Tuesday, June 28, 2016

Why God made tapeworms - an excerpt from INTELLIGENT DESIGNER



An excerpt from INTELLIGENT DESIGNER: EVOLUTION FOR POLITICIANS:
 
The Biblical story is relatively open to interpretation, too, especially with respect to time, and is even more open to interpretation when one considers life forms that we now know exist but are not specifically mentioned in Genesis. Thus there is a lot of wiggle room for people who want to use the Genesis story for various reasons and in various ways, and depending on how the story is interpreted, some fairly heavy theological issues surface. To illustrate some of the problems involved in understanding special creation, we might consider the group of parasites known as tapeworms. It takes very little knowledge of zoology to realize that any answer to the question of when God made tapeworms—i.e., before or after their hosts—leads inevitably to an interesting theological discussion because quite different post-creation events must occur to explain these parasites’ continued existence, depending on when they were supposedly made. Genesis 1:20-25 deals with the world’s fauna, so we could infer that tapeworms were included in the categories listed (“every living creature that moves”), or were simply included with, and within, the larger animals mentioned, such as birds and cattle.
All tapeworms are obligate parasites; they do not survive outside of their hosts, except as eggs passed in host feces. Therefore, if God made tapeworms before He made their hosts such as the birds and cattle specifically mentioned, then those worms must have been either free-living or something we would not recognize as tapeworms. If they were unrecognizable as tapeworms, then that means they were changed into tapeworms by some mechanism not mentioned in the Bible, and because we’re discussing creation instead of evolution, that mechanism has to involve a decision by God to transform an existing, free-living, worm (we suppose it was a worm) into a new kind of worm, this one a parasitic, segmented, hermaphroditic, egg-producing machine dependent on its host’s defecation for survival as a species. In other words, if we do not allow evolution to create a tapeworm from a free-living ancestor, then we must allow God to accomplish exactly the same thing as evolution evidently accomplished, although for some mysterious supernatural reason. If God created tapeworms anew after He created their hosts, however, and furthermore, created them in their present form, then He purposefully made a parasitic, segmented, hermaphroditic, egg-producing machine dependent not only on its bird or cattle host’s defecation for survival, but also on the eating of tapeworm eggs (= eating of host feces) by various invertebrates such as beetles in which infective larvae could develop.
But as if the timing of tapeworm origin is not enough of a theological problem, the reason why God made tapeworms compounds the difficulty of rationalizing their existence. It’s difficult to seriously discuss why God made tapeworms because such a discussion quickly becomes an exercise in creativity, carrying with it a strong dose of smart-aleck cynicism. What was God thinking when He made these parasites? What was His intent? What purpose did God have for such a creation? But let’s do the exercise because it’s a fairly instructive one in terms of what we might call “creationism theory,” although it involves an attempt to read the mind of God, an activity some religions consider blasphemous and probably most consider impossible. Nevertheless, let’s try to answer these questions, beginning with the idea of a tapeworm in the mind of God, remembering, of course, that we could do these exact same thought experiments with any of the 100,000 species of molluscs, the 300,000 species of beetles, the untold thousands of roundworm species, and just to include plants, poison ivy.

INTELLIGENT DESIGNER: EVOLUTION FOR POLITICIANS is available on all e-readers and as a nice paperback from amazon. Feel free to buy a copy and send it to your scientifically illiterate elected official.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

For Father's Day - Excerpts from BERNICE AND JOHN: FINALLY MEETING YOU PARENTS WHO DIED A LONG TIME AGO



Some time in the late morning of November 23, 1973, John Janovy, petroleum geologist, age 59, received the last of his morphine injections, administered by his son, who gently slipped the needle into his father’s inner thigh, about the only place on his body where there was enough flesh to receive it, and slowly pressed the syringe until it was empty. Later that afternoon the men from the funeral home would arrive, place John’s body in a zippered vinyl bag, and leave. It’s best when they die at home, in their own beds, the doctor had said; they’re more comfortable, more at ease, than in the hospital. The son would then pour himself a large glass of Jack Daniels and begin wondering what to do next beyond filling out an obituary form for the Daily Oklahoman. Thirty years later I, that son, would open a box containing my father’s papers, start slowly reading them, and thus discover a man I’d known no better than the woman who was my mother.

