Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

Let Them Eat Cake

How many times have you heard that sugar makes kids hyperactive, or that caffeine will keep you up all night, or that cigarettes make you jittery? Well, research now shows that this is not true for everyone. In fact, it can have the opposite effect on some people and in moderate amounts. No, you’re not necessarily crazy, you’re just different.

There have been at least twelve trials of various diets investigating different levels of sugar in children’s diets. That’s more studies than are often done on new drugs coming to market. None of these studies detected any differences in behavior between children who had eaten sugar and those who had not. These studies included sugar from candy, chocolate, and natural sources. Some of them focused on children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and some only included children who were considered “sensitive” to sugar. In all of them, the children behaved the same after eating something full of sugar or something sugar-free. Yet, the myth that sugar makes people hyperactive defies scientific evidence.

Sugar can actually calm kids down. When sugar enters the bloodstream and reaches the brain, it temporarily increases calming neuro chemicals like Serotonin. But sugar isn’t good for you, and corn syrup is even worse, so you have to choose your poison carefully. Dark chocolate is a lot healthier than milk chocolate and can help reduce cortisol levels as well as lower the levels of epinephrine and norepinephrine, which make kids (and adults) anxious and nervous. Chocolate is also rich in Tryptophan, which is a biochemical precursor that helps with the production of Serotonin. So, the next time your kid is bouncing off the walls, why not try giving him a little chocolate to calm him down?

Chocolate Cake

Chocolate Cake

Other good sources of Tryptophan include milk, eggs, Cod and spirulina, but unless your kids are a bit odd, I suggest you just stick with the milk and eggs. So, to get even more bang for the buck, get your kid to eat a real egg before he gets the chocolate egg. Wait, can’t you get milk, eggs and chocolate all together in a piece of dark chocolate cake? I think I’ve found the perfect food!

Like sugar, caffeine and nicotine can also relax some people. Central nervous system stimulant drugs like methylphenidate are used to treat children who suffer from ADHD. Caffeine is also a central nervous system stimulant and thus is being studied as a potential aid for this condition. Some folk medicine treatments for ADHD even recommend combining caffeine and sugar.

Cup of Caffeine

Cup of Caffeine

According to an article in the June 2001 issue of “Monitor on Psychology,” caffeine seems to calm hyperactivity and reduce aggressiveness in kids with ADHD. In one analysis of studies reported in the article, caffeine didn’t work as well as traditional ADHD stimulant drugs, but it helped calm hyperactivity better than no treatment at all. Additionally, a 2003 Canadian review of studies published in the journal “Food Additives and Contaminants” noted that caffeine has been used successfully to treat ADHD and has been shown to increase performance by ADHD children in attention tests.

So, to summarize, for those with a fabulous genetic predisposition, the perfect relaxing meal could be either of the following:

  1. a couple of eggs, a cup of coffee with milk, and a bit of chocolate or
  2. a piece of dark chocolate cake with a cappuccino

This might even work well for some people at night. Caffeine works by blocking the receptors in the brain that make you feel sleepy, but some people are resistant to that effect. I happen to be one of them. If your brain is resistant to caffeine, then a warm drink of any kind, including coffee, will help relax you and ease you into sleep.

Nicotine is not just a stimulant. It is also a known relaxant, primarily because it increases levels of Dopamine in the brain, a hormone / neurotransmitter that causes sensations of pleasure. Nicotine produces pleasure by attaching to the nicotinic acetylcholine receptor found on certain nerve cells. In response to nicotine, these nerve cells release a chemical signal called glutamate, which tells connected neurons to release dopamine. The more these nerve cells are excited, the more Dopamine is released and the more pleasant the feeling.  Unfortunately, Nicotine doesn’t come by itself–and you really don’t want the side effects that come with smoking. Too bad we can’t brew a relaxing cup of nicotine-laced coffee before bedtime.

Evidence like this makes me skeptical of any medical advice the “experts” give that is supposed to apply to everyone. Much of what we are led to believe, even if it is scientific, only applies in some cases or sometimes doesn’t even apply at all to some individuals. Not everyone responds the same way to the same chemicals, hormones, foods, or other environmental factors. So, if something doesn’t feel or seem right, it just might not be right for you. Maybe we should all just listen to Professor Lupin. Eat some chocolate. It’s good for you.

“The mood-enhancing properties of chocolate are well known in both the Muggle and wizard worlds. Chocolate is the perfect antidote for anyone who has been overcome in the presence of Dementors, which suck hope and happiness out of their surroundings. Chocolate can only be a short-term remedy, however. Finding ways to fight off Dementors – or depression – are essential if one is to become permanently happier. Excessive chocolate consumption cannot benefit either Muggle or wizard.”

Professor Lupin - Eat Chocolate

Professor Lupin – Eat Chocolate

Beat a Hero

Hero Hater Jonah Jameson in Spiderman

Hero Hater Jonah Jameson in Spiderman

Just as Jonah Jameson, publisher of the Daily Bugle, just can’t credit Spiderman for his heroic acts, Wall Street has again dissed its latest hero, GoPro, maker of the Hero series action camera, which just demolished expectations for the fourth quarter of 2014 with a year to year increase of over 75% in revenue for the holiday quarter. GoPro (ticker GPRO) is crushing the competition and had the hottest selling video camera of the holiday season.

GoPro Be a Hero

GoPro Be a Hero

So, why did the stock initially jump up during the earnings announcement only to reverse course during the company conference call and crash and burn for the past few days? Is Wall Street populated by manic depressives, schizophrenics, idiots or just paranoid jackasses? The apparent cause of the stock price crash was a discrepancy between the tremendous holiday quarter and the merely-average projections for a 42% year over year performance for the next quarter, which still exceeds revenue expectations and are in the expected range of earnings estimates ($.15-.17 per share compared with average expectations of $.17 per share). It also didn’t help to find out about the resignation of the COO, Nina Richardson, which immediately sent Wall Street’s analysts in a panic, taking the momentum out of the stock.

Robert Duvall as Max Mercy in The Natural

Robert Duvall as Max Mercy in The Natural

Is GoPro a hero or a goat? In the movie The Natural, Max Mercy, the shady newspaper reporter played by Robert Duvall, had the following to say about whether or not Roy Hobbs, the hero of the story, would help the Knights win the playoffs. I think this quote is completely applicable to Wall Street stock analysts today:

“They come and they go…. I’ll be around here longer than you or anybody else here. I’m here to protect this game. I do it by making or breaking the likes of you. And after today whether you’re a goat or a hero, you’re gonna make me a great story.”

