Tag Archives: Environment

#439: Corpoises: Toward a Story

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #439, on the subject of Corpoises:  Toward a Story.

It was partly a joke, partly serious, in the way that some Dungeons & Dragons monsters are real monsters in the game world but in some way a joke.  I posted it on my Facebook page, and got a couple of likes:

Corpises [COR’-piss-ez] (n, pl):

Undead marine mammals.

However, in addition to a couple likes, I got a request from a publisher that I “Please write this novel,” so I decided to explore the possibilities.

I think the first point to address is a critical aspect of the setting.  If we have undead dolphins and such, to whom or what are they a threat?  Most humans have very little contact with marine mammals, and although we could have them close the beaches, I think people in Nebraska aren’t in any danger, and seriously, telling people they can’t swim in the ocean because there are monsters that might kill them will sufficiently deter enough people that there wouldn’t be a story.  So if it’s people, it has to be something like primitive fishermen, people who live in island villages and rely on small boat fishing for survival.  That definitely limits other aspects of the story.  Of course, the corpoises could be one of many undead creatures, but that reduces their significance, and I feel like this is supposed to be about them.

On the other hand, it’s already fantasy if it includes anything undead, so perhaps I should explore the development of a nation of merpeople, human-like creatures living under the ocean on the continental shelves.  That’s a lot of work in itself, but if we’re talking about writing a novel, that’s not more work than we should expect; it’s only a question of creating something interesting.

We could split the difference and create human undersea colonies that raise some kind of food on the sea floor, which means people would have to go outside the protective domes to do the farming.  That’s another kind of setting to develop, although it would involve fewer unique aspects, being very much a science fiction habitat like others I have done.

Perhaps finally, the porpoise community itself could be the intelligent race threatened by the undead.  It’s worth considering, but then, it might be too alien, Walt Disney meets Stephen King.

My second issue is what kind of undead are we considering, and that’s closely tied to whether there is a theme here.  Traditionally undead creatures are the magical results of necromancy, or sometimes, as with the Revenant, of gross injustice demanding correction.  In modern stories the undead aren’t actually dead but are somehow biologically altered, and that gives a couple options–toxic chemical spills giving us an environmental backdrop, radioactive waste giving us an anti-nuclear substory, or some kind of genetic accident warning against the dangers of genetic engineering.  Currently I’m working on a story for James Beam in which the undead are infected with a brain parasite, and I have not yet decided whether the organism evolved or was created by human action, and might not have to do so, but that’s an option here.  There are other ways to create undead creatures, but they’re generally more intentional, that someone is doing it with a purpose and has some control over the monsters.

My next concern is whether this is horror.  I mean, you would think that if it involves zombies or undead of some sort, it must be horror–but I don’t always feel comfortable with horror.  Oh, I’ve written it.  I frequently mention the beginning of the Derek Brown stories in Old Verses New, in which he visits several horror worlds, but it occurs to me that before that I had written a story based on The Quest for the Vorgo, for Joe Kondor in Verse Three, Chapter One, and I’ve written at least a couple horror scenarios for Multiverser game play apart from those.  Also, my thoughts on the genre in web log post #132:  Writing Horror were apparently valuable enough that they got translated for the Places to Go, People to Be French edition, Maîtriser l’Horreur, so I apparently do know something about it.  On the other hand, as I recently shared in web log post #426:  A Christian View of Horror, genuine horror is at best difficult for a Christian, because in horror hope fails in despair, and for believers hope wins.  That doesn’t mean I can’t write the story; it means I have to give serious thought to what it’s about.

And that is the next question:  what is it about?  Great horror stories are usually about something important.  Frankenstein is about man overreaching to try to create life.  Jurassic Park has a similar theme.  I’ve already mentioned themes about environmental issues and genetic engineering–but do I care enough about these to create a good story from them?  I can see a concept of undead arising from a rejection of God, but seriously, among porpoises?  This is a very difficult aspect of the concept.

Most of that is, of course, setting material.  The last part gives some shape to the plot, but there is no story there.  For that, I’m going to have to create some characters who fit the setting, create some relationships, perhaps a romance, perhaps a family.  I might have to think about who is going to die, and when and how that happens.  I don’t really have a book here at this point.

But I might.  I just have to start finding answers to those questions.

Any reader who has thoughts about such a book is encouraged to respond, in the comments below or on one of my social media pages.

#377: A New Tragedy of the Common

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #377, on the subject of A New Tragedy of the Common.

In the early nineteenth century an economic principle was recognized which would later become known as The Tragedy of the Common.  It has many applications, particularly in relation to modern environmental concerns, but I’d like to call attention to a new one emerging.

The concept is really rather simple.  In medieval and post-medieval villages there was an area of grassland that was available for general public use, the common or commons.  People would graze their sheep on it, as most did not have enough private land to support sheep raising.  What was noticed is that the number of sheep being grazed on such shared land was usually more than the land could adequately support, and so the sheep fared poorly.  The complication, though, was that although for the benefit of the community as a whole the total number of sheep should be reduced to a level sustainable by the land, for any one farmer the way to maximize his own return was to increase the size of his own flock.  Although this reduced his return per sheep, it increased his total return–unless the system collapsed and the sheep died.

We can see this in application in many situations–the overfishing of our fisheries, poor forestry practices, the destruction of our jungles, the pollution of our rivers.  Each individual benefits by destroying a bit more of the shared world.  I, however, want to address a much more recent economic phenomenon.

It was joked not too many years ago that a particular retail distributor had become the internet’s electronics showroom:  people interested in high-end electronics such as televisions and home entertainment systems and computers would visit their stores, examine the available products, then return home and order what they wanted more cheaply over the internet.  The concept has spread far beyond electronics:  reportedly many local game stores have been closing because customers browse in the store and then purchase what they want online.  The pandemic of the past year has intensified this problem, because people were either prevented from or afraid of visiting retail stores, and so a great deal of purchasing shifted to online sources.  Retailers of all stripes are struggling; customers are dwindling.  Those of us who were driving during the pre-Christmas weeks noticed how sparse the traffic was compared to previous years, and not all of that was due to reduced disposable income.  The number of the new Amazon delivery trucks on the road is stunning.

It struck me, first, that the issue really is whether we generally, individually, are willing to pay a little more for the things we want and need in order to keep the convenience of having local retail stores.  After all, if the stores make no sales they cease to exist, and they will struggle even if they make a few sales.  The disappearance of retailers will be a major shift in our economies, as many people are dependent on jobs in those industries.  Additionally, even if you can get next day delivery on products from some online retailers, that’s not always fast enough, and having a local brick-and-mortar store that carries what we need means we can get it today, possibly even tonight if it’s open twenty-four hours.  Although it is a disadvantage to us to have to pay a bit more, the advantages of having retail stores might be worth it.

