Monthly Archives: July 2014

The Birds and the Bees

Animal Homosexuality

Animal Homosexuality

Do homosexual animals choose to be gay or are they just born that way? In October 2006, The new Natural History Museum in Oslo, Sweden, opened an exhibition entitled “Against Nature?” that displays evidence of animal homosexuality. According to Geir Soeli, the project leader, “Homosexuality has been observed for more than 1,500 animal species, and is well documented for 500 of them.” Examples given include female swans raising young in homosexual couples, male right whales rubbing themselves together, male giraffes mounting another male, and gay behavior in beetles. Yes, you heard right, gay behavior in insects. Bonobos, a type of chimpanzee, are all apparently bisexual. Wow! Of course, Jane Goodall showed us that chimpanzees are highly intelligent and are capable of complex social interaction. So, maybe the Bonobos, as a group, have all just chosen to be bisexual! OK, not likely, especially for the beetles.

Many people claim that human homosexuality is abnormal and immoral. They usually base this judgment on religious scriptures that declare it to be wrong, although for some, it is just a simple personal aversion to the thought of sex between two members of the same sex. It’s a lot easier to get over the “icky” feeling that heterosexuals get when watching gays kiss than it is to ignore scripture that you believe to be the word of god. As younger generations continue to see gays in normal situations on TV and in public life, homosexuality will become more accepted and tolerated within secular society. However, among religious believers, it is really the alleged word of god that stands in the way of complete social acceptance.

As for being abnormal, I must concede that homosexuality may be abnormal from an evolutionary standpoint, since it makes reproduction less likely, but it certainly is common within many species. Now that we have finally taken note of widespread bisexual and homosexual behavior it in animals, including our closest relative, the chimpanzee, this is a pretty undeniable fact. Since the word “abnormal” literally means “deviating from the type” or “irregular,” but homosexuality is now known to be quite common, I don’t think the word applies. If gays are abnormal, then so are tall, blonde, beautiful, blue-eyed girls, especially from the perspective of people in China or Africa. Somehow, I don’t think anybody wants to call them abnormal. Then again, unlike gays, blondes definitely have an evolutionary advantage when it comes to attracting men.

Evolution of Homosexuality

Evolution of Homosexuality

Homosexuality is also condemned for being “against nature.” OK, let’s think about this. Can something be both common and against nature? If being “against nature” means it confers an evolutionary disadvantage relative to other traits, then I suppose so. Being hideously ugly or fat might then be called against nature. Yet, we still have a lot of them around and they seem to be doing just fine. Some of them are even nicer and smarter than the gorgeous, blue-eyed blondes. Imagine that! They are still able to compensate for their shortcomings and compete for the attention of other men or women. Even the fat ones keep reproducing and recruiting others to their over consumptive, early-death inducing lifestyle.

It is possible that gays have been able to compensate for their dead-end reproductive behavior? Many of them do get married to members of the opposite sex and even have children, so the answer probably is yes. Many of them just stay in the closet and act like everyone else. Maybe they don’t get as excited in bed, but now that we’ve got Viagra, who cares? In fact, persecution of gays could in fact be the main reason that they continue to exist. If they were all encouraged to come out of the closet and marry each other, maybe they would stop reproducing and die off!

Now that’s what I call irony. If you really think homosexuality is wrong and bad, you should be one of the first ones to support gay marriage and let natural selection take its course! Unfortunately, the same people who believe it is wrong for religious reasons probably don’t believe in evolution, so that argument probably will not work on them.

In any case, it doesn’t seem to matter since there is no confirmed evidence of any “gay” gene that is passed down to offspring. Homosexual children seem to keep getting produced by hetersexual parents anyway. However, a study of homosexual men in Italy suggested a possible heriditary link that they call the “balancing selection hypothesis.” The study found that the mothers and sisters of gay men had more offspring, thus implying that whatever gene may be responsible for making them gay may also have made their female relatives more fertile, thus conferring a compensating evolutionary advantage! We really just don’t know enough to say why homosexuality is so common among the species of Earth or why it has survived the trials of evolution.

Anyway, when did religious people suddenly start to believe in evolution and decide that a trait is normal based on whether or not it confers an evolutionary advantage? If anything that is against nature is bad, we could easily build a list of behaviors that would diminish our way of life and transform our concept of morality.

