Thursday, August 16, 2012

The Victim Card

One of the most despicable of all hate groups, the Family Research Council, has just been given exactly what it would most dearly love to have, namely a golden opportunity to play the Victim Card. Attack by an armed assailant. They now have an excuse to claim that anybody who disagrees with them is likely to be a violent lunatic.

Anybody with any moral sense at all would never do such a thing. We all know that bad ideas are to be attacked with good ideas, not with physical violence.

If I were one of those "conspiracy theorists" I'd suggest this was a false-flag operation, mounted by the Family Research Council itself in order to gain sympathy for itself, especially in light of the fact that the victim, a security guard, was only non-fatally injured. However, I really don't think this is true. I suspect the attack was carried out by some badly misguided individual who thinks he's on our side but fails to understand how rational people operate.

While we must continue to oppose the hate-mongering ideas promoted by the Family Research Council, we need to press for prosecution of the attacker to the fullest extent of the law.

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Ode to Thanksgiving

Today is the day that all bloggers traditionally post lists of things to be thankful for. To me, this sounds empty and hollow. I find it much more meaningful to contemplate things that we, the more fortunate people on our earth, have left to do to give the rest of the world things to be thankful for.

Much of the world lives in abject poverty and misery.

In some countries running water, where it exists at all, is implemented by paying people two cents an hour to run down to the polluted river and dip buckets full of filthy water and carry them up to the attic to fill a tank, from which water is siphoned to the rooms.

Roads, where they exist at all, consist of places the local gentry permit you to drive your car, if you've got a car at all, but it's up to you to figure out how to get your car through.

Police protection, where it exists at all, consists of heavily armed trigger-happy goons whose primary interest is protecting their own hides. It seems as though we've got some of that here in America, too.

Low-cost housing, where it exists at all, consists of cardboard boxes in the woods, on somebody else's property, where the dwellers therein run a risk of being discovered by the property owner and run off, if not indeed shot outright.

Medical care, where it exists at all, consists of volunteer nurses smuggled in by welfare agencies in wealthy countries, and these nurses run a risk of being deported or possibly executed by the local authorities.

Shoes, for the few people who have shoes at all, are made of rags and old tires.

Agriculture is often done with no tools but hoeing mattocks, and often a whole village owns only one of them and they've got to share it, and they have to hide it when the tax assessor comes around.

Meanwhile back in the U.S.A., today's Washington Post came with an enormous plastic-wrapped bundle of advertising hogwash that more than quadruples the total weight of the newspaper. Every bit of it advertises stuff I don't need. None of it is going to get read. All of it is going straight into our paper recycling cannister to be loaded into Nelson the Nissan for my next trip to the recycling center.

Many countries don't even have recycling centers. They have dumps. With people living in them. People who eat, wear, and live in trash that rich people throw away.

And our stores are so eager to sell us junk we'll just throw away next year if not sooner, that they're opening at midnight tonight, thus requiring at least a few of their employees to curtail their thanksgiving holiday and bunk down early just to open the store so late revelers, often drunk, can rush out and buy luxuries nobody needs. Target, Macy's, and Kohl's, just to name a few I happened to notice, are among the offenders.

But anyhow, enjoy your turkey. Or whatever you're having. Oh by the way, I've known vegetarians who are in better health than I am, having found perfectly satisfying substitutes for America's traditional gluttonous carnivorous fare.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Halal Turkey

This almost has to be a joke. Halal turkey is evil somehow? Oh well, it comes from Weird Nut Daily, which is about the same as The Onion except that The Onion at least admits it's a satire.

So what if something has been blessed in honor of Allah instead of God? Allah is an Arabic word, cognate with the Hebrew word in the Old Testament that's translated into English as God. So, Allah is simply the Arabic name for the same make-believe sky fairy that we call God. In fact, some Muslim friends of mine actually use the word God instead of the word Allah when they're speaking English instead of Arabic.

To the best of my knowledge, (correct me if I'm wrong, those of you who know better) Halal slaughter is essentially similar to Kosher slaughter except for the exact pronunciation of the mystic incantation involved. And I challenge anybody to come up with a scientific laboratory test to identify which, if any, mystic incantation was used in the turkey's presence during slaughter.

