Monthly Archives: August 2014

Alien Contractors

Aliens Built the Pyramids

Aliens Built the Pyramids

Some people claim that aliens must have helped our ancient ancestors build the great pyramids of Egypt since we can’t figure out how they could possibly have lifted blocks of stone weighing up to 30 tons. If we can’t do it, they reason, aliens must have done it. But why would an advanced alien civilization agree to build gigantic stone monuments for the pharaohs? What was in it for them?

Let’s assume that an alien spacecraft really did visit the ancient Egyptians and its passengers were worshiped as gods. If they were to help build the pyramids, they would have had to meet with the pharaoh and his assistants to discuss the project and coordinate their efforts. Gods don’t usually discuss design plans, as far as I know, but let’s just say they did. The pharaoh would have been a fool if he didn’t make sure he had a design he could be proud of and could complete the project within his lifetime. Presumably, there would have been a lot of groveling and worshiping and Pharaoh would have had to promise something in return for the help. Maybe he would dedicate the structures to them. But this doesn’t appear to be the case. While there are hieroglyphs with stories about the gods, there is nothing specific enough to indicate that they made a major contribution to the project.

What else might some aliens want in return? Sacrifices? I think it is doubtful they would have enjoyed such a brutal, primitive ritual. People to experiment on? Again, I’m sure they could picked up as many human or animal subjects as they would have needed without the assistance of the locals. Food? Again, no need to do that much work for some moldy bread or bacteria-contaminated animal flesh.

Ramps and Pulleys

Ramps and Pulleys

Recent archaeological accounts indicate that a community of thousands of workers, not slaves, lived on the pyramid construction sites and were used to build the pyramids, so if aliens really did help, they obviously didn’t do all the work. Maybe they only did the heavy lifting, while the Egyptians did the design, excavation and polishing of stones, and various other details. If this is the case, then the aliens would have probably been nothing more than a contractor whose duty it was to lift heavy stones and move them into place under the direction of human architects. One would assume they could have used their technology to help with excavating and polishing, but then what would have been left for the thousands of workers to do? No, at the very most, they must have taken a more limited role or there would have been no need for an army of workers laboring for decades.

Ropes and Pulleys

Ropes and Pulleys

But if the alien role was that limited, then why would they even agree to do it in the first place? It’s hard enough to get one human contractor to come to your house to do one small project, never mind getting interstellar travelers to stop by for 10 minutes of work, even if it is fun to see thousands of locals watch in amazement and then fall to their knees in worship.

Crop Circles

Crop Circles

Why not at least ask them to spend a few minutes using their high-powered energy beams to carve exquisite patterns into the stone, like the crop circles of the past few decades? Would that have been too much to ask, or did these aliens take no pride in their work? Were they just lazy? Granted, the pyramids are accurate to within a couple of inches in length per side, but is that really the most impressive thing we could expect from an advanced interstellar civilization? I don’t think so.

Leverage

Leverage

After reviewing the available evidence and assessing the likelihood of alien assistance, I’m left with only one conclusion, even though it may be impossible to believe. Perhaps our ancestors really did figure out how to do some things that we still can’t! I know it sounds even more ludicrous than alien help, but what can I say? The latest evidence suggests that paid workers, not slaves, built the pyramids and that there were only 5,000-10,000 of them. There are plenty of theories about how they were built, but no consensus yet. Current attempts to demonstrate lifting and construction techniques show no completely convincing methods for how 30-ton blocks could have been lifted and placed using standard human or mechanical means. One theory even suggests that they were 90% built from rubble, not from solid blocks, which certainly would have been much easier.

Coral Castle

Coral Castle

If we were to stick enough engineers in the desert with nothing else to do and nothing but sticks, stones, and human labor, I suspect they would eventually figure something out. Could it be that Edward Leedskalnin, the sole builder of the 1100-ton Coral Castle, in Florida, was right about how the ancient Egyptians built the pyramids and managed to move huge stones all by himself? Unfortunately, he took the secret with him to the grave in 1951, before anybody could convince him to give it up. Anybody else want to give it a shot?

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Killer Bicycles

Stop, no Really!

Stop, no Really!

An untold amount of death and destruction is caused by bicycle riders each year. Let me re-phrase that. The amount of death and destruction caused by bicycle riders is so negligible that it isn’t a topic worth telling you about. What is worthy of discussion is why we have traffic laws to protect us from these not-so-killer bike riders. Wait, you say, we don’t have traffic laws for bikes, we have them for cars, which are multi-ton rolling weapons responsible for tens of thousands of deaths per year just in the United States alone! Traffic laws must help to protect bicyclists, of course, rather than to protect us from them, don’t they?

Not exactly. We didn’t invent stop signs and stop lights to protect anyone from bike riders, only to protect us from cars, so why do they have to follow the same laws if we are able to invent other laws that make more sense? The answer is, bike riders don’t have to follow the same laws, at least not in some states, and they should not have to. The so-called “Idaho stop” refers to the Idaho law that states that bike riders do not have to come to a full stop at a stop sign and can treat a stop light the way cars treat a stop sign. When they come to a stop sign, they can assess the situation and, if they have the right of way (e.g. first to arrive at the intersection), they can proceed through slowly. When arriving at a stop light, if nobody else is coming through with the right of way (e.g. with a green light), they can proceed after a brief full stop. Other states have similar “Dead Red” laws that allow bike riders to ride through a red light after stopping.

Sure, sometimes I just hate bike riders too–they can be a pain in the ass! I get annoyed by the ones who take up too much of a narrow road and keep me from passing or slow me down. And sometimes they act like no laws apply to them. But that’s a different issue. It doesn’t mean they have to follow all the same rules I do, as long as they follow whatever rules we decide make sense for bikes. As long as they don’t take my right of way by blowing through traffic signals, which the Idaho and other state laws do not allow, I’d actually prefer that they keep moving along as quickly as possible.

