Traitors

Lindsey Graham – S.C.
John Barrasso – Wyo.
Marsha Blackburn – Tenn.
Roy Blunt – Mo.
John Boozman – Ark.
Mike Braun – Ind.
John Cornyn – Texas
Tom Cotton – Ark.
Kevin Cramer – N.D.
Michael D. Crapo – Idaho
Ted Cruz – Texas
Steve Daines – Mont.
Joni Ernst – Iowa
Deb Fischer – Neb.
Charles E. Grassley – Iowa
Bill Hagerty – Tenn.
Josh Hawley – Mo.
John Hoeven – N.D.
Cindy Hyde-Smith – Miss.
James M. Inhofe – Okla.
Ron Johnson – Wis.
John Kennedy – La.
James Lankford – Okla.
Mike Lee – Utah
Cynthia Lummis – Wyo.
Roger Marshall – Kan.
Mitch McConnell – Ky.
Shelley Moore Capito – W.Va.
Jerry Moran – Kan.
Rand Paul – Ky.
Rob Portman – Ohio
Jim Risch – Idaho
Mike Rounds – S.D.
Marco Rubio – Fla.
Rick Scott – Fla.
Tim Scott – S.C.
Richard C. Shelby – Ala.
Dan Sullivan – Alaska
John Thune – S.D.
Thom Tillis – N.C.
Tommy Tuberville – Ala.
Roger Wicker -Miss.
Todd Young – Ind.

A Return to Idolatry

Idolatry is the worship of an idol or cult image, being a physical image, such as a statue, or a person in place of God.”

Everyone knows a true Trump sycophant – a MAGA hat wearing, coronavirus denying, misinformation spreading type, unable to see any wrong in the man. With very few exceptions, these are also members of one Christian faith or another.

It seems to me that Christians have to abandon their values in order to embrace Donald Trump. Don’t take my word for it, though. Google ‘Christian Values List’ and you get THIS as the top result.

The #1 item on the list is ‘Worship Only God’. Let’s leave that for now and come back to it. How does Trump fare with the rest?

#2 Be Kind to All People Um…no.

#3 Be Humble No again.

#4 Be Honest Not even close.

#5 Live a Moral Life No.

#6 Be Generous with Time and Money You can give him some points here for donating his salary as president to charity. It does seem a bit hollow when he has taken in several times that in profits just by taking the presidential entourage to his own properties. Not to mention his tax plan benefitting himself enourmously. I think it’s fair to call him a camel in the eye of the needle on this one.

#7 Practice what you Preach; Don’t be a Hypocrite Trump claims to be anti-abortion, but when push came to shove, he took a medicine derived from cells of an aborted fetus to save his own life. He sucks up to evangelicals in public and mocks them in private. He couldn’t shut up about Clinton’s emails jeopardizing national security then discussed national security issues at Mar-a-Lago surrounded by club members. He criticized Obama about golfing and golfs more than he did. He complained about the cost of Obama’s presidential vacations and his frequent trips to Mar-a-Lago cost $3.6 million each. Examples go on and on. No.

#8 Don’t be Self-righteous Here I could be taken to task for this entire post. Judge not lest ye be judged, right? I would argue that it is our duty in the selection of whom we give responsibility to judge. On one hand, we all fall short of perfection and on the other we shouldn’t hire Charles Manson to run a preschool. Self-righteousness is bigger than just the sin-shaming definition from christianity. It’s the odious attitude that your personal beliefs and convictions are completely unassailable. Trump and his followers are just one side of this coin with virtue-signaling democrats and rabid statue-murders on the other. Self-righteousness is practically oxygen in Washington. That’s a big no.

#9 Don’t Retaliate Yeah. No.

#10 Forgive Others This one is kind of funny. Trump never forgives but often forgets. Do anthing against him and suddenly you’re a loser he barely knows. Just ask his departed staff. His supporters are certainly quick to forgive all of Trump’s faults while damning anyone who dares speak against him for all their faults, real and imagined.

