Thursday, December 16, 2010

Tax cuts are officially extended

A good first step to any recovery is to cut taxes. Now that those cuts have been extended, the government should now decrease spending. I would argue that defense and corporate welfare are the biggest things that need to be slashed at the moment. End the wars, pull troops out of our bases around the world, and stop giving subsidies to corporations that you like. That would be a good first step towards a freer market and a better economy.

Government sues BP?

Among other companies, BP was sued by the Justice Department in an effort to recover losses and hold them fully liable for the spill. Since when can the government sue a private business? I'm pretty sure that's not in the Constitution. If someone's livelihood was ruined or they got hurt, then they have the right to sue the company responsible. HOWEVER, the government does not also maintain that right. This is between those companies (BP, et. al.) and those individuals they harmed.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

This is why science shouldn't be a government program

Representative Adrian Smith (R-NE) unleashed a BRILLIANT plan for distributing grants through the NSF. Instead of having scientists review the grant proposals, it would be up to the voters.

I really shouldn't have to elaborate. Giving the electorate the power to choose how grants are distributed is a bad idea. How could the masses possibly know what was good and bad? Who knows what would get funded and what wouldn't (maybe even studies that would be considered pseudoscience because they fit a specific agenda).

This is why the federal government shouldn't control science funding. That should be a private venture, done with private investment and private donations and not through taxes. I mean, that wouldn't necessarily prohibit pseudoscience from being funded, but at least the whole thing could work like a market. The government typically only funds things that have utility, rather than things that are simply interesting or serve to better understand the world around us. Overall, government control of science funding will serve to kill exploratory science.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

You shouldn't have to believe in medicine

If I have a headache, I take a couple of Ibuprofen. You know why? Because whether or not I BELIEVE the medicine works it will still inhibit cyclooxygenase, which through a long cascade of reactions helps to inhibit the pain pathways. I don't need to have faith, it will do this on its own.

In fact, if you have to believe in a medicine for it to work (those funky magnet bracelets, homeopathy, acupuncture, chiropracty, etc.), don't do it. Chances are that it hasn't actually been proven to work under controlled conditions, case in point the treatments I mentioned above. 

So, next time you feel sick, it's best to see a doctor and get medication. No matter how much you think the industry is out to get you, medicine that is evidence based is a helluva lot better than getting your back cracked for a thousand dollars.

Evolution is safe . . . for now.

When Creationism failed to pass constitutional muster, they moved on to Intelligent Design. When Intelligent Design failed in 2005, they moved on to a new tactic: the textbooks. The Louisiana Family Forum, no doubt a conservative Christian group, lobbied to pass the Louisiana Science Education Act. The act states that it's goals are to “promote critical thinking skills, logical analysis, and open and objective discussion of scientific theories.”

Uh oh, I sense trouble. When a conservative Christian group advocates something like "open and objective discussion of scientific theories", you can bet that they want Creationism to be heard. It also doesn't help that the bill focused on "evolution, the origins of life, and global warming". If those aren't some red flags, then I don't know what is.

So, the board was voting on whether or not to purchase a textbook (ironically one written by Ken Miller and Joe Levine, the authors of the biology textbook that sparked the Dover controversy). Thankfully, they chose to purchase Miller/Levine's 6-1. This is good because if Creationist groups win votes like these, then publishers might get the hint that there is a new trend. A little win for evolution goes a long way towards a good scientific education in that sense. It's also good that Texas is having budget issues, because they also passed a measure similar to Louisiana. We don't need them buying massive amounts of textbooks that deny or challenge evolution with a bunch of pseudoscience nonsense.

So, for now, Evolution is safe.

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Oops, update on the food safety bill

I forgot to add this. The bill hit a constitutional snag today. All bills concerning revenue have to originate in the House, and this one did not. So, it'll have to go back to the Senate for another vote sometime.

The outcome is unlikely to change unfortunately.

The food safety law

The FDA Food Safety Modernization Act (S. 510) passed with a surprising majority of 73-25, giving federal regulators even more control of the food you eat. I just don't understand a lot of the legislation that comes from our government. If the government failed so utterly to "protect" us from salmonella and E. coli, why on Earth would you think that they would all of a sudden be able to? I guess we can't make the decision of what to eat ourselves.

So advocates of S. 510 claim that FDA did not have enough power to prevent any of these outbreaks or contain them when they occurred. This is absolutely NOT the case: the FDA has and unfortunately will have for a long time all of the power it needs to do it's job correctly. The problem is not how much control they have, it's that the FDA is just another muddled bureaucracy that cannot possibly expect to manage the ENTIRE U.S. agricultural and pharmaceutical industry (among others, I know). The advocates said the FDA rarely performed checks of food processing plants and other industry sites because they didn't have the authority or resources: bullshit, they had plenty. They are just another government bureaucracy that gets to force us to abide by silly rules and then has the balls to think they can set more of them because they failed to do their job.

You know what? If the food company screwed up and people got sick, then they have the right to sue them. Instead, this culture of regulation we've created insists that every failure of ANY company is a failure of the free market and regulation is needed to prevent further problems. This is a ridiculous thought process and it scares me. You don't get to blame the problems that occurred with the salmonella and E. coli cases on the free market or the lack of regulation, because we've already given everything we have to the god damn FDA. We barely have the legal authority to make sure our own product is safe, we have to rely on the government to do it for us. Let's see how that works out in the end. Oh wait, exhibit A just made itself apparent.

This whole thing is idiotic - the FDA needs to disappear. It's unconstitutional anyways.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Arizona's transplant budget

Mark Price died from Leukemia on November 30th after complications during his chemotherapy treatment. Not too long ago, however, Mark was denied state funding for a bone marrow transplant because the state had to make cuts in its budget. While what happened to Mark is terrible, the issue around the state funding of transplants is important and one I think needs to be examined.