Here is a list of a few things that we take for granted as being good, but nevertheless could be considered “against nature” from an evolutionary standpoint:

Hero Worship

Hero Worship

Selfless, heroic actions that place one’s life in danger to save a stranger or defend a cause: One does not tend to pass on a genetic line by risking one’s life unless one is defending family members or gaining some other advantage, such as reciprocal protection from a group of people you are helping. In today’s society, when we are unlikely to even know our neighbors, why would anyone want to help others? Instead of admiring heroes, perhaps we should look down on them as deluded idiots and Darwinian losers.

Caring for the sick and elderly: It makes no biological sense to care for people who are terminally ill or for the elderly once they are no longer able to either work or pass on their wisdom and knowledge to others. I can’t think of any evolutionary benefit for doing so. Are there any examples of animals acting in this way? No, the sick and weak are killed and eaten or left to die. So why are we so compassionate? Well, frankly, not all of us are and society as a whole really does not do that good a job of caring for such people, but we all think it is something that we should be doing. Maybe it isn’t. We spend plenty on Social Security and Medicare that we could otherwise spend on our kids. If helping the old and sick really is against nature, maybe it’s time for a new policy along the lines of the old movie Logan’s Run, where people were killed once they reached the age of 30. Of course, that was just a movie. In reality, we would want it coincide with the Social Security retirement age. Of course, if someone is still productive and agrees to keep working, I’d give them a deferment. Talk about an incentive to stay in good health and keep working! What a plan!

Standing on escalators: Escalators have got to be as unnatural a device as you can get, since they only help the weak and lazy, decrease physical fitness, and require the expenditure of electricity generated by power plants that help to destroy our environment through global warming. Who needs these things anyway and why do people insist on standing when they could be walking? Even on the down escalators, why are most people too lazy to even walk down? When people walk along on the sidewalk, do they normally stop periodically to rest? Of course not! Then why do they do it on an escalator? OK, this may not be the best example of unnatural behavior, but it is a really big pet peeve of mine! I hate to see people standing on a down escalator! At most, escalators should only be made to go up. Stairs are perfectly fine for walking down. If people are really too lazy to walk down, why don’t we just make slides so we can at least have some fun?

Back to the “against nature” issue. Here is a list of things that are perfectly natural in that they help one to propagate one’s genetic line. Unfortunately, I’m not sure everyone would agree that they make for a good, civilized, society:

Rape: Forcing the women of conquered tribes, cities, or countries to have sex has always been popular with soldiers throughout human history and is responsible for much genetic diversity. Genghis Khan did an impressive job of spreading his DNA as he raped his way throughout Asia and Europe. In fact, one might say that rape was a natural part of the evolution of the species, especially back when everyone was a racist and interracial marriage was taboo. I would place rape in the “natural, but not so good” category.

Pillage, Plunder and Theft: Another historically popular way of amassing wealth, thievery and the domination of others is as popular to this day as it ever was and ensures that a large number of people are able to support themselves and their families. Billions of dollars of our economic output actually supports shoplifting, burglary, intellectual property infringement, and the associated law enforcement and corporate security activities intended to stop it. The best thieves actually run entire countries or large corporations and are able to embezzle billions of dollars. Some even have multiple wives, concubines, or girlfriends and are able to pass on their genes far widely than ordinary, law-abiding people. Again, I’d place this in the “natural, but not so good” category.

Murder: This is perhaps the best example of survival of the fittest as long as it doesn’t go too far. One can both gather booty and eliminate the weak through murder, so it is, from an evolutionary perspective, a pretty good way to weed out the human genetic pool. However, we’ve gotten so good at it that we can now eliminate large numbers of people at random, so it might not be as good as it once was. If we end up destroying our entire civilization, then I guess you might say it was a bad thing, unless you happen to be a cockroach. In that case, your evolved offspring a million years in the future may be lecturing their classes on the archeological evidence of the extinct humans. Since murder made it onto the 10 commandments as a big no-no, I would definitely place it in the “natural, but not so good” category.

