Friday, December 31, 2010

What I learned in 2010

-Some opportunities only happen once. Seize them while they last.
-Never make any sort of commitment or promise.
-Yes, the car is just going to get dirty again the moment you pull it out of the car wash, but that doesn't mean you should never wash it.
-Getting a promotion after your friend is fired is not something you need to mention to him.
-We are all getting older. For now.
-Donating an old car to a charitable organization is not worth it if the new owner of the car never registers it and the City of Boston thinks you are liable for hundreds of dollars worth of unpaid parking tickets incurred weeks after the title was signed over because you are the last known registrant.
-Keep your large dogs in a separate room when your friends bring over their toddlers.
-Put a gate in front of the wood stove when your friends' toddlers are running around your living room.
-Don't argue politics or religion with people who might leave you an inheritance.
-I survived another year without joining Facebook. I can probably survive another one.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

No wonder you are fat

One time I was a the supermarket, and in the meat aisle, I saw something quite disturbing. A completely obese family (mom, dad and kids) filling their shopping cart full of hams and other meats. It didn't seem as if they were restauranteurs shopping for the evening's menu, but rather a poor family stocking up on 49-cent-per-pound corn-fed protein. It was quite surreal, and I had trouble believing what I was seeing. In my mind, I came up with a list of questions that I shall now share with my occasional reader:

Don't you eat anything else? What are you stocking up for? Don't you have sufficient fat reserves already? Are you buying this with food stamps? Is medicaid going to pay for your quadruple bypass surgery and your lifetime supply of insulin? I hope you put some of that in a chest freezer and don't try to eat it all in one sitting. Ever heard of vegetables? Why buy such a large ham, can't you just cook your son at 350F for an hour? Are you going to put all that in your '92 sedan or are you going to push the shopping cart all the way back to the section 8 tenement?

I'm not writing this with the express purpose of offending anyone, but, I feel that sometimes misery is optional.

Are cats smarter than dogs?

Anyone with half a brain who hasn't been living under a rock probably feels as if the bulk of humanity is completely retarded. (Apologies for people who take offense to the use of that term. Call me a moron if that makes you feel better. There. Wasn't that cathartic?) The vast majority of us are no better in intelligence than cattle ripe for slaughter, aimlessly wandering through life with no goal or purpose, other than being a consumer and a tax payer, and whose greatest contribution of all is to comprise lower-end breeding stock for the spread of our genes.

Still, human ingenuity never ceases to amaze me. We, simple apes, have almost completely conquered this planet. We have sent men to the moon and brought them back. We have built MRI machines, Android smartphones, the Internet, and the atomic bomb. We have figured out the sub atomic structure of protons, and the sequencing of mitochondrial and nuclear DNA. We are brilliant.

Even the most stupid, tv-dinner eating illiterate member of the human race is a lot more intelligent than any other animal on Earth. Why is that? The secret is that our intelligence, though sometimes limited, is our big advantage. We are a very, very successful species thanks to our highly evolved cognitive abilities.

Dogs are believed by many people to be more intelligent than cats: when a toy is pulled by a string, the dog understands that the human is initiating the movement. A cat only focuses on the toy and does not understand the concept of an object acting upon another one.

But sometimes I wonder if cats are not smarter. A cat won't poop on the floor. A cat won't eat his own poop.  A cat won't eat his own vomit.

What is intelligence?

I define it as having a few basic components:

-Memory (both long-term and short-term)
-Pattern recognition ability (ability to match current observations with stored memories)
-Ability to anticipate future consequences

Both cats and dogs exhibit these components of intelligence.


While cats can remember the location of their litter box and that it is where they need to go to relieve themselves, dogs can remember the meaning of words and commands. Cats, being solitary hunters, never evolved an ability to take instruction from a leader, something that wild wolves (and their domestic counterparts) do all the time. Dogs are not necessarily smarter than cats in that respect, they simply have a hard-wired capacity for understanding more complex language, which is crucial for survival within a pack, and for coordinated hunting.

Both cats and dogs can recognize their owner's scent, voice and face, and can remember the layout of a yard or a house. They can remember where food is stored.


Both cats and dogs are able to recognize changes in their owners routines. Dogs cat tell if their master is getting ready to leave alone, or getting ready to take them with him.

Cats can recognize the erratic movements of injured prey, which is why they are so fascinated by strings and tie-wraps, which move in the same manner.


Dogs know not to cross the invisible fence line. They know they will get shocked if they do. Dogs know that if  they obey every command their master gives them, they will be rewarded by a treat. Dogs know that if they whine and whine and whine they will get their masters to spoil them.