I don’t normally dig into the details of company financials, but something just didn’t smell right and my Spidy senses were tingling, so I did a bit of checking. What I discovered is that Wall Street, for all its high-powered talent and number-crunching ability, didn’t do jack to figure out what actually happened here. The issue seems to center around the difference between the revenue projections for the first quarter of the year. During the conference call, Citibank analyst Jeremy David asked why revenue was expected to go down by 47% from Q4 2014 to Q1 2015, compared to a decrease of only 35% between Q4 2013 and Q1 2014. GoPro responded that they were projecting average 41% growth last year, so that is what they used. This projected slowdown in growth must have sent his mis-guided Spidy senses tingling. Citibank is among the most negative of all GoPro analysts.

After only a couple hours of digging around, the cause of this entire first quarter estimate problem became clear to me. It all seems to revolve around a delay in shipment of the Hero3 cameras that were supposed to be available for the holiday quarter of 2012. The Hero3 was a dramatically improved camera that could take 4K video and was announced in October of 2012. However, GoPro had trouble getting orders out the door, so most of their sales were pushed to January 2013. I found customer comments on various web sites (including Slickdeals.net and Facebook), discussing shipping delays. Reviews of the Hero3 on Amazon.com started with only four reviews in October and November, with a relatively small number in December, further indicating that most customers were not able to get their cameras for Christmas that year. And the smoking gun … the SEC S-1 Registration Statement dated May 19, 2014 from GoPro, which said:

“Revenue and units shipped for the three months ended March 31, 2013 were impacted by production delays of our HERO3 Black edition capture device in the fourth quarter of 2012. These production delays correspondingly delayed shipments until the first quarter of 2013, which resulted in revenues in the first quarter of 2013 that did not reflect the traditional seasonality in our business. The three months ended March 31, 2014 were not similarly affected.”

So, what does this mean? Simply that the first quarter of 2013 had an inflated number of sales due to GoPro not being able to get them shipped out for Christmas. This is clear in the revenue numbers, since there is an 8% decline in sales from Q1 2013 to Q1 2014 and an even larger and unusual decline from Q1 to Q2 of 2013 compared to Q1 and Q2 of 2014. The result is a bunch of stock analysts who can’t figure out why first quarter sales are projected to be 47% down this year compared to only 35% down last year (Q1 2014) and only down 31% the year before (Q1 2013). Sometimes you have to do more than crunch numbers. You also have to read and investigate. Isn’t that what stock analysts are paid to do?

So, I went back and adjusted the revenue for Q1 of 2013 to account for the delayed 2012 holiday season sales and placed the revenue in line with how GoPro has been growing for several years. I decreased revenue for Q1 2013 by 33%, which places it just under the revenue for the second quarter and shows about the same growth quarter to quarter as in 2014. This small adjustment changes the outlook going forward. GoPro has consistently issued conservative (low) guidance, and based on my revised numbers, I believe that this is what happened last week. By my estimates, the first quarter of 2015 is probably going to be another large earnings beat. Here are the charts to back it up.

The following chart shows GoPro revenue by quarter using actual numbers and the one below shows revenue with the adjustment to the Q1 2013 revenue (revised down by 33%). The second chart shows more even continued upward growth.

GoPro Revenue by Quarter

GoPro Revenue by Quarter

GoPro Revenue by Quarter with Adjustments

GoPro Revenue by Quarter with Adjustments

The following chart shows GoPro revenue by year using actual numbers and the one below shows revenue with the adjustment to the Q1 2013 revenue (revised down by 33%). They both show a decline in the previous unsustainable growth rate of 266% in 2011 to a more sustainable rate. However, the second chart shows a bigger growth rate for 2012, when the Hero3 was supposed to have been sold, but was delayed. This shift in revenue leads to lower, but still great growth in 2013, which is when the Hero3+ was released (Oct 2013), followed by another surge in growth after the Hero4 was released (Oct 2014). If correct, 2014 would have seen revenue growth of 55%, not 41%. Although the change does not affect what happened in 2014, it changes the trend. Increasing the 2014 revenue growth would also increase the earnings per share growth upwards as well.

GoPro Revenue by Year

GoPro Revenue by Year

GoPro Revenue by Year with Adjustment

GoPro Revenue by Year with Adjustment

This leads to the final charts, which show revenue projections adding in GoPro’s estimate of 42% revenue growth for 2015. At this rate, current earnings estimates should fall in line with their projected range of $330-340M for the first quarter of 2015. However, the upward trend looks even stronger to me. If the trend really is in line with my revisions to Q1 2013 revenue, then GoPro might be looking at smashing estimates for Q1 2015 with 55% growth (about $364M) assuming all things stay relatively stable.

Of course, this is all guesswork. No matter how many charts and numbers we can put together, nobody can predict the future. But if I were a Wall Street analyst, I’d spend a little more time looking at the numbers we already have. Come on Citibank, get your act together! What do you say about them apples???

GoPro 2015 Revenue Projections

GoPro 2015 Revenue Projections

GoPro 2015 Revenue Projections with Adjustment

GoPro 2015 Revenue Projections with Adjustment

GoPro Revenue Projection Increase

GoPro Revenue Projection Increase

Invest in Me

Tuition Costs

Tuition Costs

In 2012, a Florida state task force on education recommended adjusting tuition by major. Science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) majors would cost less, while some majors, such as psychology and the performing arts, would cost more. This recommendation has not been implemented, but here is the basic idea.

“Tuition would be lower for students pursuing degrees most needed for Florida’s job market, including ones in science, technology, engineering and math, collectively known as the STEM fields…. The purpose would not be to exterminate programs or keep students from pursuing them. There will always be a need for them … but you better really want to do it, because you may have to pay more.”

Kevin Stange, a professor of public policy at the University of Michigan, studies the outcomes of differential tuition and has found that higher prices tend to dissuade students from pursuing a particular major. The generally accepted consensus is that a $1,000 change in costs is associated with a 5 percentage point difference in enrollment rates. A study from Hanover Research found that for every $100 increase in tuition, enrollment decreased by 0.5% to 1%.

Sounds reasonable, no? It is good to consider the value of an education and treat it like an investment, because that is partly what it is–an investment in one’s future earnings potential. But people also have to live with their choice of employment and can’t just choose a path for its simple economic return. Unfortunately, pricing tuition by major is a centralized government solution that, like most government solutions, probably will not work out as expected. This is because the actual cost of providing educational services may be more or less than the artificially determined price and because any time that bureaucrats are allowed to determine the cost or benefit of a product without any market input, they typically fail miserably.

Instead of increasing tuition across the board, many universities now charge more for majors with courses that are more costly to provide. Degrees in biology and engineering, for example, typically involve smaller class sizes, higher faculty salaries and cutting-edge labs with expensive equipment, so they charge more. Today, 45% of large public research universities differentiate their pricing this way. At the University of Texas at Austin, which started charging different tuition rates in 2004, engineering students pay $5,107 each semester, while liberal-arts majors pay $4,673. This is a market-based solution that makes sense. Sure, a technical education may be worth more in earnings power, but it can also cost more to provide.