Slavery: This is pretty much a variant of the pillage, plunder and theft category, since slavery allows an employer to get more for less. Basically, it is like getting labor for the price of food and housing while even allowing you to skimp on the food and housing. It’s sort of like eliminating both the minimum wage and worker’s rights, otherwise known today as illegal immigrant labor. Slavery also came with the side benefit of free rape and murder whenever the master wanted, giving him a decisive evolutionary advantage. Slavery was so popular for most of human history that neither the Old or New Testaments of the Bible nor the Koran prohibited it. It didn’t even make the 10 Commandments. Neither Moses, Jesus, nor Mohammed are known to have made any attempt to stamp out the practice, so one might believe that god has always been a big fan of slavery, especially if the slaves were nonbelievers. Looking back into history, however, most people would place it in the “natural, but not so good” category.

I guess I really have no problem with something that may be against nature. I do, however, have a problem with people who want to meddle in the lives of others when it is really none of their business.

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The War on Pleasure

Make Money Like a Porn Star

Make Money Like a Porn Star

What is the difference between a prostitute and a pornographic movie star? One gets paid for sexual services while the other gets paid for sexual services that third parties get to watch. One constitutes illegal prostitution and the other is considered entertainment.

What is the difference between a “john” who solicits a prostitute and someone who promotes and sells porn videos? One sells physical sexual stimulation of the body and the other sells sexual stimulation of the mind, usually to enhance the effectiveness of his own sexual activity. What really is the difference and why is one illegal, but not the other?

If prostitutes were smart, they would all move into the entertainment business by offering acting services for people who want to star in their own porn video. As long as their business is oriented towards the production of resale-quality porn, or even just audition-quality porn, which is a legitimate business activity, it should be completely legal. Not only would this keep the “performers” out of jail, it would certainly increase their income due to the added value of the services provided, the elimination of all fear of prosecution, and the ability to maintain a safe place of business. They would no longer need abusive pimps to protect them, and could rely upon video surveillance and hired security guards to do the job. As a business, they could be sued if they passed on sexually transmitted diseases to their customers, thus increasing the incentive to engage in safe sex.

Of course, all this is just an artificial way of getting around a law that makes no sense, since all that it does is to restrict business activity between consenting adults. This activity has always existed and will always exist as long as there is an imbalance between the supply and demand for sex. In the case of heterosexual sex, there will always be a shortage of females willing to engage in sex and there will always be a high demand on the part of males to buy what they cannot get in sufficient quantity or quality elsewhere. What makes sex for money wrong?

Alcohol Prohibition Propaganda

Alcohol Prohibition Propaganda

What is the difference between drinking alcohol and taking drugs? One is a liquid substance made from natural products that impairs one’s mental faculties, while the other can be a liquid, solid or gaseous substance made from natural products that impairs one’s mental faculties. What really is the difference? The nation gladly reversed the prohibition of alcohol once it became evident that most people opposed it and that it spawned criminal activities that required a costly war to suppress. So, it isn’t a matter of whether or not alcohol is bad for you. It is simply a matter of social choice to live with the benefits as well as the costs of alcoholism and drunken behavior. Obviously, the many benefits of alcohol (Girls Gone Wild Videos is at the top of the list) outweigh the many costs (such as waking up next to a very disappointing stranger).

Why then do we persist in the war on drugs without making a similar assessment of the risks versus benefit of alcohol prohibition? Certainly, not all drugs have the same risks and some are more beneficial or damaging than others. Besides, where would we get some of our most innovative and popular artists if it were not for drugs? Regardless, why do we think it is the responsibility of the government to protect people from their own conscious behavior? If it is the job of the government to do so, then when will we start to make the factors leading to obesity, heart disease, and cancer a crime, such as eating too much junk food and smoking?

Sugar Danger

Sugar Danger

I’d love to see an episode of Miami Vice where some donut-eating fat boy cops pose as johns (junk food solicitors) in order to roll up an imported junk food smuggling ring. Or maybe an episode of Crime Scene Investigation where they determine that the victim was overdosed over a period of 35 years with Twinkies and candy bars that originated from an illicit processed sugar factory in Iowa.

Wouldn’t it be great if legalized drugs could actually be used to combat obesity? Since the war on drugs hasn’t slowed demand, it isn’t as if there would be more addicts running around anyway. However, we would now be able to use some drugs to slow the country’s increasing addiction to sugar and fat. A little speed and the pounds will start to go away, along with the diabetes, hip and knee problems, and other ailments typical of fatties. A little pot, with plenty of munchies on hand, and those anorexics will start putting on weight until they are back to normal. Imagine what a few weeks or months on heroin could do to those morbidly obese whales who can’t leave their houses due to excessive fatness. The pounds would start falling off. Then, they could be put into detox programs until they stabilize. Hey, it might sound drastic, but it’s better than letting them eat themselves to death or use up expensive medical resources trying to treat their many medical problems.