My cats know that if I feed them, I will not feed them again until the next meal, and don't bother begging for more. So they designed a clever stratagem to get the second serving they crave: They wait for my significant other to come home and they they go to her to beg, acting as if I hadn't fed them yet. I can't help but feel as if there is some sort of reasoning at work here.

So in the end, it's not necessarily a simple black-and-white matter of who is smarter than whom, but rather, a matter of who is more adapted for a specific function or situation. Dogs only seem more intelligent than cats because of their learning skills and social skills, but never underestimate a cat. They are sneaky and will surprise you.

Monday, December 27, 2010

How to put an end to Christmas terrorist plots

A few days ago, nine men were arrested in the UK for plotting terrorist bombings scheduled for Christmas.

A year ago, an 'underwear bomber' set fire to his genitals trying to detonate a bomb on a plane, on Christmas Day.

This is a disturbing trend. Why are muslim terrorists trying to schedule their plots for Christmas?

Maybe they hate Christmas. Maybe they were once raped by Santa Claus. Maybe they were molested by a Catholic Priest on Christmas eve. Who knows.


Stop celebrating Christmas. If everybody stops celebrating this holiday, then it will lose significance for the terrorists.... and they'll schedule their bombings on random dates instead, just to keep us on our toes.... hmm maybe it's not such a good idea after all... it's actually kind of nice to have a ballpark idea of when they intend to strike.

Oh! I know! Next year, let's pretend we still care about celebrating Christmas, only we won't! That way we'll know when they're going to strike, only we won't be there! That'll take them by surprise... imagine this fictitious conversation:

"Hey Umar, where's everybody at? I thought you said it was Christmas today?" 
"It is. Maybe they just want to stay home and lay low this year."
"Damn you Umar! We are screwed and our visas have expired! Ah, just forget it. Let's go turn ourselves in."*

*results may vary.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Never lose sight of the true meaning of Christmas

As Christmas approaches and we struggle to find parking spots at the mall in order to purchase presents for our loved ones, we must take a step back and remind ourselves of the true meaning of Christmas:

Supporting the retail economy of our country and the manufacturing economy of the People's Republic of China through frivolous consumerism under the guise of religious devotion based on an ancient pagan tradition.

Forget all that, I say, and let's take the whole family snowboarding instead, and support our local ski resort in the name of powder and angular velocity.

Monday, December 6, 2010

Dating Advice for Ladies (and for Gentlemen too)

Ladies, if you are single and attempting to date, here's an honest piece of advice: do not play hard-to-get. If you like a man, just tell him. You have nothing to lose by being honest about your feelings towards him. If you keep him guessing, he is going to move on. Remember the old saying "Fortuna audax iuva" (fortune favors the brave).

Gentlemen: If a lady plays hard-to-get, run. She is demonstrating a lack of ability to communicate effectively, and any relationship with her will be an emotional nightmare where she will expect you to develop special ESP powers to read her mind. Move on. Life is too short. Then ask your sister to give you a makeover, because no lady will want to date someone who looks like this:

Photo credit: unknown.

Breaking News: God Re-Floods the Middle East,18592/

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Telomerase: A cure for aging?

Like it or not, life expectancy is going to increase. We are poised to witness a biomedical revolution in which aging is seen as a disease, and not a necessary natural process.

The latest research in this quest for a fountain of youth has demonstrated that it is possible to reverse aging in mice by feeding them a chemical called 4-OHT, thus ramping up the activity of a naturally-occuring enzyme called telomerase, whose function is to repair the broken DNA sequences called telomeres that cap the ends of chromosomes. Every time a cell divides, those telomeres get shorter, so in a sense, the number of times that a cell can divide is limited, but telomerase can lengthen the shortened telomeres, and prolong the cell's life.

In the study, the organs of the mice damaged by aging were regenerated to a youthful state, including the brain.

The only caveat that needs to overcome: telomerase seems encourage the growth of tumors. For some it's a deal breaker, but for others, such as Ronald DePinho (a cancer geneticist) and David Sinclair (a molecular biologist),  telomerase would actually prevent cancer in the first place by protecting DNA from damage.

Granted, repairing broken telomeres would not be a perfect cure for aging, as short telomeres is not the only cause, but combined with other therapies,  it would become part of a wonderful medical arsenal against this deadly condition.

Now, I know, I can hear some of you yelling 'But what about overpopulation?". Well, that's an entirely separate question,

The fact that this game-changing research could potentially make overpopulation worse, should not be used as an excuse not to pursue a cure for aging. Besides, with aging cured, the need to procreate and ensure the continuation of the species is not as dramatic. Overpopulation is easy to fix. Aging is not. But aging is the more important problem to fix in the short term. We can't ignore the real, immediate problems we have today because we don't want to deal with future hypothetical problems. 

