; and #206:  Temporal Thoughts on Colkatay Columbus, deciding that the movie in which Christopher Columbus reaches India in the twenty-first century is not a time travel film.

I launched a new set of forums, and announced them in #197:  Launching the mark Joseph “young” Forums, officially opening the forum section of the web site.  Unfortunately I announced them four days before landing in the hospital for the first of three summer hospitalizations–of the sixty-two days comprising July and August this year, I spent thirty-one of them in one or another of three hospitals, putting a serious dent in my writing time.  I have not yet managed to refocus on those forums, for which I blame my own post-surgical life complications and those of my wife, who also spent a significant stretch of time hospitalized and in post-hospitalization rehabilitation, and in extended recovery.  Again I express my gratitude for the prayers and other support of those who brought us through these difficulties, which are hopefully nearing an end.

Which is to say, I expect to offer you more in the coming year.  The fourth novel is already being posted, and a fifth Multiverser novel is being written in collaboration with a promising young author.  There are a few time travel movies available on Netflix, which I hope to be able to analyze soon.  There are a stack of intriguing Supreme Court cases for which I am trying to await the resolutions.  Your continued support as readers–and as Patreon and contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#218: Versers Resume

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #218, on the subject of Versers Resume.

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

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

This is the first mark Joseph “young” web log post covering this book, covering chapters 1 through 21.

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 1, Kondor 97

I was bringing Joe in from the end of the second book, when he was floating in space, and anticipating a moment when he would realize that he and Slade had both just left Derek a few minutes before.  I also wanted to color Kondor as the sort of person who would deduce things about the indigs from the way their world was designed.

Chapter 2, Brown 97

I had never wanted my versers to spend too much time with Merlin, as this would make them too much the same.  I had an advantage, in that I’d established Merlin’s usual technique as beginning with a long stretch of exploration of what the student already knew, so if I could get them out soon enough none of them (Derek, Slade, or Shella) would be pushed toward being Lauren’s clones.  Now, though, I had another reason to end it quickly, as I wanted Slade to join Kondor in Slade’s first chapter, so I was going to have to use Derek as the bridge to get Slade out.

It seemed I was also going to have to get Derek out; taking Slade and Shella at this battle and leaving Derek with Merlin and Bethany was going to decimate my dome attack team, and there wouldn’t be much more they could do against the vampires.  I needed to make it seem as if with the loss of Slade and Shella they won the war, that there was nothing much left to do, but then I would also have to verse out Derek.  This gave me another problem:  Bethany.  I’d established that Merlin was a verser, but I’d also established rather satisfactorily that Bethany was not.  I could make her one, but didn’t want to do that, particularly as my wife always found her annoying.  On the other hand, one of my sons (Adam, I think) liked the character, and I felt I needed to give her closure.  Thus I needed to establish a good ending for her.

The end of the world seemed a good way to satisfy that.  I kept it simple; I wanted people to know what was happening, but didn’t want to dwell on it.

I still needed to get Derek out of there, so he lost that battle.

Chapter 3, Slade 93

The point was to bring Bob to Kondor’s world before anything else happened, without making it seem I was stalling Kondor.  Thus I covered Slade’s disappearance from the final battle of the vampire future world through Derek’s eyes, and then shifted to a very brief recounting from Bob’s perspective and brought him abruptly to somewhere in the compound.

This chapter largely brings everyone up to speed on the characters, and aligns the stories so we know the sequence of events from the previous books.

Chapter 4, Kondor 98

The verse is something modern people accept fairly easily, but Shella is from a medieval fantasy world, and is going to be a bit overwhelmed by it all even now.  She is to some degree struggling to absorb it all; she bites her lip as she considers how to respond to Joe Kondor.

Shella’s blush is there because of course she’s kept track of the days–guilty as charged.  I have not, and I’m not sure whether I could reconstruct them with any accuracy, but hopefully it won’t matter.

Adrus is the name of the first month on the calendar I created for my D&D game world; Zarn was just a word I pulled out of the air to provide what might have been a month on some other calendar.

Joe takes a very humanist/agnostic view of love:  it serves a biological function of creating families for the production and rearing of children, for the continuance of the race.  It is thus irrelevant in the lives of versers, because they will never die and do not need to replace themselves.

I grew up with computers, sort of, but I think my attitude to computers in cars is still somewhat like Bob’s.  I understand how points and plugs and distributors work, but computer-controlled fuel injection I’ve never understood.

At this moment I decided that the cameras would be mounted on the guns, so the operators could use them to aim.  That would have consequences later.

Chapter 5, Brown 98

Derek is now experiencing the “stage two” arrival in which reality and dreams combine in awkward ways until you manage to awaken.  I have to do it for every character at least once, some more than once, and this was his turn.

The consideration of what can be learned about the world from the existence of leaves was something I was devising kind of in reverse of what I knew.  That is, I knew that leaves had the patterns and colors they did in order to capture and process light efficiently, and thus if there were leaves in such patterns and similar colors it would be reasonable to infer that that was their function.

I don’t know the difference between a forest and a jungle; I’m thinking that I should ask someone who knows, but I don’t really need to know to tell this part of the story.  I eventually did ask someone with a degree in ecology, but she was not certain either.

Chapter 6, Slade 94

Bob’s definition of “people” as having discovered swords is probably pushing back toward the humorous side of the character.

That Shella misses the connection to Derek is perhaps awkward, as she was there when Bob met him, but they probably think about him in different ways, and she also has the connection that in her world of origin people said that Slade had elfin blood, so that connects him to the fairy people in her mind.

Chapter 7, Brown 99

I had gotten to what was chapter 77, Slade 118, alternating rather consistently Kondor-Brown-Slade, but I was struggling with a couple of issues.  One was that Derek’s story had a lot of detail best managed in small chapters, and that meant that his story was moving very slowly in the book.  Another was that I had Bob and Joe in the same world, so I was telling their story two chapters in a row every time, even though it was a slow story, more an intellectual conflict, and I didn’t always know what was happening.  When I reached that point, I realized that I could resolve a lot of this if I backed up and moved all the chapters around and renumbered them so that Derek’s story was told twice, in a Kondor-Brown-Slade-Brown sequence.  It was a lot of shuffling of text (thank the Lord for word processors), but Derek’s chapters through somewhere around Brown 119 got moved forward, including this one.