Drugs do not have to be illegal to be controlled. Prescription drugs are controlled now, even though it is ridiculously easy to obtain them anyway. Why is it illegal for sick people to obtain and use medical drugs not approved by the FDA but available overseas? Just because the FDA hasn’t approved a medication, doesn’t mean that it isn’t safe and effective (and from past experience, the opposite is also true). Should we prosecute people for saving or greatly improving the quality of their own lives by using unapproved medications? If I was in great pain or in imminent danger of death and needed something illegal to make it better, you can be sure I’d say to hell with the FDA, give me the drugs.

If alcoholism and drug addiction are real diseases that only affect certain people, then why isn’t someone working on a vaccine of some sort to prevent or reduce their effects when ingested? The answer, of course, is because people like to get drunk and stoned! That’s the whole point. It is a personal choice. But some choices are arbitrarily declared to be illegal because they are a supposed threat to society. If that is so, then it only makes sense to do a real evaluation of the risks to society and rank order them by danger that they pose to others, but only ban those behaviors that threaten the rest of us. A scientific study from the UK does just this and suggests that alcohol is more harmful to society than heroin or crack. 

Harm Caused by Drugs

Harm Caused by Drugs

I’ve got a better proposition. Let’s think of addiction in a different way. The problem is only triggered when the substance is available. So, it really isn’t a medical issue at all. It is a willpower and access issue. You wouldn’t see any addicts on a deserted island. Sure, maybe on Lost, but what is the chance that anyone would really be lost on an island that just happened to have a plane full of cocaine and an enormous supply of junk food?

Anyway, with today’s technology, it is possible to monitor and control access to substances to a certain extent. Why not create a national database where we could list the names of addicts, such as the Voluntary Exclusion Program for gambling addicts? Potential addicts could put their name in voluntarily or, if convicted of a crime such as drunk driving or morbid obesity, could be put on it involuntarily. Sellers would have to check their identity against the database before providing access to the controlled substances. I know, it sounds like another step towards big brother, but it is better than punishing the many for the problems caused by the few. Of course, we would have to get much better at verification of identity through the use of biometrics such as fingerprint or iris scanners tied to a live database.

Here’s how it would work. Let’s say you are addicted to drugs or alcohol or cigarettes or sugar and fat and, in a brief moment of strength, you decide you want to quit. You have your fingerprint and iris scanned and put into the database and select from the list of substances from which you want to be denied access and the period of time. Maybe you just want to try it for a month or maybe you have to comply with a court order banning you for life. Then, when you go to a bar, the bartender scans your finger and finds out he can’t sell you anything but a Shirley Temple. When you go to the grocery store and scan your finger along with the items you are buying, the computer checks the database and alerts the clerk to pull out everything that is listed as high in saturated fat or sugar. With improved, barcoded nutrition labels, this information will be easy to track.

So, we just solved much of our substance abuse problems by using technology to supplement the feeble willpower of most addicts. How much would this system cost? I suspect it wouldn’t be that much compared to the savings in medical costs and reduction in losses to crimes normally perpetrated by addicts. We could probably even pay for it by defrauding Medicare like everybody else. We’ll just bill them for each database check by calling it a medical consultation. So, your health insurance costs should go down, although I’m sure your politicians will never let the taxes go down.

There will still be a black market to deal with, but it won’t be that big since most people would be able to get all their stuff legally. If prices rise too high and the black market gets out of hand, the government can just take it over and use the windfall profits to subsidize the increased medical and legal costs. So what if we sell them substances that are supposed to be illegal? Just think of it as a tax on bad behavior, just like today’s high cigarette taxes. On the other hand, we could just forget about this whole scheme and simply legalize everything. Then, if people commit crimes related to substance abuse, we can put a tracking device on them and confine them to their home, where they could telecommute, work for a call center, or process rebate checks.