But then I saw the tragedy.  It is perhaps an inverse of the example, but in this case it is to every individual’s advantage to buy more cheaply online, but a disadvantage to the community to lose retail outlets.  Further, because of this it is likely that individuals will in greater numbers move their purchases online until support for local retailers is inadequate and they are forced to close their doors.  It thus becomes disadvantageous for anyone to support local retailers, as these are probably doomed by the force of the economic situation, and once they close those who tried to patronize them to support them will have spent that money with no way to recover it and no benefit to show for it, while those who abandoned the local shops sooner will have saved money in the process.

Is there a viable solution to this?  Probably not–but it is part of a larger problem, that automation is reducing our need for a work force.  There will continue to be fewer jobs for people, and particularly for unskilled workers, who will become an increasing burden on the welfare systems, unless we can devise a different economic system for the future.

I don’t see it, yet.

#222: The Range War Explodes: Interstate Water Rights

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #222, on the subject of The Range War Explodes:  Interstate Water Rights.

Your ranch is upstream, and they dammed up the water.
Thirsty cows scream for my uncle to slaughter
The sheep
While your daddy’s asleep,
And I do the same for his daughter.

The Range War, by Todd Rundgren

In my hopefully forthcoming book Why I Believe I used the example of the range war, probably recalled from this old Todd Rundgren Romeo and Juliet song, in asking whether or not it was “theft” for the owner of an upstream ranch to dam the water supplies to provide for his own livestock and family, if it reduces the amount of water that would otherwise naturally flow downstream onto his neighbor’s ranch to water his livestock.  It is a difficult and intriguing question:  can I steal something from you that you never had, simply by preventing it from reaching you?  If I prevent the water from flowing downstream, can you accuse me of theft?

It appears that the United States Supreme Court is going to answer that question:  Florida is suing Georgia for using too much fresh water from the rivers that supply its northern areas, and the court has granted certiorari.

Georgia has a pretty solid case.  After all, if a storm is coming and I get to the grocery store before you and buy the last of the milk, eggs, and bread (what is now being called a “French Toast Emergency”), did I thereby rob you of those supplies?  If you took me to court over that, you would probably be laughed out of the room.  It’s Georgia’s water; what they don’t use becomes Florida’s water; what they use to support their growing cities and their booming agriculture, they use.  It doesn’t seem that Florida can really claim that it’s their water before it reaches them, and if it never reaches them, it never becomes theirs.

On the other hand, it’s not like Florida can get to the water first by leaving earlier.  Florida is in a very real sense dependent on Georgia allowing the water to cross the border.  Further, these are serious environmental concerns, removing water from wilderness areas dependent on those rivers.

Since this is a dispute between two States, the Supreme Court has original jurisdiction–the case does not come to them on appeal from a lower court, and there are no prior decisions for them to consider.  An appointed Special Master has recommended that they side with Georgia, but at oral argument the justices reportedly seemed to be seeking a way to support Florida, Justice Ginsburg suggesting that a cap on Georgia’s water use might be necessary to protect its downstream neighbor.

Stay tuned for the resolution to this modern version of an old problem.

#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 PayPal.me contributors–will bring these to realization.

Thank you.

#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.

#182: Emotionalism and Science

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #182, on the subject of Emotionalism and Science.

This recounts a true story told me decades ago which it occurs to me has relevance to our present situation.


It occurs to me that at least one of my readers might remember Mr. Ernest “Ernie” Larrat, whose lifetime of involvement with the Boy Scouts of America has impacted many lives of which mine is perhaps a drop in the bucket.  You will be pleased to hear that I saw him last year, at my mother’s ninetieth birthday party, and he looked well, not much different than I remembered from the two hundred mile canoe trip for which he and I were leaders forty years previously (although I doubt either of us could make that Bicentenial Delaware River trek today), and was still involved in the Ramapo Council.  He also had a day job, somewhere in the chemical industry, from which he recounted this story.

It takes place in the late nineteen-sixties.  An issue had been raised concerning children’s pajamas.  Someone had realized that clothing made of natural fibers such as cotton and wool burned, and so did clothing made of modern synthetics such as polyester.  Infants and toddlers dressed in such clothing who were caught in house fires were frequently burned alive when their clothing caught fire, and sometimes fires started when such clothing came in contact with high heat sources such as candle flames.  Somehow the concern reached the ears of our elected officials, and they held a Congressional hearing on the matter.

The first presenters at this hearing were connected to Ralph Nader’s group of consumer advocates.  I do not intend to denigrate them; they have done much good over the decades.  They presented the problem, with graphic images and details of children burned alive by pajamas catching fire.  It was a horrid thought, a very moving and emotionally gripping presentation.  By the time the presentation was completed, our lawmakers were ready to take action–so ready, in fact, that they ended the hearings immediately and drafted and passed legislation requiring that all child and infant sleepwear be treated with flame-retardant chemicals so as not to ignite when exposed to flame.

They never heard any presentations from the chemical industry or the garment manufacturers.  After all, what could they possibly have to say, other than suggesting that the costs of such treatment would reduce their profits?  It was clear that something had to be done, and Congress was going to do it.

What the chemical industry was prepared to explain, had anyone cared to listen, was that there was only one known chemical that could be used to make such cloth permanently flame retardant.  It was known as Tris(2,3-dibromopropyl) phosphate, or just Tris for short.  (There is another chemical, Tris(2-chloroethyl) phosphate, more recently used as a flame retardant, more commonly known as TCEP.)  It had not been used in children’s garments, though, because of other properties.  It was known that when exposed to elevated temperatures not high enough to cause ignition of common fabrics, Tris would begin to break down and release a noxious gas rapidly and painfully fatal if inhaled.  I don’t know, but I suspect that this is at least part of why it was flame retardant:  as it heated, it robbed the fire of oxygen, preventing ignition.

However, its use was at the time the only way to comply with the law, so the chemical industry began providing large quantities of Tris to be used by the garment industry in the manufacture of children’s clothing.  Now fewer children were burned alive, because many more were killed by the gas released by treated clothing heated by the fire long before the clothing itself would have ignited without such treatment.