I'll come out and say it. This is what we get when we rely on the state to provide welfare - shotty service. If we had a free market healthcare system, maybe Mark could have had the funding he needed. But we don't, and once again the state failed.

One day we'll get it, I'm sure.

The issue with these genetically altered salmon

Anti-GMO forces are now worried about genetically altered salmon that are pending the approval of the FDA. The thing that I've noticed with the anti-GMO crowd is that their arguments against GMOs often stem around the idea that the environment would be undermined if any of these animals or plants "broke free".

First off, it is in fact likely that if these plants were planted out in the wild or these animals released into a forest they would out-compete other species. But these animals, especially the salmon, are not in a position where they will be released. They live on farms, and as far as I know they can't fly.

Are GMOs safe to eat? Absolutely. Will they ever "escape" and damage the environment? No, and if they did what would be the problem with some better adapted creatures in the wild. Finally, is the fear of GMOs silly? Yes.

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Consumer spending will not improve America

The government, in an attempt to spur economic growth, spent a lot of money trying to get consumers to spend more. A lot of modern politicians follow a brand of Keynesian economics, which argues that monetary policy can calm a recession or depression. It can be said that Keynesian economics advocates intervention to stabilize the economy, and this is very wrong. Spending will not get you out of a recession/depression, and only acts as a jury rig for later failure. This is an idea I've held for a while, but I'll frame it the way I read Daniel Hannan did in a recent post: consumer demand is a consequence, not a cause of economic growth.

Boosting consumer demand through spending in the Keynesian style does not increase GDP, it does not make the economy more productive. If you take a little from the taxpayers and then give it back, you haven't done anything. If you take money from private investors and reinvest it in consumers, you've just reallocated money. If you borrow from foreign countries, you can increase GDP at the expense of future debt. I liked the way the video put it: it would be like taking your retirement fund and using it to go to vegas. Instant gratification, long term problems.

If congress really wants to stimulate economic growth, you need to find a way to increase wage, profit, and other income. You can do that with lower taxes, lower government spending, free trade, and deregulation.

Monday, November 29, 2010

Pay freezes for federal workers

The president announced plans for a 2 year freeze on the pay of federal workers, which supposedly would save 6o billion over ten years. Thankfully, this doesn't apply to military personnel.

While cutting government spending is a good thing, freezing people's pay isn't a good thing. If Wal-Mart froze your pay you would sue, but you don't have those rights when it comes to the federal government. The government should not ever be above you when it comes to these issues. They should not be immune from certain aspects of the law, and this is no doubt a prime example of why.

It's a better example of why our government should have stayed small. If it had, we wouldn't have ever been in this situation where people weren't getting payed what they worked for (keep in mind that there are a LOT of people working for the federal government). The government doesn't need the thousands of employees that it currently pays for and they are hiring more and more and more (on the taxpayer's dime). Unfortunately, because the minds of modern politicians is on expanding government this is unlikely to be a trend that ends soon.

More on Wikileaks

Both John McCain and Sarah Palin have been very vocal in criticizing the documents leaked by the website, calling them "treasonous" and "harmful". What's harmful and treasonous is keeping information from the American people, not what Wikileaks did.

First off, there should be absolutely NO state secrets, and the federal government should never be large enough that it would even need to keep secrets. If our government had remained Constitutionally limited, like it was supposed to be, then this wouldn't be an issue.

Secondly, if our government had honestly been pursuing a non-interventionist foreign policy then we wouldn't have to worry about this at all. We wouldn't need ambassadors in all these countries, and we wouldn't need to be constantly monitoring and forming opinions of foreign dignitaries. If we were non-interventionist, it wouldn't matter because we would still trade with them.

If these leaks are embarrassing for the government, then let them be embarrassed. It will demonstrate that they have way overstepped their bounds when it comes to foreign policy.

Saturday, November 27, 2010


If you make a claim, but cannot demonstrate that claim to be true, then you have to accept it on faith. Faith is defined as belief without evidence, or in some cases, in the face of evidence. It is belief when you don't really have a reason to do so, so why should you place faith in anything?

All religions make claims that are ultimately untestable; that can only be taken on faith and faith alone. If none of those things can be proven, why believe them? Why is the desire to have faith so strong? Also, what makes your brand of faith better than others? What makes Christian faith better than Buddhist faith or Scientologist faith?

If you cannot demonstrate your claim through empirical evidence, then I will not cannot accept that claim as truth. If I were to take your claim on faith though, honestly what is the point? Everyone is making claims that can only be justified through faith, and they are all competing with each other. What is really happening is that you have large groups of people that are all making untestable claims, fighting over whose faith is best and expecting you to believe that one faith is better then the other. If they are all untestable, which they are, there is no way that any of them could contain truth. They are all ridiculous and therefore faith in any of them is POINTLESS.

Friday, November 26, 2010


Obama warned on Friday that the WikiLeaks website leaks will endanger "lives and interests", after someone posted information that detailed how the US goes about relations with foreign countries. The government is worried about the erosion of trust in the US by its allies because they apparently contain sensitive information.

In short, this is stupid because the government should not be keeping secrets. In fact, why should our government need to be keeping secrets? If they were limited to the Constitution, then they wouldn't have to keep a whole lot of secrets. They brought this on themselves, and I hope that WikiLeaks keeps getting this information. If it damages our reputation, who gives a damn? Why were we doing it in the first place?

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

The whole North Korea business

So yesterday North Korea shelled the small island of Yeonpyeong, South Korea, killing 2 and injuring 20 (4 were civilians). In response, President Obama stated that he would stand "shoulder to shoulder" with South Korea, and dispatched groups to perform training drills with the South Korean army. I will explain to you why assisting the South Koreans is a bad idea, and why there will not be a World War III due to this assault.