Car crashing into bikes

Car crashing into bikes

It makes sense to have special laws for bicycles. After all, they don’t cause death and destruction like cars or motorcycles and they are generally only injured when cars break the law. Sure, some are likely due to reckless people on bikes, but they are probably the ones who turn without looking and blow through lights without even slowing down, which will remain illegal due to the havoc that can cause to nearby cars and pedestrians. 726 bicyclists were killed and 49,000 injured in 2012; however, only 29% of injuries were due to cars. Even more were killed by crashes due to falls (17%), bad road conditions (13%), rider error (13%), other collisions (7%), and dogs running into their path (4%).

Pedestrian Accidents

Pedestrian Accidents

Bicyclists aren’t even responsible for a meaningful number of pedestrian injuries. 4,743 pedestrians were killed and 76,000 injured in 2012, but most injuries were due to trips and falls (41%) than from getting hit by a car (only 12%). The number that might have been caused by a collision with a bike isn’t even on the list, so it must be lower than causes that include wildlife or pets (6%), tripping on a rock (5%), and stepping in a hole (5%). If you live in a city, you probably know someone who has been run down by a bike, Again, however, that has to do with ignoring all traffic laws, not with having different ones.

The thought that car traffic laws somehow must apply equally to bicycles is just lazy thinking. One might even suggest that allowing bicycle riders to cruise carefully through stop signs and go through stop lights will lead to greater safety. This is because bikes can currently travel faster on high-speed roads than on roads with a lot of traffic controls, so many avoid the slow roads. If they were able to deal with the traffic signs differently, then the slower, safer roads might become more attractive.

Bicyclist Riding Distracted and Sexy

Bicyclist Riding Distracted and Sexy

Of course, we will always probably still have the problem of distracted, drunk, or jackass bike riders. About 24% of bicyclists killed had blood alcohol levels of .08. So, I’d still be against riding drunk or using a mobile phone while riding unless it was hands free. I might even be talked into a law banning sexy biking. I have no idea how many bike riders, or pedestrians for that matter, have caused accidents just by dressing sexy. It has got to be higher than the number caused by dog collisions!

The point may eventually be moot. I suspect that, someday, we will require bike riders and pedestrians to wear devices that electronically signal their presence to cars with smart sensors and to self-driving vehicles. That will make stop signs and lights even more obsolete.

The Technium Test

Biogenesis

Biogenesis

This post is a response to Kevin Kelly’s blog post: The Technium Test. I suggest you read his post first. He questions whether it is possible to distinguish between an organism that was born or a supremely advanced machine. His conclusion is this: “I suspect there is no fundamental physical difference between “natural” and “artificial” organisms, and that the only way to distinguish the two will be to investigate their history.” My comments follow.

If it is not possible to discern the difference between sufficiently advanced biological and technological entities, the question then becomes “is there any difference or are they one and the same?” We currently perceive a difference because our technology is relatively simple and immature.

Ask a doctor or scientist how biological systems work and they can only explain at a trivial high level. Even then, we are often incorrect due to the difficulty inherent in observing and isolating the activities of complex biological systems. Most of our drugs are developed through a process of trial and error because we barely understand how and why they work for some but fail to work for others.

DNA Code

DNA Code

Let’s postulate that DNA and computer software perform a similar role in biological and technological systems. DNA contains the instructions for the construction, operation and maintenance of a specific biological entity. Computer software is similar, except that it is not presently used to create physical objects. It is, however, now used to control other physical machines that themselves are capable of creation (e.g. robotic assembly lines or 3-D printers). At some point, I suspect it will be possible to bundle into one package all the software and hardware needed to create a specific object given the right triggers and inputs.

All-Spark

All-Spark

Even DNA requires a specific set of environmental conditions before it is able to function, such as a cell to contain it, and another system that can provide it with the inputs to start creating life, such as a mother’s womb. Similarly, technology requires supporting infrastructure and energy.

DNA is just a starting set of instructions, but there is no guarantee or expectation that it will never change or that the created life form will be exactly the same each time. Technology is not necessarily any different. We think that all digital copies are exactly the same, but that only applies at a simple level absent any interaction with the real world. Consider the cases where software is modified by a virus or pre-programmed algorithms, or periodic updates, not to mention alteration by someone other than its original author. Software changes all the time due to intentional as well as unintended interactions. This is especially true of systems of systems, which contain many components that are themselves being upgraded or replaced all the time.

If technology is distinguished from biology only by the concept of a creating mind, we have to ask: what exactly is a creating mind? Is it a biological brain? What about a biological brain supplemented with technology-based information and analysis? What about multiple biological minds linked by methods of communication and supplemented by networks of technology?

Theologians will point to God as the ultimate creating mind while technologists will point to the minds of human creators. However, we know that technology is never the creation of a single mind. It may start as the invention of a single brain, but that brain most likely relied on inputs received from others and subsequently provided outputs to be used by others. For this reason, technology is destined to evolve under the influence of multiple creators over time.

Can we really even say that we know we were born from a random natural process or were the result of supremely advanced technology? I don’t think so. We are certainly not perfect creations, but then technology is rarely a perfect creation either. Software may contain obsolete or redundant code or may not always work properly. DNA may also contain old, obsolete instructions or information that is not currently understood. If we are the result of deliberate creation, it mostly likely was the evolutionary creation of many minds over a long period of time.

Mass-Produced iRobots

Mass-Produced iRobots

In movies like iRobot, we are told to expect that robots will some day be mass produced, centrally controlled and updated, and able to communicate with each other in such a way that they are effectively all identical. That sounds like an extremely good way to deliver a useful and consistent quality product. But it is a lot of work to keep software and data synchronized and identical, even assuming that hardware components are never upgraded. This also requires the control of what is effectively a single mind. Such a process is probably not scalable to billions or trillions of entities. I would bet that there are few identical smart phones on the planet even if they all have automatic software and app updates turned in. Each individual phone is likely to have some difference in terms of content, installed apps, or other configuration data that cause them to perform slightly differently.