Tuition Debt

Tuition Debt

If the cost of a technical education is artificially lowered, while liberal arts majors are artificially raised, people will object to their representatives to stop the policy. But even more importantly, students will vote with their dollars. They will simply attend schools in other states where the tuition is lower. Besides, do we really trust the government to decide what majors are best? When has the government ever made good economic decisions for us? It will be highly subjective to adjust the cost of different majors based on their perceived value to each state government. Determining the market value of a course of study is something best done by the market, not by the government. This means allowing the market to finance an education based on cost, risk, and expected return. Thinking about the value of an education is a concept that is going in the right direction, but I think it would be better to treat educational expenses like the investments they are.

How about financing educational expenses based on the expected return on investment over the first 10 years or so or their working life? For instance, if a degree is projected to net one student an average salary of $70K per year, while another student is projected to net only $35K per year, the first student might be offered up to double the amount of money in tuition loans or scholarships over the same payback period. Furthermore, it is likely that the risk the loan would not be repaid can be correlated with high school grades and college assessment scores (e.g. SAT or ACT scores). If banks were to make investment decisions on a per student basis, this would directly link the value and cost of the education and thereby influence the educational decisions that students make without any need for government interference.

If I have stellar grades and SAT scores and choose to pursue a high-paying major, I would have the opportunity to borrow more and/or to borrow it at a lower rate of interest because my risk and return factors lower the investment risk. Maybe I could then afford a higher-cost technical bachelor’s degree plus a masters degree on top. On the other hand, if I have low grades and SAT scores and choose to pursue a low-paying major, I would have great difficulty borrowing enough to cover my costs for just a bachelor’s degree or would have to pay a higher rate of interest. Like mortgage applicants with low scores, I might have to pay 20-30% of the tuition costs out of pocket first (or use grant or scholarship money) before I receive any financing.  An education that results in lower financial returns might be more expensive, but it might not. If I have great qualifications (e.g. grades and scores), I might be able to finance it over a longer term at an affordable rate.

Lower-paying majors should not necessarily cost more than higher-paying ones. Maybe they actually cost less to provide. But, in the end, somebody has to bear the financing risk. It makes sense that students should bear most, or at least a significant amount, of this risk, but I think we still want to enable people to pursue an education for reasons other than pure financial return. This is America and we want people to have the freedom to pursue happiness, but not at the expense of everyone else. I think we benefit as a society from a broadly educated and diverse population. So, maybe we need a better balance between publicly-funded and privately-funded education costs.

Student Debt

Student Debt

Adding more responsibility to the financing of an education would limit public exposure to bad investments by lowering losses on student loans that don’t pay off for investors. Considering that the government is often the investor, this will result in a better value for the taxpayers and for the nation as a whole. But why do all degrees have to cost so much? Student debt is at all-time highs, even for those who choose majors that will not generate enough income to pay off their huge loans. Maybe some education programs could be structured for completion in less time–say three years instead of four. Some schools seem to be trying to extend degree programs to five years rather than shorten them, which might be the opposite of what we really need. Does an art major need as much time as a physics major to achieve competency?

Why should everyone need the same amount of time to achieve proficiency in completely different courses of study? All doctors need to attend medical school, but does a brain surgeon require the same amount of study and preparation as a gynecologist? I actually don’t know the answer, but I suspect that the amount of preparation time is not equal and we should not expect it to be. I certainly would not want anyone messing with my brain if he didn’t spend a lot of time practicing and preparing, and I don’t mean playing the game Operation.

I have no problem with people who want to pursue lower-paying careers, or even pursuing education for the hell of it. Stay in school forever if you want. Just don’t expect me to pay for it. I just want students to be primarily responsible for evaluating the cost and value of an education and to be able to make an appropriate decision.

Pay to Play

Pay to Play

Pay to Play

What would you call an organization that conspires with member businesses to avoid having to pay a fair market-based wage? That’s easy–an illegal monopoly in violation of the Sherman Anti-Trust Act. What about an organization that completely prohibits the payment of ANY wages? I guess that would be fine for a non-profit, or maybe even for an internship, but not for a business raking in tons of money and abusing those same people. Anyway, no could possibly get away with such a policy, right?

So, how is it that the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) has managed to ban college athletes from receiving any compensation aside from a tightly controlled amount of scholarship money? How have they managed to do this even while they cheat athletes out of the education they promised by dumbing down their courses or even making up fake courses just to keep them in school? How have they held onto a valuable tax dodge that exempts them from federal taxes on sports-related revenue?

As non-profit organizations, NCAA colleges and universities are mostly tax exempt. That includes the huge profits that are generated by many big football and basketball programs. These profits go to support enormous salaries for coaches, bowl game officials, top NCAA executives, athletic department staff, impressive facilities, and so on. Sure, at some schools, some of it goes to support non-revenue sports, but that can’t excuse the massive corruption that pervades revenue sports.

From 1973 to 2012, the NCAA even banned schools from offering 4-year scholarships. In 2012, they lifted the ban even though a majority of the schools still wanted to keep it. Schools are now allowed to offer 4-year scholarships, but they are still able to withdraw scholarships after the first year. It is a myth that most athletes can even get a full ride scholarship.

College Sports Profits vs. Scholarships

College Sports Profits vs. Scholarships

College Sports Expenses

College Sports Expenses

Something about this smells bad, and it isn’t the athletes after a hard practice. The big NCAA schools just don’t want to share their enormous income on the athletes themselves and justify this by saying it will kill amateur sports, or favor some schools over others. Hmmm, if they are implying that the NCAA somehow ensures that all schools are equal, they are feeding us a load of BS. There will always be inequality in college sports because alumni and other donors can give as much money to their school as they want in order to make their school more attractive to students and athletes. Some schools already have an enormous advantage and sports revenue follows the winning teams.

After pretending for years that the Olympics was limited to amateurs, the rules were finally changed to allow paid professional athletes to participate. We always knew that Russia, China, and plenty of other countries effectively paid their athletes to pursue an “amateur” sport. It just took a while to finally admit it and stop the ban on money for athletes. The Olympics didn’t come crashing down. As for NCAA athletes, the lucky ones effectively get paid too–by those parents who are willing and able to support them all the way to the pros.

College Athletes

College Athletes

Nobody stops individuals or businesses from paying other college students. You can get a scholarship or grant for just about anything today. If you are smart, you can even raise money on your own or sell your virginity for tuition, but not if you are an athlete at an NCAA school. It makes no sense. Actually, it does. The pretense of amateurism allows schools to get out of paying taxes on billions of dollars of income. Some say that athletes will never be paid because, if they were paid by the schools, they would have to be considered employees, which would cause the schools to be subject to all kinds of tax headaches.