Alien Take-Out

When you visit a foreign country, one of the things you probably look forward to is sampling the local cuisine. Those of you who don’t like to try new things probably end up eating at McDonalds or the local Chinese restaurant. Yes, they are everywhere. But one thing that you don’t do is bring all your food with you. Maybe some gum and a couple of treats, but that’s about it.

Alien Cuisine

Alien Cuisine

Now imagine an alien spaceship just arrives at Earth after traveling light-years across space-time. If they are explorers who just happen to bump into us, they probably have a big store of food and drink to keep them going for a while. After all, the spacing between stars in our neighborhood is pretty wide, so they would have to be prepared for a long trip. We may not be in the country, but we’re definitely in the outlying suburbs of the Milky Way galaxy. But if this ship is just one of a constant stream of scientists, tourists, missionaries, or who knows what, they probably wouldn’t carry more food than they are sure to need before they head home. They might bring enough for a round-trip journey and a brief visit, but for how much longer? Unless they have developed the technology to recycle everything back into food and drink (yes, you know what I mean) or turn space dust into food, they would eventually need to forage for sustenance or go home. I’m betting that many an alien has decided to stay longer than originally planned and needed to turn to the locals for food.

How would they manage this? The Earth is certainly abundant in resources, but they would have to either land and steal some fresh food every day or two, or gather seeds to plant in the gardens of their mother ship, or find a way to buy it. My first thought was of the crop circles. What a great way to farm for grain while leaving pretty pictures behind to keep us distracted. The problem is that the grain is never removed; it is just mashed down and left with some electromagnetic residue. Then I thought about the cattle mutilations. But since they don’t actually take the meat with them, it must just be some curious alien hunting activity where they use blood-vaporizing weapons instead of the expected flesh-destroying laser guns. Or maybe they only remove the blood because that is what they like best. Talk about a sci¬fi horror movie.

Human Food Pyramid

Human Food Pyramid

No, I think that aliens must either be stealing from our farms or have set up a front corporation for purchasing their favorite foods. After all, who would want to settle for corn, potatoes, and cow blood when there is so much more interesting stuff available? I still remember some sci-fi book about aliens visiting Earth and falling in love with ketchup. They just couldn’t get enough of it and had no equivalent to the tomato on their planet, so every time they met with humans, they would stock up on ketchup. Sounds plausible to me!

With advanced alien technology, they would certainly be able to either counterfeit our money or set up a technology company to design and sell some new gadgets to earn it legally. Of course, they would probably need to abduct some human babies and raise them with their own so they would have some genetically genuine humans to infiltrate into human society. Ah, yes, are you thinking what I am? The men in black! It just can’t be a movie–it’s just too obviously a perfect plan for infiltrating the Earth. So, if men in black exist, they are probably here, first and foremost, as food purchasing agents. After that, they could be tasked to assist with abductions, conduct close-up anthropological studies on humans, and do whatever missionary work they may be inclined to pursue. If they did want to study people, they would probably want to get into public opinion research or psychology. If they wanted to do missionary work, well let’s just say we need to keep an eye on the Scientologists.

Food Conglomerates

Food Conglomerates

So, basically what I’m saying is, that we need to be on the lookout for a technology company that purchases a variety of food products and does a lot of research on human behavior or opinion. You might think that the research topics would be pretty profound or complicated, but I would bet they are more likely to be stupidly obvious. After all, they are from another planet and might ask some fairly stupid questions at first. Haven’t you ever heard about some research study that was investigating something that everyone already knows the answer to? There could be a good reason for this.

Oh, and they probably would want to get into pharmaceuticals because it would just be so easy and profitable. With no need for research and development into the drugs they probably already have, it would just be pure profit. Plus, they would get to run government-approved human clinical trials, where they could do some really sneaky testing and maybe some genetic manipulation. The best thing would be that only the top leadership of the company would have to be alien-raised. The rest of the company could consist of ordinary human employees. So, if your CEO seems to be a bit whacked out, eccentric, or reclusive and is getting the company into all kinds of unrelated business lines, you may be working for an alien conglomerate.

As for the food, it would probably be delivered to some isolated warehouses where it could be picked up at night and brought back to the mother ship.