Over a very brief period of years, it was also determined that the chemical was a carcinogen when absorbed through the skin.  In 1977 the Consumer Product Safety Commission banned its use in children’s clothing, and clothes went back to being untreated cloth for lack of an alternative.

The lesson to be learned is that it is important in addressing a problem to research the potential consequences of any proposed solution.  Congressmen who voted in favor of flame-retardant treatment of children’s clothing knew they were addressing a serious problem.  They did not know that they were creating a more serious problem.  Within the narrow confines of the problem, indeed mandating flame-retardant chemicals in children’s clothing seems the ideal solution–but it is magical thinking, it is believing that direct solutions to problems do not have effects that might cause other problems.

And that is what is happening in the climate change hysteria today.

No one doubts that there are environmental problems that must continue to be addressed.  No one wants to undo the progress that has been made since the nineteen sixties.  Those of us who have lived so long can attest that conditions are better now than then, and that much more is being done to protect the environment now than then.  However, environmental extremists are drawing pictures of burned babies to provoke an emotional reaction and induce us to take extreme measures to protect the environment before this happens–and in this case, they are theoretical pictures, descriptions of what might happen if current trends go unchecked.  We have no burned babies, no real cases of environmental disaster causing or caused by climate change.  We have educated guesses–educated guesses on which many scientists disagreed until they were pressured by threats of funding cuts or ostracization or banishment from publication venues, to bring them into the fold.  We are supposed to react to these images by taking immediate action to protect the metaphoric babies, passing the legislation that metaphorically protects them by treating their clothing with a carcinogenic poisonous chemical that prevents ignition.

We should not move so quickly on this.  We should attend to the fact that every action has consequences, and extreme and hasty actions usually have severe consequences.  There are many problems that have nothing to do with the environment, and indeed even our supposed efforts to repair the environment may have unanticipated environmental consequences.

This has all been said before.  It was not so long ago that I wrote #175:  Climage Change Skepticism, and only about a year ago that I wrote #80:  Environmental Blackmail.  Before that, though, I gave you #10:  The Unimportance of Facts, suggesting that to many in the political world the truth does not matter, only the victory.  Let’s try to get back to learning the truth, instead of trying to use scare tactics to get our preferred outcomes.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#175: Climate Change Skepticism

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #175, on the subject of Climate Change Skepticism.

It has happened to me again:  I posted a link to an article, and quickly got embroiled in an ar–er, a discussion which was going to require more of a response than could easily be managed in a Facebook thread.  So here I am attempting to answer here comments made there, and it will be necessary to get you up to speed in case you missed all of that.


First, I should refer to the articles in question–but as I have since realized that The Boston Globe, original publisher of these articles, permits a limited number of free article views and then charges a weekly subscription fee, and I referenced two, I should summarize the sense of the articles along with the links.  I made that point that these were published in The Boston Globe, a paper never known to be particularly conservative.

The first article is Why are climate change models so flawed?  Because climate science is so incomplete.  It was produced by staff columnist Jeff Jacoby (March 14th, 2017), and was defending a comment made by the new Environmental Protection Agency Director Scott Pruitt.  When asked (on CNBC) whether he believed it had been proven that CO2 was the primary control knob for climate, Pruitt replied that “measuring with precision human activity on the climate is something very challenging to do, and there’s tremendous disagreement about the degree of impact. So no–I would not agree that it’s a primary contributor to the global warming that we see. But we don’t know that yet. We need to continue the debate and continue the review and the analysis.”

This stirred a huge reaction as liberal environmental activists called Pruitt a “denier”, but Jacoby says Pruitt gave the correct answer to the question that was asked.  Jacoby then notes that the factors impacting climate run into the hundreds, few if any of which are well understood by present science.  He concludes “That is why calls to radically reduce carbon emissions are so irresponsible–and why dire warnings of what will happen if we don’t are little better than reckless fearmongering.”

I presented much the same conclusion sometime last year in web log post #80:  Environmental Blackmail, which you can read for free, although (quick commercial break) your contributions through Patreon or PayPal.me are greatly appreciated.

The second article was a letter from a reader, Patrick Moore (March 27th, 2017), extolling the good sense of the first article, 10,000 years ago?  That was climate change.  Today?  Not so much.  Identifying himself as “a lifelong ecologist and environmentalist” he says “much of the environmental movement [has been] hijacked for the purpose of alarming us about the future of the climate” and “no weather event or change in climate during the past century is anywhere near out of the ordinary with the climate of the past 10,000 years”.  Certainly it is possible that someone might want to label the writer a “denier” with no interest in the environment, but he has been identified as a former president of Greenpeace Canada, so I at least would be hesitant to challenge his credibility on the subject.

Most of my point was made in my previously mentioned article.  I favor sound environmental policy; I distrust climate change extremism for a host of reasons.  When it comes to trusting current scientific opinion, it should be noted that over the past century what was current scientific opinion said that smoking was good for your health, margarine was better for your heart than butter–well, the fact that current opinion happens to wear the label “scientific” does not alter the fact that it is still current opinion.  It was not that long ago that current scientific opinion included that the production of greenhouse gasses was necessary to prevent the recurrence of an ice age.  We do not know to what degree humans are impacting climate change; we know that climate change happens naturally (Greenland actually was a more comfortable place than Iceland when Vikings first discovered and named it, but has since become considerably colder), but not to what degree we matter to it.  Climate change alarmists are using scare tactics to gain support for their environmental program, and in the process lining their own pockets.  The facts are not so clear as they would like them to be.

So that brings you up to speed, and now I have comments I need to address from three persons.

Nikolaj found the article “mostly…reasonable”, but asked

Why would it be irresponsible to keep in account that it might be true?  Wouldn’t it be less responsible to blatantly ignore the fact that we might be ruining our climate because it’s hard to prove it?

I might be missing the point, but wouldn’t it be like looking at w[h]ether or not to provoke a nation that might have a nuke, or might not, and choosing to provoke, because, hey, they might not have one?

Well, let’s start with the second part.

Any nation might have a nuke.  Indeed, any faction, any terrorist organization, any militant group might have a nuke.  True Lies is certainly not the only movie in which a core part of the plot is that some unknown splinter group obtained a couple of nuclear weapons.  We think it unlikely that anyone who is not a nation has such a device, but we have several instances in which graduate physics students have drawn up plans for functional explosive devices, and no one controls all of the high-grade fissionable material in the world.