So back to #1 Worship Only God I don’t think we have to examine Trump himself here, but his followers. Most claim to adhere to the above values, yet support someone who clearly does not. They back him to the point of absurdity and attack anyone who dares disagree.

Thus their idolatry – Trump has become their golden calf. As the authors of this list put it: “…anything that takes the place of our devotion to God becomes an idol or false god.”

Not all Trump supporters are so idolatrous. Some recognize his faults and rationalize their choice as a necessary evil. That’s a defensible position so long as on the balance, his opponent and/or their platform embody the opposite of their values. Some close examination may be in order, though.

COVID-19 Deaths are Under-Counted

This is math lesson for those who think our Coronavirus response has been adequate and that it compares well with seasonal flu (numbers are per million residents)

The US is currently #10 in deaths at 672 and #12 in cases at 24,801 out of 214 countries.

In order to just be average, we would need to have had 21% of our current deaths (142) and 20% of our cases (5,040)

I don’t know about you, but I would think a first world country could do better than 5 times the world average cases and deaths so far. It’s abysmal.

India, for comparison – with roughly a third of our land area and four times our population – is right there at the world average with 5,335 cases and lower than average with only 81 deaths. You would think an airborne disease would be much harder to contain with a population density that high, but the scoreboard says they are five times better at it than the US so far.

If we were doing as well as India, we would have only 26,730 deaths so far. (330 million pop x 81 per million) Even just being average we would have only 46,860 COVID-19 deaths so far.

Being AVERAGE could have saved over (222,836 – 46,860) 176,976 lives to date.

Don’t tell me deaths are over-counted. That is simply political propaganda. I’m sure if we had a different party in office, their rabid supporters would be doing the same stupid thing. You can PROVE COVID-19 deaths are UNDER-counted simply by counting dead bodies.

US deaths follow a predictable curve that typically peaks with the flu season in winter. We had a bad flu season in winter 2017-2018. Winter 2018-2019 was pretty good and so was 2019-2020. Then in April Corona hits and we shoot up to 38% above the normal number of deaths.
(Note: The chart is continuously updated as death data comes in. Today is the 16th but the week ending the 20th is already there and growing. I’m using data from 8 weeks and older because nearly all entities will have reported.)

The 20 weeks from April 4th through August 15th average 21% excess deaths totaling 231,608 above the seasonal average. However, only 173,193 COVID-19 deaths were reported as of August 15th (including any later adjustments). That’s UNDER-counted by 34%.

Sure, some of those could be deaths by other causes, but keep in mind that lockdowns also suppress vehicle and workplace accidents which account for a significant portion of deaths too. The exact number isn’t important, what’s important is the numbers clearly show the over-count narrative holds no water.

Seasonal flu/pneumonia deaths are about 56,000 or 170 per million US residents annually. We’ve had four times the typical annual flu deaths in only 20 weeks. Annually adjusted, these 20 weeks are equivalent to 579,374 annual deaths (222,836 / 20 * 52), putting COVID-19 right below our #2 cause of death, cancer at 599,108.

So no. It’s not ‘just the flu’. From April through August it was basically another cancer on top of the normal cancer.

Yes, it has and will probably get better with time. No, it probably won’t come down below #3 (accidents at 169,936 annual deaths) until we get our shit together or we get a decent vaccine.

(Data from worldometers.info, the CDC death totals chart and Wikipedia)

Update 11/19/2020: Four weeks later, cases are spiking with over 165,000 new positive tests per day. We’ve had roughly three million new infections in under a month. Deaths remain at 121% in excess of normal (269,676) and ten times the level of another flu-like disease (25,846).From April 4 through September 12, reported COVID-19 deaths were 198,634 making the gap between excess deaths and reported pandemic deaths grow slightly to 35%. Extrapolated annual excess deaths are slightly lower (largely due to better outcomes with proper care) at 526,131 per year. However, many areas are at the limit of their health care capacity, so we can probably expect this number to rise again in the coming weeks as hospital staff is overwhelmed by the case load.