The United States does not have any business screwing around with treaties and alliances, as well as the defense of foreign nations. We need something that I've discussed in an earlier post, that is, we need to pursue a policy of non-interventionism. Non-interventionism is not the same as isolationism, so don't get the two confused. I can go over the difference some other time.

In short, the United States needs to sever all current alliances (UN, NATO, NAFTA, etc.) and remove troops from foreign countries so that they can play a defensive, not offensive role. With no alliances, there can be no enemies, so the US could open trade to any country in the world; North Korea is no exception. If they want to trade with us, they can. If they don't want to, they don't have to. History is shown however that trade brings peace, so that might be the best course of action on behalf of the North Koreans (whose GDP is only 28-40 billion compared to our 14 trillion). It could be said that the same is happening in China. We don't attempt to invade China, instead we maintain relations and trade with them. Lo and behold, they are slowly becoming more capitalistic and friendly with us. Remember, the Soviet Union did not fall because we attacked it. It fell because communism is doomed to fail. Eventually, communism in North Korea will fail on its own - we don't need to force it by invading, we only need to trade.

South Korea can defend itself if need be. Their GDP is nearly 100 times that of North Korea's, and can definitely field an effective military if need be. If North Korea attacks the South, then the South has the right to retaliate. The US on the other hand does not have the right to assault the North, the fight between the two is none of our business.

So, China and North Korea are closely allied. Is it possible that a war between the North and South could draw all of this big world powers (US, China, Russia, Europe) into a massive war? I don't think it's likely. First off, China is not going to attack its largest trade partner; what would be the point? Secondly, North Korea has no air force or navy to attack us with. Hell, they can't even feed their own people.

What we should worry about is the domino effect. That is, if North and South Korea go to war, everyone they are allied with is obligated to follow suit. This can create a lot of problems, unless we remove alliances. Then we wouldn't have to worry about it.

Unfortunately, the US is going to get dragged into this conflict further because there is no one making sensible foreign policy decisions in our government. Go America!

Please get a flu shot

For the last fifteen years or so, there has been a hysteria surrounding what was purported to be a causal link between vaccinations and an increase in new autism diagnoses. The study was widely discredited by the scientific community, and in fact was retracted from the British medical journal The Lancet due to the ethical violations made by its author. Unfortunately, the idea still took hold among a lot of people and nowadays there are huge groups of people who refuse to get vaccines or vaccinate their children. This is a serious problem, and in the UK there was a sharp drop in the number of vaccines given and an increase in the number of cases of mumps and measles (there were even a few deaths).

A lot of the controversy centered around the preservative thimerosal, an organic compound that contains a single mercury atom. Mercury, in some studies, has been shown to cause some mental disorders. However, those studies were done with metal mercury, not organomercury, and so you can't claim a link between organomercury and mental disorder. Not only that, the amount of mercury that was in a vaccine (bonded in the thimerosal) is so little that if you added up the entire amount of mercury ingested through vaccines in your entire lifetime, it would be less than what's in a can of tuna.

As a precaution in 1997, thimerosal was removed from vaccines. Even though it wasn't actually proven that thimerosal could cause problems they still removed it, so to claim that there is any mercury at all in contemporary vaccines is foolish.

If you don't want to get a vaccine, fine, you are leaving yourself more vulnerable to the sickness. While this is unlikely to cause any serious issues in a person of sufficient age and health (they're more just annoying), not vaccinating children or the elderly can potentially cause death (especially if they already have a lower immune function). If you don't want to get the vaccine, then at least vaccinate your small children.

This brings up the important concept of herd immunity. The more people in a population that are immune to a specific disease, the less likely that disease is to spread. The immunized people act as a barrier to those who are not immunized. By not being immunized, you actually pose a threat to those around you because vaccines are not perfect.

So, moral of the story. Get a vaccine if you have the opportunity, and make sure your children get it.

Sunday, November 21, 2010


So, after receiving some propaganda at the Ron Paul speech, I decided to read through one of the magazines. It was called Republic Magazine, and in it was an ad for the International Academy of Lymphology. What is Lymphology, you might ask? It's nothing, it doesn't exist.

However, they claim that you can free yourself from medical experimentation by learning how God created your body. Apparently, according to the ad, inflammation and blocked circulation is the cause of pain, cancer, heart disease, diabetes, and ALL other crippling diseases (what qualifies as a crippling disease?). I wish I could go into specifically why that is all nonsense, but I'm afraid its late and it would be too much for me to sift through. Just know that inflammation of your blood vessels does not cause anything on that list, except for maybe some slight pain. If you happen to have blocked circulation, you need to go to a hospital because you will die otherwise.

I mean, seriously? Lymphology? That's up the alley of reflexology or chiropracty. Just a straight kick in the balls to science.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Meeting Ron Paul

I went to listen to a speech at ASU today by Dr. Ron Paul, a physician and congressman from Texas. I wasn't really surprised by the number of people, but I was surprised about one thing and I think that it is one thing that separates libertarians from Tea Party conservatives and other political groups: there weren't any crazies. No nazi signs, no "obamacare is for morans" signs, and things of the like. It was a calm crowd, who would clap politely when Dr. Paul said something they liked and weren't disruptive or hateful. Every now and then someone would shout "end the Fed!", and I think that made him smile, haha.

There was one heckler, who I assumed by the communist t-shirt he was wearing wasn't there for the speech, but whatever.