Chapter 8, Kondor 99

Mlambo was the surname of a college peer of mine, Lyson Qorani Mlambo.  I enjoyed saying his name because of the unusual (for English) consonantal combinations–the “Q” represented a click created by pulling the tongue from the roof of the mouth.  I used the surname for the commander; I then used the first name as the surname of one of the other officers.  Lyson was a student from somewhere in Africa.

It was about here that I formed the idea of a race war, that this bunker belonged to the “black” side.

Chapter 9, Brown 100

I had done the energy release for Derek because even though it was supposed to be a body morphing transformation, the mass difference would need some kind of explanation; but I realized as I was working through it that the mass/energy conversion was as big as Derek saw, and thus that even without the magic some of that mass had been shunted into some other dimension or something.  Thus I had created the trick that he had to restore a significant amount of energy through caloric intake in order to reach and retain his larger size, and at the same time attempted to defuse objections that he couldn’t possibly gain that much energy from eating a single meal no matter what it contained.

I created the Reptile House team mostly of people I knew, several of them players in the game.  It was inspired because Ed Jones sometimes called himself Chameleon, and particularly when he was wearing his army reserve camouflage outfit; I had taken to calling myself Sea Turtle, a reference to something of a joke for which one took a test to see whether one could “think clean” when asked a set of questions which were suggestive of lewd answers but also had clean answers, and I was officially a Sea Turtle.  Thus I formed the team with Ed as the field commander Chameleon and me as the unit commander Sea Turtle; the others will be introduced as they appear.

Chapter 10, Slade 95

The idea of calling the whites “ghosts” had a lot of appeal here.  I needed a racial slur that was not a racial slur in our world, and everyone imagines ghosts to be pale and thus white, so it fits.

There is also some of the discriminatory attitude that American blacks faced mostly in the south:  Mlambo is concerned that he can’t provide separate facilities for the ghosts, because of course whites would not be permitted to use the same facilities as blacks.

Chapter 11, Brown 101

This world was designed for The Third Book of Worlds.  The opening can drop the player character anywhere in the world and then have the pickup team there within forty-eight hours.  This is ultimately explained in the story.  The world is called Why Spy, and is designed to facilitate playing plots from spy movies and similar sources, making the player character the secret agent.  “C” is my version of Bond’s “M” or Smart’s “Chief”.  It actually stands for “Claude”, and he’s a character from another world as well.  He is based on the generic British gentleman in the secret service, no particular individual.

“Iguana” is a college friend of mine, “Big Brother” Archie Bradley.  It’s more for the physical description, although the character of being a nice guy despite a formidable appearance is part of it.

“Python” is based on Joe Kondor, who in turn is not really based on anyone.  The idea is that this is Joe’s divergent self.  I put him here intentionally, to make a connection that this was a parallel earth, and to create a surprise situation.

“Gecko” is Richard Lutz, whom I never met.  I make him a tech head here, and he’s the guy who has the portable scriff detection equipment, plus the main communications gear.  I was more than once told that he had a Video Cassette Recorder (VCR) with no buttons, and accessed the functions by knowing which exposed wires to cross.

“Kimodo Dragon” was the transport officer; I made my son Ryan the model for this, and gave him the conceit that he could drive or fly any vehicle.

“Cobra” was a divergent of Chris Jones, largely because he had studied some martial arts and I wanted to intensify that and make him strong and fast.  In play we sometimes get the Reptile House team working with the player character in adventure situations, but I wasn’t sure whether I was going to do that here.  Chris, of course, was the primary model for Bob Slade, although Chris has dark hair, not blonde, and never was an auto mechanic or an Odinite, even in the game.  He is also the player behind the character Whisp, detailed in an appendix in Multiverser:  Referee’s Rules.

Originally I had written “shooting knock-out darts at guys with guns didn’t sound like a clever plan,” but I realized during the major edit that that was exactly the plan which led to the development of the arrow drug.  I decided that it made a difference that it was “several guys” and that they had “automatic weapons” instead of “guns”, and also decided that “needles” was a better description of the arrows here.

Chapter 12, Kondor 100

A lot of Joe’s prejudices emerge here.  The first one is that religion is a mark of a lesser intellect, and thus Bob must not be that bright if he thinks he’s one of Odin’s chosen warriors.

Joe also thinks that the fact that Bob did not notice that everyone in the other room was black indicated that he was prejudiced–that not noticing someone’s color was indicative of discrimination based on race.  Bob, of course, thinks that it’s perfectly natural, and there’s no particular reason he should have noticed something like that; black soldiers are common, and it’s because a lot of blacks see it as a good economic choice.

Lyson’s prejudice is also shown when he reacts to Bob speaking to him.

On the edit, I seriously considered altering “If Slade didn’t understand why noticing the color of someone’s skin was important,” to read “If Slade didn’t understand why not noticing the color of someone’s skin was racist,” but I decided that was too strong and probably not really the way Kondor would have thought it.

Chapter 13, Brown 102

The problem of Derek attempting to fly through the turbulence created by the helicopter blades was a sudden realization, a recognition of the realities of the situation.

I knew all along that he was in the Amazon rainforest; this was the first time I said so.

The rapid consumption, digestion, and metabolizing of the high-energy food and drink was my best idea for the transformation.  I might have gotten some of this from episodes of The Flash, the 1990s version, in which Barry Allen consumes large quantities of food to maintain his energy level after running, but I don’t know that I ever recognized the connection.

Chapter 14, Slade 96

Shella very much reveals her girl side, prettying the barracks room for their brief stay with knick-knacks and a comforter.  She also predictably complains when Bob starts polishing his dagger on their good comforter.