So when you say that a nation “might have a nuke”, you obviously mean more than that there is a theoretical possibility (at least, I hope you do).  You mean that a sane assessment of the situation has yielded a probability that reaches some threshold considered significant.  What that threshold is might depend on whom you ask.  Certainly most people would be cautious if the probability was eighty percent or better; some people would be cautious if the probability reached twenty percent, and some would consider a probability of two percent significant enough that caution is required.

Yet what do we mean by “choosing to provoke” versus exercising caution?  World War II was not so long ago, and what was significant in the preface to World War II was that World War I was still fresh in the minds of everyone in leadership.  Hitler took the view that if he demanded that territory claimed by other sovereign nations should be ceded to Germany because it was once German territory, and threatened to start a war over it if it were not done, his demands would be met; Chamberlain took the view that as long as England’s immediate interests were not threatened Germany could have anything it wanted to avoid a war.  What if we had a similar situation in the modern world–if perhaps North Korea said that it had an arsenal of nuclear weapons and an intercontinental delivery system of some sort, and it wanted immediate ownership of South Korea, then further demanded Japan, Taiwan, and other western Pacific nations?  The question is, how high a probability would we require before we took those threats seriously and considered acquiescing to those demands?  If we thought it ninety percent likely that North Korea could and would carry through on those threats, that would be a very different situation than if the analysis said two percent.

The problem with the climate change issue lies in this analysis.  Climate change extremists argue that there is near a one hundred percent chance that our current production of greenhouse gasses will result in an ecological disaster in a very short time.  It is so far from clear that this is an accurate (or even unbiased) assessment of the danger.  If the probability really is high, then it calls for more drastic measures; if it is not so high, we should approach it more moderately–and remember, about a quarter of a century ago (probably within the lifetimes of everyone participating in this discussion) there was a serious scientific concern that human production of greenhouse gasses was needed to prevent drastic climate change.  The issue is not that clear.

So to return to the first part of the quote, no one is suggesting that we “blatantly ignore the fact that we might be ruining our climate”.  The extremists want you to think that there are only two possible paths–drastic measures or business as usual.  Those are not the only options.

The situation is also impacted by the fact that nothing in the world happens in a vacuum.  That is, there are environmental problems, and they need to be addressed.  There are also economic problems that need to be addressed, and social problems, infrastructure problems, political problems–problems of all kinds.  So what constitutes a reasonable response to the environmental problem?  Should we divert all monies currently going to social service programs such as Welfare, Social Security, Medicare/Medicaid, Food Stamps, Housing Assistance, and put this into programs to reduce carbon emissions?  (After all, saving the lives of the poor today is meaningless if their grandchildren will all die in our ecological catastrophe.)  Should we shut down all transportation systems that use any form of energy that relies on any kind of combustion–cars, planes, trains, trucks, buses?  Remember, hydroelectric is a very small percentage of our electric grid, and we have stifled the development of nuclear power, so even our electricity is dependent on burning something.

The issue is determining how serious the threat to the environment is, and what steps would actually be effective in reducing it without doing more damage to other problems.  The answer is not to forget about every other problem the world faces and focus every resource on doing something we are not even completely certain will help.  It is to work out the severity of the problem and the best approach to solutions.

Hopefully that covers most of what I needed to say, and my responses to my other two participants will be shorter.  Harry said

Even if everything…turned out to be false[–]why does that make sustainable energy and cleaning up the planet somehow a *bad thing*?  Why does it make pumping coal dust into the atmosphere and bringing back acid rain somehow something we should be *trying to do* by doing away with the regulations that got rid of that stuff in the first place?

Again we have the suggestion that the extremes are the only options.  I am entirely in favor of developing sustainable energy and maintaining reasonable controls on air pollution.  I am not in favor of taking drastic steps that will crush the economy in the name of doing something whose benefit to the environment is inconclusive.  Zero emissions does not happen even with zero production–we cannot even cook our food without producing some greenhouse gasses, and there are a number of fundamental natural processes (forest fires, volcanic activity) which we cannot control.  The issue is what is an acceptable level at a reasonable cost.  As a sub-point of that, if the economy is crashing, do we loosen environmental regulations temporarily to stimulate recovery?  That’s a more difficult question than I can readily answer, but the answer lies in exactly the kind of analysis we are discussing for the reverse:  will the benefit to the economic problem be worth the cost in environmental problems?

I don’t favor drastic steps in either direction.  For one thing, drastic changes usually have drastic unanticipated side effects, and if we can move slowly in our efforts to find the right policy, we are more likely to reach a working program that preserves the environment without destroying the economy.

Bryan wrote

even those whose income is dependent upon fossil fuels will admit that it’s a finite resource.  Eventually it runs out, and if we don’t have robust alternatives in place by the time it does, we’re going to be in trouble.

Yes, and no one that I know is saying we should not be working on them.

When I was in college I went to hear an advertised debate about nuclear power.  The debaters were to be one of our biology professors and one of our physics professors.  The biology professor’s starting position was that nuclear energy was extremely dangerous, bad for the environment, and that we should be changing to solar power as rapidly as we can, not investing in dangerous nuclear power plants.  The physics professor said that that was a wonderful notion, but he had gotten his doctorate in solid state electronics and knew that the technology was just not there–there would not be significant solar electricity for years, probably decades, and particularly not in the relatively dark latitudes of New England (where Gordon College is located).  Meanwhile, the alternatives were all dangerous.  He had nightmares about the way liquid natural gas was transported and delivered.  Nuclear power had problems, but it had benefits–some of them environmental.

O.K., in the United States nuclear power lost that debate, probably because of the accident at Three Mile Island.  It was not helped by Chernobyl.  France used nuclear generated electricity for a significant part of its power (about 40% of its total energy, over 75% of its electrical production, in 2004), apparently safely.  We’re also talking about the state of solar technology in 1975; those needed decades have now passed.  Solar energy is now emerging as a viable energy source–but it is not going to replace fossil fuels overnight.

There is an economic tipping point.  I think we have not quite reached it.  A tipping point is a simple concept.  Usually old technologies become less practical over time; always new technologies improve and so become more economical over time.  Capitalists, whether industrialists or homeowners, want to use whatever is the cheapest option.  There are two obstacles.  One is fluctuation–neither the increase in cost of the old nor the decrease in cost of the new is going to be consistent (the price of natural gas fell drastically over the past decade)–the other is the changeover cost (I might know that gas heat is less expensive than oil, but have to factor in the cost of replacing the furnace and laying the pipe).  However, once the price of the new is sufficiently below that of the old to cover the transition costs, people change.