Souls on Speed

Navigation by Earth's Magnetic Field

Navigation by Earth’s Magnetic Field

Nobody knows how the brain may (or may not) work to create what we call consciousness. We do, however, know that the brain tissue of many animals and humans have magnetic properties and that anything with magnetic properties can create or interact with electromagnetic fields. These properties enable many creatures to navigate using the Earth’s magnetic field, but are there other ways in which our bodies can interact with energy fields?

If we have a soul, one might hypothesize it must be made of some form of energy or at least appear as energy when it interacts with living beings. If it were made of matter, we might be able to detect and measure it. Some investigators have actually even attempted to measure the weight of the body before and after death to determine if the departure of the soul results in a loss of weight, but the results have been inconclusive not to mention weird to the friends and family of the deceased. Imagine agreeing to put your loved one on a scale and waiting patiently for him to die. No kisses goodbye. That would mess up the results.

Speed of Light

Speed of Light

If souls are made of energy, they should be limited by known physical laws, such as movement at or below the speed of light. Of course, there is evidence that entangled particles may be able to travel faster than light, so this question has not been resolved. If energy-based souls could move instantaneously anywhere, why don’t we have any reports of contact with deceased extraterrestrial souls? After all, considering the size of the universe, most people believe that extraterrestrial intelligence must exist and merely disagree about whether or not they have visited Earth yet. If they do exist, why wouldn’t they also have souls that, after death, could travel and communicate with the living?

Let’s think about the possibilities. Either there are no extraterrestrials anywhere in the universe, or there are extraterrestrials but they don’t have souls, or the souls of extraterrestrials are indistinguishable from those of humans, or extraterrestrial souls are limited to the speed of light (or have some other limit) and just have not made the journey to Earth yet. I realize I’m getting into some very freaky thought experiments that may sound a bit “out of the box.” However, considering that quantum mechanics and string theory are just as weird, but are now considered mainstream physics (i.e., within the box), the box is now much bigger than you think!

If souls are not limited to the speed of light, do they follow some other law that enables them to move instantaneously to any location? Do they move through other dimensions that are inaccessible to us? If souls are made of energy, then there must be forms of energy with properties that enable it to self organize. If so, then is it also possible for energy to self organize in an unintelligent fashion? If humans and amoebas can both exist, then why not both complicated and simple organizations of energy?

Ghost Cat

Ghost Cat

Some people believe that ghosts (spirits) are just the remains of energy linked to a physical location. Could this be some form of self-organizing energy with limited intelligence? Could it be a form of energy that is able to mimic living creatures when they exhibit strong emotional states such as love, hate, fear, or sorrow? Can energy mimic matter like a parrot can mimic human speech? Can organized energy be disorganized or destroyed (and I don’t mean with holy water or a few religious chants)? What is the specific form of energy and does it have a specific frequency range or pattern that can be detected?

Is good or bad luck a property of energy that can be transmitted to humans through contact? Can good or bad luck be stored in amulets or cursed artifacts? Obviously, I think we still have a lot to learn about the nature and composition of life. Will questions such as these ever be explored by scientists?

Prehistoric Webcam

Earth from the Moon

Earth from the Moon

The acknowledgement of extraterrestrial life would might be a shock to religion, but it could be the best thing that ever happened to historians and archeologists. If alien cultures have computing and storage technology that has been following Metcalf’s Law (or whatever they call it) for the past 100 million years, they would have the potential to record and store a complete audio and video record of Earth’s history in their archives. Even if they didn’t bother to record Earth history, they still might have the technology to chase down the light that left Earth a million years ago. Let’s say the aliens traveled across a million light years of space-time to get to Earth. That means that, with advanced optical sensors and recording equipment, they might be able to capture a partial record of Earth’s history as it travels across the universe in the form of light. If they travelled here via some weird bends in space-time, maybe that light is already heading back towards Earth right now!

Light paths through space-time

Light paths through space-time

Einstein proved that space and time are interlinked, so the universe is not uniform in shape. It is not shaped like a sphere or a disk or anything with uniformly-shaped geometry. A beam of light leaving Earth would be lensed by grativational forces that would cause it to travel on a winding journey around other solar systems, black holes, and other clusters of matter or antimatter with sufficient gravitational force to bend space-time. If it were fortunate enough not to hit a dead end in the form of a black hole, it might even loop back upon itself given sufficient pull from a massive object or given enough time and space to gradually move drift one direction rather than another. Who knows where the light from Earth’s history has traveled or how it could still be used?