I didn’t yet know what they were supposed to do, or going to do, while they were here.  I’ve got them exploring the possibilities.

Chapter 15, Brown 103

“The clock” is of course Big Ben.  It’s probably the most recognizable landmark in London, at least in an international sense.  Most Americans would not recognize most of the truly significant buildings and other landmarks in the city, but the clock is known.

Derek’s age is of course problematic from any perspective.  Like versers, he doesn’t age, so he kept his twelve-year-old appearance into his twenties; then he had the rare experience of returning to pre-born and growing up again, this time reaching about seventeen before dying.  So he is probably around fifty by years lived, but it would be difficult to say how old his body appears to be.

This is really the standard setup for the game world:  British Intelligence knows that versers are dangerous, and that they have a lot of advantages in the spy game, and so recruits them; C does not want them working for anyone else, and will do whatever it takes to prevent that.  I had one player get very upset about not being given a choice in the matter, but usually they like it and go with the flow.

Chapter 16, Slade 97

Shella challenges Bob’s self-perception in this chapter.  Most of us have ideas about ourselves, that we are this and not that, and sometimes those ideas are contrary to the evidence.

Joe is trying to figure out what’s happening, and at this point I didn’t know how he was going to do that; but I figured he would try to include recovering his gear in the process, and that meant going outside.

Chapter 17, Brown 104

The name Kyler Bryant borrows from one of my sons; I thought it likely I would use this passport at some point, so I detailed it.

The driving training is there so that if I have a use for it in the future I’ve got the foundation for it here.  I don’t know when I’ll use it.

The recognition that Derek is lonely is a fairly obvious one, particularly given that in the last world he was fighting alongside his odd collection of friends, and in the world before that he was part of a close family for a long time.  I have not considered yet how to address it, because things are about to happen for him.

I didn’t waste names on the other passports because I guessed I would not need them, and knew I could give them names later if necessary.

About halfway through the read-through edit (after chapter 75), probably because I had just written chapter 143 (Brown 159) in which Derek arrives in the final world, it occurred to me that Derek’s gear had been neglected for most of two decades, and the bicycle in particular would need some maintenance.  I came back to this chapter and added parts about cleaning and repairing his equipment, and letting Gear examine his things.  I had originally written the part about them developing an analog of his drug, but at this point I added the provision of several small containers of the stuff.

Chapter 18, Kondor 101

I started to play with the idea that Kondor’s cover story might make him someone people feared; I don’t think I ever decided about that, but it’s not something he could ever ask or anyone would ever say.

I also needed to find a way for him to learn what was going on in this world, and it made sense that there would be reading materials somewhere which would include the official propaganda.

Chapter 19, Slade 98

By having Joe stay late in the library and Bob fall asleep, I saved myself a useless chapter in which Joe stops to tell Bob to go to sleep.

I didn’t know what I was going to do with my characters once they left the bunker, so I figured an early morning attack would trap them here for a bit and I could work through the situation here.

Chapter 20, Brown 105

When I was in college for a while I had a night job, and so I often ate in my room.  I was stocked with a toaster and a percolator coffee pot in which I heated water, and I had instant oatmeal, instant soup, and toaster pastries which I tended to eat because I was at work during dinner and asleep through breakfast.  I also caught supper at any of several fast food places in the area (Gino’s was both very convenient and much preferred at the time), but I lost a lot of weight.  In any case, the idea of instant oatmeal and toaster pastries as something Derek could easily make for brunch was from my experience.

The high rise scenario is from the Why Spy game world.  It was an experimental approach in which the scenes were organized as they would appear in a movie, and the referee created the encounters and picked the floors as the players moved through the building.  It was intended to prevent the possibility that someone would go directly to the bomb, making it play more like the action movies Die Hard or Under Siege.  It undoubtedly owes something to True Lies, as well.

Chapter 21, Slade 99

I had to work out myself what it was that Bob could notice, and how to turn that to a useful bit of strategic analysis.  I had to figure out what it was the white army was trying to do, and how that was supposed to work.

I realized that I had created the weakness by tying the cameras to the guns:  if the whites could get the guns focused in specific directions, they could create a blind spot.  That, I figured, was the best guess for what they were doing, so I went with it.

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

#217: The Sexual Harassment Scandal

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #217, on the subject of The Sexual Harassment Scandal.

I have been, let’s say, peripherally aware of the burgeoning collection of male celebrities either accused of or confessing to inappropriate behavior toward women over the past, let’s estimate, half century.  In the back of my mind I felt like something needed to be said about this, but at the same time realized that almost anything I said would either be the same pablum everyone else is saying about these men, or would be viewed as chauvinistic villainy.  I do not think that the actions in question are in any sense “all right” or “defensible” or “excusable”.  However, I think they are understandable, and I think that our reactions are a bit over the top in many ways.

I happened upon the first episode of a very old television series, what I take to be a British spy drama from the 1960s very like similar shows of the time.  It featured a dashing hero on the order of John Steed or The Saint or James Bond, and of course one of the tropes–well, Star Trek:  Deep Space Nine fans will remember the episode Our Man Bashir, in which Doctor Julian Bashir is playing such a hero in such a story on the holodeck, and he famously uses the trope that all women will instantly fall for the hero if he smiles at them to obtain the key that gets him out of the shackles and back in action.  It was the daydream of boys and men everywhere to be that James Bond character, that dashing debonair spy whom women adore, who need say nothing more than, “Your place or mine?”

Of course, in reality no one was James Bond.  Well, maybe Sean Connery, and maybe Roger Moore, but in reality women were not falling into bed with every man who imagined himself irresistible to women.

On the other hand, it was the sixties.  It was the decade that coined the term “sexual revolution”.  I won’t say that sexual liasons of all kinds were not happening prior to that, but in the mid fifties that kind of thing was hidden, and at least disapproved by (possibly jealous) peers, while in the sixties we decided to be open about it and pretend it was normal and everyone was doing it.  I have already said that not everyone was doing it then, but a lot more people were, and at least partly because they were being told that everyone else was.  My parents–an earlier generation–were flirtatious at bridge parties and cocktail parties; it was how adults in the neighborhood interacted.  They were also completely shocked and flabbergasted when one of the men from the neighborhood ran off with one of the other women.  It was not expected; it was not done.