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Happy Belated Veteran's Day

I've been very busy in the real world, with very little spare time left to even be able to turn on my home PC (which takes a whole 25 minutes to boot, and I'm not that patient) but I wanted to express my continuing gratitude to all veterans, dead or alive, who do a hard and dangerous job that I'm not brave enough to do myself.

However, I still fail to see how the current engagement in Afghanistan is strategically justified. I actually see it as an insulting mis-use of our military and as a breach of the trust that servicemen and women have placed in our democracy. We cannot send them to their deaths without a valid reason. It is an enormous responsibility on the part of the voting citizen. Remember; the 9/11 attacks were planned in Europe and in the US, not in Afghanistan. Not a single hijacker was of Afghan origin. The fact that they received training in Afghanistan is a distraction. They could just as easily have received this training over the Internet. What was that terrorist training anyway, calisthenics on monkey bars in the desert? (Remember that grainy Al Qaeda 'recruiting video' that played on TV a hundred times?)

Afghanistan is a landlocked country with few resources. The Taliban have no air force and no navy. Why do we need thousands of soldiers risking their lives over there? If you love your veterans, you will demand that your government bring them home to their families. Too many of them will have to spend the holidays far from home.

Granted, I am not privy to the daily national security briefings that the President receives, and perhaps he knows something I don't, but with the information that I do have, I don't see enough of a benefit in this war to justify keeping troops in Afghanistan any longer.

If we do have valid strategic objectives to fulfill in that remote country, let's use drones and robots, and let's stop risking the lives of our bravest and finest. Never send a man to do a robot's job. Support the troops: Bring them home!

TSA: Traveler Sexual Assailants

People are all up in arms about intrusive security procedures at airports that involve naked body imaging (voyeuristic pornography) and 'enhanced' patdowns (molestation). And apparently, according to TSA, it's OK when the government does it.

I can see why travelers are upset. TSA is looking for terrorists, and apparently they assume we all are. (Trains and subways are just as vulnerable, so why not take naked pictures of you on your way to work as well?)

However, let's get real. No one wants to see naked pictures of your ugly fat body anyway. That's right, you're not as hot as you make yourselves believe, so chill, OK? Most of you aren't perfect tens (or sevens for that matter), so I wouldn't be too worried that some TSA pervert in a back room is going to be jacking off over your overweight potato physique. I don't think anyone at TSA enjoys looking at belly fat and saggy breasts all day. Sounds like a miserable assignment.

As far as I'm concerned, I am not ashamed of my fit and muscular body, I say let the whole world see it and be jealous of my dedication to athleticism and combat sports.

But don't F*cking touch my junk because you'll be needing arthroscopic shoulder surgery to re-attach your infraspinatus tendon, you, bureaucratic weakling.

Monday, October 11, 2010

Watch out, the evil 'progressives' are coming

The men's dressing room at my gym is tuned all day long to the Fox Propaganda Network. And one thing I've been noticing, is that they really hate those 'evil progressives'. Apparently, progressives, who, according to Fox are way, way worse than those pot-smoking-tree-hugging-baby-aborting liberals, are plotting to grow the size of government and, huh, put an end to conservative crap.

Progressivism, it turns out, is simply a political attitude favoring or advocating changes or reform. That's it. Here's a nice little snippet borrowed from Wikipedia: 'According to John Halpin, senior advisor on the staff of the Center for American Progress, "Progressivism is an orientation towards politics. It's not a long-standing ideology like liberalism, but an historically-grounded concept... that accepts the world as dynamic." Progressives see progressivism as an attitude towards the world of politics that is broader than conservatism vs. liberalism, and as an attempt to break free from what they consider to be a false and divisive dichotomy.'

There. I hope that settles it.

The only constant thing is change. The Universe is a dynamic place, and we must constantly adapt to changing conditions, observe new trends, and always - ALWAYS - make intelligent, data-driven decisions.

We cannot make effective social or economic policy without sufficient data points to truly understand the effects of our actions. Unfortunately, demagogues of all political stripes adhere to parrot-repeated rhetoric, and promote social and economic doctrines that are untested and unproven.

So to hell with conservatives and liberals alike. Let's use proper logic and scientific methodologies for a change. So much of politics is bullsh*tty babble, it's time to grow up.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

In the Heart of the Sea:The Tragedy of the Whaleship Essex

I just finished reading In the Heart of the Sea by Nathaniel Philbrick. It tells the TRUE story that inspired Herman Melville's Moby-Dick. This is not fiction. This is history. On November 20th, 1820, a whale sinks a ship and the sailors must find their way to safety across the Pacific Ocean aboard tiny whaleboats. They end up eating each other, becoming the very cannibals they were afraid of encountering on Pacific islands. What else would you do, after months of starvation and dehydration? These men - most of them devout Quakers (!) - took part in an unspeakably taboo act; the eating of human flesh. The religious restraint of these men took a backseat against the power of their survival instincts. In a starvation situation, morality disappears. It becomes eat or get eaten.