Overall, I was impressed with the speech. I've listened to a speech he gave a while back on YouTube, but it was much different in person. You could audibly hear the frustration in his voice. He was not angry, and he was not blaming anyone, but you could tell that he was upset about the direction this country has taken in the last 100 years or so. I liked that about him.

For the most part, I agree with Dr. Paul. I want to end the Fed, withdraw ALL troops from abroad, restore a currency standard, end the drug war, etc. I don't agree with him on abortion, but you can't expect to agree with everyone I suppose.

I'm not a Republican, and never will be, but I would vote for him; hopefully he'll run for president again in 2012.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

The Argument from First Cause

The Argument from First Cause is an argument for the existence of God. It has been used as far back as Plato, but was made most famous by Thomas Aquinas. The argument goes something like this:
  1. Everything has a cause
  2. Nothing is its own cause
  3. A causal loop cannot be infinte
  4. Therefore, there must have been a first cause
  5. The first cause is God
To explain why this does not prove the existence of God, I need to explain a few things about a philosophical concept called Occam's Razor. This principle tells us that if we have multiple explanations for a phenomenon that all explain the phenomenon, then the simplest argument is the one that is most likely correct. For an argument to be simple, it needs to not rely on unnecessary assumptions about the phenomenon at hand. For example, I could say that either a giant dolphin guides the Earth around the Sun or the Earth simply rotates around it. Both adequately explain the fact that the Earth moves around the sun, but the dolphin guiding the Earth is an unnecessary assumption.

So, why doesn't the first cause argument prove God's existence? If we examine the argument, the biggest thing that comes to mind is an infinite regression.

If everything has a cause, then so does God. If God has a cause, then that cause would have to have a cause, and so on and so forth. What you would end up with is an infinite regress that does not mean anything.

What if God was the uncaused first cause? If we make that leap, then the principle of Occam's Razor comes into play. Why can't nature be the uncaused first cause? Why make that leap to God when a much simpler explanation exists, one that doesn't rely on unnecessary assumptions about the universe. Ultimately, if you want to claim God as the first cause you will eventually have to introduce an uncaused first cause, and to claim God as the uncaused first cause is an unnecessary assumption.

So, now I'll ask the question. Why does the first cause have to be a who? And more importantly, why does it have to be a God, or some god-like being. Why couldn't the first cause be a what, an event, or a happening. We have a good explanation for the beginning of the universe called the Big Bang theory (which, by the way, is not the greatest name for the theory).

I'll go ahead and take another step ahead. The uncaused first cause CANNOT be a being. For a being to be the uncaused first cause it would have to exist outside of space and time (many people claim god does). The problem is, as soon as you remove time, you get rid of the concept of causality. A comes before B, therefore A causes B (note, it's a logical fallacy, but it's just an example). Cause must come before effect, and if a being has to cognitively make the decision to create the universe that would require that being to have some concept of time, which creates a paradox (because earlier it was claimed that this being exists outside of space and time). However, if this event was random, then it wouldn't depend on time, and therefore could be possible. While we don't know perfectly where the universe came from, the Big Bang theory is a good answer that doesn't create a paradox.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Prop 203 turnaround

I may have spoken too soon when I said that Arizona Prop 203 failed. It turns out, by only 4,400 votes or so, it passed with 50.1% of the vote. This is a good first step towards the ending of the drug war.

Hopefully soon we will have measures to legalize it entirely, and maybe in 2012 California will be the first to do it in the US. Man, that would be a good day.

Why America needs non-interventionism

President Obama made a trip to Seoul during his trip to Asia with the hope of procuring a free trade agreement between our two nations. Firstly, he failed miserably. Secondly, a few countries got butthurt over the potential deal, most notable Britain, China, and Germany. They all claim that we need to reign in spending over here and deal with our deficit before we go trying to make these kinds of agreements and stimulate the economy.

As much as they are right, it's none of their business. I don't agree with free-trade agreements at all; in fact, all agreements between nations are unnecessary and dangerous. However, those countries attacks on our policy are an example of why interventionism isn't the best solution.

Firstly, free trade agreements are, in the words of Senator Paul, "managed trade". They don't actually mean free trade, they just mean that the government has more control over trade to whatever country (and vice-versa). Real free trade doesn't require a treaty, it just requires the government to step back.

Secondly, America should be promoting a non-interventionist foreign policy. This means that we would remove our troops from all areas abroad, end all current treaties we are part of, and avoid any entangling alliances in the future. Remember, if you are allies with one person you are enemies with someone else, but if you are allies with no one then no one is your enemy (on the world stage). Granted, that statement only applies if the US achieves one other goal: real free trade. Free trade and economic interdependence are the only ways the achieve peace and stability between nations. The British and the French fought for hundreds of years until they started implementing free trade. Now they still hate each other, but they're not expressing it with a bayonet.

When countries trade with one another and are dependent on each other they will not fight each other, UNLESS one of the countries imposes regulations or starts interfering in their affairs. This is exactly what America has done, and is the reason why so many countries can't stand us. If we ended all alliances, got our troops out (remember, we still pay to defend places like Germany), and traded with everyone, we wouldn't be in this foreign policy mess that we are in now.

So, avoid the free trade agreements as well as conflicting alliances. As much as America needs to do it (oh, and dear god we do), other countries need to as well. Then we'd all be better off.

Friday, November 12, 2010

San Fransisco bans the Happy Meal toy

San Fransisco just recently banned the inclusion of toys with kid's meals at fast food restaurants, in hopes that it will deter young children from wanting the product. Instead, what we get is a great example of government force and its intrusion on the decisions that should be made by private citizens.

Fast food is unhealthy and you know what? Who gives a damn? If you don't want it, don't buy it. If your kids want it, you don't have to buy it for them. No amount of advertising or free plastic crap can change your ability to make that decision. Apparently, the government thought that they should run in and save the day from those poor parents.