However, in the corridors of power–Hollywood, Washington, state capitals, New York–there was a lot more pressure to conform to the new world image, and a lot more men who thought they were irresistible, and a lot more women who believed them, feeding that egotism.

There was another layer of complication, though.  For generations there had been this dance, this untaught approach to courtship.  Women generally had to express their interest in men through body language–the right smile, the right eyes, the right posture, even the right blush and the right pupil dilation (the reason for a lot of makeup–eye shadow reduces glare on the eyes and so enhances pupil dilation, suggesting arousal)–and men had to recognize the interest and make a move.  That was still residually true in the sixties and beyond.  There is a joke in the movie Tootsie, in which the gorgeous girl Julie confides to elderly Dorothy Michaels that she just wishes the nonsense would go away and a guy would just walk up and say he found her attractive and would like to sleep with her, and then Dorothy Michaels transforms into her true self, Michael Dorsey, catches Julie at a party, and says exactly what she said she wanted the guy to say–and gets a drink in his face (or maybe slapped, it’s been a lot of years).  That was 1982, two decades after our supposed sexual revolution began, and it was still expected that a girl would keep silent about her interest and show signs by body language, and a guy would recognize the signs and make an approach.  Faint heart never won fair maiden was the old saying, so boldness was expected.

There’s another complication that gets everyone in trouble, and that is that it is not at all unusual for human bodies to want one thing while human minds want something completely different.  So you see a guy, and something inside you says, “That guy is hot.”  You answer.  You say to yourself that you’ve heard he’s a creep, he’s not your type, you’re in a relationship, this would be a very bad idea–but your body isn’t listening, it’s busy sending signals to that guy inviting him to make a move.  It is of course an unwelcome move–your mind will very quickly put him in his place, and leave him wondering how he so misread you.

Most of the men who have been accused come out of that generation.  They believe that women want to have sex with them because their positions of power and wealth have inflated their egos (not to mention having brought women out of the woodwork for whom that actually is an aphrodisiac), and they are looking for the signs.  Women, meanwhile, have learned to flirt a bit when they want something from a man–a job, a loan, a dinner invitation, a sales contract–and those smiles and friendly words are at least confusing.  So a man approaches a woman looking for something to happen, the woman inadvertently sends something that looks like a signal, the man moves in boldly, and we have a sexual Harassment claim.

And the world has changed.  I don’t know how it works now, but thankfully I’m too old and too long married to need to know any of that.  Some other system has fallen into place–but these men who grew up under the old system don’t know the new one, and they’ve been using the old one for so long and getting it wrong so often that they have a trail of sexual Harassment incidents in their wake.  What back in the sixties and seventies probably would have been written off as “that’s just the way it works” (I’m not saying it should have been, only that it was) is now completely unacceptable behavior and you should have known better despite the fact that there is no one to teach you the new rules.

A lot of what some of them did was beyond the boundaries always.  Bill Clinton certainly thought himself irresistible, but he also apparently raped a woman.  Sometimes the lines are clear; sometimes they are less so.

I’m not going to speak to any specific case, but it seems to me that a lot particularly of older men are being charged with acting in ways that were probably not thought inappropriate in the times and places in which they came of age.  We would like them to learn behavior we consider appropriate now, but to expect them to have known it retroactively over the decades is a bit much.  Probably more than half the men in the United States over the age of twelve have at some point or another acted toward a woman in a manner she considered inappropriate and harrassing.  We can’t really incarcerate all of us.

#216: Why Are You Here?

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #216, on the subject of Why Are You Here?.

Why are you here?

I don’t mean why are you reading this page, or sitting or standing wherever you happen to be at this moment.  The question I’m asking is deeper than that, more, if you like, philosophical.  I am asking, Why do you exist at all?

Statue of St. Athanasius, credited with the ontological argument for the existence of God, in essence that our existence proves His.

You probably have been told by someone at some time that God has a purpose for your life, which is true, and I hope that you have accepted this.  We think of that as a specific purpose, which is also true–but perhaps not in the way we think of it.

Our notion of a specific purpose is that God specifically wants me to be a housewife and mother, or office worker, or teacher, pastor, engineer.  It’s true that God created us to be that, but that’s not really why He created you.  That is, there is perhaps a difference between the purpose of your existence and the purpose of your design.  God designed you to serve specific functions within the world, but He created you with a purpose that is entirely separate from the design.  If you consider the matter, you should realize that that’s rather a narrow view, that God created you because He needed someone to do that job, fill that position in the world.  When it comes to it, if God had never created anyone else, that purpose, that position in the world, that job, would be meaningless.

God certainly created us all to fit together, to do different things, but that’s that’s not ultimately your purpose.  It’s only your function, your position, the way you fit in the world.

The deeper question is, Why did He create you?  Why, indeed, did He create anyone at all?  Your existence is not so much dependent on the fact that you fulfill certain job descriptions in the world.  It must be that the answer to why God created you applies beyond you to explain why God created everyone else.  Why did He create people, and thus why did He create you?

When you see the answer to this question, you’ll realize it’s also the answer to a lot of other questions:  why is this happening to me, why do I have these gifts, why do I have these faults, flaws, weaknesses?  In short, Why am I who I am?

I asked the question; I offer an answer.

Before time, before anything had been created, God existed as Trinity, three persons sharing love.

Love was good.

God wanted to create more love.  The Father, the Son, and the Spirit loved each other, shared love between each other, and loved each other as much as it was possible to love.  How could there be more love, than the immeasurable love that existed between these three?

To create more love, God had to create more people, persons who could love and be loved as He within His Selves loves and is loved.

We were created to be those people, to love Him and each other, to learn to love as He loves.

Our entire world is created to teach us to love and to be loved.