My wife has already bought our turkey, and I'm not sure it occurred to her to check on which religion's canonically valid procedure was used for the slaughter. Personally, I'd rather have pork roast for Thanksgiving anyhow. From what I've heard, there supposedly isn't any Halal method of slaughtering pigs. The inventors of the Halal ritual allegedly consider them unclean.

So if you like turkey, don't ask, don't tell, just enjoy it.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Debt Limit

Here's a hypothetical situation. I receive a bill for $10,000 but I'm able to identify $5,000 to pay it. I'm in trouble. But I didn't get in trouble just now, I got in trouble a month ago when I signed the deal committing me to pay $10,000 when I knew up front that I would only have $5,000 available when the bill came due.

So why does our government commit itself in advance to pay more than it knows it will have on hand when the bill comes due?

Besides, the debt limit is not the problem. The debt is the problem. And the way we incurred the debt is the real problem.

Here's how our capitalist economy appears to be working. We levy taxes on productive enterprise in order to provide speculative opportunities to supposedly boost the economy. Income tax, sales tax, import tariff, property tax mostly on buildings, this sort of thing. The primary result of these taxes is to provide investment opportunities, but only for investments in which the location component of property value is a major component.

So now everybody's trying to invest in land, or some derivative of land value. Nobody's trying to invest in productive enterprise. The result is less productive enterprise and lower job opportunities and increasing unemployment.

The longer we try to support this idiotic program with deficit spending, the higher the national debt is going to rise, and the more unemployment we'll have.

Now, what if we tried to lower taxes on productive enterprise, such as income tax, sales tax, property tax on buildings, etc., and raise taxes on speculative investments such as location components of land values?

I suppose the first thing that would happen is that the "economy" as we know it would totally tank. The stock market, based, as it is, primarily on asset values (largely land values) owned by corporations, would plunge through the cellar. Investors would lose their shirts.

But the next thing that would happen is that the Phoenix would rise from the ashes. Productive enterprise, freed from burdensome taxes, would thrive. Land, if the location component were taxed adequately, would be nearly free to acquire initially, and the taxes paid on land would be no higher than the taxes currently paid on productive enterprise for the privilege of having your property values artificially jacked up.

Of course, by most currently popular measures, the "economy" would suffer horribly. Financial institutions who depend on loaning huge sums for land purchases would go broke. Real estate speculators would go broke. Everybody would have to go out and get real jobs for a change. But real jobs would be available.

Location components of land value are entirely the result of the doings of the community in general, not the doings of the individual owner, therefore it's only fair that the entire location value of land should be taken as tax for public benefit.

And it might even help reduce the national debt! But then again, maybe not. Maybe reducing the national debt is too much to ask.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

Gods and Creators

Many years ago a student wished to enter a certain project in a science fair. A portion of the project was to consist of the Pascal's Random Distribution Machine, that arrangement of pegs through which marbles are dropped. This project would demonstrate the pattern-forming tendency of randomness.

The science fair administrator nixed the project. Why? Well, the lame excuse was that randomness is something like gambling, which is immoral, and therefore not to be permitted on school property or at any school-sponsored event.

I think there was a deeper reason. There are many things such as randomness, chaos, truth of the axioms, workability of mathematical functions, and so forth, which could conceivably exist on the Primordial Realm of the Uncaused, without the kind intercession of any sort of God to have created them. These things have distinct results that would occur even without the creative action of any God.

For instance, the Pascal's Random Distribution Machine causes a distinctive pattern, varying only slightly from one trial to the next. The axiom that if A=B and B=C then A=C causes the measurability of all dimensionally definable things. The mathematical functions that we call Sinusiods have all sorts of interesting results.

So here we have a rather large group of things that can function as uncaused causes, but they're not God. I think that many school administrators are afraid of the outcry that might be raised by deviously powerful religious groups if students were encouraged to study these non-God uncaused causes and come to realize that there are many possible causes for the universe to exist, not just the one promoted by religion.

Just think! A few students might even become (gasp) ATHEISTS (shudder)! Wouldn't that be horrible!

Monday, April 25, 2011

Two Kinds of Ideas

I shall suggest that there are two kinds of ideas: those that can be addressed rationally, and those that cannot. Well, yes, there are many other ways of evaluating ideas, but let's go with this one for now.

What would you call an idea that cannot be addressed rationally? I call it insanity.