Upon being given a similar prognosis—You have only six months to live—and asked the same question—If you had just enough strength to do one remaining thing, what would it be?—Bernice’s husband John, by now a widower married to another elegant lady who’d also pulled herself up from modest working class beginnings, would answer: build a greenhouse. I had never thought of my father as a particular heroic type until he was given those final six months and embarked on this amazing, courageous, venture, either a gamble that he would actually have the strength to finish it, or an obsession so strong it would keep him alive long enough to finish it.
In the end, it is impossible to distinguish between these two alternatives. I push him in his wheel chair out through the garage to the greenhouse—his greenhouse—open the door, push him in, and let him just look at his work. I take the cigarette from his fingers; he is too weak to hold it as it burns close to his fingers. There, surrounded by his plants, he lives an hour in the company of the latest and most consuming of his several concurrently indulged passions—alcohol, tobacco, music, stamps, coins, photography, cactus, his family, his grandchildren, and the oil business. Then, at the ancient age of 59, he dies. Unlike my mother, he leaves a swath of a trail, but I would not find it for another thirty years. When I begin to explore this jungle, I find another stranger.
“How did he do all this stuff?” I wonder one day, telling our oldest daughter, home for a visit, about her grandfather’s files, about the stamps carefully mounted on loose leaf pages upon which he’d drawn, with the exquisite skill of a superb draftsman, small India ink rectangles to frame them, then added labels—actually personal catalog numbers—lettered in his perfect steady hand.
“Obsessive compulsive,” she replies, converting him into a case study.
My father’s first job after graduating—in 1935—from the University of Oklahoma with a bachelor’s degree in geology, was out in Pampa, Texas, working for Skelly Oil Company. He never mentioned whether he or my mother ever ran into Woody Guthrie, or heard about him; the music in our house was classical—Jascha Heifetz and the like, not folk singer protest with flattop guitar. My father’s second job was with Louisiana Land and Exploration Company, and so he and my mother moved to Houma where I must have been conceived and certainly was delivered, although by whom, and with whose help, I do not know. A fire in the parish courthouse destroyed my original birth certificate, but the State of Louisiana issued a replacement with no questions asked. This replacement I use to obtain and renew passports, again, no questions asked. My last renewal was prior to September 11, 2001; we will see, over the next few years, whether a long-ago fire in Houma, and a not-so-long ago hurricane named “Katrina,” make any difference in the life of a post-Patriot Act American seeking proof of citizenship.

Among my father’s souvenirs from his Houma days were two tarpon scales that he kept in his fishing tackle box. Again I wonder, as in the case of the cameras, why this young man acquired a tackle box, but by the time I was old enough to understand fishing, he had one filled with all sorts of wondrous lures in addition to these tarpon scales. Among the photographs I salvaged from my parents’ house after they died are ones of men and a boat, not a large boat, but one large enough to have a small cabin. I think I went out on this boat once; I have a hazy image of being helped down a ladder into a dark space. I don’t know whether we actually went fishing, or even whether the boat moved after I was helped down the ladder. Nevertheless, either on this boat or some other, my father went fishing, caught a tarpon, and saved some scales. Or, perhaps, and just as likely, someone else caught the fish and he saved the scales.
Why might he have saved these scales? That is, what can we learn from a couple of strange items in someone’s tackle box? My guess is because the scales were so large that they challenged our very idea of a fish, at least for a person accustomed to inland bass as I was at the time. I want to believe that to him these scales were metaphorical reminders that our preconceived ideas—about fish, obviously, but actually about anything—could easily be overturned by observations if one allowed those observations to talk and listened to what they had to say. Again, it’s somewhat of a stretch, but those scales might well have been the equivalent of 3 x 5 cards with the words BE OPEN MINDED, NOT SURPRISED, printed in bold letters, a simple but important lesson about making your living by searching for naturally-occurring resources. At least those were my thoughts every time I saw them as a child, which was fairly often. Fifty, maybe sixty, years after discovering those tarpon scales in his tackle box, I still think the same way—suspicious of preconception, unusually respectful (some of my colleagues would say too much so) of plain observation—and wonder whether such a thought pattern is inherited, or was taught to me, by my father, and by example, beginning down in Houma with a couple of scales.

BERNICE AND JOHN is available on all e-readers

Monday, May 30, 2016

Comments on THE WEATHERFORD TRIAL - The fourth Gideon Marshall Mystery



Comments on THE WEATHERFORD TRIAL (TWT):