Athletic departments would lose its tax exemption under Internal Revenue Code Section 501(c)(3). Currently, athletic departments (which are generally a separate legal entity from the university), athletic foundations/booster clubs, and bowl games all enjoy tax exempt status because they “promote amateur athletics,” which is an exempt purpose under the Code. If college athletes were compensated and found to be employees, this tax exempt status would most likely be revoked. Moreover, they would likely lose 25-50% of donations since donors would no longer being able to make tax-deductible contributions. No only that, but large donors would then have to pay a gift tax on donations over $13,000.

Even if they didn’t lose their tax-exempt status, they might still have to pay tax on income from athletics if they are ruled to be unrelated to the primary activity of the school. Congress created the Unrelated Business Income Tax (UBIT) so that income from regularly carried on business activities that do not further the organization’s exempt purposes would be taxed as though earned by a for profit corporation. Colleges and universities, which were established to provide an education, are getting a free ride on the UBIT right now, but this could change. Maybe this whole issue is nothing more than another unintended byproduct of our broken system of taxation that could be easily fixed by tax reform. Another reason to simplify the tax code.

The Most Expensive Game in Town

The Most Expensive Game in Town

We often think of sports as a way for poor kids to make it. But preventing them from getting paid at all actually undermines this opportunity. The fact is, families who are serious about sports probably end up paying more out of pocket than they could ever hope to get back in a sports scholarship. That’s right. It’s expensive to play amateur sports. Many school districts don’t even have public sports programs at the elementary or middle school level, so kids have to pay to join club sports teams to even have a chance. If they are good, their families have to pay for uniforms, equipment, field time, tournament fees, and all the other stuff that comes along with being on a youth sports team.

A supportive community may help to raise the funds for poor kids, but such opportunities are not guaranteed. It can cost $1,500 to $5,000 dollars per year, depending on the sport, just to get the chance to play at a competitive youth level. Some say it is even higher–like $9,000 to $12,000. The youth sports industry is estimated to be worth $5 billion. These teams are mostly where college athletes are now recruited. The limited availability of scholarships and limits on payments to athletes probably benefits wealthy families who can afford private teams and coaching that can help them get to the 10,000 hours of practice that some say is vital to the development of an elite athlete. But it doesn’t provide a level playing field for everyone. Now, if colleges would help to fund the costs of promising amateur high school athletes, instead of offering empty promises, that would help to level the playing field.

Some lawsuits have challenged NCAA compensation rules. As the result of lawsuits that ruled the NCAA has violated anti-trust law, athletes are now allowed to receive a small share of profits from their school’s use of their likenesses, but it is capped at $2,000 to $5,000, depending on the school. It’s a small step, but still a pittance that does nothing to change the face of college athletics.

I think the time has come to stop the NCAA from banning monetary incentives for athletes (e.g. full scholarships, stipends, bonuses, or whatever). If not, there is certainly justification in the tax code for using the UBIT against them, as noted in a recent study of tax law:

“ there are precedents in tax law for (1) attaching conditions on the use of proceeds from an exempt activity (e.g., a requirement that big-time athletic revenues be used to subsidize other charitable outputs, such as increased athletic opportunities in non-revenue sports or for women); (2) expenditure limits such as caps on coaching salaries, and (3) expanded disclosure via a schedule to Form 990, similar to the new Schedule H for hospitals, that would require both the NCAA and universities with athletic programs to provide more information regarding their programs and the academic progress of student-athletes.”

As parents, we already know we have to pay to have our kids play, but it is a burden we would gladly share with others who are more than willing to help. Our kids are already willing to play their hearts out for nothing but the opportunity to have fun and maybe, if they are the best of the best, to make it to the pros. But doesn’t mean we have to let the big colleges take advantage of them and make their journey even harder. It’s time to get back to this country’s free market roots. Pay to play is the way to go, baby!

Pay for Play

Pay for Play

Pay to Go Away

Renouncing US Citizenship

Renouncing US Citizenship

Americans have always enjoyed the freedom to travel without restrictions within the country and, for the most part, abroad. No, we still can’t travel to Cuba on vacation, only for business. How this makes any sense, I don’t know. The embargo against Cuba, enacted in 1960, was the result of a federal temper tantrum resulting from our humiliating inability to overthrow Fidel Castro’s communist regime sitting just miles from the US coast. I would think we’d be over it by now, considering how Americans can travel to just about any other crappy dictatorship on the planet. But that’s another story. This one is the flip side to my Pay to Stay idea for dealing with illegal immigrants.

Our freedom to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness usually comes without a price tag. Well, that is, aside from the cost of national defense and the loss of life required to defend it. We are even free to vote, thanks to the Voting Rights Act, without having to pay any kind of poll tax or anything else that smacks of a tax–even an ID card.

You would think, therefore, that we would also be free to leave the country without having to pay a tax. After all, taxes are financial barriers that can stop people dead in their tracks. If you can’t afford to pay a tax, your rights are effectively limited. This is one reason why it is so important that our founding fathers prohibited taxes on interstate commerce, thus ensuring free trade throughout the country. But are we really free leave the country? As long as you plan to come back, sure, but if you renounce your citizenship and try to leave for good, sorry but no, you can’t.

Americans Renouncing Citizenship

Americans Renouncing Citizenship

American citizens who give up their citizenship may have to pay an exit tax, depending on the amount of their assets. Green card holders (lawful resident non-citizens) also have to pay an expatriation tax. If you are a U.S. citizen or long-term resident who expatriated on or after June 17, 2008, the tax law treats you as having sold all of your worldwide property for its fair market value the day before you leave. Even if you don’t sell your assets, the IRS will tax you on what you would have gotten if you had sold everything. This, of course, is based on a complicated process that requires appraisals and additional out of pocket costs. If the theoretical gains add up to more than $651,000, it is subject to U.S. tax at the capital gains rate.

I guess we could call this the “kick in the pants on your way out” tax. I guess the idea is that we have to allow you to leave, but you can’t take everything with you. That doesn’t sound quite right to me. For wealthy Americans with dual citizenship, however, it is a small price to pay to avoid the estate tax that will drastically impact their heirs.

Obviously these taxes are not very well known since not many Americans give up their citizenship and move out of the country. But the first quarter of 2013 saw 670 Americans to date doing just that. This is the largest number since the IRS began publishing figures in 1998. Isabel Getty, daughter and heir to the Getty oil fortune, and Eduardo Saverin, Facebook co-founder, are some of the latest ex-Americans.

What does the IRS have to do with citizenship? They are the ones to tax you on the way out, of course. It seems that the leading reasons for giving up US citizenship are US tax laws, including the estate tax and the taxation of worldwide income instead of just income that is earned within the US.