The problem is this; after months of starvation, their bodies were completely fat-free. So were the cadavers that they were eating. Unfortunately, the human body requires dietary fat and/or carbohydrates to function properly. Lack of fat/carbohydrates results in a medical condition called 'rabbit starvation', also referred to as 'protein poisoning', a condition in which no matter how much meat is eaten, the patient still wastes away. Also, protein yields little energy compared to fat (17 kilojoules for protein vs. 37.8 kilojoules for lipids). To make matters worse, the human body is unable to store excess protein, thus any protein above what the body can metabolize in a defined period of time is wasted. And these men were gorging on these corpses in huge mouthfuls, thus wasting a lot of precious food.

Why didn't they try fishing, you ask? Well, they were in the middle of the Pacific, in an area with no wind and no currents, therefore in an area with few nutrients, which meant there were very few fish to find.

What the crew of the Essex SHOULD have done instead of eating the lean meat of their dead comrades, would have been to use the human remains as shark bait, and then used one of the whaling lances to kill one of the few sharks that they encountered. 100 grams of shark meat yields 24 grams of protein and 2.3 grams of fat, which is better than nothing, and certainly much more food that they were able to butcher from the starved human corpses.

A good survival tip to keep in mind if you are ever stuck in a 19th century whaleboat without a satellite phone and a GPS.

One more thing: binge on pizza and ice cream in the months before your next whaling expedition.

Available at

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Indentured labor

Do you really believe that the US military is overseas fighting for our 'freedom'?

Freedom from what?

Truth be told, we are NOT free.

Born in bondage in a prison that we cannot see, we are slaves, every one of us. Why do I say that? It's actually quite simple to grasp.

If you have debt, you are an indentured laborer. Slavery was officially abolished, but it never went away, it simply evolved. Instead, we have seen the rise of a debt economy where people no longer work to feed themselves and their families, but to pay off debt. This is an economic system that has been engineered to keep the masses from acquiring wealth, by keeping them in peonage.

Debt, of course, is accumulated when paying for medical care, when purchasing a vehicle, buying a home. But also through the expense of college loans. Too many people are sold on the lie that a college education guarantees employment, and it is not the case. If the student is not studying law, medicine or engineering, employment prospects justifying the cost of tuition are few and far between. Instead of being a useful stepping-stone towards a fulfilling career, college is merely a way to accumulate astronomical amounts of debt that will take years to repay.

The social order has not changed. Once again, the paupers are serfs, toiling away incessantly, making loan and credit card payments. What has changed is that the serfs now believe that they have a fighting chance to climb the social ladder, but apart from the very lucky or the exceptionally gifted, this belief is a delusion. Few people succeed in the quest for wealth.

Everyday we are bombarded with invitations to buy a new cell phone, a new car, a new television set. Everyday, we are enticed with offers for new furniture, expensive wine and luxurious garments.

Economic growth is an illusion, because most of it is based on measuring consumer spending on useless garbage that we really don't need. Instead, what we end up doing is locking ourselves into debt servitude.

Pay off your debts, and live free.

What is the true measure of wealth? Wealth is measured not by how much money you have, but by how much money is owed to you.

Friday, August 27, 2010

What is the purpose of Prison? Is there a better way?

What is the purpose of prison? Why do we use it as a form of punishment? Isn't male rape the real punishment?

Tell me what you think.

The purpose of prison is:

a) A deterrent through example?
b) A way to keep society safe by locking up offenders?
c) An opportunity to rehabilitate convicts in preparation for reintegration in society?
d) A way to punish by causing pain an anguish?
e) To provide jobs for people with no skills beyond being an asshole? (according to Ginx)
f) To lock up political dissidents to shut them up? (Such as liberal atheist bloggers)
g) To provide slave labor for the State?
h) To provide a steady supply of organ donors and medical test subjects for undead Republicans?

I propose the following reforms

1- Prison is to be used mostly for violent offenders or for offenders that pose a threat to national security or to property, including, but not limited to : murder, rape, assault, robbery, burglary, theft, arson, terrorism, treason, sedition, espionage, desertion from the military in times of war (you should have thought about it before you signed your life away on that dotted line), incest and other such crap not tolerated in civilized society.
2- Fines, payment of restitution and indentured labor shall be used for all other offenses where offenders pose a low risk to people or property.