Anecdotally, my co-worker who wears their mask and social distances the least got infected just over a week ago. (Big surprise.) I spend a day with them in the same office while they were infectious but dodged this bullet with my KN95 mask on much of the day and strict distancing. It sucks but it works.

The Paradox of Atheism (Rebuttal)

I ran across a blog post by Inverted Logic yesterday and I started to respond to the points they made. It grew and grew and became longer than the original post. I feel it really deserves a post of its own at this point, so I’m putting my response in my own blog for the author to review, respond, ignore or mock at their leisure. My intent is to address my (gentle) rebuttal directly to the author and the use of ‘you’ and ‘your’ below reflects this.

First, my compliments. Your ideas are expressed clearly and concisely while avoiding the invective, spin and distortions common to both sides of the god/no god debate. I admire a skillfully expressed argument even when I disagree with the conclusions. Thank you for sharing!

My primary concern is that your arguments seem to paint atheists with an overly broad brush. Making generalities about any group is often deliberate spin and at best a mistake. Current examples include descriptions of protesters as looters and rioter, cops as heartless murderers and Republicans and Democrats as fascists and communists respectively. You have certainly avoided such extremes in this piece, (which I would praise you for) but your statements are perhaps still more broad than are really applicable. In any case, we agree on the venomous repercussions of in-group conformity.

To your main points, (collective association, a tendency to proselytize, and fixed views on belief) these certainly apply to some atheists, but probably not more than they apply to any other group of people. I can certainly see how the kind of people we encounter while arguing on the internet could lead to a somewhat distorted view of the non-religious. I would counter that people are just people, no matter what views they hold on gods. Some will seek the company of like-minded groups to associate with while others will avoid such groups. Some will seek to enlighten others with their philosophy, while others are content to move on to other studies, subjects and pursuits. Some have rigid views while others – perhaps even a majority – simply find the claims regarding gods to be highly unlikely without making the claim that there are none, or they cannot exist.

Even a claim that ‘no gods exist’ is not always an unbending commitment to a set of beliefs. People’s views, particularly the science-logic-reason minded, tend to change and waver between options as new information is presented. A person may at one time feel confident in a ‘hard atheistic’ position and later drift to a more pragmatic or less certain ‘soft atheistic’ stance.  However, a God putting on a public appearance or other such convincing evidence would change the same person’s mind pretty quickly no matter which view they currently espouse.  

The rejection of a belief system is not equivalent to the acceptance of an alternate belief system. Atheism is not a religious belief, it’s the opposite of a religious belief.

It is perfectly rational to state, “I don’t believe your god exists” (i.e. the evidence and arguments for your claim are unconvincing) without having to claim “Your god does not exist” (i.e. I can disprove your claim). This is not just splitting hairs. Belief is far more of a spectrum than a dichotomy. If positive certainty is on the right end of a horseshoe, zero belief is in the center and negative certainty is on the left end. Atheism occupies the entire left side including the center point. Atheism is not a leap of faith, it’s the zero-belief default state. (Incidentally, I think extending the Horseshoe Theory of Politics to other belief systems is astute and likely correct, strengthening your arguments for the most extreme adherents.)

The sense of community provided by a religious congregation is one of the things I miss the most about the religion of my youth. However, this has not led me to seek out a community of like-minded people to try and replace the one I lost. I could. I’ve considered it, but it obviously hasn’t been a priority for me. I don’t think that this community-joining impulse is any more or less inherent to nonbelievers than it is for believers. Plenty of folks on the religious side don’t attend services and I imagine it’s for similar reasons to mine.

As I noted in my blog post on leaving the LDS church, I’ve at various times in my life promoted my ideas about gods’ existence, actively avoided the subject and everywhere in between – and I’m just one person. There’s no reason to assume that a nonbeliever necessarily proselytizes or does so unceasingly.