The e-book version of the fourth Gideon Marshall Mystery is now in the hands of my agent and should be available on all e-readers by mid-June. Although each of these books is written to be a stand-alone mystery, with the second one (THE STITCHER FILE) I started working in enough back story to accomplish that task. I was determined to make this fourth one a trial, for a number of reasons. First, I simply wanted to see if I could handle a trial in fiction. Second, an arrest, at the end of THE EARTHQUAKE LADY, needed a trial to follow. And finally, I wanted, and needed, to do one in third person, with the narrative extended over a several month period, again as a training exercise. The first three books are written in what I call “first person real time” in the sense that aside from back story, all of the events take place within a few days, the main character is Gideon Marshall, and he’s narrating the action from his own POV. In a trial, because participants are not allowed access to all the information and witnesses can’t observe courtroom action until they are called to the stand, the third person narrative was necessary.
In preparation for writing this one, I read Robert Traver’s ANATOMY OF A MURDER, much of John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, and parts of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. These three books came up repeatedly when I asked social media contacts about fiction that contained trial scenes. I had also read Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW and ROGUE LAWYER, both of which had trial scenes. I spent many days in the Lincoln Hall of Justice watching district court judges and attorneys functioning in their particular roles. Karen and I also visited Des Moines, where this trial takes place, and spent time in the Polk County Courthouse there, a really magnificent building. Finally, I studied several trial transcripts, including that of Oklahoma City bombing perp Timothy McVeigh. The big question to be answered was: what do these successful writers get by with in terms of demands on a reader? In THE WEATHERFORD TRIAL I tried to be somewhere in the ballpark, my estimate of the size of that park being based on those previously published books.
In general, my writing goal is to make a manuscript interesting no matter where one starts. In working through my own edits, I repeatedly open up the stack of paper at random places and ask whether the text is at least somewhat interesting. I also do that with books in the library and in Barnes and Noble, just to see what hard-cover published authors are getting by with. They get by with a lot of crap. In TWT, the main character is the defense attorney, Connecticut “Connie” Bergen, part of the legal team of Stevens Oil, Inc., a global energy enterprise owned by Delmar Stevens, a multi-billionaire. The focus of all these Gideon Marshall mysteries is intellectual property produced by scientists, important because of Stevens’ belief that this work has enormous value and can provide its owner with unimaginable power, assuming that owner also has the tools to implement the ideas. Stevens has the tools and wants the property.
Prior to submission, TWT was given to five Beta readers. I got feedback from two of these readers and incorporated their corrections and comments before submitting the manuscript to my agent. I owe special thanks to the Polk County Iowa Sheriff’s Office for quickly answering one of my questions about prisoner transport.
Thanks for reading these mysteries. In a subsequent post, I’ll explain how they came about.

John Janovy, Jr.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

Abortion comments (inspired by Facebook posts re Oklahoma)



AN OPEN LETTER TO MY GOP FRIENDS ON THE SUBJECT OF ABORTION:

This proposal is based on the premise that it’s irrational to demand that a public health problem be solved but at the same time be adamantly opposed to the methods of solving it. The public health problem in this case is one we know how to solve, namely, unwanted pregnancy. The methods of solving it are readily available, safe, extensively tested, and found to be effective, at least at the individual level. It’s a well-known and widely-accepted fact that long-term effects of this particular public health problem fall unequally on the sexes, with the female being physically affected, subjected to potential medical complications, and traditionally burdened with nearly two decades of direct responsibility for the care, feeding, and education of another human being, whereas the male’s participation in this responsibility is largely voluntary or, when involuntary, limited to financial contribution. The main points are:
(1) Immediately enact a so-called “life tax” to provide for public funding of “life services,” defined as prenatal health care, treatment for medical conditions arising from pregnancy, and care, including medical care, clothing, food, shelter, and both education and special education as needed, for any infant born to a mother who would otherwise have chosen to abort it. Life services would continue until the child is 18 years old.
(2) Establish residency requirements, for access to such support, similar to those already established, for example, for tuition at post-secondary institutions.
(3) Require DNA testing of mother, infant, and father (when the father can be ascertained) when an infant is born to a mother who would otherwise have aborted it. Costs of such testing would be paid by life tax revenues. If necessary, use test results to identify the father. Require, by law, the father to contribute half of the costs incurred in providing life services to mother and infant, and provide for an 18-year lien on the father’s earnings if necessary, with an extension to such time as the state is re-paid half of the life services costs by the father. Include in this law a provision that the father’s parents are liable for this contribution if the father is a minor.
(4) Immediately establish sex-education programs in all public schools, the curriculum to include effective contraception. Withhold certification from private schools that do not institute such a curriculum.
(5) Immediately provide birth control services for all individuals who want them but are unable to afford them. Pay for these services through the life tax. Services would include oral contraceptives, Plan B, condoms, patches, injections, and all other forms of artificial birth control to individuals over the age of 14. These services would be available in school health centers.
(6) In the event that an infant born to a mother who would otherwise have obtained an abortion requires long-term care or services due to a congenital condition, then such care and services would be provided by the state and funded by life tax revenues.
(7) In the event that pregnancy results from rape or incest, the mother would receive a lifetime stipend for carrying the fetus to term and the state would fund all services resulting from this birth, including counseling, adoptive services, and treatment of any medical conditions, including mental or emotional ones, resulting from the conception and delivery of this infant. In the case of rape or incest, residency and means requirements do not apply.
(8) The overall impact of this program, including life tax and life services, will be reviewed every ten years by qualified consultants from outside the state. Life tax will be adjusted annually to ensure revenues adequate to support life services programs.
A rough estimate, based on the widely available information on costs of rearing children in the United States fall is about $500,000 per non-aborted fetus if you add in the overhead costs of administering the above program. For example, Wisconsin reported 7,640 abortions in 2011; at that rate we’re looking at somewhere in the vicinity of $3.8 billion over the next 18-20 years to provide life services as part of Walker’s plan to deal with the problem of unwanted pregnancy for a single year. Alternatively, of course, that $3.8 billion would be paid by those who would have had an elective abortion but could not because of the law or other de facto restrictions on reproductive services, and that’s assuming that the individuals involved actually had the resources to pay these bills.
We have, of course, not even started to consider the social costs of unwanted pregnancy brought to term, and I’m not sure there is any real way to calculate those costs so that the public in general, and male legislators in particular, appreciate their impact on society. We do know that social factors such as lack of education, poverty, and crime are linked at least to some degree, and that “quality of life” factors are important for the attraction of business to a particular region. So in essence, the $3.8 billion should probably be considered a conservative estimate of the overall impact of unwanted pregnancy on the State of Wisconsin. Obviously there are 49 other states with varying numbers of abortions performed annually, but I have not calculated the overall national cost. C’mon, GOP, man up. Pass this tax and unlike G. W. Bush and his Iraq war of choice, make the nation pay for your personal beliefs and sexual politics.