In many cases, criminal behavior is a symptom of mental illness, and if quacks such as psychoanalysts and neuro-psychiatrists can help 'cure' the illness, well maybe the offender should be allowed to reintegrate society, (after paying fines and restitution, of course).

If the non-violent criminal behavior is the result of economic despair, well perhaps job training would be a more effective use of public funds that investment in larger prisons. Everyone hates to pay the local school tax, but if it keeps the kids from breaking into your home for crack money, maybe it's worth it to invest in public education. (Go ahead libertarians, assault me with insults, it's your first amendment right)

But in any case, as explained in the book Freakonomics, the best way to reduce crime is not to improve the economy or have more police, or more prisons, or longer sentences, or more laws, or fewer guns, no! The best way to reduce crime is to reduce the number of criminals... that means USE BIRTH CONTROL if you can't afford your grocery bill, and get an abortion if you f*cked up. We don't want your stupid kids stealing our chrome rims fourteen years from now.

Reducing the birth rate will have the following impacts on society:

1. Reduction in welfare costs (fewer mouths for Uncle Sam to feed)
2. Reduction in this generation's crime rate. (fewer deadbeat parents to rob the local McDonalds for infant formula money)
3. Reduction in school taxes (fewer local kids to send to school 6 to 18 years from now).
4. Reduction in the next generation's crime rate (fewer crack-head teenagers to mug you on the train sixteen years from now).
5. Aging of the population.
6. Reduction in Social Security and Medicare benefits (fewer people paying into it)
7. Increase in automation and robotic replacements for fewer human workers
8. Increase in the power of the technocracy over mere mortals (those building and fixing robots will rule the world) (it's not a robot uprising we have to worry about, it's the rise of the robot makers! (until we have robots making robots, at least))
9. Reduction in soil salinization and erosion (lower need for farmland)
10. Restoration of fisheries (lower need in seafood, and reduced ocean dead zones thanks to less farm runoff)
11. Reforestation (lower need in construction timber)
12. Reduction in global climate change (reduced need for fossil fuel).
13. Increase in longevity (as a result of heavier investment in medicine and biotechnologies to reduce the death rate (to offset the decrease in the birthrate))
14. Increase of the retirement age (as people live longer because of medical advances, they can work longer, remain a consumer longer, remain a tax payer longer.)
15. Increase in unemployment caused by too many robots stealing jobs from people.
16. Increase in poverty and the crime rate.
17. Extermination of mankind by the robots.
18. No more crime, ***problem solved***. All hail Skynet.

Saturday, July 24, 2010

Ok, sometimes you DO want to lock your car doors

In my previous post, I expressed my opinion that locking car doors is pointless. But apparently, this bear opened an unlocked car door, got trapped inside, knocked the transmission into neutral, sending the car 38 meters downhill into a thicket of trees, and completely tore up the upholstery.

I guess a german shepherd would have been useless in this case. But maybe if the door had been locked the bear would have moved on to a different car?

Friday, July 23, 2010

Do NOT lock your car doors

Unless your motor vehicle is equipped with bulletproof windows, locking your car doors could do more harm than good.

A car thief bent on reselling a stolen car may be more cautious and use locksmithing skills to open the car door and start the car without causing any damage. But then, the end result is that your car is gone.

While an unmotivated thief unwilling to attract attention in a public place may be deterred by a locked door, and move on, if the car is to be left somewhere overnight, or parked in a quiet low traffic area, you are in for a treat.

A thief of opportunity interested in the radar detector on your dashboard, the duffel bag on your backseat, or to the iPod on your seat will just 'smash and grab', breaking your window with no regard to the structural integrity of the glass or resale value of the vehicle.

Most automobile insurance policies have a per-incident deductible (sometimes a few hundred dollars) that must be met before they will pay any claims, and many policies do not cover items stolen from the vehicle. Unfortunately, replacing a car side window can cost at least 250 dollars. Which means that a thief stealing your 200 dollar iPod will also cause 250 dollars worth of damage, for a total loss of 450 dollars, none of it covered by insurance.

By leaving your car doors locked, you are throwing money out the (broken) window.

What then is a solution that does not involve purchasing a surplus armored vehicle with bulletproof glass?

Do not leave anything in a parked vehicle.

Even if the item you leave in the car is worthless, a motivated thief may be curious enough to break a window to get to it.

Police departments who advise people to lock their cars are foolishly perpetrating the myth that a thief can be stopped by a few millimeters of glass. Give me a break (pun intended).

And if you are not so much worried about the laptop on the passenger seat but do not want the car itself to be stolen, consider an ignition kill-switch, a GPS tracking device, or a rabid german shepherd.

Does God have a brain?