A final observation: The odds of god(s) existing is not a coin-flip. Something that can only be true or false does not necessarily make the odds of each 50%. Will the sun come up tomorrow? Maybe not, but the odds are a long way from 50:50.

If you waded through this excessively verbose response, I congratulate you again. Thanks for taking the time. You have my sincere respect.

Utopia

What is your ideal society? The perfect place you wish you could live? What would it look like and how would it work? I was asked this recently and I had to admit to myself that I hadn’t really considered it because I don’t believe it can exist.

Humans can screw up anything. The very first thing that people would do upon finding utopia would be to wreck it. There are no apparent limits to what we will do to take advantage of our circumstances, and thus any utopian system is quickly overburdened, subverted and destroyed. Perhaps elves or Vulcans or some other mythical race can have a perfect society, but the best humans can hope to live in is a society that doesn’t suck too badly.

Democracy is the worst form of government. Except for all the other types of government we’ve tried. Tyranny of the majority is a real threat. When most of us want to do some foolish, hateful or stupid thing, all of us have to live with the consequences. A nation with enumerated rights for citizens and powers balanced and checked can go a long way to addressing the vagaries of popular opinion and tribalism, but the majority always subjugates and abuses the minority to the extent that they can. It’s just human nature.

From each according to their ability and to each according to their need. Possibly the most awful utopian idea ever. Communism fails because idealism makes for a poor motivator in the long term. When you get nothing in return for making more effort, people will only make the bare minimum effort. The system turns quickly into an oligarchy and corruption tears it apart.

The best government is one that governs least. Ha! We wish. Everyone loves liberty, but letting people do whatever they want is the quickest way for everyone to get a bunch of things they absolutely don’t want like poisoned water, corruption and organized crime. Liberty, like every other idea, can be taken to the illogical extreme.

What to do then? Society can never be perfect, but it can always be better. Good governance is not an endpoint – it’s a process. We may (and should) disagree on how to govern, but focusing on principles will always point us in the right direction.

First and foremost is integrity. The truth is literally what sets us free. A society is a relationship based on trust. Destroying that trust destroys the society. Putting up with people on any side of an argument who promote lies and distort the truth injures everyone. The best government always puts the truth first, not just when it is convenient, but particularly when no one wants to hear it.

Science is key. The most reliable way we have for finding the truth is through science. When sufficient evidence exists that a specific public policy is failing to address the issue or creating other issues, the government should react to adjust the policy without taking an opinion poll first. That doesn’t mean we do anything science tells us, but any morally acceptable solution should at least be considered. A branch of government dedicated to striking down laws and policies that are clearly shown by research to be harmful would be pretty useful. Laws starting in a research lab rather than in a corporate office would also be a good change.

Kindness is key. Any action by government should be weighed against the default action of doing nothing. If it does not make sense to take away (by force if necessary) the fruits of the labor of one person to use for the public good, then it is likely not a good enough reason to act. As an example, some members of our society haven’t the mental or physical capacity to care for themselves. Acting to assist these people is a kindness and keeping the burden manageable for everyone else is also a kindness. Governments should carefully weigh the options and use kindness as a guidepost. Laws that serve dogmatic viewpoints or pander to a majority are oppression to the minority and should generally be rejected. Fairness, equality and justice are essential and are rooted in kindness.

Accountability is key. Power is the root of all evil. This is an axiom. Money is power, influence is power, power corrupts and concentration of power concentrates evil. The only thing that drives out this darkness is the light of transparency and the only thing that stops power from accumulating more power is constant vigilance and action by a concerned and educated citizenry. People often see the inefficiency of our federal government and (rightly) complain that government doesn’t work. They aren’t wrong. The bigger any organization gets, the less responsive, effective and efficient it becomes. Our government has arguably become too big and its citizens’ power concentrated in the hands of too few. One of the government’s biggest problems is that lawyers run two of the branches and sometimes all three. Laws have become thousand-page documents full of impenetrable jargon that no normal citizen can understand and they certainly could not read all the laws and get anything else done. Laws are deliberately unfathomable and there is an awful lot of incentive for those involved in the system to avoid fixing it. Excessive concentration of power is by far America’s biggest problem. Accountable government requires governance to be kept as small, as local, as simple and as open as it can be.