The US is the only industrialized country in the world that imposes taxes based on citizenship, meaning worldwide income and assets. Of course, they don’t get double taxed by countries that have a tax treaty with us, so it isn’t as bad as it might seem. The IRS has been on a witch hunt to find Americans who earn money overseas and do not declare it, so some wealthy individuals who have dual citizenship or spend a lot of time overseas are just deciding that it isn’t worth the cost to continue to be an American. I know what you are thinking, good riddance, right? Why shouldn’t they pay their fair share just like the rest of us in order to enjoy the benefits of citizenship?

Taxation of Foreign Income

Taxation of Foreign Income

Good point. But wealthy citizens already pay far more than the average American and, when you already live overseas or are faced with the prospect of paying millions of dollars you otherwise don’t have to, the benefits of citizenship can start to fade. Do we really want to be the country that penalizes its’ most successful and wealthy citizens or do we want them to move to other countries that will not impose onerous taxes? I do believe that the wealthy can afford to pay more and that our country benefits from the use of progressive taxation, but there has got to be a reasonable limit. Some countries, like Canada, will not even let you in unless you have a million dollars in the bank or highly employable skills. The United States will let just about anybody in but will tax the wealthy on the way out.

Atlas Shrugged movie

Atlas Shrugged movie

Obviously, this is of no relevance to 99.9% of the country, because most of us don’t plan to leave and even if we did, there wouldn’t be much to tax. Why Congress has bothered to even impose excessive personal taxes on foreign earned income, but continues to exempt multinational business income that is not brought back into the US, I don’t know. We’d be much better off focusing on the non-paying people right here in the country who are currently getting a free ride. So, let’s propose a new tax plan to Congress called Pay to Stay, Not to Go Away!

In case this doesn’t work, I have a plan to establish a new nation on a rising volcanic island or a sea platform. It keeps looking better all the time. With a few wealthy sponsors, I should easily be able to fund its development and settlement. Anyone who is willing to pay a tax to leave the country probably has enough to invest in a better alternative. I’ll call my new nation Atlas and the national salute will be a shoulder shrug. When Elon Musk gets his rockets working a little more reliably, we’ll move it to a platform in orbit and then to Mars.

Atlas Stage 1: Sea Platform

Seasteading Platform

Seasteading Platform

Atlas Stage 2: Space Platform

Elysium Space Station

Elysium Space Station

Atlas Stage 3: Mars Colony

Mars Colony

Mars Colony

Pay to Stay

Save the Children?

Save the Children?

US Illegal Immigration Countries of Origin

US Illegal Immigration Countries of Origin

Across the nation, the children of undocumented (i.e. illegal) immigrants are reportedly upset that they are being denied benefits that most citizens enjoy, such as student loans and scholarships, clean air and water, relatively good health care (even if it is just the emergency room), just because they can’t get a social security number (or benefits, for that matter). So sad that they have to suffer when it wasn’t even their choice to come here. Boo hoo! Their parents were responsible for ripping them from their homeland only to suffer here as fugitives from the law, unable even to pay taxes to pay for the services they are able to enjoy, like their entire primary and secondary education! They didn’t ask to live here and would have been just fine where they were born, but now that they have grown and made friends here, it wouldn’t be fair to send them home–so sad. OK, I am being sarcastic, but it also really is sad. Poor things.

But what are we to do? Send them all home? Give them all amnesty, thus encouraging millions of other potential immigrants to cross the border illegally? Ignore the problem as long as we can while doing nothing (Congress’ preferred solution)?

Wait, I have an idea! Actually, it was my wife’s idea and I’ve got to give her credit. It isn’t exactly the same as amnesty. Well, OK it sort of is a kind of amnesty, but it’s much better than the regular “bend over and let the taxpayers take it” kind of amnesty we are used to. Also, we could really use the money–especially in California. We can call it the “Pay to Stay” program. The idea is to calculate all the benefits these children and their parents enjoyed for free the entire time they lived here, including all taxes and fees they would have had to pay, compounded interest, and a little “processing” fee (call it a penalty if you want) for not doing things the legal way. That number, whatever it is, will be the price they have to pay to stay in the country. Being the good capitalists we are, we’d have the parents and children all co-sign the note and would be happy to roll it into a 30-year payment plan at a relatively low rate of interest. It might sound like indentured servitude, but it’s really just a payment plan for back taxes. For the rest of us, there is no getting out of taxes, even after bankruptcy. So, why should it be any different for illegals?

Top Counties of Origin for Canadian International Students

Top Counties of Origin for Canadian International Students

Chinese Student Immigration to Canada

Chinese Student Immigration to Canada

Think anyone would pay to stay? Just ask the Canadians how much they charge international students to live temporarily in Canada and study in their schools (secondary schools too, not just colleges). They charge big bucks and the foreigners just keep coming. And, by the way, most foreign students are from China and most of them stay in Canada after graduation. So, Canada’s immigration problem consists mainly of paying, educated foreigners who are legally accepted into the country, not freeloading, unskilled workers illegally crossing the border, as is the case in the USA.

I have nothing against immigration in general or specifically against poor immigrants from Mexico or Central America. This country was built by hard-working immigrants from all over the world and has been sustained by a constant stream of ambitious, innovative, workers coming here to build lives for their families that they are unlikely to be able to achieve in their native lands. However, if our own illegal immigrants don’t want to pay to stay, then we probably don’t want them. I’m sure someone else would be happy to come to the US and pay their way instead of living off of the growing welfare state. Is it really too much to ask that someone pay their fair share of the tax burden? What if they just don’t make or save enough money to pay their taxes? Another reason not to let them stay. We have enough lazy Americans living off welfare and other public services, so we don’t need more non-productive foreigners.

However, I’m optimistic. This country was built by hard-working, innovative immigrants. I’m sure that we will continue to thrive if we just expect the same of future generations of immigrants. Come, work hard, learn the language, contribute to your community, and you may still achieve the American dream, even if many Americans have already given up on it.

The American Dream

The American Dream

Alien Rejects

Alien Tourist

Alien Tourist

Let’s say that you are the member of an advanced alien civilization. Does that automatically make you intelligent and responsible and capable of nothing but goodwill? Does it mean you will faithfully uphold the Prime Directive proposed in Star Trek, which requires you to avoid contact with other civilizations until they have progressed enough to be ready for space travel?

Let’s use a rich, young, beer-drinking jackass in a hot sports car as an analogy. He certainly doesn’t know how the car works, since it was built by many other intelligent and industrious engineers, workers, and automotive robots with the benefit of years of scientific and engineering advances and business competition. He probably doesn’t know how to build the kind of business that generated the money that paid for his car, house, slick clothes, or anything else he possesses. He didn’t build or regulate the roads or do anything else but shell out some cash and hop in, with little regard for other people who are on the road busily going to and from work or doing otherwise mundane chores. He just cranks it up to 100 mph when racing his buddies, tosses beer cans out the window, and generally makes a nuisance of himself. So, do I believe that all aliens are necessarily intelligent or good-natured? Not at all.