When people are not changing, it demonstrates that they are not persuaded that the new is the better option.  The change is starting, and the tipping point is approaching–and government programs to make solar available more cheaply are helping, but also demonstrating that there is still an economic barrier.  That is, if solar power actually were economically better than other options, we would not need artificial (government) inducements to switch.

By all means, let’s find better ways to create electrical power.  However, let’s not crush the economy trying to do it.  Let’s make environmental concerns one of our issues, but not our only issue.

I’m puzzled as to why “conservatives” are opposed to “conservation.”

They’re not.  They’re opposed to making it more important than everything else.  Nor are conservatives necessarily all climate change “deniers”–only skeptics, people who believe that the jury is still out, that we do not know what the climate is actually doing nor why it is doing it.  Maybe the world is warming, returning to the climate which prevailed two thousand years ago before it entered an abnormally cold stretch.  Maybe we are contributing to that, and maybe we aren’t.  Let us not “go off half-cocked”, creating a lot of other problems in other areas trying to create solutions for a situation we are not completely certain is a problem, and not completely certain we can change.

Thanks to everyone for your thoughts and contributions to the process.  This is how we learn.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#162: Furry Thinking

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #162, on the subject of Furry Thinking.

If you are in the gamer community you probably have already heard or thought most of this.  Ridiculous news travels fast.  For those who are not, well, it’s worth getting you up to speed a bit.

A British company known as Games Workshop publishes a game under the name Warhammer 40K.  The “40K” part means that it is set in a far-flung (forty millennia) future in which, perhaps somewhat ridiculously, primitives fight with mechas.  The game makes significant use of miniatures, which the company produces and sells.  These miniatures are entirely made of plastic, but some of them have designs that include the image of fur clothing or covering on people or machines.

PETA, that is, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals, is protesting this.

Image by  Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/
Image by Erm What https://www.flickr.com/photos/ermwhat/

I am tempted to join the chorus of those who assert that PETA has lost it–it being at least the last shreds of credibility that the organization had.  I would prefer to think that they are intelligent people who have sound reasons for their position, and so I would like to attempt at least to understand them.  I do not agree with them, because of what I think are some fundamental issues, but in order to discuss those issues I think it is important at least to attempt to grasp their view.

The stated issue is that the appearance of fur on the models, even given that it isn’t even faux fur but just molded plastic in a roughened pattern that looks like fur, sends a wrong message.  That in itself is a bit ridiculous–as one father of a gamer reported his daughter asking, how can PETA tell whether the plastic molding representation is supposed to be real fur or fake fur?  However, we should give PETA the benefit of the doubt.  They could reasonably object to the use of fake fur for much the same reason:  it is popular because it looks like real fur, and in looking like real fur suggests that killing animals for their fur is an appropriate human action.  People should not kill animals for fur today, and suggesting that it will be acceptable to do so forty thousand years in the future is just as unacceptable.

In its argument, PETA includes some detail about the inhumane ways in which animals are either trapped or hunted and killed, or raised and killed, for their furs.  Within the context it’s a bit ridiculous–for all we know, in the Warhammer world such furs might be grown in vats of cultured skin skin cells that have no innervation and no central nervous system, and thus no real pain.  Fur might grow on trees, genetically mutated or modified.  They might have devised completely painless methods of hunting, trapping, and killing fur-bearing animals.  Extending an argument based on the details of actual modern treatment of such animals to the distant future is indeed silly.  However, it is probably not the distant future with which PETA is concerned.  If they still exist in forty millennia they will undoubtedly argue whether any of those methods are truly humane; their real argument is not whether these are appropriate actions in the future, but whether they convey an appropriate message to the present.  Their position in the present is that it is fundamentally wrong to kill animals for their skins, and so the suggestion that it will be permissible in the distant future is a wrong message, because it always will be–and by implication, always has been–wrong for people to do this.

That is where PETA and I part company on this issue.

Somewhere I have seen, probably in some natural history museum, a montage of a group of primitive men dressed in furs using spears to bring down a Woolly Mammoth.  That display, to my mind, communicates something of the reality of the lives of our distant ancestors.  Yet if PETA is to be taken seriously, that display sends the same kind of wrong message as is sent by the Games Workshop miniatures:  humans have killed animals so as to clothe themselves in the furs, and are engaged in killing another animal.  It might even be argued in their favor that one of the theories for the disappearance of the Siberian Mammoth from the world is that it was hunted to extinction by primitive humans (although in fairness it has also been suggested that they died due to the decline of their habitat at the close of the last ice age).  Yet wearing furs and killing animals was how those humans survived, and thus the means by which we have come to be alive today.

I think that PETA would probably assert that the humans had no higher right to survive than the bears and wolves and deer and other creatures they killed for those furs, or the mammoths they hunted for meat and skin.  PETA has an egalitarian view of the creatures of the world, as I understand it:  all creatures are created equal, and have an equal claim to continued life.  People have no right to kill animals for their own purposes, whether for clothes or for food or for habitat.

One reason this view is held is that people believe there are only two possible views.  The perceived alternative is to believe that humans have no obligations at all to other creatures, and can use them however we want, kill them with impunity, torture them even for no better purpose than our own entertainment, eat them, and wear their bodies as clothing and jewelry or use it to adorn our dwellings.  Put in its extreme form, this position is indeed reprehensible, and I object to it as much as PETA does.  However, these are not the only two positions.

Still, that “reprehensible” position is at least defensible.  PETA can argue that the human species has no better right to survive than any other creatures, but it is equally true under that argument that our right to survive is not any less.  Other creatures do not, by this fundamentally naturalistic argument, owe us their lives, but neither do we owe them theirs.  If our survival is enhanced at their expense, it cannot be asserted that we have less right to survive than they.  In the abstract the claim that we do not have a higher right sounds good, but if the issue were to be whether you or I would survive, it is very likely that you would choose you, and if it went to court after the fact and it was reasonably clearly apparent that it was “you or me”, the courts would undoubtedly exonerate you for choosing your own survival over mine.  The simplest form of that is the self-defense defense, but it’s not the only situation in which this is a factor.  Our ancestors killed animals and ate them and wore their furs because in a very real sense it was “them or us”, either we kill these animals and protect ourselves in their skins or we die of exposure.  Certainly I think that killing for furs that are not needed for our survival but merely decorative is selfish, but under a naturalistic viewpoint I can find no basis for saying that it is wrong to put the needs and preferences of other creatures above our own.  Further, I would not condemn an Inuit for his sealskin boots–it is part of his survival, and it is not clear that modern boots are either as easily available to him or as effective for the purpose.