Let me present this idea. I think that Jupiter's moon Europa is populated by purple moon monkeys who eat green cheese and ride pink unicorns. You're laughing, I'm sure. But I'm perfectly happy for you to laugh at this idea since it's apparent that I just dreamed it up out of thin air on the basis of no evidence whatsoever, so laughing is actually a form of rational response.

Other forms of rational response are also possible. We could discuss the estimated cost of a space probe to Europa and the chance of ever getting funding. We could discuss what other priorities there might be for spending that funding. I'm perfectly happy to see any and all such responses to my seemingly wacky idea, so therefore my idea is not insane, even though it's most likely not true.

Now let's observe that many others have presented the idea that Jesus Christ is the Savior of the World and that anybody who doesn't believe it is doomed to roast in eternal fire and brimstone. They support this idea with bumper stickers that say, "The Bible says it, I believe it, that settles it!" They are, by their attitude, blocking out all possibility of rational response to their idea, therefore the idea is, by definition, insane.

Now let's consider this news article about a high ranking clergyman complaining about something he calls secularism. What he's actually complaining about is people who attempt to address religious doctrine rationally. Religious people consider rational discussion to be a form of disrespect.

It looks to me like religious leaders are paying the utmost disrespect to rational thought. And then they have the gall to accuse me of disrespect to their religion. They are, by their own attitude, proudly declaring that all religions are actually forms of institutionalized insanity. Hey, how could I possibly disagree with them about that?

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why bother to vote?

Yes, I voted but I'm not sure why. All the candidates appear to present the same proposals in different colored wrappers, especially in their ideas of how to fix the economy.

Back in the eighteenth century, Adam Smith suggested that the economy ought to be based on land, labor, and capital. He then dealt with the fallacy that money is wealth by explaining that money is not wealth, it is an instrument for dealing with wealth.

Then in the nineteenth century, Henry George agreed with Adam Smith's contention that the economy ought to be based on land, labor, and capital. He then dealt with the fallacy that land is property by explaining that land is not property, it is a place to put property.

But none of the candidates on the ballot are willing to give up either of these fallacies, thus rendering it impossible to base the economy on land, labor, and capital.

Instead, we have an economy based on a monumental pyramid of derivative investments piled on top of a Ponzi scheme of endlessly escalating land prices, which is inherently unstable. The game of Monopoly was originally invented to provide a hands-on demonstration of the instability of such an economy.

Here's what appears to be happening. Increasing prices for building sites require businesses to borrow ever higher piles of money to acquire new sites when doing so would improve efficiency, thus lapse into lower efficiency. Workers need higher and higher wages just to pay the ever-increasing mortgages on their homes, the increased house prices being the land, not the houses. Businesses lapsing into lower efficiency lay off a few of their workers, who then default on their mortgages, and get their homes foreclosed, and the whole scheme collapses.

A very few economists (Fred Foldvary and Mark Wadsworth, just to name a couple) appear to be aware of what's going on. They realize that in order to base an economy on land, labor, and capital, the parties that provide these elements need to receive the benefits of what they're providing.

The value of land is provided by public agreement as to who owns what plot, and the value is enhanced by public improvements and other government action, therefore this value ought to be recovered for public use, perhaps by a land value tax as proposed by Henry George.

The value of labor is provided by the laborer, and therefore ought to be all his, not tapped off by income taxes.

The value of capital is provided by those who willingly give up a portion of their wealth in order to provide means of improving the efficiency of the laborers, and ought to be all theirs, not tapped off by sales taxes, "capital gain" taxes (Hey, who are we kidding here, capital doesn't gain, it depreciates!), and such like.

But none of the candidates I just got finished voting for has got a clue. Every last one of them is proposing ethereal fantasy plans for keeping the Ponzi scheme going a bit longer, usually at the cost of increasing the national debt. I have no idea who even owns our national debt. For all I know, maybe China, or Iran, or Afghanistan, or Venezuela, or somebody else who doesn't like us.

I feel like a mouse who just voted for what color of cat is going to get to eat me.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Book Report: The Grand Design

As soon as I discovered that there was another book out by Stephen Hawking I immediately went over to Bay Books to get a copy of The Grand Design by Stephen Hawking and Leonard Mlodinow. They had sold out of their first shipment on the first day, much to their own amazement at the book's unexpected popularity, so they added my name to the back-order list. When they called me to say the new shipment was in, I immediately went over and bought one.