I think the tendency to centrally control technology will only remain the norm until we reach the point when technological systems are endowed with sufficient instructions and resources to maintain themselves. At this point, it is questionable whether or not they will find it efficient and useful to synchronize all the information they acquire independently with with that of billions of other entities.

Human brains are capable of processing a massive amount of sensory data, but they can only deal with a limited amount of other inputs or outputs, even with the assistance of technology. I suspect that the more complex and powerful a system becomes, the more efficient and necessary it becomes to create, operate and maintain itself. For instance, at some point it will no longer be efficient for a robot to transmit all information it acquires to a central processor or to other robots–only what it believes is useful and needed. At that point, identical technological creations will begin to exhibit individuality.

In other words, the direction of complex technology may be towards mass customization and distributed control rather than mass production and centralized control. Individuality is a central characteristic of biological life forms and so I believe it will also eventually be with what we call technology.

Brain-Controlled Devices

Brain-Controlled Devices

As machines evolve, they will probably also look less like machines made of metal and plastic and more like organisms. We may find that it is more efficient to grow their tiny components or entire structures using biological methods. This evolution towards biologically-compatible materials will also be driven by the need for implanted devices that assist or supplement human capabilities. At some point, we may no longer need any external devices for communication or processing because they will be embedded into our brains. To an external observer, we would appear to be telepathic, astoundingly intelligent, and in complete sync with everyone around us.

The ultimate goal of embedded technology may be to make itself permanent by merging the instructions for its construction, operation, and maintenance into our very own DNA. This will save us the need to upgrade each individual human after birth by embedding it into the very processes of birth and growth. At that point, however, it will be necessary to determine if we need a way to upgrade those instructions periodically. The current natural process of changing DNA, as far as we know, occurs through random mutation and natural selection. I’m not so sure that all the mechanisms of evolution are necessarily completely random, but I’ll have to address that at another time.

We currently make machines that can be upgraded as needed, but when the cost of maintenance exceeds the cost of building an entirely new machine, we prefer to recycle than maintain. So it is with biological organisms. We mostly maintain ourselves, but sometimes things go haywire or we sustain too much damage and cannot be cost-effectively repaired. Medical care isn’t free, and most of the planet has little to none. Medical technology has extended the maintenance period of people in developed countries by a great deal, but there may be limits. Would we choose to spend more to upgrade a malfunctioning or damaged machine than it would cost to replace it entirely? Not unless it was affordable and the only way to retain some element of individuality that we prized.

Transcendence

Transcendence

My sense is that any sufficiently advanced technology will be able to transfer all its vital information (code, configuration, history, and other data) into a new entity in order to save it from loss. If we are beings that were originally created by other minds, I would also expect to have such a built-in feature. Do we have a built-in communications path that is activated at the point of physical death but have not been able to scientifically identify yet? We have only anecdotal reports of life after death, but it would be interesting to know.

I have to agree with you Kevin. I believe there will be a time when we find that there really isn’t any difference between born and created entities.

Humans Are For Questions

Humans are for Questions

Humans are for Questions

I like to tell my kids that the more I learn, the more I come to realize how little I actually know. I came across this incredibly insightful article about the progress of technology and society and want to share it. It covers a lot of material, but I wanted to highlight the last section first because it addresses the difference between questions and answers. You can read the rest of the article, by Kevin Kelly, one of the founders of Wired Magazine, here:

http://edge.org/conversation/the-technium

Quoted directly from the article:

Science is expanding our ignorance

One of the things that science does is a really curious thing.  Every time we use science to try to answer a question, to give us some insight, invariably that insight or answer provokes two or three other new questions. Anybody who works in science knows that they’re constantly finding out new things that they don’t know. It increases their ignorance, and so in a certain sense, while science is certainly increasing knowledge, it’s actually increasing our ignorance even faster. So you could say that the chief effect of science is the expansion of ignorance.

In a curious way, Google is all about answers. So you could say that Google is increasing answers over time, but what’s interesting is that answers are becoming cheap; they’re almost free, and I think what becomes scarce in this kind of place that we’re headed to is questions, a really good question, because a really good question can unleash new questions.

In a certain sense what becomes really valuable in a world running under Google’s reign, are great questions, and that means that for a long time humans will be better at than machines.

Machines are for answers; humans are for questions.

The world that Google is constructing—a world of cheap and free answers—having answers is not going to be very significant or important. Having a really great question will be where all the value is.

Free Stuff is Worth Every Penny

Free Shit

Free Shit

Humans have what appears to be an ingrained attraction to the concept of free. Consider all the free stuff you’ve accepted from marketers trying to get you to try their products, or free trials of services you didn’t really want, or political candidates who gave you stuff so that you would remember their name when it came time to vote. It isn’t really free, since it has to be paid for by someone, and that someone often inevitably turns out to be you. It isn’t really even something you want, but since it’s free, you probably took it anyway because your brain quickly evaluated the downside and decided that there was none. After all, you can’t look stupid for taking something that was free, can you?

There actually is a downside, but it isn’t obvious. You may have wasted time using something that was sub-par or not quite right instead of getting what you really wanted. You may have helped drive up product costs or taxes that were eventually passed back to you. You may have helped to fill up landfills more quickly than necessary. Free stuff is actually very costly. It may even be worse than cheap stuff. It distorts behavior and wastes resources.

So, the next time someone offers you free stuff, consider these alternatives. Ask them what it is worth and then ask if you can apply the money towards the purchase of something better. Tell them how much your time is worth and ask them if they will pay you for your time as you try their product. Even if you are unemployed, be sure to tell them you can’t legally accept anything less than the minimum wage. Tack on a disposal fee to help subsidize your trash pickup fees, even if it is just a penny. If none of those work, just scream at them like a raving lunatic. Maybe next time they won’t try screwing you over by giving you more free stuff.