Yet I do not intend to defend that position.  I think there is a third position that covers the concerns of both PETA and the Inuit.  Man is neither the equal of the other creatures in this world nor the owner of them.  We are their caretakers; they are our charges.

That means that sometimes we have to kill them, responsibly.  The best example is the deer of North America.  In most of the continent, and particularly most of the United States, deer thrive but the predators that kept their numbers in check have been decimated.  Without wolves and mountain lions in significant numbers to kill and eat the deer, their natural reproductive rate (geared to replace those lost to predation) quickly overpopulates the environment.  Certainly we have the selfish concern that they will eat our gardens, but even without that part of the problem they will starve in droves, because there is not enough food to feed them all.  The lack of predators is our fault, but only partly intentional.  Certainly we took steps to protect our children from creatures that would recognize them as a potential meal, but it is also the case that we frighten them, and so as we expand they retreat.  That means that deer will die, and their bodies litter the wilderness–and the alternative is for us to maintain managed killing of the overpopulation.  Licensed hunting is an effective and economical approach.  There might be other ways–such as rounding up herds into slaughterhouses and selling the meat on the market–but PETA would find these at least as objectionable.

It also means that we have the right to kill them when in our view it meets our needs–such as taking cattle and pigs and fowl to slaughterhouses to put meat on our tables.

The issue of whether we should refrain from killing animals for clothing is a more complicated one.  After all, in Genesis 3:21 we are told that God made garments of skin for Adam and Eve when they were inadequately clothed in leaves, and we take that to mean that it was the skins of animals, and that thereafter we dressed ourselves in animal skins following the example God gave us.  On the other hand, we have other materials now which are at least as good, and we have a shortage of animals, at least measured against the number of people we have to clothe.  We can provide for our needs without killing a lot of animals, and so we should prioritize our responsibility to care for those we still have.  That does not mean we cannot use fur or leather as part of our clothing; it means that such use should be limited to situations in which it is the best choice for the purpose.

It also means that in a distant future in which animals, including predatory animals, are plentiful and humans are struggling to survive, our present standards about killing creatures for fur or wearing the skins of animals who died or were killed for other reasons simply do not apply.  Most of those who are intelligent enough to be able to play complicated miniatures wargames are also intelligent enough to understand this, even if PETA is not.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#150: 2016 Retrospective

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #150, on the subject of 2016 Retrospective.

Periodically I try to look back over some period of time and review what I have published, and the end of the year is a good time to do this.  Thus before the new year begins I am offering you a reminder of articles you might have seen–or might have missed–over the past twelve months.  I am not going to recall them all.  For one thing, that would be far too many, and it in some cases will be easier to point to another location where certain categories of articles are indexed (which will appear more obvious as we progress).  For another, although we did this a year ago in web log post #34:  Happy Old Year, we also did it late in March in #70:  Writing Backwards and Forwards, when we had finished posting Verse Three, Chapter One:  The First Multiverser Novel.  So we will begin with the last third of March, and will reference some articles through indices and other sources.

I have divided articles into the categories which I thought most appropriate to them.  Many of these articles are reasonably in two or more categories–articles related to music often relate to writing, or Bible and theology; Bible and politics articles sometimes are nearly interchangeable.  I, of course, think it is all worth reading; I hope you think it at least worth considering reading.

I should also explain those odd six-digit numbers for anyone for whom they are not obvious, because they are at least non-standard.  They are YYMMDD, that is, year, month, and day of the date of publication of each article, each represented by two digits.  Thus the first one which appears, 160325, represents this year 2016, the third month March, and the twenty-fifth day.


Let’s start with writings about writing.

There is quite a bit that should be in this category.  After all, that previous retrospective post appeared as we finished posting that first novel, and we have since posted the second, all one hundred sixty-two chapters of which are indexed in their own website section, Old Verses New.  If you’ve not read the novels, you have some catching up to do.  I also published one more behind-the-writings post on that first novel, #71:  Footnotes on Verse Three, Chapter One 160325, to cover notes unearthed in an old file on the hard drive.

Concurrent with the release of those second novel chapters there were again behind-the-writings posts, this time each covering nine consecutive chapters and hitting the web log every two weeks.  Although they are all linked from that table-of-contents page, since they are web log posts I am listing them here:  #74:  Another Novel 160421; #78:  Novel Fears 160506; #82:  Novel Developments 160519; #86:  Novel Conflicts 160602; #89:  Novel Confrontations 160623; #91:  Novel Mysteries 160707; #94:  Novel Meetings 160721; #100:  Novel Settling 160804; #104:  Novel Learning 160818; #110:  Character Redirects 160901;
#113:  Character Movements 160916;
#116:  Character Missions 160929;
#119:  Character Projects 161013;
#122:  Character Partings 161027; #128:  Character Gatherings 161110; #134:  Versers in Space 161124; #142:  Characters Unite 161208; and #148:  Characters Succeed 161222.

I have also added a Novel Support Section which at this point contains character sheets for several of the characters in the first novel and one in the second; also, if you have enjoyed reading the novels and have not seen #149:  Toward the Third Novel 161223, it is a must-read.

Also on the subject of writing, I discussed what was required for someone to be identified as an “author” in, appropriately, #72:  Being an Author 160410.  I addressed #118:  Dry Spells 161012 and how to deal with them, and gave some advice on #132:  Writing Horror 161116.  There was also one fun Multiverser story which had been at Dice Tales years ago which I revived here, #146:  Chris and the Teleporting Spaceships 161220

I struggled with where on this list to put #120:  Giving Offense 161014.  It deals with political issues of sexuality and involves a bit of theological perspective, but ultimately is about the concept of tolerance and how we handle disagreements.

It should be mentioned that not everything I write is here at M. J. Young Net; I write a bit about writing in my Goodreads book reviews.

Of course, I also wrote a fair amount of Bible and Theology material.

Part of it was apologetic, that is, discussing the reasons for belief and answers to the arguments against it.  In this category we have #73:  Authenticity of the New Testament Accounts 160413, #76:  Intelligent Simulation 160424 (specifically addressing an incongruity between denying the possibility of “Intelligent Design” while accepting that the universe might be the equivalent of a computer program), and #84:  Man-made Religion 160527 (addressing the charge that the fact all religions are different proves none are true).

Other pages are more Bible or theology questions, such as #88:  Sheep and Goats 160617, #90:  Footnotes on Guidance 160625, #121:  The Christian and the Law 161022, and #133:  Your Sunday Best 161117 (on why people dress up for church).