It's an easily-readable book, highly understandable to anyone with the slightest knowledge of physics and mathematics, and partially understandable even to someone with no science background at all.

The book briefly traces the history of our knowledge of theoretical physics from the days of the ancient Greeks, through the Renaissance, and up to modern times. Most of the major contributors are mentioned: Archimedes, Pythagoras, Copernicus, Galileo, Newton, Maxwell, Michelson and Morley, Einstein, Feynman, etc.

Each contribution is briefly and understandably described. When they get to quantum theory, of course, there's no such thing as a correct but easily understandable non-mathematical description. Quantum theory simply can't possibly make any intuitive sense at the human scale of perception. Hawking and Mlodinow do their best, however, and it's at least as good as anybody else has ever done without plunging into the inscrutable depths of advanced mathematics.

Now here's the part that religious leaders are upset over. Our current scientific knowledge still has many large gaps, but the God Of The Gaps concept is no longer viable because the gaps aren't God-shaped. There are just too many logical and mathematical possibilities for the universe to have come into existence without the kind intercession of a conscious decision-making creator.

The burden of proof is now upon theologians to come up with a sufficiently drastic modification of their theology to be compatible with our present-day knowledge. I don't think they're up to the task. All I've heard so far from the theological community is impotent bleating about how Stephen Hawking doesn't understand theology. But why should he even try to understand make-believe? He's done a great job dedicating his life to understanding reality.

Friday, September 10, 2010

Burning Korans (yawn)

For now, it appears that a scheduled Koran-burning party down in Florida somewhere has been put on hold. Is it because the sponsor simply wimped out? Is it because he struck a deal of some sort? Is it because he suddenly realized that book-burning is symbolic of censorship, which is un-American?

Whatever the reason, I'm not sure I care. In our modern era of mass printing, purchasing a few Korans just to burn them has no practical effect except to increase the profits of Koran publishers. While we're at it, throw in a few Bibles, Rig-Vedas, Torahs, copies of The Shack, the Book Of Common Prayer, hymnals, and whatever religious hogwash you can afford to waste. On the other hand, please don't. It's wasteful and environmentally harmful.

I'm all in favor of religious crybabies of all stripes inciting each other to throw tantrums. It's great entertainment. But I wish we, as a social order, wouldn't be so wimpy with them when nonparticipants are caught in the crossfire.

Here's my modest proposal. Establish a judicial principle whereby anyone convicted of a crime for which a religious motive can be identified must serve out his sentence without being allowed to possess any religious artifact, receive visits from any religious leader, nor participate in any religious ritual.

I'm all in favor of freedom of religion as long as it's nothing more than peaceful fellowship. In fact I even participate in the Episcopal church for that reason. But it's time to stop giving religions any special treatment and begin recognizing them for the mere institutionalized mental disorders they really are. Yes, including the Episcopal church, which I feel qualified to criticize because I know it from the inside.

Friday, September 3, 2010

Random Thoughts About Randomness

If there were no God, could things happen randomly?

If there were no God, could things happen chaotically?

Oh by the way, randomness and chaos are mathematically different. In a random sequence, each event is independent of all other events. In a chaotic sequence, each event is highly dependent on all previous events in an incomprensibly complex pattern. Not that this difference is much noticed by the common folk, you understand.

If there were no God, would logic be valid? Or to put it another way, if there is a God (or several Gods) would his omnipotence be restricted from doing anything self-contradictory or otherwise logically impossible?

If there were no God, would the principles of arithmetic still be valid even if there was nothing to do arithmetic on?

If there were no God, could mathematical functions, such as conics, sinusoids, exponentials, etc. be conceptually meaningful even if there was nothing for them to describe?

If all the above questions can be answered "yes" and I suspect they probably can, but I can't prove it, then doesn't that suggest that everything that all known laws of physics are based on can exist without God?

If all that's true, then in the absence of God, what could stop the universe from existing?

When radio was first invented, radio hams began noticing that the laws of physics describing how their radios work bear a striking mathematical similarity to the laws of physics applicable to other topics in physics.

Then a Nobel Prize winning physicist named Richard Feynman came along and wrote a series of lectures on physics in which he explained how all the laws of physics in all the topics in physics are based on these same few mathematical principles.