Let me tell you something. Kids don't buy happy meals, adults do (for the kids). Getting rid of the toys might get rid of some of the nagging, but if the kid wants a happy meal chances are he's going to get one, toy or not.

Or, let's just say that now kids don't want happy meals at all. Now the parents, who are making the decision to eat out, will just have to get them a combo meal. Nothing has been solved with this ban, and it probably never will.

New ridiculous cigarette warnings

The federal government just recently released 36 proposed warning labels to be placed on cigarette packages. They show pictures of corpses, a mother blowing smoke on her baby, and a person dying in a hospital with taglines like "Cigarettes cause fatal lung disease", "cigarettes cause cancer", and "cigarettes are addictive". Talk about propaganda.

This begs the question: is it the governments job to engineer your behavior? To tell you what is right and wrong to put in your body? Of course it isn't, and that's what makes these warning labels ridiculous. Yes, smoking can increase the risk for lung cancer, as well as a host of other diseases. The knowledge of those effects has caused a great decline in smoking and you know what? That's all it needed. We don't need more taxes, and these warning labels that are nothing more than outright propaganda. Our solution to the problem of smoking is education, not coercion.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

The Circle of Government Welfare and Intervention

What is to be done with the poor? How do we help all of those people who fall through the cracks? All those people who don't make enough money to get by, the homeless, the single parents, and the widows. How do we help them?

Many people would answer that the government is responsible for the welfare of these people. They believe that the only way these people can stop slipping through the cracks is if the government helps them. Is this the right way to go about doing it? Unfortunately, it's not.

People will always fall through the cracks, there is no way around it. Adding government welfare programs and things of the sort is not going to make it any better, and it just goes around in a circle. You give them welfare, people are still poor, you give them more welfare, people are still poor, and so on and so forth.

The same cyclical actions apply to a lot of things regarding government intervention. Free market goes a little wrong, government feels it needs to regulate, something goes wrong again, blame the free market, regulate, and so on and so forth. In order to break the cycle, you have to stop regulating and let the market work. Every now and then the market will panic, it may even go into a recession, but it will correct itself a lot quicker than a government can.

Monday, November 8, 2010

Why Prop 19 and 203 should have passed

The defeat of Prop 19 and Prop 203 in California and Arizona respectively was a big upset to people like me who strongly believe in the legalization of the plant.

In Arizona, similar measures have been on the ballot 4 times in the last couple of decades. In 1996, a measure approving the use of medical marijuana was passed with %65.4 of the vote, but the state legislature prevented it from becoming law. In 1998, a ballot proposition that would have made it was rejected that would have required congress/FDA to restrict medical marijuana to those who were prescribed it. In 2002, voters rejected yet another proposition to legalize small amounts of marijuana and and give it freely to patients with certain diseases. Finally, prop 203 would have made it legal for seriously ill patients to freely use marijuana with a prescription.

In California, prop 19 would have made it legal to possess marijuana for recreational use, including the growing and selling of the plant.

Here's why marijuana should be legalized entirely:
  1. Unlike the hard drugs, and even alcohol and tobacco, there has never been a single death in history that was caused by the smoking of marijuana (by itself). Delta 9-tetrahydrocannabinol (d9-THC) is simply not toxic enough to kill a human being, in any possible concentration (a concentration that could actually be achieved by smoking it).
  2. Marijuana does not increase the chance of lung cancer. There are some carcinogens in the smoke, but because marijuana users typically smoke MUCH less often then tobacco smokers, they inhale much less smoke over time. There no connection between the actual marijuana and lung cancer: that is simply the property of smoke. It does paralyze the cilia in the mucociliary escalator, giving an effect similar to smokers cough. Once again, that is caused by the fact that you are inhaling burning plant matter, and is not a property of d9-THC. It has also been observed that marijuana does not cause the obstruction of airways in the lungs, indicating that it is not a factor in emphysema.
  3. Unlike alcohol, marijuana does not cause brain damage; there has never been a study that suggests otherwise. Going along with this, there is also no evidence that shows marijuana causing mental illness, amotivational disorders, or impairing memory and cognitive function.
  4. Marijuana is not addictive, nor is it dependency forming. Users who smoke marijuana for long periods of time and then stop do not experience the same withdrawal symptoms that, say, smokers or alcoholics do.
  5. Marijuana is not a gateway drug, much like milk is not a gateway drink to alcohol. What causes people to move up to harder drugs for the most part is the blending of the hard and soft drug markets that only exists because of prohibition.
  6. Marijuana does not cause crime. The smoking of it does not lead people to commit more crimes under its influence. Studies done with marijuana show that d9-THC does not increase aggression, but rather calms the user. Crime associated with marijuana, or any drug for that matter, is the result of its illegality and the high prices associated with it. People steal because they need money because drugs are expensive, and so on.
  7. Marijuana does have some medicinal value. It can be used to alleviate pain, nausea, loss of appetite, muscle spasticity (in the case of multiple sclerosis), intraocular pressure (in the cause of glaucoma), and many others. It is not capable of, however, treating any disease. You will not cure MS or glaucoma with it, but you can alleviate symptoms. Pure d9-THC has been shown in studies to produce unwanted psychoactive effects, which is why it is better if the marijuana is smoked rather than taken in pill form.
  8. Marijuana does not impair the immune system
  9. Marijuana does not cause birth defects
  10. You cannot overdose on d9-THC
  11. While the number of hospital incidents involving marijuana are increasing, it is not due to the properties of marijuana. If a person admitted to a hospital claims to have used marijuana, that is noted whether or not it contributed to the condition, accounting for the increase.
  12. Marijuana is not a major cause of roadway accidents. In high doses, marijuana can impair motor function. However, unlike alcohol, which makes people riskier drivers, studies have shown that marijuana users tend to be more paranoid and slow while driving due to the effects of the drug. This sets the stage for the stereotypical marijuana user driving under 10 mph on the freeway. In part, that stereotype is true.
  13. If taxed correctly, marijuana could provide a serious boost to states with budget problems. California, for example, was projected to make nearly 1.3 billion dollars a year through the taxation of marijuana.
  14. Hemp is extremely durable. It grows very quickly, much like bamboo, and has a wide variety of industrial uses. It can be used to make clothes, paper, etc. It is also cheaper, and requires less land than tree farms because the plant grows much quicker than a tree.
So, what about the effects of having it illegal?
  1. Prohibition creates black markets that are free of a regulatory system (a private one, according to my beliefs). This means a few things. Children, especially teenagers, have much more access to the drug because drug dealers do not card.
  2. Because there is no regulatory framework, the only way to settle disputes is through violence. If the substance is illegal, you can't sue them if you get ripped off. You can, however, shoot them.
  3. Prohibition artificially inflates the value of marijuana, creating huge profits for the people who own the production of it (usually gangs). The potential for profit is so high that people are willing to fight for control of territory, etc. This is the biggest reason for the existence of the big drug cartels in south america.
  4. Prohibition prevents many people who have been convicted for simple possession from going to college because they can't get federal student aid. A person convicted of homicide, however, can.
  5. The massive amount of drug-related arrests has caused overpopulation in the prison system, which means that some criminals get expedited sentences. It also means that the government has to resort to private prisons, who lobby for longer sentencing for simpler crimes. Longer sentencing = more money.
  6. The war on drugs costs the federal government 40 billion tax dollars.
The last argument is a moral argument. Marijuana is a plant, and in a free society you should have the ability to make your own decision as to what substances enter your body. If you pose a legitimate threat to society because of your actions, i.e. you drink or smoke marijuana and drive, then government has the right to step in and arrest you. Until then, the smoking of marijuana harms no one and gives no reason to be prohibited. It's hard to cut through the rhetoric, but once you do it becomes amazingly clear that marijuana prohibition is a colossal failure.