Utopia is not possible. But, working toward a better society based on truth, kindness and accountability is absolutely possible and is my continual hope for our nation.

The Joy of Not Knowing

What is the meaning of life? Does it have any meaning beyond what we give it? Science is suspiciously quiet on this subject, so the answers have come almost exclusively from religion. There are literally thousands of competing stories to choose from – and of course each claims to be the only truth.

If only one of these stories can be true, the remainder are at best half-truths and mostly lies. It seems unreasonable to expect someone to discover which one, if any at all, is correct. Unfortunately, even presuming one of these stories is true, the myriad of choices also ensures that the vast majority of people following a faith are living a lie. 

I sometimes long for the certainty of blind belief. It is rewarding to be able to step outside the tunnel vision of such a dogmatic viewpoint and see all sides of an issue, but it certainly is not as comforting. The necessity of endless judgement and learning is wearying at times like these to be sure, but it’s ultimately more satisfying than capitulation to unreason. Still – it’s pretty hard not to be envious of those who see meaning and purpose in all of this madness.

I don’t know the answers. I’ve come to view my ignorance in these fundamental questions as good thing. There is no clear purpose to life other than the ones we create ourselves. A search for meaning generally leads people to mirrors of one kind or another, anyway. Kind people find meaning in service. Frightened people find meaning in assurance. I’m no different. My curiosity and skepticism lead me to find meaning in truth, discovery, knowledge, wisdom and insight.

I know this. Embracing learning as my primary goal keeps me challenging my own viewpoint. This endless search leads to so much wonder and beauty that it has become its own motivator. It also leads to boundless awe, deep pride in our accomplishments and vast humility regarding our collective ignorance.

The joy of not knowing is in the pleasure of finding far more than I sought.

On Leaving the LDS Church

I was born into a Mormon family and some of my earliest memories are of singing cute songs about sunbeams and apricot blossoms alongside things I didn’t really understand. Mormon indoctrination is highly systematic. They start with fun stuff, program you with rote learning by song, then load on important decisions and responsibility before you know how to say no or even understand what you are getting into. I would argue that eight years old far too soon for any kid to understand what baptism is or the implications of joining a church. But when your friends all get dunked and everyone expects it, you get dunked too. There’s a steady layering on of expectations as you get older. I’ll spare those who aren’t familiar with them the tedious reality. Let’s just say it gets to be a lot less fun and a lot more like a part time job by the time you are an adult.

My rejection of the faith of my family started with my voracious appetite for stories. I read incessantly in my youth and instinctively knew a good story from a poor one. Not that I spent a lot of time in my youth in contemplation of religion. At the time it was merely an increasingly tedious weekly prison made of uncomfortable clothes and boring, boring speeches. About age ten I found that science fiction and fantasy were far more appealing than reality and I was thus exposed to a multiverse of fantastic ideas and possibilities.

At the same time, I also discovered the magic of computing and largely due to the draw of video games learned everything I could about them. This bolstered my interest in math and science and in the process, taught me that the scientific method may not provide all the answers, but it was by far the most reliable way humans know of for finding the truth.

I was also strongly influenced by attending an LDS seminary in my early years of high school. But rather than further indoctrinating me, learning more about religion only made me realize that the deeper you look, the more inconsistencies that you find. At some point I realized that the only absolute truths I could depend on were rooted in logic and anything else was just someone’s opinion.

Church became a source of conflict toward the end of high school. I had no interest or intention to attend and my parents were insistent that I not shirk my duties as a church member. This finally came to a head and in a moment of frustration, I told them I wasn’t sure that I believed in the church. I was surprised at the time that this got them back off a bit and not push as hard for my participation.