No, I am not trying to be funny. This is a serious question for all those who believe in God. If God is able to think, surely, then he must have a brain, does he not? At least, he must have frontal lobe.

Doesn't God think? Isn't God the judge of good and evil, and the arbitrator of morality?

According to Wikipedia, "The executive functions of the frontal lobes involve the ability to recognize future consequences resulting from current actions, to choose between good and bad actions (or better and best), override and suppress unacceptable social responses, and determine similarities and differences between things or events. Therefore, it is involved in higher mental functions."

Therefore, God, if he does exist, must have a brain. If he has a brain, then he needs lungs to draw in oxygen from the air, and a heart to pump the oxygenated blood to his brain. Of course, this means that he must have a skeleton as a basic structure, a digestive system to provide nutrients for the various organs, teeth to chew the food, and possibly skin to cover up the entire body.

In other words, if God is able to think and breathe air, then he must have physical body. If he has a physical body, then he cannot be omnipotent. If he is not omnipotent, how could he have created the Universe? If he is a product of creation, how could he have created himself?

Saturday, July 17, 2010

Why I don't believe in ghosts part II

Here's another reason not to believe in ghosts. While pure energy can travel through thin air (i.e. lightning) or through empty space in the form of electromagnetic radiation (i.e. sunlight, gamma rays, x-rays, etc) complex computing circuitry is essential to allow for data processing.

It is our brains that allow us to feel, memorize, recall and think. Without neurons to act as capacitors, diodes and transistors, the energy would be scattered in an unorganized way. How would a ghost be able to think? What ethereal circuitry exists that would allow for cognitive function? Do ghosts have synapses? Do ghosts have a frontal lobe? What about a cerebellum?

How would this ethereal circuitry maintain cohesion?

With precise instrumentation, we are able to detect gamma rays emitted by stars thousands of light-years away. We are capable to measure tiny electrical voltages at the near atomic level inside microprocessors. Yet we can't detect the massive amount of energy that would be required for a disembodied mind to maintain cohesion and interact with its environment?

If a brain (or a body) was not required to exist as a person, to think, to feel, and to interact with our surroundings, then why would nature gift us with brain-controlled bodies? Nature does not do wasteful things.

Friday, July 16, 2010

Why I don't believe in ghosts

Do you believe in ghosts, spirits, souls, life after death? I don't.

Here's why.

We know that the mind is a process inside the brain. We know that because people with head and brain injuries experience personality disorders, memory loss, and in extreme cases, can become simply brain-dead vegetables. Severe brain injuries can often be irreversible, and the person rarely recovers full mental function. Now when that person is actually unplugged from the life-support machines, or when that person dies naturally, it would be quite a stretch to posit that they could actually regain their memories and cognitive abilities. If the person wasn't able to formulate thoughts while still plugged into the heart-lung machine, why would that person's condition improve after rigor mortis sets in?

If you say that a 'soul' leaves the body after death, does this soul have full mental capacity? Does the soul enter the afterlife (Heaven, Valhalla, Hades, or other) with all the cognitive power and memories from that person's life?

Then why doesn't the person who falls off a cliff and lands headfirst onto boulders below fully recover mental capacity once their broken bones have healed? Did that person's soul go away?

And when that person dies and becomes a ghost, or a soul in Heaven, does the soul come back with the memories? Where was that person's spirit?

The soul never goes away, because it does not exist. Brain death is final death of the individual. Anything that survives death becomes food for bacteria, mold, and worms. The mind cannot exist without the brain. The brain is part of the body. The body stays here in the physical world.

Treat your body well. It's the only one you have.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Why is there something rather than nothing?

"Why is there something rather than nothing?" is a common question that arises when discussing theology and the origin of the Universe. The question, I posit, is flawed. The problem is in the use of the word "why", which implies purpose or design, which means the question is biased to begin with. It's a trap. Attempting to answer the question misleads into futile debate. There is no "why". There is no purpose or design.

The Universe exists, period. End of discussion. "Why does it exist?" is a pointless question; because there is no answer. Why can't you divide a number by zero? Because you can't divide by nothing. It's a mathematical impossibility.

If you ask me, personally, what I think of the origin of the Universe, I will probably suggest a thought experiment that goes as follows:

If we look back in time to the theoretical Big Bang singularity, we will find that space contracts, and time, being relative to space, slows down. So as time slows down and we approach the event horizon, the laws of physics begin to break down. What this means is that there is no way to measure or quantify when or how the Universe began. In short, there never was a beginning. The Universe has always existed. There never has been nothing. So the question of "Why is there something rather than nothing?" is unanswerable.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Double Supreme Court Victory

Today is a glorious day in the annals of gun-toting atheism.