Remember 1920. History repeats itself.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Chance fail

Anti-evolutionists often come up with ridiculous numbers, representing what they call the "chance" of species occurring as they appear now. These are somewhere in the range of 1/10^147 chance of arranging all of the genes in the correct order, blah blah blah. Fortunately for those of us who think rationally, this is complete nonsense.

Take this for example. The following number set represents a perfect system:

1 2 9 8 7 1 6 9 0 2

But, I have only the following system:

5 0 8 9 3 5 0 5 6 5

Not a single one of those numbers matches, but what if I was to naturally select for them. Let's say the string mutated.

1 0 8 9 3 5 2 5 6 5

The 1 in the beginning and the 2 four from the end have mutated. One matches and works well for me, but the 2 doesn't. So, I'd wait for the system to mutate again, getting rid of those numbers that don't match and keeping the ones that do. In 21 generations of selection and mutation, I will have achieved the perfect system I was looking for, through the basic mechanisms of evolution (I evolved the string through mutation and natural selection).

Now, that in no way proves the legitimacy of evolution, but it is similar to how evolution works. Pieces that don't work get removed, while pieces that do stay. The error many creationists make when they calculate the probability of the occurrence of evolution is that they calculate the chance of assembling life as it appears now. Of course, life did not just begin as it appears now (ironically, those absurd probabilities are similar to what you would get if life spontaneously generated, i.e. creation). Life began simple, as a string of maybe 10 letters to make an analogy. Over time, more numbers get added (or, possibly, deleted) to that string as they reproduce. The sequences that work will live on, while those that don't will die. This makes for a much simpler process that makes those intensely high probability calculations worthless.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Should companies patent genes?

The Bioethics club here at ASU posed this question during one of their meetings I guess, and placed flyers around the school advertising it. Since I couldn't go to the meeting, I thought I'd offer my two cents here.

No one should be able to patent anything that occurs in nature. Genes that are found in the body occur in nature, and therefore should not be patentable. Just because you isolated the gene doesn't mean that you own it as your intellectual property. Imagine if someone tried to patent a plant they just found in the jungle. It would be as silly as that.

However, if the gene was synthetic then it could be patented, provided it doesn't occur freely in nature. This would mean that the government would actually have to listen to scientists, which rarely happens.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Libertarians care . . . really!

Libertarians and conservatives (note: the two are NOT the same) often get lumped into the category of "uncaring", meaning, because we don't believe the government should be providing welfare or healthcare that we don't care about those people who need it. It offends me to hear someone tell me that I don't care about people. In fact, it's quite the opposite! I care a lot! Probably more than most liberals (because I care about big business too).

Liberals, conservatives, and libertarians do not disagree that there are issues. The disagreement comes from how to solve the issues. Liberals tend to favor the use of government to solve these issues, while conservatives and libertarians tend to favor society's ability to fix itself. We don't disagree that there are too many poor and unemployed people. We disagree on how to make them rich and employed.

Not that I dislike liberals, I appreciate all viewpoints, but this ad hominem argument tends to mostly come from the left. Let me tell you, it works very well. When we say the government shouldn't do anything about poverty, it works well in the favor of the liberal to say that we don't care and that they do; voters respond to that. Nevertheless, it's wrong (and probably a logical fallacy) to say so.

I promise, we really do care.