My disillusionment regarding religion didn’t dissuade me from thinking about it or researching it. I was not convinced that I had found truth, only that what I was told was truth didn’t match up with reality. The only thing that I was certain of was that most humans believe some form or another of complete nonsense. I spent years looking, reading and even praying for answers.

I even had a prayer answered. That is to say, I had a religious experience while in a very stressful situation in my early twenties and was reaching out for any kind of hope. I was almost a Mormon again for a few months. As the afterglow of this experience faded, I kept looking and hoping for answers to my doubts, but I still found nothing to put a solid foundation under my experience. I eventually realized I had succumbed to the completely human foible of believing in my own fantasy. Realizing I was also able to believe complete nonsense was quite humbling. 

It was also incredibly freeing. I no longer strove and yearned for religious answers to the big questions in life. There was no reason to assume anyone else’s experience was more true than mine had been. I was also suddenly free of the dogma I had inherited. I had the ability and responsibility to evaluate the morality of every situation based on my understanding and empathy. I began to see far more nuance and shades of gray where only the black and white of good and bad existed before. I rejected many of the tenets of my former religion while keeping those that still made sense and found there is actually still a lot of good advice in scripture if you can get past the amorality, misogyny, contradictions and absurdities. ‘Moderation in all things’ is probably the best single rule for life, after ‘Don’t be a dick’.

Contrary to popular belief, someone who abandons religion does not abandon morality. If you weren’t in favor of murder before, you won’t be after. Your reasoning changes, but your character does not. The life you are living is all you can expect and living and sharing a good life here and now becomes your paramount interest. It may seem counter-intuitive, but abandoning your religion and being guided by empathy can also lead to a more Christ-like life hallmarked by kindness, kinship, acceptance and fairness largely due to a rejection of the exclusion, judgement and tribalism of a dogmatic religious viewpoint.

I have always been a seeker of truth and losing my religion further lowered my tolerance for falsehoods. I was keen to keep others from being fooled and to help others free themselves from their mental bondage so I went on a crusade. It was a good time to argue theology on the internet and oh man, I did. I soon discovered that I knew very little of all there is to know about Mormons specifically and Christianity in general. This drove me to do a lot of research that resulted in finding more and more and more and so much more that I was yet unaware was wrong with Mormonism, Christianity and theology as a whole.

The final nail in Mormonism’s coffin for me was that the archaeological record from the new world is completely at odds with the Book of Mormon’s descriptions of flora, fauna, events and technology. Potatoes and other crops are not mentioned, but barley and wheat are. Horses and elephants are mentioned but bison, llamas and alpacas are not. There are numerous examples of anachronisms and inconsistencies in the text and the apologist’s explanations are weak in themselves and absurd when viewed in the light of the book being a purportedly direct divine translation of ancient texts.

In short, the evidence says very clearly that the Book of Mormon is a work of fiction and therefore Joseph Smith was clearly a fraud. His penchant for spinning such lies was illustrated most clearly and indefensibly by his ‘translation’ of several Egyptian papyri into the ‘Book of Abraham’. As you might imagine, his translation has no connection with the real meaning of the original documents that were later translated by real experts.

Finally satisfied that my abandonment of the LDS church was not only justified, but the only logical course of action, I have drifted away from the subject. In the last decade, I have come to avoid discussions of Mormonism rather than to seek it as I once did. I have no desire to offend or criticize those who still believe, many of whom I love and respect. The idea of picking a fight with someone over a belief system that gives them comfort is abhorrent to me. I officially left the church a few years ago when the fight against gay marriage was at its height. The total lack of empathy in the church’s public stance was simply one blindly hurtful act too many for me to take.

In closing, I’d like to point out that there are many wrong ideas about the irreligious peddled by believers for generally unkind reasons and I’d like to clear up one of them. I often hear some variation of ‘You’re just mad at God’ from believers trying to discount the experience or opinion of someone who has abandoned religion. Anger is certainly part of the process. I tried to be angry at my parents, but soon realized that they were victims, as were all church members. I tried to be angry at humanity for being so foolish and easy to fool, but I may as well be mad at a fish for swimming. However, I’ve yet to find a non-believer that is angry at God. That’s because it’s pretty hard to be angry with something you don’t believe exists. Ask yourself if you could be dazzlingly furious with Zeus.