#114:  St. Teresa, Pedophile Priests, and Miracles 160917 is probably a bit of both, as it is a response to a criticism of Christian faith (specifically the Roman Catholic Church, but impacting all of us).

There was also a short miniseries of posts about the first chapter of Romans, the sin and punishment it presents, and how we as believers should respond.  It appeared in four parts:  #138:  The Sin of Romans I 161204, #139:  Immorality in Romans I 161205, #140:  Societal Implications of Romans I 161206, and #141:  The Solution to the Romans I Problem 161207.

Again, not everything I wrote is here.  The Faith and Gaming series and related materials including some from The Way, the Truth, and the Dice are being republished at the Christian Gamers Guild; to date, twenty-six such articles have appeared, but more are on the way including one written recently (a rules set for what I think might be a Christian game) which I debated posting here but decided to give to them as fresh content.  Meanwhile, the Chaplain’s Bible Study continues, having completed I & II Peter and now entering the last chapter of I John.

Again, some posts which are listed below as political are closely connected to principles of faith; after all, freedom of speech and freedom of religion are inextricably connected.  Also, quite a few of the music posts are also Bible or theology posts, since I have been involved in Christian music for decades.

So Music will be the next subject.

Since it is something people ask musicians, I decided to give some thought and put some words to #75:  Musical Influences 160423, the artists who have impacted my composing, arranging, and performances.

I also reached into my memories of being in radio, how it applies to being a musician and to being a writer, in #77:  Radio Activity 160427.

I wrote a miniseries about ministry and music, what it means to be a minister and how different kinds of ministries integrate music.  It began by saying not all Christian musicians are necessarily ministers in #95:  Music Ministry Disconnect 160724, and then continued with #97:  Ministry Calling 160728, #98:  What Is a Minister? 160730, #99:  Music Ministry of an Apostle 160803, #101:  Prophetic Music Ministry 160808, #102:  Music and the Evangelist Ministry 160812, #103:  Music Ministry of the Pastor 160814, #106:  The Teacher Music Ministry 160821, and
#107:  Miscellaneous Music Ministries 160824.  As something of an addendum, I posted #109:  Simple Songs 160827, a discussion of why so many currently popular songs seem to be musically very basic, and why given their purpose that is an essential feature.

In related areas, I offered #111:  A Partial History of the Audio Recording Industry 160903 explaining why recored companies are failing, #129:  Eulogy for the Record Album 161111 discussing why this is becoming a lost art form, and #147:  Traditional versus Contemporary Music 161221 on the perennial argument in churches about what kinds of songs are appropriate.

The lyrics to my song Free 161017 were added to the site, because it was referenced in one of the articles and I thought the readers should be able to find them if they wished.

There were quite a few articles about Law and Politics, although despite the fact that this was an “election year” (of course, there are elections every year, but this one was special), most of them were not really about that.  By March the Presidential race had devolved into such utter nonsense that there was little chance of making sense of it, so I stopped writing about it after talking about Ridiculous Republicans and Dizzying Democrats.

Some were, of course.  These included the self-explanatory titles #123:  The 2016 Election in New Jersey 161104, #124:  The 2016 New Jersey Public Questions 161105, #125:  My Presidential Fears 161106, and #127:  New Jersey 2016 Election Results 161109, and a few others including #126:  Equity and Religion 161107 about an argument in Missouri concerning whether it should be legal to give state money to child care and preschool services affiliated with religious groups, and #131:  The Fat Lady Sings 161114, #136:  Recounting Nonsense 161128, and #143:  A Geographical Look at the Election 161217, considering the aftermath of the election and the cries to change the outcome.

We had a number of pages connected to the new sexual revolution, including #79:  Normal Promiscuity 160507, #83:  Help!  I’m a Lesbian Trapped in a Man’s Body! 160521, and #115:  Disregarding Facts About Sexual Preference 160926.

Other topics loosely under discrimination include #87:  Spanish Ice Cream 160616 (about whether a well-known shop can refuse to take orders in languages other than English), #130:  Economics and Racism 161112 (about how and why unemployment stimulates racist attitudes), and #135:  What Racism Is 161127 (explaining why it is possible for blacks to have racist attitudes toward whites).  Several with connections to law and economics include #105:  Forced Philanthropy 160820 (taxing those with more to give to those with less), #108:  The Value of Ostentation 160826 (arguing that the purchase of expensive baubles by the rich is good for the poor), #137:  Conservative Penny-pinching 161023 (discussing spending cuts), and #145:  The New Internet Tax Law 161219 (about how Colorado has gotten around the problem of charging sales tax on Internet purchases).

A few other topics were hit, including one on freedom of speech and religion called #144:  Shutting Off the Jukebox 161218, one on scare tactics used to promote policy entitled #80:  Environmental Blackmail 160508, and one in which court decisions in recent immigration cases seem likely to impact the future of legalized marijuana, called #96:  Federal Non-enforcement 160727.

Of course Temporal Anomalies is a popular subject among the readers; the budget has been constraining of late, so we have not done the number of analyses we would like, but we did post a full analysis of Time Lapse 160402.  We also reported on #85:  Time Travel Coming on Television 160528, and tackled two related issues, #81:  The Grandfather Paradox Problem 160515 and #117:  The Prime Universe 160930.

We have a number of other posts that we’re categorizing as Logic/Miscellany, mostly because they otherwise defy categorization (or, perhaps, become categories with single items within them).  #92:  Electronic Tyranny 060708 is a response to someone’s suggestion that we need to break away from social media to get our lives back.  #93:  What Is a Friend? 060720 presents two concepts of the word, and my own preference on that.  #112:  Isn’t It Obvious? 160904 is really just a couple of real life problems with logical solutions.  I also did a product review of an old washing machine that was once new, Notes on a Maytag Centennial Washing Machine 160424.

Although it does not involve much writing, with tongue planted firmly in cheek I offer Gazebos in the Wild, a Pinterest board which posts photographs with taxonomies attempting to capture and identify these dangerous wild creatures in their natural habitats.  You would have to have heard the story of Eric and the Gazebo for that to be funny, I think.

Of course, I post on social media, but the interesting ones are on Patreon, and mostly because I include notes on projects still ahead and life issues impeding them.  As 2017 arrives, I expect to continue writing and posting–I already have two drafts, one on music and the other on breaking bad habits.  I invite your feedback.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]

#80: Environmental Blackmail

This is mark Joseph “young” blog entry #80, on the subject of Environmental Blackmail.