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Why minimum wage hurts

Minimum wage is a touchy subject. It's an institution as old as time (or, at least the 30's), and is one of those subjects where if you disagree with it you're automatically put into the category of "uncaring" (as many libertarians/conservatives are). So, not caring about being uncaring, here are my three beefs with minimum wage:
  1. Increased business costs
  2. Prevents unskilled, young, old from getting jobs
  3. Decreases productivity in individuals
Firstly, minimum wage increases business costs. As the minimum wage increases, so do the costs that come with hiring and keeping employees on the payroll. What usually comes from this is one of two things: the companies won't hire (which I'll discuss later), or they will severely limit the number of hours worked and attempt to run the business with as few people as they can. Neither of those things are good, and end up costing the business more in lost productivity and efficiency, as well as costing us jobs.

Secondly, minimum wage discourages companies from hiring the unskilled, young, and elderly. If we look specifically at teenagers right now, a lot of the time the labor that they perform is not necessarily worth minimum wage. This gives companies an incentive not to hire workers in our age group because they are expensive (hence the above average unemployment for teenagers). If we look at unskilled workers, especially grunt laborers in the construction or landscaping industry, we also see a lot of unemployment. Companies who require a lot of unskilled labor can't afford to pay them all minimum wage, so they make due with a lighter workforce. That can lead to the same issues as increased business costs: lost productivity and efficiency. Why should construction projects on our streets take years?

Lastly, we see a decrease in the productivity of individuals (as well as the business as a whole). Workers who are working with the skills of a $4.50/hour worker will not work at the $7.25/hour level just because you pay him that much. The person is expecting that pay, and thus doesn't have to work for it. Inversely, this also says to the employer that if you don't work at the $7.25/hour level then you don't deserve the job, and they simply won't hire you. Either situation is bad.

Labor is a commodity, like food and water. It has a price (wages), that are based on the laws of supply and demand (for that job), as well as skill level and productivity. It should return to this model, because right now we've enacted a price floor that causes a lot of problems. If we let the job market run naturally, then more workers will be able to get jobs, and be incentivised to increase productivity.

That being said, minimum wage is hard to get rid of. If we do it now, what will happen is that the price of labor will fall to its natural, uninflated value. The problem occurs when you take into consideration the overall inflation of the dollar. The value of labor will fall (because it is propped up artificially), but the price of goods and services, as well as living expenses, will not. So, the only way to gracefully remove minimum wage and NOT screw everyone over is to deflate the dollar. There are a few of ways to do this.
  1. Go back to the gold standard
  2. Get rid of centralized banking
  3. Deregulate banking industry, let big banks die out
  4. Institute a free-banking model
Going back to the gold standard would cause our dollar to deflate, making the difference between overall inflation and wages much less. That would soften the blow of removing the price floor.

Getting rid of centralized banking would make it so that the government can not artificially inflate or deflate the currency when it deems it necessary, as well as prevent all of the other problems associated with central banking (the sort of nepotism we see between the Fed and big banks). This would make it so the market determines the value of the currency, and would most likely cause it to deflate.

Deregulating the banking industry and letting big banks die out makes it so that our money is more secure. The big banks who invest in so many industries and markets are at a much greater risk of failing than your local credit union. Local banks, like credit unions, are also MUCH better for local economies, because your money is being invested locally (common sense).

I've kind of already mentioned the free banking model. This just means that the banks would issue their own banknotes, and that the amount of banknotes would be subject to market forces (i.e. supply and demand). This would stabilize the price of the dollar (we've done it in the past, c. 1830's).

So, there you go. Also, read this

Stop California!

California has sent off its argument to the Supreme Court, in an attempt to ban the sale of violent video games to minors. Let me break down why this is bullshit.

One: there is no link between violent video games and violent behavior, period. There has NEVER been a study that has shown causation or even a correlation between the two.

Two: video games are an art. Becuase of this, they are ABSOLUTELY protected by the first amendment, and can't be banned to anyone.

Three: it is not the job of the government to protect kids. It is the job of the PARENTS to understand the rating systems and make INTELLIGENT DECISIONS. The ESRB is a great system of self regulation (that darn free market working again), and provides all of the information the parents need.

Four: if minors want video games, banned or not, they will get them. This argument also applies to porn, gambling, drugs, rated R movies, etc.

There you go. You can't just regulate everything you don't like.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Is government fast enough?

President Obama recently gave an interview with The Daily Show host Jon Stewart. Overall, I thought the interview was very well done (I especially enjoyed it when Jon called the President "dude"). However, during the show, Jon brought up a point that I see as the fundamental problem with most political positions. He asked the question of the president, "is the government fast enough?".

Is it? Can the government possibly be expected to be able to keep up with a dynamic society? No, and it never will. Government is a bureaucracy, it is both cynically and realistically slow. In order for government to function efficiently, it has to slow down the economy that it governs. The more rules and red tape, the worse off we are (and this has become increasingly evident, historically).

By the time a government got around to legislating and regulating something, new issues, technologies, and economic factors have probably arisen (that is how fast our society changes). All of a sudden, those rules aren't entirely compatible with these new things, and they slow progress down.

What if, on the other hand, we could develop a system that can cope with the changing landscape; do it better and faster (also, harder and stronger). The awesome thing is, this system already exists: the free market. Government is trying to regulate a market that is always changing. If we left the market alone, it could change at any speed, any time, and in any direction within reasonable bounds (not forced bounds). If a market goes down a bad path, it gets selected for extinction (my one biology reference) and disappears. The government can't do that; instead, it attempts to jury-rig every snag the market comes upon. The problem with a jury-rig? It's bound to break and become worse than what you attempted to fix in the first place.

It's a cycle, really. The more you jury-rig, the more stuff breaks. You then have to jury-rig it again, only to have it break further down, and so on and so forth. It will eventually reach an asymptote; a point where the government no long has the capacity or speed to solve the problem. A point where things will break down.