That’s why the world is hard.  If the world were easy, love would be neither necessary nor valuable.  It is the fact that we learn to love amidst our trouble, and the fact that the trouble enables us to reach out to each other in love, that makes the world a good place to learn to love.

It is also why we have the flaws and the gifts we have, using our gifts to meet each other’s flaws, having our flaws addressed by the gifts of others, to learn to love and to be loved, and to understand that purpose, to love the way God loves and to be loved by God and each other.

That is why you are here.

#215: What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #215, on the subject of What Forty-One Years of Marriage Really Means.

About a week ago I posted on Facebook announcing our forty-first wedding anniversary.  The post drew a reasonable amount of the Facebook equivalent of applause, some of it from people I did not realize would see it.  So I wondered:  what are they applauding?  What do they think forty-one years of marriage means?

Well, I do not know what they think it means, but I have some idea of what it does mean.  I wrote web log post #65:  Being Married almost two years ago, and commented at the time that I was sure there were some things I was forgetting, so in a sense this is an addendum to that–but in a sense it is a separate observation.

Thanks to Kyler for this photo.

I suppose it should be said first that forty-one years of marriage probably means a lot of occasional doubts and suspicions, but fundamentally means learning to trust and to forgive–and there is something below that which gets in the way, and something above that which helps enormously.

What most people do not understand is that marriage is a covenant, not a contract.  People do not understand this, and they don’t generally know the difference, but it is important:

  • A contract is an exchange of mutually contingent promises.  That means I promise to do this, and you promise to do that, but if either of us fails to keep his “end of the bargain” the other is no longer obligated and does not have to fulfill his part.  This is typical in commercial transactions:  if I order something from you and you fail to deliver it, I am not obligated to pay for it even though I promised to do so.
  • A covenant is an exchange of mutually independent promises.  That means I make a promise to you, and you make a promise to me, and I am obligated to keep my promise because I made a promise, and you are obligated to keep your promise because you made a promise.  The part that is missing, that distinguishes it from a contract, is that our obligations are based not on the exchange but on our own individual integrity.  If you renege on your promise, I am still obligated to keep mine; if I fail, your obligation remains.

This is significant to the matter of trust and forgiveness.  I promised to be faithful, to love and cherish, pretty much to the best of my ability.  I did not promise to do so as long as she keeps her end of the bargain; I promised to do so as long as we were both alive.  If she fails, that has no impact on my obligation.  I still made that promise.  If you recall your own wedding, or weddings you have attended, I doubt you have ever been to one in which the vows included the words “as long as you do the same”.

That means that I don’t have to worry about whether she is keeping her promise, only about whether I am keeping mine.  I trust that she is, and were I to learn that she is not I forgive her, because it is irrelevant to my obligation to her.  It is not a contract, in which the failure of one party negates the obligation of the other.  Should either of us fail to keep our promise, even should we both fail, the promises still exist.  We pick ourselves up, forgive, and move forward trying to be and do what we promised.

Forty-one years of marriage is thus a long string of trust and forgiveness, of learning what it means to love someone and to keep a promise to do so even when it is not easy to keep it.

That’s what a forty-first wedding anniversary means.

#214: New Jersey 2017 Election Results

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #214, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Election Results.

The results are in, and there are perhaps no surprises, only disappointments.

We looked at the gubernatorial candidates last week.  Our new governor is Democrat Phil Murphy, former Golman Sachs investment banker and formerly National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and United States Ambassador to Germany.  His running mate, Democratic Assemblywoman Sheila Oliver, is former Assembly Speaker.  The pair handily defeated Republicans Lieutenant Governor Kim Guadagno and Mayor Carlos Rendo, with 55% (1,065,706 votes) of the nearly two million votes cast, against 42% (811,446) for the Republicans.  New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Re-elections are perhaps the norm in the state, as everyone has heard the name of the governor.

The five third-party tickets each pulled less than one percent, with the leader, “Lower Property Taxes” party candidate former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese and running mate Derel Stroud leading with 9,830 votes, followed by Green Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale and Lisa Durden with 8,192, Libertarian Peter Rohrman and Karese Laguerre at 8,178, Constitution Party candidate Matt Riccardi with 5,614, and “We the People” candidates Vincent Ross and April Johnson with 4,252.

New Jersey voters almost always approve Public Questions, and did so again, with both the library bonds issue and the environmental lock box.

Looking at the State Senate, most but not all of the incumbents were re-elected.  In district 2, incumbent Democrat Colin Bell was defeated by Republican Chris Brown; in district 11, incumbent Republican Jennifer Beck was defeated by Democrat Vin Gopal.  Meanwhile, there were three districts in which incumbents did not run for re-election.  In district 13, previously held by Republican Joseph Kyrillos, Republican Declan O’Scanlon defeated Democrat Sean Byrnes.  In district 20, previously held by Democrat Raymond Lesniak, Democrat Joseph Cryan defeated Republican Ashraf Hanna.  There was a turnover in district 7, previously held by Republican Diane Allen, where Democrat Troy Singleton defeated Republican John Browne.

This increases the Democratic control of the State Senate by one seat (two votes), 25 to 15, but does not give them a “supermajority”.

Although as of this writing the two seats in district 8 are considered too close to call, it is clear that the Democrats have picked up at least two seats, at 54 (out of 80), while the Republicans are guaranteed at least 24.  Democrats in district 2 sent John Armato to replace Republican incumbent Chris Brown, who in turn defeated the Democratic incumbent to move to the Senate.  In district 13, where incumbent Declan O’Scanlon moved to the Senate, Republicans kept control of the seat with the election of Serena DiMaso.  Democrats picked up a seat in district 16, as Republican incumbent Jack Ciattarelli retired and was replaced by Democrat Roy Freiman.  Democrat Yvonne Lopez replaced her retiring Democratic colleague John Wisniewski in district 19.  In district 24, Republican Harold Wirths replaces his retiring Republican colleague Gail Phoebus.  Finally, in district 40 Republicans kept control of the seat, with Christopher DePhillips replacing a retiring David Russo.