Augustine has been quoted (by C. S. Lewis, somewhere) as claiming to be “one who by writing profits and by profiting writes.”  I have that experience as well.  I had been musing on a completely different subject (for the Christian Gamers Guild Bible study) and suddenly saw how it applied to the massive global warming controversy, and thus I am writing about that here.

First, let me establish a few bona fides.  I am indeed a somewhat conservative moderate, but have also always been involved in environmental issues.  As a Boy Scout I cleaned up and repaired trails and wilderness areas as well as working with early recylcing efforts, collecting paper, glass, and aluminum in a time when it was voluntary and someone had to make an effort to make it happen.  I am in favor of policies that really do improve the environment; I am not in favor of policies which severely impact other areas of life such as economic growth but whose benefit to the environment is at best minimal or dubious.  I also favor policies that would shift the costs of environmental impact to those responsible for it–if the “cost” of a product includes that it damages our waterways, that cost ought to be covered in the sale price.  However, I also think that there is a great deal of alarmist talk in this field (see mark Joseph “young” web log post #45:  The Math of Charging Your Phone for an example).


I am old enough to be skeptical of current scientific opinion simply because it is current opinion, and the fact that it is scientific does not much improve its credibility.  I remember when we were all being moved away from butter to healthier margarine for the sake of our hearts, and now it seems that margarine is much worse for our hearts and we should prefer butter (or some other heart-healthy spread).  Smoking was once encouraged for its supposed antibiotic and antiviral effects, and it was a slow road to persuade everyone that it was a major health problem.  The majority of scientific opinion has often been wrong in living memory, and it is a fool who believes that because he has corrected certain errors in his thinking he must now be completely right about everything.

I am also not so foolish as to be persuaded that all the scientists on one side of the issue and none of those on the other side have a vested interest in the outcome.  That is, we are told that those of the minority opinion, those scientists who either do not believe that climate change is occurring or do not believe that human activity is a significant factor in it, are largely funded by industries who want the outcome to support their continued exploitation of natural resources, and thus that their research is tainted.  We are not told that those who believe human activity is creating climate change which will occur on a rapid and global scale at devastating levels are largely funded by environmental groups who want more money invested in environmental activities, and thus also have an economic interest which potentially taints their research–not to mention that they get publicity and sell books and media based on it.  That blade cuts both ways.  Besides, saying that oil companies support scientists who agree with the position that benefits them (or that environmental groups do likewise for those whose work benefits them) is a bit like arguing that the resurrection of Christ must be a lie because everyone who claims to have seen Him after His resurrection was a believer:  if you actually knew you saw Jesus alive after you knew He had been executed, could you reasonably not become a believer?  It is quite natural for groups with an interest in the outcome to fund those who appear to be producing data that supports their preferred outcome, and to promote that data which does; that is equally true on both sides of this debate.

I think that there is evidence of climate change.  I think that it is a bit less clear to what degree it is because of our contributions rather than because of natural climatic shifts.  The fact that it cannot be demonstrated that we are having a serious impact on the environment is not, to my mind, a sufficient reason not to take steps to reduce our impact on the environment; it is sufficient reason not to do so in ways that are going to strangle an economy that desperately needs to grow and create jobs.  Some are arguing that jobs now are not as important as the future state of the earth, but they have jobs now and probably are not in much danger of losing them.  It can as easily be argued that the state of the environment in a century is not going to matter much to people who starve and freeze and die of heat stroke today because of a collapsing economy.  (Minimum wage increases will not help this; the only way to increase everyone’s share of the pot is to make the pot bigger.)  We must take reasonable steps to improve the environment; we must not take unreasonable ones.  Our debate, then, comes to identifying those reasonable steps.

My complaint, though, is that in the current debate the threat of global warming is being used as a weapon to promote environmental policy and quash intellectual exploration.  I am particularly concerned, because it is not clear to me whether human activity is impacting climate, and it is also unclear that any such impact is negative.  In 1991, the science fiction author trio of Larry Niven, Jerry Pournelle, and Michael Flynn wrote a Prometheus Award-winning novel entitled Fallen Angels in which an essential element of the premise was that the world has been headed into an ice age for several hundred years which has been kept at bay by humanity’s production of greenhouse gases warming the planet, and that were we to stop that production we would within a very few years see glacial sheets descending southward on the continents of the northern hemisphere.  The appendix in that book explained this in some detail.  A Nova production a few years later explained how greenhouse gas levels fluctuated naturally, through a process in which rain washed carbon gases from the atmosphere, briefly became dilute carbolic acid, and either soaked into the ground and released the gases back into the atmosphere or landed on calcium-based rock usually upthrust by contintental drift, creating calcium carbonate that washed down the waterways to settle on the bottoms of seas and oceans out of the environment for centuries.  All of that is complicated, but the gist of it is that there was then–about twenty-five years ago–perceived to be a real danger, scientifically, that a significant reduction in the human production of greenhouse gases would result in a catastrophic climate shift.  Now we are being told that the failure to reduce the human production of greenhouse gases will have such a result.  Forgive me for feeling like this is the fad of the moment, like whether I should be eating butter or margarine.  I accept that there might be a problem, and it might need addressing.  I object to the hyperbole.

For example, there was a terrible storm on the east coast in 2012 known as Hurricane Sandy, a category 3 storm.  We were told that it was a harbinger of worse storms to come–but it was not as bad a storm as Hurricane Katrina, a category 5 storm in 2005.  The destruction from Sandy was because a rather ordinary storm was funnelled in an extraordinary way so as to be focused into a very narrow highly populated area.  The storm itself was not so severe; it was the vulnerability of the target that made the difference.  We have records of hurricanes using modern rating systems going back perhaps one and a half centuries, and there was a category 5 storm in 1928 and another in 1932.  Storms are not getting worse, and we’re not having the severe ones more frequently.  New England’s blizzard of 1978 was unprecedented and has not been matched since.  Yet every time something happens with the weather that people don’t like, the specter of climate change is paraded to scare us into environmental consciousness.

Scare tactics do work on some people, but intelligent people usually respond negatively to them.  Let’s address our environmental concerns sanely and sensibly, and stop trying to incite people to extreme action which might have worse consequences than what we already fear.

[contact-form subject='[mark Joseph %26quot;young%26quot;’][contact-field label=’Name’ type=’name’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Email’ type=’email’ required=’1’/][contact-field label=’Website’ type=’url’/][contact-field label=’Comment: Note that this form will contact the author by e-mail; to post comments to the article, see below.’ type=’textarea’ required=’1’/][/contact-form]