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Comments on the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series



Comments on the Gideon Marshall Mystery Series, and especially the forthcoming one: THE WEATHERFORD TRIAL (TWT) (comments given to my Beta readers):

This version of the fourth Gideon Marshall Mystery is now in its sixth or seventh draft, and ready for some Beta reader comments. Although each of these books is written to be a stand-alone mystery, with the second one (THE STITCHER FILE) I started working in enough backstory to accomplish that task. I was determined to make this fourth one a trial, for a number of reasons. First, I simply wanted to see if I could handle a trial in fiction. Second, an arrest, at the end of THE EARTHQUAKE LADY, needed a trial to follow. And finally, I wanted, and needed, to do one in third person, with the narrative extended over a several month period, again as a training exercise. The first three books are written in what I call “first person real time” in the sense that aside from backstory, all of the events take place within a few days, the main character is Gideon Marshall, and he’s narrating the action from his own POV. In a trial, because participants are not allowed access to all the information and witnesses can’t observe courtroom action until they are called to the stand, the third person narrative was necessary.
In preparation for writing this one, I read Robert Traver’s ANATOMY OF A MURDER, much of John Grisham’s A TIME TO KILL, and the introductory pages of Harper Lee’s TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD. These three books came up repeatedly when I asked social media contacts about fiction that contained trial scenes. I had also read Grisham’s SYCAMORE ROW and ROGUE LAWYER, both of which had trial scenes. I also spent many days in the Lincoln Hall of Justice watching district court judges and attorneys functioning in their particular roles. Finally, I studied several trial transcripts, including that of Oklahoma City bombing perp Timothy McVeigh. The big question to be answered was: what do these successful writers get by with in terms of demands on a reader? In this book I tried to be somewhere in the ballpark, my estimate of the size of that park being based on those previously published books.
In general, my writing goal is to make a manuscript interesting no matter where one starts. In working through my own edits, I repeatedly open up the stack of paper at random places and ask whether the text is at least somewhat interesting. I also do that with books in the library and in Barnes and Noble, just to see what hard-cover published authors are getting by with. They get by with a lot of crap. In TWT, the main character is the defense attorney, Connecticut “Connie” Bergen, part of the legal team of Stevens Oil, Inc., a global energy enterprise owned by Delmar Stevens, a multi-billionaire. The focus of all these Gideon Marshall mysteries is intellectual property produced by scientists, important because of Stevens’ belief that this work has enormous value and can provide its owner with unimaginable power, assuming that owner also has the tools to implement the ideas. Stevens has the tools and wants the property.
In my opinion, this one still needs some intrigue and the main device I’ve introduced for providing that intrigue is a 3x5 card. After I get comments from readers, I’ll probably need another 500-1000 words scattered throughout to weave that card into the narrative so that the last two pages make sense.

Thanks for taking the time to look at this one!

John Janovy, Jr.