Today, in the case of McDonald v. City of Chicago, Illinois, the Supreme Court of the United States ruled that the Second Amendment to the Constitution not only applies to the Federal Government, but also to the States and local governments.

The effect of this court ruling is undeniably far-reaching. For one, it strikes down Chicago's unconstitutional handgun ban. But it also establishes a legal precedent that invalidates pretty much any State or municipal gun ban across the country. The result is simple: the Supreme Court now officially interprets that every sane, law-abiding US citizen has a right to own a firearm, as no State has the authority to abridge the rights of US citizens. Skeptics can be reassured that the mentally ill and felons are still unable to legally acquire and own firearms. Moreover, laws that establish qualification requirements for the acquisition of firearms and restrict carrying into sensitive places (such as government buildings and schools) are still in effect. So do not expect the United States to revert to the days of the wild west, as reasonable regulations are still valid.

Read the US Supreme Court opinion (warning, it's 214 pages long):

The second victory was in the case of Hastings Christian Fellowship v. Martinez (warning: this is 85 pages long) in which the Supreme Court ruled that schools had every right to deny recognition and funding to student groups that discriminate in their memberships. The case was brought about when the Christian Legal Society at Hastings College of Law sued the school after being denied funding, on grounds that as a religious group, they had the right to exclude non-Christians from membership, and that the school should go ahead and fund their discriminatory little group anyway. Well today the Supreme Court disagreed. Not that any right-minded atheist would ever want to join such a group anyway, but the decision flies right into their faces.

I am most certainly a visionary. The Supreme Court agrees with me!

Perhaps I should go to Law School with hopes of one day becoming a Supreme Court Justice, because apparently, that is where I belong.

In the meanwhile, the United States marches slowly but surely towards gun-toting atheism, and it's a beautiful thing.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Existential Angst?

You all know the story of George Washington's axe? The handle has been replaced three times, the blade has been replaced twice. Not a single molecule of the original axe is present within it, yet there has been a continuity. Therefore George Washington's axe doesn't exist, because George Washington's axe only exists as a concept.

I don't believe that I have an immortal soul. I believe that I only exist as THIS mind in THIS body. But what is my mind? An ever-changing collection of thoughts, emotions and memories. Definitely not the same mind I had last night. But what is my body? A collection of roughly ten trillion cells, constantly dividing, dying, being replaced. Roughly every seven years, a new set of cells makes up my body. (Bone cells live up to 10 years). So this is not even the same body that I possessed seven years ago.

Who am I then? Same as George Washington's axe, I am a concept. In other words, I am an illusion.

The molecules that constitute the body of this illusion will be gobbled up by the sun about 7.5 billion years from now, when our very own Sun becomes a red giant and swells up to encompass the orbit of the Earth, that is, if our planet isn't already annihilated in the collision between the Milky Way and the Andromeda Galaxy, expected to take place 3 billion years from now.

Even if somehow humanity survives all this, we are doomed to what astrophysicists call "heat death", or the final thermodynamic state of the Universe, in which the Universe has achieved maximum entropy, and through expansion, not enough gravity exists to pull matter back together, and not enough energy exists to sustain motion or life.

So we are doomed either way we look at it. So... what's the meaning of life? Why do I go to work every morning and pay my bills? What is the point? We all know where it's headed. We're all already dead.

We can't control tectonic plates and geological changes. Land gets swallowed by the sea, the sea bed slides into the earth's mantle, plates collide and create mountain ranges. Ice ages destroy all vegetation and scrape the ground bare, global warming floods low-lying lands, and then new ice ages begin and the cycle goes on.

We are insignificant in the greater scheme of things.

That's when I remember saying that I'm an illusion anyway. So who cares about how it's going to end... what matters is that there is good wine and good beer and good food to be enjoyed, right here right now. Sure, we are overpopulated and we are destroying this planet. But this planet has had its share of cataclysmic extinction events in the past, and the Universe just kept on trucking. Should we protect the environment and preserve our health? Absolutely. But we are only buying time.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Ever wondered why atheist bloggers prefer to set their targets on Christianity?

Have you ever wondered why it is that atheists seem to focus enormous amounts of attention on Christianity, but not as much on Islam or Judaism?

Well, if I may explain my personal opinion on the matter, it has to do with differences in the level of complexity.

Judaism: Belief in one supreme God who occasionally interacts with mankind, and communicates via prophets.

Islam: Belief in one supreme God who occasionally interacts with mankind, and communicates via prophets, esp. via his prophet Muhammad.