In district 8, although it appears that incumbent Republican Joe Howarth has been re-elected (27,820 votes), and Republican Ryan Peters will probably replace his retiring Republican colleague Maria Rodriguez-Gregg (27,603 votes), Democratic candidates Joanne Schwartz (27,226) and Maryann Merlino (27,057) are close enough behind them that the race has not yet been officially decided.  If those results are certified, the Republicans will have 26 seats, a loss of 2 (4 votes) and less than a third of the Assembly, giving the Democrats a two-thirds supermajority in that house.

It is overall a dark day for Republicans, and a bright one for Democrats.

#212: Gender Subjectivity

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #212, on the subject of Gender Subjectivity.

I somewhat predictably got some responses challenging my thoughts in mark Joseph “young” web log entry #207:  The Gender Identity Trap.  (There were a few supportive ones as well, and they are certainly helpful also, but the challenging ones are under consideration here.)  One of them indicated–and I am paraphrasing the thought, so I hope I am correctly representing it–that I should be sensitive to the feelings of those who feel as if they are in the wrong body.  They would probably feel persecuted were I to tell them that they are wrong.

Indeed, it is important always to be sensitive to the feelings of others, as individuals.  I should, for example, be sensitive of the feelings of someone who believes himself to be, or to be the reincarnation of, Napoleon Bonaparte, or Abraham Lincoln, or Marie Antoinette.

Whoa, brother, that’s not the same thing.

I agree.  However, it is more the same than different.  After all, the primary difference is that most of us do not entertain the possibility that someone we meet might be the reincarnation of some famous person.  Even if we believe in reincarnation, the probability that any particular individual happens to be one of the very few historically significant persons from among the millions of ordinary commoners and peasants of any particular era is phenomenally against.  If we do not believe in reincarnation, then even that tiny fraction of possibility vanishes.  Similarly if we do not believe that it is possible for anyone to “be” the “wrong sex” for their “internal gender”, then the probability that any particular individual is so becomes zero.  A person might believe that he is trapped in the wrong body type, or that he is indeed Emperor General Bonaparte, and I should treat such an individual with the respect due any human being, but I do not need to believe that they are correct in that self-identification.

That, though, underscores another aspect of the problem which I carelessly overlooked in that previous article.  What is the basis for that self-identification?

I might taste something and declare that it has too much salt.  You, presumably, have tasted salt, and therefore you know what I mean.  Assuming you were in a position to taste the same food, you would be able to say whether you agreed with my assessment of excessive salinity.  There is a sense in which that is subjective:  you might like food that is particularly salty, or I might prefer food that is more bland.  However, there is an objective connection here:  we have both tasted salt, and so both know what salt tastes like in food.  Had either of us never tasted salt, the question, “Is this too salty?” would become meaningless.

In contrast, the person who claims to feel as if in the wrong gender body is making a subjective judgment without an objective basis.  What does it mean to say “I don’t feel like I am a man, I feel like I am a woman”?  It can only mean “I don’t feel like I imagine a man feels, I feel like I imagine a woman feels.”  If you were born a man, you have no experience being a woman.  How, then, can you possibly determine that you feel like something you have never felt?  It would be like saying that you think this food has too much saffron if you have never tasted saffron.  You’re guessing based on what someone told you.  You have no objective connection for what it is to be the opposite sex.

That means you get that notion entirely from–as observed in the previous article–cultural biases and expectations.  You say, “I do not have the feelings and interests which society tells me a person of my sex ought to have, and find that I am far better attuned to the feelings and interests which society tells me are those of the opposite sex, and therefore I am the wrong sex.”  The problem is not that you are the wrong sex for your gender.  The problem is that society is wrong in defining men and women according to its preferences and stereotypes.  “Oh, but I have always felt like I was the other sex.”  You can’t know that.  All you can know is that you’ve always felt as if society was telling you that you are not the kind of person society thinks a man (or a woman) should be, and that you think that you are more like the kind of person society has told you that a woman (or a man) should be.

What does it feel like to be a man, on the inside, or to be a woman, on the inside?  Every one of us is a combination of traits which we identify as masculine or feminine, and every one of those identifications is a societal bias.  You like to cook, which you think is a feminine trait–but many of the best cooks in the world are men.  You enjoy bow hunting, which you think is a masculine trait–but the Greeks reported the existence in their time of an entire army of female archers.  The only thing that makes any character trait masculine or feminine is the arbitrary opinion of present society.

In other words, if you feel like you’re the wrong gender for the sex of your body, the problem isn’t that you’re the wrong gender but that you’ve bought a lie about what it feels like to be what you are.  If you were born a man, you have always felt like you, and therefore always felt like a man–not like every man, certainly, because not every man feels the same, but like the one man that is you.  If you were born a woman, you likewise have never felt like a man, you have felt like that woman who is you.  We do not have the ability truly to know what others feel, what it feels like to be someone else.  We have role playing games through which we explore such things, but very rarely do we find ourselves getting more than a glimpse of the externals–what it feels like to be persecuted, what it feels like to be famous.  We never really experience what it feels like to be the opposite sex, any more than we ever really experience what it feels like to be a dog, or a tree, or a rock.  It is outside our experience entirely.  In roleplaying we only approach what it feels like to be treated by others as if we were someone or something else.  And since it is outside our experience, we cannot know that we feel like we are the wrong sex.

What you really feel is that society has rejected who you really are and made you wish you were not yourself.  Many of us have felt that way.  The answer is not to try to become someone else.  The answer is to become the best you you can be, live with that self, and push back against the pressures of a society that wants you to conform to their expectations.  Be the best male nurse, the best female pile driver, and tell the world, “I break the mold.  I am comfortable with who I am, even if you aren’t.”  Don’t let the world tell you that who you really are is wrong.  It is the world that is wrong.

#213: Political Fragmentation

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #213, on the subject of Political Fragmentation.