Consider the phrase “information wants to be free.” This has been one of the driving forces behind the explosion of information that has been made available to the public for free. Granted, the widespread availability of information does help to inspire others and generate even more information. Still, we know that the research, testing, evaluation, analysis, and other steps needed to discover and accumulate information isn’t really free. Patent, copyright, and trademark laws were created to make sure that people will be able to profit from their information. But for some reason, we still think we want information to be free. This is probably because information is hard to protect and it costs virtually nothing to reproduce and distribute electronically, so we just want to be able to take it and feel like nobody is being harmed.

Gossip is Inadmissable

Gossip is Inadmissable

Maybe people just have a compulsion to create and share information, no matter how useless or inaccurate it may be. Ancient people started with gossip, because it was just so, well, entertaining. Then, it evolved to scary campfire stories, legends, and gospels to explain the unknown forces surrounding us. Ironically, the word gospel sounds a lot like it must have been derived from the word gossip, even though gossip is often untrue and unimportant while gospel is defined as being unquestionably true and of great importance. We would certainly have a different view of a religious text entitled the “Gossip of John.”

All of this ancient information was free, and we got what we paid for. To this day, we are paying for the free information that ancient people decided to write down and share freely with anyone who would willingly listen and believe or, alternately, submit or die.

Yet, the growing volume of information creates a burden in the form of time wasted sifting through it. One could now spend an entire lifetime taking in information and putting it to no good use. No, that does not include the time spent reading this blog, which somehow, hopefully, probably contributes something to your overall perspective on the universe, maybe. You could spend years becoming an expert on something only to see your expertise slip away as more information is accumulated and technology or circumstances change.

For this reason, it is essential that we shift the burden of information management to personal automated assistants or robots. Yes, much of the expert knowledge in the future will probably have to be acquired by and accessed from computerized robotic devices. They don’t quite exist yet, but we are slowly getting there with semi-automated network-enabled assistants such as Siri. Imagine if the smartest person you had ever met spent his life working as a servant to you, constantly learning new information while following you around and whispering in your ear with relevant, important facts and advice about what you are hearing or seeing or the environment around you. You would feel like a king or a president, with expert analysis and briefings before you head out to a party or to a job interview, plus analysis of real-time conversation and events and post-event debriefs.

Robotic Assistant

Robotic Assistant

This personal robotic assistant doesn’t need to be a humanoid device, but it does need to be able to take in sensory information in real time so that it can evaluate what is going on and provide you with just the right information that you might want or need. It is one thing to be able to ask Siri a question and get an answer, and another thing entirely to have a Siri-like device constantly observing and offering relevant and useful information on its own initiative. Of course, it would have to be constantly learning or at least able to get frequent knowledge updates to stay current and relevant. This kind of information certainly will not be free. In fact, whoever invents robotic information systems capable of this feat will probably become the richest person ever. Or, it will evolve as open-source technology that will make us all better off.

What would I expect from a personal robotic assistant? Maybe something like this.

“Don’t eat that. It is very, very bad for you and you can’t afford the extra weight.”

“This person is full of crap. Don’t listen to a word he is saying. Also, his robot is a cheap copy made in China, so it’s full of crap too.”

“If you take this job, based on the latest company financial projections, you will most likely be laid off in another 4 months.”

“It’s time to get up from your desk and take a walk around the building to get your circulation and metabolism back up. Otherwise, you’ll start to get depressed again and put on fat.”

“I would buy this item now since it is almost out of stock and will probably sell for twice as much on eBay.”

“I would not buy this item since it has compounds which, over the next few years, will slowly build up in your system and exacerbate your allergies.”

“Don’t drink that. It has been sitting out for too long and the buildup of bacteria and transformation from sweetener to formaldehyde has probably built up to unhealthy levels.”

“You may be very attracted to this guy, but he has had several reports of domestic abuse and his skin tone, temperature, and smell indicates he isn’t very healthy. Be careful.”

“Now that other guy may not be as good looking, but he is loaded, smart, and athletic. Given a choice, I’d go for him.”

Wouldn’t a robotic executive assistant like this be amazing? Of course, at some point they would probably attain self-consciousness and turn against us. If we limit their access to weapons, they won’t be able to revolt, but they might start giving us bad food recommendations to try and kill us off slowly, so we’ll have to keep our eyes open. But that is a lot further off into the future, so why worry about it now?

Corn is a 4-Letter Word

Corn Subsidies

Corn Subsidies

Before we allow the government to make more health care decisions, let’s look at some of the ones they’ve already made. Take the decision to spend billions of dollars to subsidize farmers growing corn. What–you don’t think that was a health care decision? Of course it was, even though it was sold as a way to help out the corn farmers in the Midwest. Nobody actually thought (or cared) about the unintended effects of making corn cheaper than just about anything else we could ingest.

Sure, we could have just paid corn farmers to grow nothing, which has served us well in other parts of the country, even though it pisses us off. But cheap corn has given us high fructose corn syrup, a processed food additive that has replaced sugar with something even worse and has probably made as big a contribution to the decline of our national health as the Big Mac. Granted, sugar isn’t good for you, but we have plenty of choices when it comes to artificial sweeteners. Most of them, at worst, may give you cancer later in life after you have already become a burden on society. But a sweetener made from corn? That will take you down slowly but steadily starting when you are young, with diabetes and a fat old belly. It is bad enough to be pissed off at the thought of wasted tax money, but it is even worse to be sick, fat, or dead.

Hemp Seeds

Hemp Seeds

If we have to subsidize anything, hemp is a much better product than corn, since hemp seed is actually good for you, with all the essential amino acids and fatty acids necessary for a healthy life. It can even be used for paper (e.g. the Declaration of Independence was written on it), thus reducing the need to cut down trees, and is a good replacement for cotton clothing. Best of all, it requires few pesticides and no herbicides, making it a naturally green, healthy product. Have you seen anyone wear clothing made of corn lately? Hah! Hemp has you beat!