In fact, I suspect that there are probably some driving social forces that may even make it more likely than not that any aliens we are likely to encounter will not be model citizens of the universe. Consider Einstein’s theory of relativity, which says that nothing can travel faster than the speed of light and that travel close to this speed, or through space, where there is little mass, slows the relative passage of time. This means that anyone on an interstellar journey will experience the passage of time far more slowly than the others he left behind on his home planet. Since the journey to Earth most likely requires one to abandon any friends or family forever, since they will be long dead before the traveler returned, I suspect that space travel isn’t for everyone. On Earth, it would probably be attractive only to die-hard scientists, social rejects or felons who have nothing else to look forward to anyway. Even if they could take their families with them, what kind of family would actually consent to living in space forever just so they could explore the universe?

Alien Surfer Dude

Alien Surfer Dude

Are you starting to get the picture? In other words, it would be perfectly understandable if any groups of aliens who show up at Earth include a large proportion of social rejects that are looking for a little fun and excitement after their long journey. The aliens who arrive might not even be the ones who originally left their home planet, but instead could be descendants who are really pissed off that they got the raw deal of having to live in an interstellar tin can. Since they probably possess technologies indistinguishable from magic to primitive humans, why wouldn’t they take advantage of it and have a little fun? Certainly, acting like gods would be one of the easiest feats to pull off. A little flying around, levitation, and laser light shows ought to have been enough for our primitive human ancestors. If not, a little mind to mind communication would have been enough to turn any doubter into a frightened, pathetic, little worshiper. When necessary, I’m sure it would have been possible to destroy an entire village or vaporize a particularly annoying ape-man.

However, this is mostly speculation based on the theory that, within any group of creatures, there are likely to be a few smart ones, a lot of average ones, and some very, very dumb ones. I think this theory works well on Earth for most species, but it might not apply to alien civilizations that have had the benefit of genetic enhancement. It is always possible that another million years of evolution or genetic manipulation could change things for us as well. We might all get genetically-modified genes that favor intelligence. Yet, if I had to bet on it, I would probably predict that people will choose artificially-enhanced beauty over brains. Furthermore, at some point, we will have stupendous artificial intelligence algorithms and robots capable of doing all the brain-intensive work for us. It will not be necessary to upgrade the intelligence level of people with average IQs. Even if we tried to transform the entire population into braniacs, how long do you think it would take us to devolve back into morons after we stop using them? So, maybe aliens also aren’t necessarily all that smart.

Wormholes

Wormholes

Einstein and I could also be wrong about the actual laws of the universe. Maybe it is possible to travel faster than the speed of light. Maybe there are worm holes that act as short cuts that allow travel between unimaginably distant planets in a relatively short time span. In this case, the quality of alien likely to show up would be different, but not necessarily any better. Consider the possibility that travel to Earth is actually relatively easy and that any alien can simply buy a ticket for a tour of Earth, hop on a wormhole shuttle, spend some time at a mother ship with a great view of our solar system and a selection of local cuisine (do cattle mutilations ring a bell?), and venture down to the planet on a small tour saucer. In this case, many of them wouldn’t be too concerned at all with the Prime Directive. A couple thousand universal credits slipped into his pocket would probably make any saucer driver willing to go in a little closer than normal or even to land, take a look around, scare some locals, and pick up a few souvenirs.

Many UFO critics say that it just doesn’t make sense that aliens would want to avoid contact, yet be so unconcerned with being seen, photographed, or videotaped by tens of thousands of witnesses all over the planet. I say it sounds perfectly reasonable assuming they are just visiting and just want to take a quick look around. Who’s to say that they have the technical capability to produce a device that can cloak themselves in the spectrum of visible light? They might not have much choice about being seen, so while they may prefer to avoid direct contact, it isn’t that big a deal and it certainly isn’t a reason to mess up their vacation!

Phoenix Lights Size Analysis

Phoenix Lights Size Analysis

Even if the big ships only fly around at night to avoid attracting too much attention from the military, I’m sure they have a good enough night vision capability to make the tour worthwhile. Remember the stir over the Phoenix Lights in 1997 when a huge black triangular ship flew low and slow over the city? The same kind of incident occurred over Moscow and Brussels in 1990. They were most likely a large Earth tour liner. The nighttime view of a lit-up Earth city probably makes quite a site, especially a place with a lot of night life. Maybe we should do a study correlating UFO sightings with highly-commercialized urban nightlife spots. I’m sure that scenic landscapes are probably also popular, but chances are there aren’t too many witnesses in those spots and the people who do see them are easily dismissed as drunks or stupid hicks.

How many people visit the zoo only to discover that the lions are sleeping in a cave or in the bushes and can barely be seen? What if you paid a lot of money to travel there to see them and had to put up with some really disappointed, whining kids? If you had the capability to paralyze the lion, pick it up, and look at it up close, wouldn’t you do it? Maybe some aliens just aren’t satisfied with an overhead tour and want to smell and poke something! Given the number of people who say they have been abducted, maybe there is something to it other than just some sinister plot to steal our sperm and eggs in an attempt to create hybrid human-alien creatures. Now don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying that some perfectly normal genetic experimentation or breeding isn’t going on. I’m just saying that a lot of it could be nothing more than good fun initiated by visitors who want to see some real, live ape-men (and women) up close.

Crop Circles

Crop Circles

Speaking of good fun, crop circles are most likely no more than that. Why would someone who intended to pass on an important message do so by implanting it in inscrutable geometric shapes carved into fields of grain? I suspect it really was started by some alien tourists who were just looking to create a little excitement by stirring up the locals. Then, a bunch of copycat humans got involved and pushed the fun to a whole new level, with characteristic human innovation and precision. Hard-core crop circle analysts can still usually tell the difference between alien creations and human ones by analyzing the grain for radiation that causes the grain to burst. This characteristic is extremely difficult to reproduce, not to mention unnecessary if all you want to do is get your creation into the newspaper or attract tourists.

I’m just wondering if all that human crop circle activity has amused or annoyed the alien inventors of the sport. After all, some of those allegedly human-created shapes are pretty amazing. I would hate to be the alien who gets teased by his buddies for making a lame, boring crop circle that gets little attention and is bested by a couple of humans with sticks and ropes. It might make them mad enough to sneak up in the middle of the night and scare the hell out of someone!

Alien Tourism

Alien Tourism

Legislative Duty

Classical Democracy

Classical Democracy

As we get ready to swear in the new 114th Congress, let’s take a few minutes to think about the system of government we have established and how well it has been working. Some of you are probably happy about the change in control of the House of Representatives, but all things considered, not much has really changed in terms of who runs the US government.