I have long been writing about political division, fragmentation, and polarization.  Quite a few years back I explained how our United States of America coalition government is created by people coming together into coalition-based parties, groups who do not agree entirely with each other but who agree to support each others’ important policies, and why the Republican dilemma (or the Democratic dilemma) is not solved by focusing on a single issue.  I’ve also written about the polarization developing as both parties are being more and more dominated by their extremists, and moderates no longer have a home anywhere.

Now I find a survey from the Pew Research Center which shows just how fragmented we are.  Well, I think that might be an exaggeration; I think we are probably more fragmented than the survey shows, but I’ll get to that.

You might want to begin by taking the quiz, a set of A/B choices (if memory serves, seventeen) on everything from immigration to taxation to social services by which they will place you in one of nine groups they have identified.  It will also, separately, place you on a rough scale from liberal to conservative.  I took it, and not surprisingly landed right of center (that is, the conservative direction) in the middle third.  However, the results apparently do not give us a bell curve.  As the attached image shows, the extreme groups, both conservative and liberal, are not only the largest within the general public, they are even more so the most active in politics.

I admit to not yet having read the full fourteen-page Pew Research Center article on its survey; I got through the first page and left the remainder for a time when I had more time.  You might find it easier, although less informative, to read the briefer article in the Detroit Free Press, although that is less about the groups and more about the fragmentation, the fact that were we to have the much-suggested second civil war most of us would be very uncertain on which side we should be fighting.  We just don’t have enough agreement on any specific issues.

That is perhaps why I think we are more fragmented than the survey analysis really shows.  My quiz results placed me in the category denoted “Country First Conservatives”, the smallest group on the chart but one which includes people ranging from barely left of center to fairly far to the right who have agreement on some issues.  What strikes me about this is I disagreed with the majority of people in this group on all questions of foreign policy (there were three) and government performance (there were two), and I would think those would be the defining issues of the group.  That is, were we to create a conservative party called “Country First”, we would expect that foreign policy would be at the top of its platform–but I would not support that platform, because I disagree with that policy.  That doesn’t mean that the analysis placing me in the moderately conservative group is wrong; it means that even these groups are more fragmented than the simplified results the survey demonstrates.

What it clearly does demonstrate is that “liberal” and “conservative” is not a simple scale but a generalization of scales on multiple issues, that both sides of the divide are built of people who really don’t agree on any one issue but work together toward similar goals, and that the people who are most active in politics, the large minorities on the extremes, seem very much unaware of the majority of more moderate people in the middle.

It also suggests that a moderate candidate on either side could probably defeat an extremist candidate on the other, simply because the people in the middle from both parties are more likely to identify with someone near the middle.

On the other hand there’s something to what Doc Brown said (paraphrasing):  when you can hold an entire television studio in the palm of your hand, it’s no wonder your President has to be an actor.  At least sometimes, style beats substance.

#211: New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #211, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Ballot Questions.

New Jersey tends to be blase about our off-year elections–no President, no United States Senators, no United States Congressman, why bother going to the polls?  Yet as we noted this year the election is not insignificant.  Every State elected office is on the block, from our Governor and Lieutenant Governor to all forty of our State Senators to all eighty of our State Assemblymen.  Additionally, there are two ballot questions put forward, asking the voters to approve spending more money.

That’s certainly more than we can cover.  We have already examined the gubernatorial race, and promised to return to look at the ballot questions.  There are two:

  1. The Bonds for Public Libraries Measure;
  2. The Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment.

The Bonds for Public Libraries Measure has tremendous support; more than half the members of the State Assembly are listed as sponsors of the bill.  It passed both houses overwhelmingly, and was signed by Governor Christie.  However, the few objectors have some good points.

Approval of the question would allow the state to issue bonds in the total amount of one hundred twenty-five million dollars, the proceeds to be used as matching funds for projects within the state to build, equip, or expand public libraries.  Those grants would have to be matched by like amounts from local governments and/or private donations.  Despite the increasing use of the internet for many of those resources for which once libraries were the primary providers, the library system continues to be important and to update itself to modern needs.  It thus makes sense to continue to support our libraries.

On the other hand, New Jersey is already in the top five states for per capita expenditures on libraries; we have one of the best library systems in the country.  The words “issue bonds” really mean “borrow money at interest”, and would be committing the state to repay one hundred twenty-five million dollars plus interest over the years ahead.  It is worth asking whether there would be sufficient return on the investment.  That is, would we be getting our money’s worth?

I am inclined to think not, but I rarely use the libraries and do not have a card.  I also think that our county library is well funded and well equipped, and while I can imagine (but do not know) that there are urban areas in the state with underfunded libraries, the matching funds clause will make it at least challenging for these areas to take advantage of the benefits.  If we had the money, it might be money well spent, but to borrow money for that which is not a problem is looking to make a bad fiscal crisis worse.  It’s like the family that can’t keep up with the mortgage taking out a second mortgage to pay for a vacation.  We don’t really need this, and we probably can’t afford it.

The Revenue from Environmental Damage Lawsuits Dedicated to Environmental Projects Amendment is about creating a “lockbox” for certain state income.

If you remember the ballot questions last year, you may recall that the issue with the fuel tax question involved whether to “dedicate” that income to transportation matters.  That question of dedicating specific funds for specific purposes arises again in this question, and with a more solid basis.

New Jersey has held the lead in industrial waste and toxic waste sites over the decades.  Periodically the State sues offenders, and either in awards or settlements often collects millions of dollars.  Cases related to the pollution of the Passaic River brought three hundred fifty-five million dollars from defendants.

The State is in one sense like any other plaintiff.  If you’re injured in an automobile accident and win a substantial settlement in a lawsuit, we might think that this is going toward your long-term medical bills–but if you want to spend some of it on a new car, or a Jacuzzi®, or a vacation, it’s your money.  You might in the long term wish you’d saved it for medical care, but no one is going to force you to do that.