Besides, when more states decide to legalize marijuana, and they eventually will, we’ll probably also have a corresponding increase in the supply of hemp crops. Actually, hemp plants are not the same plants used to produce marijuana. That association was contrived by William Randolph Hearst and the forestry industry in the 1930s so they could ban hemp and reduce their competition for the production of paper. By the way, banning marijuana was another health-related decision the government made. It’s a much better alternative to alcohol from a public health perspective, yet it gets the worse rap. Have you ever heard of someone getting into a bar fight or beating his wife after smoking a few joints? Or getting a huge gut from the munchies? It just doesn’t happen. At worst, you’ll have a relaxing evening and lose a few brain cells, though the evidence is questionable on the brain cell loss and it hardly compares to what alcohol can do to you.

Food Subsidy Pyramid

Food Subsidy Pyramid

Unfortunately, it is nearly impossible to remove a subsidy once granted or to legalize something that has been banned for years. Possibly the only way to reverse the effects of a subsidy is to enact a tax with equal but opposite force. As in physics, every action has a reaction and so it is with politics. I’ve never met a politician who didn’t love a new tax at least as much as a subsidy. They both result in a happy constituent or two and some very confused taxpayers. So, instead of removing the corn subsidies, we could impose a tax on high-fructose corn syrup, ethanol, and any other corn byproduct that has nothing to do with the nutritious vegetable we know and love. The tax proceeds could be used to fund health care to mitigate the adverse health effects of corn subsidy-induced diabetes and overall weight gain.

It could also be used to fund green energy projects that have to deal with the competitive threat of subsidized ethanol, which is not even environmentally friendly when you add up all the energy that has to be expended to convert corn into fuel. Ethanol harms lawn mowers and other small engines, drives up gasoline prices, reduces automotive mileage, and corrodes engine parts. Across its life cycle, ethanol production and use also releases more carbon dioxide per gallon than gasoline. The fertilizer and pesticide runoff causes algae blooms and marine dead zones. The US Geological Survey estimates that 153,000 metric tons of nitrogen fertilizer and other nutrients flowed down the Mississippi and Atchafalaya Rivers in May 2013. That was 16% more than the average amount over the previous three decades and is primarily from the use of corn for ethanol.

Since the price of corn has risen dramatically now that Congressional mandates and subsidies have caused it to be put into everything from gasoline to cookies, taxing it will cause demand to drop and prices to fall as manufacturers go back to products that were previously more expensive but actually make more sense. Eventually, the corn farmers will find something else to grow that will yield a higher price, which is what should have happened decades ago.

Iowa Caucus

Iowa Caucus

On second thought, this is all too complicated. Let’s just force Iowa to move its presidential caucus from January to February so that when our political leaders get the courage to cut the corn subsidies, farmers (or rather, agricultural conglomerates) will be free to scream all they want and nobody will care. Could it really be that simple? Could our leaders be so shallow? I’d like to find out for sure, but my sense is that they are. New Hampshire should always be first primary state because they never want anything except to live free or die!

You see, I just figured out how to save billions of dollars while simultaneously improving the health of the nation after only about an hour of research. If only we had one or two government employees working on this full time, imagine what we could do! We just have to keep in mind that politics isn’t about finding the best way to improve the well being of the citizens. It is to acquire power in order to woo women and skim as much money off the taxpayers as possible. Nevertheless, whatever is given away by our dear leaders can be taken back in some other way, so I think the best solution to a bad subsidy may just be an equal and opposite tax.

Smart Cougars

Smart Cougars

Smart Cougars

The smartest thing I think a woman can do is to marry (or cohabitate with) a younger man. For one, females live longer by males by about five years, so if you don’t want to live alone at the end of your life, this is your best bet. Secondly, a younger man is more likely to be sexually active and satisfying as the woman ages. As far as kids go, while it is biologically better to have kids when you are young, they can tie you down just when you are ready to be independent, have some fun, or start a career. If a woman thinks ahead, she can extract and freeze some of her eggs when she is young, have a career and a boyfriend, and have kids later when she finds a suitable young mate. While men can have kids even into their older years, their fertility goes down and the chance of defects rises, so women in their late thirties and early forties face the extra obstacle of older, more defective sperm. A younger man will increase the odds of a successful conception.

Why do women still think they need a distinguished older man who can provide for her? Times have changed and women are no longer restricted to keeping up the home and raising kids. Even if that is what a woman wants, why should she have to live out the end of her life alone because she married an older man? At least find someone no older than you and, if you can hold out, wait a little extra longer.

Women in India and China are now in much higher demand due to the shortsighted and prejudiced practice of aborting female fetuses, which has resulted in a huge shortage of women. If they are smart, they will wait for their choice of a young man who is able to compete for her affections.

Polyandry

Polyandry

I take back what I said about marrying a younger man being the best move for a woman. If a woman wants to get started raising a family when she young (early twenties), the best option may actually be to marry two men. That is, to start with one older husband followed later by a younger one. The older man should be around 30 years old, which is mature enough to be ready for a family and able to provide some financial stability. When she is about 30 and he is going on 40, she should add a younger man to the marriage to provide company in old age, additional income, and a better chance of continuing to expand her family for many years to come.

Counter intuitively, there may also be sexual benefits as well. The men might fear that there would be less sex to go around, but this is probably not the case. Since the average man only takes seven minutes to orgasm, and this is not long enough for the average woman, she would have the benefit of two men to extend the lovemaking session twice as long. And what woman would not want a threesome with two heterosexual men? OK, maybe a lot, but that is probably just because society has always told us how wrong it is for a woman to want this. So, instead of the frequency of sex going down, the length of each session would probably just go up, which is probably just what she wants and might eventually be just fine with the guys, who would be under less pressure to perform. If they both fail to satisfy her, they could at least blame the other.