The American Revolution was a watermark in human history as our founding fathers effectively began a great human experiment with a new form of democracy. The implementation of separation of powers and checks and balances in the form of executive, legislative, and judicial branches of government, were not the only innovations. The establishment of the trial by jury system was not only a symbol of democracy, but a superb solution to the problem of crime and punishment. It had been evolving over time as a part of English common law as well as jury systems in other parts Europe and elsewhere. They jury system was widely believed to work much better than the old systems of relying on a cadre of professional judges or a king and his ministers, to make decisions on civil or criminal matters.

Approval Rate of Congress

Approval Rate of Congress

The creation of our elective system of representation was innovative, but not necessarily as democratic as we think or as effective as our founding fathers might have hoped. It turns out that we have seen our elective system turn into one where the vast majority of incumbent politicians are re-elected year after year, even though the public opinion of their performance is extremely low. Our politicians are widely believed to be beholden to special interests and focused mainly on getting re-elected by avoiding hard decisions because the necessary solutions may be unpopular. Most legislators are millionaires and/or attorneys who are simply not a representative cross-section of the country. Congress has developed a culture of corruption.

Many have considered ways to make the system better, to no avail. Campaign finance reform has proven to be an ineffective joke, since the 1st Amendment, which guarantees our freedom of speech, effectively prevents any limit on campaign activities. Even our founding fathers debated the usefulness of term limits, but declined to write them into the Constitution. Many states and local governments have implemented term limits, but it does not seem to have helped to change the nature of politics. I wasn’t sure there really could be any solution that would result in a body of leaders more committed to serving the country than to their own personal self interests.

Trial by Jury System

Trial by Jury System

Then, a thought hit me. I wondered if we could just replace our current system for one that might even be considered more democratic and effective—one based on the jury system. Just think about what would happen if ordinary citizens were given the chance to serve in the state legislatures and Congress for a limited period of time. No professional politicians, just a cross-section of citizens from all over the country. Could they really do worse than the current elected officials we pay to do the job and to stay in office virtually for life?

I know what you are thinking. What fool would put his life and the future of his country in the hands of a bunch of ordinary idiots? To that, I respond, what fool would put his life and the future of his country in the hands of a bunch of highly-paid, power-hungry, idiots?

Are juries elected? No. Do they possess any special knowledge or expertise that ordinary citizens do not? No. Are they easily corrupted? No. Are they easily fooled? Maybe, but I’d rather take a chance with a well-meaning jury than a corrupt one. Besides, if the pool of people making the decisions is diverse and large enough, it is likely that the collective decisions will be even better than those made by an elite pool of professional politicians. I think that 100 senators and 435 representatives are enough to provide the required diversity and knowledge.

Wisdom of Crowds

Wisdom of Crowds

In the book “The Wisdom of Crowds,” James Surowiecki discusses many cases in which groups of ordinary people with limited knowledge can, collectively, make better decisions than experts. And those studies were comparing experts who were honestly trying to make the best decision they could, not corrupt ones trying to serve their own self interest, so I would expect the comparative results to be even better.

After coming up with what I thought would be a great new idea, I discovered that I was, in fact, several thousand years behind the first democratic thinkers. Yes, the citizens of the first known democracy, the ancient Greek city state of Athens, had a system that worked in just this way.

In the cities of Ancient Greece, the Boule was a council of citizens appointed to run the daily affairs of the city. It’s origin was from the council of nobles that advised a king, but boules evolved differently according to the constitution of the city. In a democracy such as Athens, members were typically chosen by lot and served for only one year. Little is known about the workings of many boulai (plural of boule), except in the case of Athens, for which extensive material has survived.

Athenian Assembly

Athenian Assembly

An Athenian Boule was a randomly-selected 500-citizen council similar to a grand jury or citizens’ assembly. Any citizen had the right to propose initiatives and the Boule decided which issues were important enough to be on the agenda. This was followed by a majority vote of the entire electorate. This is the origin of the Athenian initiatives system, which they considered the incorruptible cornerstone of their democracy. In ancient Athens, the Council of Five Hundred operated for 180 years. Archeologists did not discover critical Greek texts describing this until 100 years after the Founding Fathers wrote the US Constitution.

Today, we live in a society a tad larger than an ancient Greek city state, so one would expect some slight modifications to their system. Interestingly, however, our Congress consists of 535 members, which is already almost the same size to an Athenian Boule. So, here is a blueprint for how it could work, although I’m certainly open to suggestions. If and when I manage to buy an island and start a new country, or maybe sign up to establish the first Mars Colony with Elon Musk, I’ll be sure to try out a Boule system.

Any citizen at least 25 years old, without a criminal felony record, would be able to submit his name into a pool for legislative duty, which would last for only two years with no chance for a second term. Legislators would be paid a very good, but not exorbitant, salary of about $150,000 and would be provided free temporary housing near the state or national capital where they will be working. No pension, no special gold-plated benefits, and no chance of ever becoming a lobbyist. Legislators would have to sign a contract agreeing not to accept any contributions or gifts from anyone or to accept any post-employment job offers or other benefits.

Chicago Election by Lottery

Chicago Election by Lottery

Two weeks before the election, five people for each available legislative spot would be chosen via a lottery. This is the essence of the jury system, but without the vetting process available to prosecution and defense attorneys. I had considered allowing the political parties to approve or disapprove of some candidates until they had an agreed-upon group, but figured that would just invite corruption and mediocrity into the system. So, to ensure there are sufficient checks and balances to the system, the lottery winners would simply undergo a criminal background check and be put up for public election. Each person would be encouraged to publicly declare his or her political party affiliation, if any, to state their position on any issues of interest, and participate in any debates.

Since our current single-vote system does not work well for elections with more than two popular candidates, we should probably use a rank-ordering voting system. Instead of just voting for one candidate, voters would list all the candidates in their order of preference. The candidates with the fewest number of #1 position votes would get eliminated, and the votes cast for them would be replaced with the voter’s #2 choice. This would continue until one candidate had a majority of the votes.

The role of political parties would be limited, during the elections, to something more like a lobby trying to promote their preferred candidates. After the election, the legislators would be free to join any party of their choice, or to create their own new party from other like-minded legislators.

The selection and election system would be simple, quick, and mostly random, but the resulting legislature as a whole should consist of a more representative body with a more diverse group of backgrounds, knowledge and experience than we have today. In other words, it would be a more democratic, and hopefully less corrupt, group of representatives.

American Idol SMS Voting

American Idol SMS Voting

X-Factor Voting

X-Factor Voting

Furthermore, we should establish a national electronic voting and polling system to enable these representatives to put important questions up for national vote, or to take local polls to get a sense of their local area’s public opinion. Maybe this would help to turn around the low and falling voting participation rate in this country. I suspect that more people now vote in TV talent shows like American Idol or the X-Factor than vote in US national elections.