American Guns

“A well regulated Militia, being necessary to the security of a free State, the right of the people to keep and bear Arms, shall not be infringed.”

Ask ten people what this means and you’ll get ten different answers. Is it a right to individual possession of revolutionary war era weaponry? A right for well regulated militias to possess the most modern available means of defense? A limited right to keep and bear a list of devices deemed not too scary for the current voting age populace?

Certainly, the founders could not fully understand how this decision would affect America’s legacy in light of the technological advancements of over two centuries. We’ll never know what other choices they would have made with greater foresight. And, frankly it doesn’t matter what they thought. Hindsight is always far clearer than any attempt to guess at the needs of future generations. What does matter is what we intend to do with our current situation.

Gun violence kills many times more people per capita in America than any other wealthy country. Contrary to the talking points of pundits and misleading posts on social media, research shows that it is not mental illness, violent video games, the breakdown of family values or other seemingly sensible explanations. By a wide margin, the strongest correlating factor for all types of gun violence worldwide is gun availability. The reason violent crime in America  is many times more deadly compared with other countries is just because we have many times more guns.

It’s not hard to understand. A guy bent on violence with a knife, a club or a bow and arrow generally kills fewer people than the same guy with a semi-automatic or a hellfire missile. A small percentage of any population will eventually turn to violence. It’s human nature. The difference is how much damage they can do.

What about defense from tyranny? I once thought it was good to have at least one big nation on the earth with an armed populace to allow them to hold off global tyranny. I’ve since realized that public opinion is easily swayed with sufficient resources and that gun owners are just as likely to be on the side of the oppressor in such a fight. If your purpose in owning a gun is to ensure you can take up arms against a tyrannical government then you need to accept that while guerrillas with guns can resist for decades, you are committed to a course of action that pits you against stealth fighters, drones and crazy new technology weapons like microwave rays on top of a whole lot of people with their guns. I’m not saying it’s hopeless, but you may want to consider voting first and shooting second.

For self defense, you are better off getting a bull terrier than a bull pup. Investing in a muay thai course or an alarm system will probably reduce your likelihood of death by gunshot, but investing in a Glock will probably increase it. Yes, guns are very effective for self defense. But statistics clearly show they’re more likely to be shot at someone who lives in your house than anyone else.

What do we do about the guns? No, we don’t need to get rid of all the guns. However, we could melt down 90% of them and still have as many per person as the average country. Perhaps we could afford to be just a bit pickier about who we let have them? You have to have a license to fish, for Pete’s sake. Some lightweight regulation could save a lot of lives without taking anything away from sportsmen, responsible owners and the odd prepper who thinks they may have to out-shoot Uncle Sam.

But wait! If you outlaw guns, only outlaws will have guns! Trite, but not wrong. Outlawing things that are in demand doesn’t necessarily get rid of them. I’m looking at you, war on drugs. However, as many have pointed out, regulating drugs would likely be more effective than an outright ban. One thing is for certain. Public opinion is swaying against gun owners. Better to act now and organize self-regulation you can live with than to wait until the other side passes government regulations you’d rather die than comply with.

The Miracle Paradox

Miracles are what makes a god godly. No matter your idea of god, the truth is that no one would waste a moment worshipping a god that could not perform miracles.

What is a miracle? You could say a miracle is any action of a god that alters reality to a strongly positive outcome. You’ve probably heard someone call a comeback victory – or a cancer remission – or someone winning the lottery a miracle. Are they? Not really. Lotteries are well understood mathematical games that only lottery organizers really win. Cancer battles are actually won by doctors and researchers. Anything with causes that can be fully understood and explained by math, science and reason is not a miracle – the universe is just behaving normally according to known rules. 