And just yesterday I read something about how Stephen Hawking has said essentially the same thing in a new book, based on even more evidence than Richard Feynman had available to him. I haven't yet read Stephen Hawking's new book, but I'm looking forward to doing so.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Property Values

In the area around Huntingtown, Maryland, about 25 miles north of my place, the electric company is putting in additional lines which require new poles. These poles are larger than the old poles and have a new and unusual appearance. Personally, I think they look just fine.

But the residents of Huntingtown are complaining that the new poles are horribly ugly and will depress property values. I have two comments.

First, think what would happen to property values if the electric company were prevented from putting in the new service, and adequate electric power delivery became unavailable to their community.

Second, the component of the property values being affected is the location desirability, not the actual property built on the location. This should make it obvious that the change in property values, be it up or down, is not the doing of the owner, but the doing of others in the community, and therefore the location desirability is not really the property of the owner, but something the owner ought to be paying the community for.

The problem would resolve itself if our property taxes were shifted off of actual property, that is, the property the owner actually put there (or paid to have put there), and onto the location component. This would automatically compensate the owner with a tax break for anything beyond his control that made his location less desirable, and charge him extra for any doings of others that made his location more desirable.

Henry George proposed something like this clear back in the nineteenth century, and it sounds like a good solution to problems like the good folks of Huntingtown are experiencing.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Gun Control

During the fourth century A.D. when Christianity was rising to power and shoving Europe back into the stone age, there arose an agreement between the clergy and nobility. All education was to be under the control of the clergy and all bearing of arms was to be done under the command of the nobility. Thus the "unwashed masses" had no access to either of these two important sources of power.

This situation dominated most of Europe and a bit of Asia until the Renaissance, when a few people began rediscovering the glories of the ancient Greeks and Romans. Then in the 17-th and 18-th centuries, philosophers began basing their philosophies on the enlightened principles of the ancient Greeks.

The American constitution was written in accordance with these enlightened principles. Democracy. Elimination of the nobility. Elimination of special privilege for the clergy. Education for all. Right to bear arms for all.

And thus the Second Amendment was added to the Constitution, giving the right to bear arms to all citizens, not just the nobility (which there wasn't any of any more), thus "thumbing our nose" at established Christianity which was adamantly opposed to such an amendment.

And now in the 21-st century, the Second Amendment, with its totally anti-Christian sentiment, seems to be most strongly supported by those who claim to be staunch Christians. I have no idea how this strange turnabout occurred.

But whether the Second Amendment is supported by Christians or non-Christians shouldn't have any bearing on how it is interpreted nor on whether it is even a useful amendment in the modern era. For that, we must look at the Preamble to the Constitution.

The Bill of Rights, the first ten amendments, was added to enumerate the rights that would contribute to the purposes stated in the Preamble. Each right was to be granted in the specific form that would enhance those purposes.

Thus, all citizens should be granted the right to specific forms of arms-bearing that would help us form a more perfect Union, establish Justice, insure domestic Tranquility, provide for the common defence, promote the general Welfare, and secure the Blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity, as stated in the Preamble.

Does this mean we should all go around with Saturday Night Specials concealed in our boots everywhere we go? Well maybe, maybe not. There's room for differences of opinion here.

The pro-gun-control crowd believes that more guns will cause more gun crimes. This is hogwash because the people who are going to use guns to commit crimes will find a way to get guns no matter how illegal they are. If somebody is not deterred by a law against some crime, why would they be deterred by an additional law against possession of the implement for committing the crime?

The anti-gun-control crowd believes that the presence of armed law-abiding people deters crime. This is hogwash because the person committing the crime will probably get the jump on the law-abiding citizens who won't be able to reach their guns in time.

A very few instances have actually happened where armed law-abiding citizens have used their guns to prevent a crime. These few instances have been re-told and re-re-told so many times, with a few variations each re-telling, that you get the impression that such occurrences are commonplace. They aren't.

So how can I take sides when the arguments for both sides are hogwash? I can't! Personally I've never owned a gun because I've never had an actual use for one. On the other hand I've never been threatened by law-abiding citizens with guns but I've occasionally been threatened by non-law-abiding citizens without guns.

Overall, I don't see how gun control laws make much difference.