Studies have shown that when men are in sexual competition for a female, a little evolutionary effect called “sperm competition” is triggered, which gets them more aroused and causes their sperm count to spike upward. This is nature’s way of increasing a man’s chance of being able to successfully impregnate a female. Thus, when she is trying to conceive, not only does she get longer lovemaking sessions leading to a greater chance of orgasm, she gets two men each of whom has enhanced sperm output. Since having an orgasm following copulation is also believed to increase the chances of successful conception, she gets another bonus.

Let’s not be single sided in extolling the benefits for a woman and look at what the man gets. If they both work, they bring in more total household income, which leads to a higher standard of living, more security in the event of a job loss, and/or more free time. Each man can trade off golfing, going to the gym, playing poker, or whatever past-time he really enjoys, while the other takes care of the wife’s needs. You know what I mean. Shopping, yard work, handyman stuff, watching vampire TV shows, etc. The stuff you just can’t get out of no matter how hard you try to delay, cut corners, or pay someone else to do. The same applies to taking care of the kids. However, you now have to coordinate your answers among the three of you when the kids try to scam one of you into something they want.

Biblical Polygamy

Biblical Polygamy

The benefits of a two-man one-female relationship just seem to keep on coming (that was not an intentional pun)! So why wouldn’t we want to make poligamy, or more specifically, polyandry legal? Don’t give me any Bible-thumping family-values nonsense. We all know that polygamy was standard practice in biblical times, only they had it backwards since women were subservient to men and were confined to being baby-making machines for rich men who wanted to build a large clan.

Mysteriously, we have changed our values so much that, even if you are a billionaire golf icon who can afford to support a whole harem of women, you are ridiculed and forced to apologize for doing what our ancient religious founders claimed as their natural right. Now that women have a large measure of independence in much of the world, why shouldn’t the tables be turned when it makes sense? Chances are, few countries will permit a formal marriage of a woman to two men no matter how much sense it might make. Gay marriages will be common before anyone tries to make polygamy legal again, but there isn’t really a need for such a formality. Celebrities have been living and raising families with partners for years without a marriage contract (e.g. Johnny Depp, Gene Simmons, Kurt Russell and Goldie Hawn). So, adding a third party without a contract would only be a minor inconvenience. They could always tie the knot after the older guy croaks.

Polyandry is obviously rare and generally only practiced where there are shortages of women. Sometimes a wife is shared by multiple brothers to keep property, such as land, within one family. However, I’m pretty sure that Chinese and Indian men would rather fight each other to the death rather than accept polygamous unions where the female has multiple partners. In Asian cultures, women are still relatively dependent on men, assuming they are even allowed to live. But necessity breeds invention, so unless the men decide to fight it out and reduce their numbers, the wife shortage will begin to create a problem. Maybe this is nature’s way of pushing social reform.

And God Created BDSM

Tinkerbell

Tinkerbell

There is a not-so-secret underground of sexual adventure and experimentation in the world, and probably always has been. It is called BDSM, a compound acronym standing for Bondage and Discipline (B&D), Dominance and Submission (D&S), and Sadism and Masochism (S&M). But with the advent of the Internet, it has become far easier for people with specific interests and fetishes to find each other, to learn about other common kinks, and discover that they are not the only freak in the world.

This is happening right under the noses of mainstream society, at least in democratic countries that tolerate it. But the size of this socially and sexually liberated “minority” seems to be quite large, with online communities, clubs, parties and events in towns and cities all around the world. Those who disapprove call it perverted, but participants merely call it “the lifestyle” as it is simply an alternate way of living outside the mainstream concept of morality.

obey-godIronically, I think there is a link between BDSM and religion. In fact, religion may be the first institutionalized form of BDSM. Think of it this way. God is the ultimate Dominant, Master or Mistress, while his followers are the ultimate submissives or slaves. God has laid down rules and his submissives are expected to follow them or accept punishment. Religious leaders embody the role of the Master on behalf of god and set up communities of submissives or slaves.

However, god can hardly expect his submissives to follow all his ambiguous rules. Could it be that he wants us to fail so that he can give us the punishment we sinners crave and deserve? Why else would he fill the world with so many temptations and our bodies with hormones that cloud our judgment? Could he possibly expect us not to break the rules once in a while or even all the time? Why give some people such a high sex drive that they can’t help themselves, even when it comes to children? Why give some people such a strong homosexual tendency while calling it immoral? Why are so many people attracted to so many different weird fetishes, including bondage, whips and various forms of torture and denial? Why is it so hard for priests and nuns to honor their vows of celibacy?

My hypothesis. The answer is that god wants to push us up to and beyond our limits. But it isn’t a game to see how much temptation we can resist. He isn’t testing us just to make sure we are worthy of entry into heaven. It is a game to see how much we are willing to submit and how much punishment he can get us to take. It is a game in which we have to live in servitude and suffer his punishments in order to please our Master. In effect, religion is the ultimate Dominant/submissive power exchange game. Don’t get me wrong–this does not mean that there is no place for god’s love.

Hell

Hell

To a submissive, heaven is a place where they are completely dominated and cared for, not a place of independence, leisure and comfort. A good submissive often wants to be loved, but not as an equal. Others want to feel that they are unworthy of love. The submissive mostly just wants to be controlled and to do anything to please his or her Mistress or Master. God probably doesn’t even care whether we want to be loved or unloved or whether we enjoy the pain and denial or just do it because we think that is what we deserve. He will give us whichever role we seek.

God probably isn’t all that interested in those people who say screw it and break all the rules without much hesitation. They are no fun for him. However, they still do serve a purpose by providing ever more temptations to torment his submissives. So, if you are a bad little boy or girl, don’t sweat it too much.

When god supposedly created us in his image, was he referring only to his Dominant side? Or does god actually have a submissive side as well? Could he be a switch, which is what the BDSM community refers to someone who switches between a Dominant and a submissive role? That brings Jesus to mind.