Well, what if god acts too subtly for us to detect? Maybe god’s hand pulled my favorite numbers in PowerBall. Maybe the ball would have bounced out, but god’s hand guided it into the goal. Well, honestly who cares? If we can’t know one way or the other if god did something, then why call it a miracle? Any time a god’s changes are too subtle for humans to detect then there is no reason for us to presume the god made any changes at all. If you then posit that even the most mundane occurrences are acts of god because god is the prime mover, then we still need to reserve the term ‘miracle’ for truly exceptional, unexplainable outcomes, not the simple cause and effect of the universe acting normally.

A miracle must be a clear violation of natural laws. Worldwide flooding, virgin births, raising the dead and feeding a multitude with five loaves and two small fishes are obvious miracles. Why? Because they are impossible. The rules that govern reality are being bent, broken or ignored – the universe not acting normally.

Miracles defy logic. You could argue that virgin birth and raising the dead are actually within reach of medical science – at least from a certain point of view. However, no one seriously claims that IVF and CPR are true miracles. They are merely extensions of natural law and human ingenuity. Similarly, if aliens show up tomorrow and demonstrate that they can flood the earth at will, this would not be considered a miracle because there would be a logical explanation in some form of advanced technology, some discoverable knowledge. In short, a miracle that can be explained is not a miracle at all. A miracle must present some kind of impossibility; a paradox.

This is where it gets weird. The requirement for miracles to exceed the bounds of logic leads us into uncertain territory. If a god is unlimited by logic, then any statement about made about them can be both true and false.  Such a god can be both good and evil, powerful and powerless; they can be simultaneously Jesus, the Holy Spirit, Satan, Baal, Vishnu and Thor. All bets are off. Creatures who are bound by logic such as ourselves cannot know anything for certain regarding such a being.

We could back-pedal a bit and claim that god cannot perform paradoxical, illogical acts. God cannot make a circle with corners, divide by zero or any number of perfectly impossible things. This instantly begs the question of what the limits of such a god’s power might be. We suddenly need to find out what things are possible and true and what things are impossible and false so we can know the limits of any god’s power. 

Here’s where it gets even weirder. Every bit of knowledge we gain becomes another thing that is no longer considered miraculous. Once we understand that natural laws control a previously mysterious phenomenon, we won’t consider anything that follows those laws a miracle. Sooner or later, you realize that a logical god’s power to perform miracles is limited to an ever-receding pocket of scientific ignorance.

What if god is innately logical, but not limited by logic? It doesn’t matter. Really. Either they are able to break logic and therefore already have and haven’t, are good and evil and… are unintelligible to humans just as noted before. Or, they follow logical rules and their miracles are limited to only the things outside our current collective knowledge about the natural world.

Miracles come with an inherent paradox. We either have to accept that god is unintelligible and is just as likely also the devil, or that god that never performs miracles regarding anything we can understand fully. I’m leaning toward the former. It certainly would explain a lot.  

This One Weird Trick Discovered by a Dad May Save Humanity

We all hate the endless parade of blinking, shaking, bouncing, gyrating ads vying for our attention. Little did we know how bad it could get. These days, we have to actively filter content because the ads look just like the news stories and every headline is carefully crafted to collect clicks, regardless of usefulness or relevance. Complete nonsense is placed right next to legitimate news and given the same gravity and presentation. You have to wonder. Do content providers really think that such disrespecting treatment of their users is a good idea?

Is frustrating your audience a good plan? We’ll, I’m here to tell you that it is. In a way.

The upshot of the click-driven insanity being played out between ad haters and ad creators is that ordinary people are being trained to be skeptical. Every time someone is duped into clicking some over-hyped bullshit link and hates the results, they become a little more cynical and a little less trusting.

This effect could have amazing benefits over time. Huge swathes of humanity could begin demanding evidence proportionate to claims. Whole hosts of humanity’s most worthless ideas could lose their audience and slowly die.

So, keep this happy thought in the back of your mind and smile as you scroll past the garbage. The internet is training billions of  people be less gullible. Maybe even you.