In the same way, once the State has won a lawsuit or obtained a settlement from one, it can do whatever it wants with the money.  We might think that the money from the Passaic River lawsuits would go to clean the Passaic River, or at least to meet other environmental needs in the area.  Some of it of course would pay the legal fees for the suit, but ultimately the reason for the money is the damage done to the environment, and so the money should repair that damage.  However, just like you, the State is not so constrained.  Of that three hundred fifty-five million dollars from the Passaic River damages, Governor Christie applied two hundred eighty-eight million to the general funds to balance the budget.  A substantial number of Democrats in the state legislature believe that that should not be allowed, although the Democratically-controled legislature did approve his budgets.

Approval of this question would pass a constitutional amendment which would restrict the use of such monies to environmental purposes.  It would allow up to ten percent of such income to be spent on related government agencies such as the Department of Environmental Protection, and would allow the legal costs of prosecuting such cases to come out of the funds, but the bulk of it would have to be spent on the environment, reclaiming damaged areas and protecting others.  Many think the amendment makes sense.

On the other hand, had such a restriction already been in place, we would have been looking at a two hundred eighty-eight million dollar budget shortfall.  That means either the State would have had to raise two hundred eighty-eight million more dollars through taxes or it would have had to cut a like amount in services, or some combination of the two.  The big ticket items in the New Jersey budget are education (about thirty percent) and Medicaid (almost twenty-five percent).  There is not a lot of fat in the budget to cut.

Further, while there is merit to the notion that money collected as legal damages for harm to the environment ought to go to environmental care and repair, there is also a significant question concerning the consequences of sequestering that money.  Damage to the environment almost always means secondary damage as well–damage to public health, damage to infrastructure, economic damage.  If my accident prevented me from finishing college, the damages I won in the law suit will, among other things, cover the fact that I was unable to finish college.  The damages from these environmental lawsuits ought to be available to pay for the injury inflicted to the State beyond the first level of harm, covering these other losses.  Sequestering the money in a “lock box” prevents the state from using it to meet needs that might well be consequential to the damage.

Desite the merit in the idea, I think it ultimately a bad choice.

Those are the questions on New Jersey’s ballot this year.

#210: New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #210, on the subject of New Jersey 2017 Gubernatorial Election.

New Jersey tends to be blase about our off-year elections–no President, no United States Senators, no United States Congressman, why bother going to the polls?  Yet this year the election is not insignificant.  Every elected State office is on the block, from our Governor and Lieutenant Governer to all forty of our State Senators to all eighty of our State Assemblymen.  Additionally, there are two ballot questions put forward, asking the voters to approve spending more money.

That’s certainly more than we can cover.  We’re going to limit our attentions to the state-wide issues–that is, the gubernatorial ticket and the Public Questions.  We begin with the governor’s race, and follow-up with the Public Questions in a future post.

New Jersey’s governor serves for four years, and can serve up to two consecutive terms.  Current Governor Chris Christie, considered by political pundits the most moderate Republican governor in office, is coming to the end of his second and thus is ineligible to run again.

His Lieutenant Governor, Kim Guadagno, heads the Republican ticket.

Guadagno has not been a rubber stamp for Christie.  She opposed the recent gasoline tax bill, which Christie supported, because she saw political maneuvering around it to increase state spending beyond what the bill promised to raise.  Among the leading campaign promises, she has a plan to at least cap if not reduce property taxes, by tying a ceiling on the education share of property taxes to household income and making up the difference in education costs from a state fund.  She also has plans to fix the state’s pension and health benefits programs, and talks of improving conditions for veterans.

Her running mate is Cuban-born Woodcliff Lake Mayor Carlos Rendo.

Rendo’s family fled Cuba, and he grew up in Union City, graduating from Emerson High School, with degrees from Rutgers University and Temple University.  His 2015 mayoral election is his earliest reported involvement in politics, but his degrees are in political science and government, and law.

Observers are expecting a strong victory for the Democratic slate, giving that party control of what they call the “trifecta”, both legislative houses and the executive.  The Democratic nominee is Phil Murphy.

Murphy’s political background includes being National Finance Chair of the Democratic National Committee and serving as Ambassador to Germany.  Otherwise most of his experience is in economics, primarily at investment banking firm Goldman Sachs.  His platform focuses on trying to bring innovation back to New Jersey–leader in invention from the time of Edison to the end of AT&T’s Bell Labs–and so improve the economy.  He speaks of increasing funding for education, but does not suggest whence this money will be obtained.

His running mate is New Jersey Assemblywoman, former Assembly Speaker, and one-time United States Senate candidate Sheila Oliver.

Oliver is strongly liberal, but has not been a popular candidate outside her district.

There are five other gubernatorial candidates in the state race.

The Libertarian party is supporting Peter Rohrman, with running mate Karese Laguerre.  Neither have any experience running for or serving in elective office; they put forward the standard Libertarian platform of less government.

The Green party offers Pastor Seth Kaper-Dale, a Reformed minister who has been involved in social causes.  His running mate Lisa Durden is a political commentator, formerly a professor at Essex Community College terminated after making public statements supporting a decision by a local chapter of Black Lives Matter to hold an event open only to African-Americans.  Neither has any experience in elected office.

Veteran Marine Matt Riccardi is the gubernatorial nominee for the Constitution Party; they did not register a running mate for the lieutenant position.  His ticket is focused on reducing taxes across the board and increasing jobs in the state.  Riccardi is new to the political process.

Former Long Hill Mayor Gina Genovese is running on the Lower Property Taxes ticket; she is also cited in the press as the LGBT candidate.  Her running mate, Derel Stroud, has been a state Democratic party political organizer since 2009.

The We the People party has placed as official candidates on the ballot the ticket of Vincent Ross and April Johnson.  Both candidates are unknown in the political and online worlds at this point.

Those are the candidates, in brief.  Much can be learned about them online once you know their names.  The Democrats are thought to have a strong lead, but the Republicans do have a chance, particularly in an off-year election when younger Democratic voters are less likely to go to the polls.

So plan to vote Tuesday if you have given thought to the future of New Jersey and the directions the candidates would take us.

Watch for an upcoming article on the public questions.