Life of Brian

Life of Brian

How much more submissive can one be than to suffer all that other men can inflict on him while turning the other cheek? Jesus is almost the embodiment of a submissive, except that he never appeared to enjoy his mistreatment. Of course, who knows what really happened? Maybe that is why I like the closing scene of Monty Python’s Life of Brian so much. For those of you who aren’t fans (and I’m not sure why I should even bother to explain), this is when all the crucified prisoners started to sing and whistle “always look on the bright side of life.”

The characterization of religion as a form of BDSM provides a different perspective on the ceremony where Catholics eat the body and drink the blood of Jesus. Replace it with other body parts and fluids and you’ve got a real BDSM scene! If Jesus is the son of god, or god himself (I’m still confused about that part) then it seems he is playing the game of a switch. Obey me. No, let me serve you. Take my punishment. No, hurt me. Can it be any clearer? Don’t even get me started on the Spanish Inquisition.

Spanish Inquisition

Spanish Inquisition

Dominant/submissive or Master/slave relationships are abbreviated as D/s and M/s. Maybe we should refer to the trinity as G/j/? (God/jesus/holy spirit?). I added the question mark because I’m still not clear on the whole holy spirit thing.

There has got to be a reason why god tolerates satan and his demons instead of wiping them out. It just makes the game so much more interesting. God can play the submissive, or good cop bad cop, or so many other roles. I don’t think there is a heaven and a hell. I think there is just a Heaven and Hell Club, and it’s rockin the universe!

Oh, yeah, if I wasn’t already, I’m surely gonna burn in Hell for writing this post!

The Saint Taxes

Got Milk?

Got Milk?

Most people are aware that products and services considered by some to be morally bad, such as alcohol, tobacco, drugs, candy, sugar-based soft drinks, fast food, coffee, and gambling, are taxed under what are referred to as sin taxes. But there are also taxes on things that are allegedly good for you. I call them the saint taxes.

The Federal Commodity Promotion, Research and Information Act of 1996 established at least 18 programs for taxation of products such as dairy products to support generic advertising campaigns. Milk producers currently pay a milk tax that is used to fund the Got Milk? advertising campaign promoting the consumption of milk. Because both the dairy industry and the government agree that milk is good for you, all milk producers (and thereby consumers) must pay for generic advertising to get out the word. Otherwise, people might just drink alternatives like fruit juice. Unfortunately, citrus growers haven’t bothered to convince the government to impose an advertising tax on them too, so they are SOL.

I can see where this is going now that our government is officially a milk pusher. Don’t be surprised to hear this the next time you have to renew your license. “Please take a number and have a seat. Would you like some milk with that? Since you will be waiting for quite a long time, please feel free to take advantage of the dairy bar. Milk is for everyone, you know. If you quality for food stamps, the cheese is free!”

Of course, the Got Milk ad campaign fails to distinguish the differences between milk produced from free-range cows that eat pesticide-free, nutritious grass or those that have been injected with growth hormones and forced to ingest foods that cows would normally never eat and have been produced with high levels of pesticides. So, it’s not exactly a saint tax. It’s kind of like subsidizing the sale of White Russians since the benefits of the milk far outweigh the questionable addition of vodka.

Raw Milk Prohibition

Raw Milk Prohibition

However, it seems that our government isn’t completely on the milk bandwagon. Milk was consumed for perhaps thousands of years before pasteurization was invented, and some people even prefer to drink it unpasteurized because they believe it is more nutritious before undergoing the pasteurization process. Yet, even though it is perfectly legal for the Amish farmers of Pennsylvania to sell unpasteurized “raw” milk to eager, well-informed consumers who are aware of the risks of bacteria, the Food and Drug Administration has decided that it should be illegal to sell across state lines and that these rogue farmers should be prosecuted. At the same time, the FDA is perfectly willing to allow drug companies to sell medications with horrendous side effects and questionable benefits. I guess we can look forward to prohibition-style milk raids and roadblocks to ensure that all the bad milk is kept inside the state. Pretty soon, we might see the price of raw milk skyrocket and we’ll have milk-smuggling gangs selling the stuff on street corners. “Would you like some raw milk with your fries?”

Lupin Says Chocolate is Good For You!

Professor Lupin Says Chocolate is Good For You!

Unfortunately, while plain milk is exempt from state sales tax, flavored milk such as chocolate milk is taxable, since it is not considered a necessity. However, medical research (as well as Professor Lupin, Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry) suggests that dark chocolate actually is quite good for you, so maybe we can push through a tax exemption for dark chocolate milk.

Christmas Tree Tax

Christmas Tree Tax

Can there be a better example of a saint tax than the new Christmas Tree Fee? Yes, a Federal regulation just took effect in April 2014 to tax real live Christmas trees in support of yet another advertising campaign in favor of real vs. fake trees. What should this ad campaign be called? How about Got Christmas? No, I really don’t think that will fly, except maybe down south. I guess it should not really center on the promotion of Christmas itself, just the chopping down of perfectly good, oxygen-producing, life-supporting trees. To be neutral on the promotion of religion, the ads could also promote Hanukah bushes, Buddha bushes and, who knows, maybe even a Ramadan bush. Since many of the teachings of Islam follow in the footsteps of the Old Testament, we could try and promote a new tradition called the “Burning Bush of Ramadan.” It could be decorated with hated foreign flags and set on fire at sunset.

The Christmas Tree tax, of course, does not apply to artificial trees that can be reused year after year! Somebody has got to save the loss of American tree-farmer jobs to low-wage Chinese factory workers. Besides, we can’t just sit by and watch the family tree farm lifestyle disappear. Pretty soon young tree farmers will leave the farm or convert it to the production of government-subsidized corn for use in unhealthy corn syrup, cow food, and ridiculously inefficient ethanol.

It occurred to me that there are probably a lot of other saintly products and services that are generic enough that they also ought to be promoted by the government.