On the other hand, true free market capitalism doesn't jury-rig problems: it fixes them.

Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Limewire users of the world, unite!

A federal judge in Manhattan has ordered Limewire to cease functionality of its software (and network) after the RIAA sued for copyright infringement. Limewire is notorious for being a hub of P2P media sharing, and is the latest in a series of RIAA lawsuits against similar companies.

This is ridiculous, and proves even more to me something that I've always thought: current copyright law is RETARDED.

Oh wait, you say, isn't it good to protect people's intellectual property? Sure it is, but the current system has so many flaws and vague rules that you can sue anyone for anything under it. Copyright is a freedom reducer, and is simply a tool that allows copyright holders to become frivolous with their lawsuits.

To change this, the rules regarding fair trade need to be broadened and clearly defined. It should be fair use to use intellectual property as long as:

1. The property is not being used for commercial purposes (i. e. to make money)
2. The property is not being claimed as one's own

That's pretty much all you need. If you're not making money off of it and not claiming it as your own, you shouldn't be violating copyright. Sharing files, over a P2P network, would be counted as fair use under these rules.

So this begs the question: does P2P sharing really cause millions of dollars in lost profits for those record companies? Absolutely not, and no survey of the music industry has EVER shown a decrease in profits after P2P sharing became widespread. In fact, there may even be a NEGATIVE correlation; recording companies may be making even more money nowadays!

P2P sharing serves the portion of music buyers who probably won't buy the music anyways. If those people aren't going to buy the music in the first place, and therefore couldn't possibly account for a LOSS in profit (because they wouldn't be giving any PROFIT anyways). It could also be argued that P2P sharing encourages people to buy more physical music because they are exposed to a greater range of musicians.

Nonetheless, don't listen to the dumbass RIAA when they whine and cry about losing millions of dollars; it's just BS. Share away, my friends!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Darwinism? Wrong!

People who accept evolution are often called "evolutionists", or "Darwinists". In actuality, both of these terms are false. The term evolutionist doesn't make any more sense than calling someone who accepted the theory of gravitation a "gravityist". Darwinism, however, is a little more deceiving. It would make sense to call someone a Darwinist because it is his theory of evolution.

Wrong. First off, you don't get a name for every different piece of scientific data you accept or reject. Secondly, Darwin's theory of evolution is barely used in modern biology, rather, it is the springboard that modern evolutionary theory did a back flip off of.

The modern theory of evolution is called "modern evolutionary synthesis". This theory is the culmination of our knowledge of evolution. It combines Darwin's theory of evolution (that species evolved through natural selection on heritable traits) with the rest of our understanding of biology (allele frequency, genetic drift, mutations, etc.)

So, if you're going to mock us, get it right. We're modern evolutionary synthesisists, not Darwinists!

What do new Atheists actually believe?

Michael Egnor, a neurosurgeon and intelligent design advocate has issued this challenge to Atheists. Here are my answers to the questions he asks.

1. Why is there anything?

The problem with this question is that it assumes there is an reason for the existence of "anything". The evidence we have, to the contrary, seems to give rise to the idea that existence may have simply been a big cosmic accident. Why does everything have to have a reason?

2. What caused the universe?

Once again, we've come across the assumption that something caused the universe, when in reality it may have simply just happened. Even if there was a cause, we couldn't test it (or prove it), so therefore you couldn't accept that the universe has a "cause".

The best explanation for how the universe actually came into being that we have is what is colloquially known as Big Bang theory (note: the term Big Bang is a misnomer, and was actually given to the theory by a detractor). We can't know a cause, but we can know a how.

3. Why is there regularity (law) in the universe?

Once again, note the why.

Cynically, I would argue otherwise (that there is nothing regular about the universe, just compare relativity to quantum mechanics). If he's asking why we have deduced various laws of nature, then its because those laws of nature are just simple generalizations about a natural process. There is regularity because nature tends to act in the same ways every time. Solids displace their own weight in water, electrons orbit atoms in shells, nature selects for the most adaptive species; these are things that happen in nature not for any specific reason (if there was one, there would be no way to find it), but because it just happens.

4. Of the Four Causes in nature proposed by Aristotle (material, formal, efficient, and final), which of them are real? Do final causes exist?

The only causes that are observable or measurable are the material and formal cause. The other two are non-scientific philosophical ideas in that they postulate that nature has purpose, or principles guiding its purpose. As I've said before, they are not testable and therefore cannot be shown to exist. So, only the material and formal cause are real, and no, final causes do not exist.

5. Why do we have subjective experience, and not merely objective existence?

Because we can only perceive what our brains interpret. There is no way in nature to have an "objective existence". But, this does not mean that we cannot objectively determine the universe around us. Science lets us do that.

6. Why is the human mind intentional, in the technical philosophical sense of aboutness, which is the referral to something besides itself? How can mental states be about something?

I don't even think that's a question.

7. Does Moral Law exist in itself, or is it an artifact of nature (natural selection, etc.)

There's no such thing as "moral law" because morals are subjective, and depend on circumstance. However, current evolutionary understanding indicates that "morals" (i. e., a general sense of right and wrong) developed naturally because they might allow for greater group survival. In that sense, morals are in fact an artifact of nature.

8. Why is there evil?

Define evil. Is it evil to kill someone? Maybe, is it evil to kill someone in self defense? I wouldn't think so. Evil, like morality, is extremely subjective. To ask why there is evil, we would need a good definition of evil.

So, lets just say for argument that evil is just the act of doing bad things: killing, stealing, raping, mortgage fraud, etc. Those behaviors develop naturally. Some behaviors are good, some are bad. The bad ones tend to get weeded out because of natural selection, but they may persist. It could be said that evil is just evolutionary psychology gone wrong.