Some groups have already been trying to propose the establishment of a boule system. Is it likely to be implemented, considering that constitutional amendments must be approved by Congress or three fourths of state legislatures? Of course not! But it may be just crazy enough to work as well as our jury system. In fact, with some minor tweaks to the process, we don’t even have to amend the Constitution to make it happen. We just need some new political parties that agree to select candidates via a lottery system, instead of via a primary election or caucus (fat chance). Unfortunately, the current electoral system will probably ensure these candidates have little chance of victory against the traditional Republican or Democratic candidates in the general election. However, if a miracle occurred and all existing political parties agreed to select their own candidates by lottery, we would have a new electoral system that could transform our government.

Until such time as the people become so fed up they are willing to take action, we are going to have to find other less-effective ways to deal with a corrupt, unpopular, Congress. Maybe a revolutionary group in some small country will overthrow their government and experiment with democracy using the boule system instead of establishing a new dictatorship. If not us, who will create the first new form of democracy for the 21st century? We may have to wait for the establishment of a constitution for the first Mars colony to start over again. I can dream, can’t I?

Extra-Terrestrial Colony

Extra-Terrestrial Colony

Happy Pagan Christmas!

Pagan Christmas

Pagan Christmas

Many people talk about keeping Christ in Christmas, but it isn’t quite correct to say you want to keep something that was never really there in the first place. Christmas is my favorite pagan holiday. You might say that the original Christmas celebrations were Christ-free Christmases. What? Blasphemy! Sacrilege! Yes, Christmas was a pagan holiday that was slowly taken over by Christians. While it is now supposed to be a celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, his actual birth month and date is unknown. December 25th was a made-up date by the Western Christian Church. In fact, Christmas combines the traditions of pagan, Christian, and secular themes. Greenery, candles, yule logs, gift-giving, merrymaking, and especially drinking were part of pagan celebrations for hundreds of years before the Christians adopted the practices.

Pagan Idol Tree

Pagan Idol Tree

Pagan Tree

Pagan Tree

The takeover of a popular pagan holiday did not occur without resistance from Christian leaders. Did you know that they once tried to ban Christmas trees for being pagan? Early Christian leaders also condemned the practice of decorating homes with lamps and wreaths. The early Puritans who settled North America banned the Christmas holiday for the same reason.

Many non-Christians enjoy the Christmas holiday. Should they feel weird about it? Why should Jews have to call their tree a Hanukah bush? It’s just a pagan tradition anyway. In fact, there are medical benefits to celebrating the holiday with everyone else, according to this article: Christmas Isn’t Only For Christians: Secular Celebrators Also Enjoy Mental Health Benefits Of Community, Giving.

The most fun things about Christmas today are the gift giving, decorations, music, food, drink, and festivity. All of these are based on pagan holiday traditions, not Christian ones. So, from now on, I’m not going to feel bad about celebrating Christmas without going to a church. Maybe I’ll even look into turning to paganism, like another blogger sick of hearing the hypocritical chant to keep Christ in Christmas. We don’t need any new made-up holidays like Festivus to get in the holiday mood. I’m getting Christ back out of Christmas and celebrating a Pagan Christmas! But no human sacrifices, of course–a turkey will do just fine.

Keep the Yule in Yuletide

Keep the Yule in Yuletide

Silly Christian!

Silly Christian!

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Is Christmas a Pagan Holiday?

Non-Local Senses

Extra-Sensory Perception

Extra-Sensory Perception

Religious individuals believe in the ability to communicate with god through prayer and to receive messages from god or from the devil through a similar extra-sensory mechanism. This is supposedly how prophets and other lucky individuals receive revelations and how disturbed individuals hear evil voices that encourage them to commit terrible acts. Is it possible that communication through prayer or divine revelation doesn’t just occur by magic, but uses an actual physical mechanism? If everything else we do is confined within a well-defined set of physical laws, then why wouldn’t communication with spiritual beings make use of some physical law as well?

For that matter, is it also possible that experiences believed to be communication with god, the devil, or other spirits are actually communications with other humans, animals, extraterrestrials, or other entities who can also make use of this physical mechanism? If such a path for non-local communication between human brains and other entities exists, then is it also possible that this extra-sensory capability could be used in other ways and for other purposes? If god is always right, but the visions, revelations, or prophesies of some people are wrong, it could be that they are just insane, but maybe they are simply receiving messages from other sources that are just plain wrong.

Mind to Mind Communication

Mind to Mind Communication

Maybe god speaks to us on the equivalent an open citizens band radio channel or an online chat room, where any bozo who happens to be passing through and tunes to the right channel can intrude on his transmissions. In the world of radio communications, this is referred to as MIJI, or meaconing, intrusion, jamming and interference. If you have to know, meaconing is when someone falsely simulates the location of a navigation beacon in order to pull someone off course. Let’s use this as a metaphor for how false revelations can change someone’s life by deliberately pulling one in the wrong direction. For those of you too young to remember CB radio, it’s kinda like an anonymous online forum.

The ability for humans to perceive or influence events through some kind of non-local sense (i.e. other than sight, smell, sound, touch or taste) is well documented not only anecdotally, but also in scientific studies. Twins, as well a parents and children or married couples, often appear to have strong bonds that sometimes enable them to sense when something bad has happened to their loved one or when that person has just reached safety. Some studies with statistically significant results have shown the ability of spiritual healers to influence the condition of both human and non-human subjects.

Robert G. Jahn, director of the Princeton Engineering Anomalies Research Lab, has performed experiments that show a statistically significant effect when people attempt to influence the performance of devices such as random-event generators. Another experiment by Erlendur Haraldsson and Thorstein Thorsteinsson, documented in Reinventing Medicine, tested the ability of two spiritual healers, one physician (who also uses spiritual healing and prayer), and four students to increase the growth of yeast in 120 test tubes. The results showed statistically significant results affirming the ability of the healers and physician to increase growth rates beyond what would normally be expected. Also see Healing Beyond the Body or Entangled Minds. The use of non-human subjects is important because it removes an important variable–the possibility that people can heal themselves through meditation or prayer or can benefit from the efforts of their friends and family.

That Creepy Feeling

That Creepy Feeling

The bottom line is that living creatures may possess some kind of poorly-understood form of extra-sensory perception that is responsible for a wide range of events. I think it is likely that how we feel about someone we just meet is not entirely based on our normal senses. Most of us have experienced a creepy repulsive feeling about someone or an exhilarating feeling of attraction. Sure, maybe it was something physical related to hormones or other bodily emissions that we sense subconsciously, but maybe not. Maybe it is a mental connection.

Parapsychology Revolution

Parapsychology Revolution

It is certainly possible to study this. Maybe we can gather up a bunch of total losers from a high-security prison, along with some really lovable winners, and use them to test their physical and mental emissions. Or is this just too risky a topic for a well-respected scientist? I smell a future Nobel prize here. Is anyone up to the task?