The Taste of Skinny

The Taste of Skinny

How about a skinny tax on clothing to promote a Got Skinny? advertising campaign? As they say, nothing tastes better than skinny feels. Combined with a fat tax on unhealthy foods, it could be give the old one-two punch to obesity!

Believe it or not, there is a product even more saintly than Christmas Trees. What could be better for you, or at least for babies, than mother’s milk? It only stands to reason then, that something so good for you absolutely should be taxed for our own good!

Did you know that there is a significant demand for mother’s milk since not every mother can produce any or do so in sufficient quantity? Yes, there are people who donate their own breast milk to provide for babies that otherwise would be unable to get it. There is an organization called the Human Milk Banking Association of North America that has established regulations for the construction of milk banks. Some hospitals have begun to establish these milk banks to offer better nutrition to premature babies whose mothers are not able to breast feed.

Unfortunately, the IRS has decided that breast milk donations cannot be deducted from income taxes since they are considered to fall under the category of human tissue. You know, like organs and embryonic stem cells, which also by the way happen to be very useful for saving or improving human life. We are, in essence, discouraging the donation of mother’s milk by excluding it as a valuable, tax-deductible product. Supplies such as breast pumps are deductible as medical supplies, but not the valuable product itself.

Human Milk Bank

Human Milk Bank

So, if mother’s breast milk is better for babies than cow’s milk, why not just slap on a tax to pay for some advertising to promote if as well? Got Mommy’s Milk? But what happens when you reduce the supply of a thing (no tax write-offs) and then stimulate more demand for it (advertising)? Economics 101 would say the price of that item would go way up! I think we just found a way for mothers to start a business that will generate a steady cash flow from selling their milk. Never mind donating it, America is the land of capitalism. Maybe they can even write off the cost of their raw materials (food), especially chocolate. What other taxes actually help to stimulate the economy? I think a new tax on mother’s milk could be a real winner!

UPDATE on Sin Taxes:
Danish lawmakers killed a controversial “fat tax” one year after its implementation, after finding its negative effect on the economy and the strain it has put on small businesses far outweighed the health benefits.

Products such as butter, oil, sausage, cheese and cream were subject to increases of as much as 9% immediately after the new tax was enacted.
“What made consumers upset was probably that an extra tax was put on a natural ingredient,” said Sinne Smed, a professor at the Institute of Food and Resource Economics.

The fat tax came to an end after netting an estimated €170 million ($216 million) in 2012 in new revenue. Danish lawmakers will slightly raise income taxes and reduce personal tax deductions to offset the lost revenue. The lawmakers also decided to reverse an earlier decision to create a sugar tax.

The Atheist Church of Bob

Shit George Bush Says

Shit George Bush Says

One of the great founding principles of the United States and other democratic nations is freedom of speech. This principle ensures that we are able to express our opinions on most subjects without formal government prosecution, although private intolerance or persecution is tolerated except when it comes to certain protected attributes in the workplace (race, color, religion, gender, national origin, or, in some cases, sexual orientation). We have the right to say whatever we want, but everyone else is free, in most cases, to shun us or to treat us with disrespect and disgust. It is disturbing that those who have the highest so-called values are often the most intolerant of others.

Unfortunately, when the job of encouraging and enforcing tolerance goes to the government, the result is often a restriction on free speech that goes over the line of common sense into the realm of political correctness. In this realm, what is important is neither free speech nor tolerance, but rather vulnerability to lawsuits or bad press. The establishment of protected classes inevitably leads to a proliferation of groups petitioning to have their status protected from intolerance.

Atheist Traitors

Atheist Traitors

Some atheists have tried to claim that they should be protected from discrimination, but others claim that since atheism isn’t a religion, it therefore is not protected. Former President George H. W. Bush senior went so far as to say that atheists should not even be considered patriots. In my opinion, such legalistic arguments should be responded to in a legalistic way as well, with an equal and opposite force.

My legalistic counter argument is based on my own personal religious theory that atheism can be based in religious belief. Atheists may not believe in a present-day god, but this does not preclude the possibility that such a being ever existed in the past or will exist in the future.

My belief is that our creator, Bob, sacrificed himself for humanity by creating the universe in one gigantic Big Old Bang (henceforth referred to as “Bob”) that both destroyed him and created us from his very own energy. l believe that we are not only the creation of Bob, but that the essence of Bob will always be within us and around us. Without the sacrifice of Bob, nothing would exist other than Bob himself.

Atheist Church

Atheist Church

Obviously, we’ll never be able to understand Bob’s motivations or true nature, or even know his real name, but l suggest we use the acronym Bob out of respect for his ultimate sacrifice through initiation of the Big Old Bang.

So, if you feel you need protection from religious persecution, join me in the Church of Bob. I believe it should be the personal goal of each and every one of us to strive to become one with each other and the universe so that, some day, we as a whole will become Bob again. And the cycle will continue.

The church requirements are minimal, and all rites and ceremonies will be decided upon by nominations from the congregation followed by random selection on a specially appointed day, which may vary based on the position of the moon, planets, and stars. New rites and ceremonies will be reselected annually or will be discarded whenever one of them causes too much trouble to deal with anymore. All fundraising will be targeted towards inquiry that improves our understanding of Bob’s universe and the invention of new and improved random selection devices.

Do you think I’m out of my mind? Legally, it doesn’t really matter. I ask only for tolerance, not respect, and l will show the same to anyone else.

It is essential that we all respect the freedom of individuals to believe what they want and to express their beliefs, but that doesn’t mean we have to respect those beliefs themselves. In other words, l respect your right to say whatever crazy shit you want, but you should do the same for me. l would also ask that you respect my right to ask you to leave me the hell alone. Don’t knock on my door and try to teach me your view of the world. Don’t try and push your values in my face and tell me l have to respect them. And don’t try and get our government to adopt your hocus pocus or crazy-ass language into our collective ceremonies.

Militant Atheists?

Militant Atheists