Christianity: Belief in one supreme God who very often interacts with mankind and who in the past decided to taint all of humankind with the Original Sin over- of all things- a fruit, and who decided to impregnate a virgin so that he could put his soul inside her womb and be born as a man so that he could live as a human being for thirty years, turning water into wine, healing the sick, healing the blind, walking on water, raising the dead, be arrested, tortured, brutally executed, and then resurrected so that whoever believes in him is no longer tainted with the curse of Original Sin that HE himself put on mankind in the first place, and that every Sunday he must be honored by eating his flesh and drinking his blood, by fear of burning in the flames of Hell for eternity.

Correct me if I've gotten anything wrong.

So if you are a Christian, please put yourself in the shoes of a non-Christian (hmm what do you call us again, heathens?) and try to imagine how it all sounds to us...

The simple fact that Christianity is based on central themes of such convoluted unsubstantiated complexity, is the reason why it attracts the rants of atheists so much more than Judaism or Islam. Imagine a big, flashy, Las-Vegas-style neon sign that says "Look at me! Look at what I believe in! Come on join the club or your immortal soul will BURN IN HELL!"

That, in a nutshell, is the reason why.

Peace be with you.

Kelo v. New London

Though I am not a member of the Libertarian Party, nor am I a member of any party, for that matter, I did sign up for their weekly newsletter, question of keeping track of where they stand on issues.

Today, I received an email from executive director Wes Benedict, explaining that tomorrow is the 5th anniversary of the infamous Kelo v. New London court decision, in which the Supreme Court of the United States decided "that it is acceptable for government entities to condemn and seize private property, even when the purpose is to offer that property to another private owner for economic development. ", which is a horrible attack on private property rights. In preparation for the construction of a shopping mall, Susette Kelo's property was seized, condemned, razed, and is now a vacant lot.

The funny part of that email follows (not funny for Ms Kelo, but funny in terms of the way it was worded):

"Even more shamefully, the proposed development never materialized. The Institute for Justice recently noted that 'The very land where Susette Kelo's home once stood remains barren -- home to nothing but feral cats, seagulls and weeds.'"

The Supreme Court obviously doesn't care about your house. They have made it clear that they care more about the interests of real-estate developers who want to raze your property.

To preserve property rights, it is imperative that this court decision be reversed.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Fixing the Catholic Church

In light of ongoing sex abuse scandals involving the Catholic Church, several people have been advancing possible solutions.

One solution would be to end the practice of clerical celibacy. Advocates of this solution argue that sexual abstinence causes frustration and psychological problems that lead to sexual dysfunction. Coupled with the fact that priests often have unmonitored access to children, and that sexual abuse within that organization seem to be ignored by its leadership, this turns the Church into a safe haven for pedophiles. Allowing priests to marry, it is explained, would do a few things. Among them, having a wife would give sexually dysfunctional priests a healthy outlet for their sexual expression. Also, the church would no longer offer the same appeal for pedophiles experiencing religious shame for their dysfunction, and thus would reduce the number of pedophiles within the ranks of the priesthood.

A better solution, I argue, is to simply shut it down. That's right; abolish the Catholic Church. Close shop. Out of business. There can be no pedophile priests if there are no more priests. Problem solved. And millions of Protestants worldwide will rejoice as Martin Luther's dream of reformation is finally fulfilled.

Sell its assets and give the money to stem cell researchers. This is a perfect opportunity to finish it off. Two thousand years of inquisitions (NOBODY EXPECTS THE SPANISH INQUISITION! :) ) , two thousand years of witch hunts, two thousand years of child abuse, now finally coming to an end.

Saturday, April 24, 2010

Cosmological Arguments

For the sake of argument, let's assume that the following statements are true:

Everything that had a beginning had a cause
The universe had a beginning.
Therefore, the universe had a cause.
We call this cause God.

Can someone explain to me how you can take such a deist concept of God and then prove that this is in fact the God of Moses and Abraham? I fail to see how anyone can make that leap. The evidence linking the deist creator to the Hebrew deity is just too thin. How do you know for sure that it is in fact the Hebrew God Yaweh that created the Universe? Why not Brahma? Or Ahura Mazda? Or the vomiting Mbombo? Or Mangala?

Buddhists don't believe that the universe had a beginning. "Conjecture about [the origin, etc., of] the world is an unconjecturable that is not to be conjectured about, that would bring madness & vexation to anyone who conjectured about it."

Patron Saints

image source: Wikipedia

A friend tonight was watching an episode of "L.A. Ink" on TLC. (Oh yeah The "Learning" Channel actually used to show informative documentaries about the Roman Legions and stuff like that, but I guess it's easier and cheaper to make time-wasting reality shows)


So a kid walks into the tattoo parlor, and requests to get a tattoo of Saint Christopher, patron saint of travelers, on his chest. He said that his mom used to buy him Saint Christopher medals all the time, but he kept losing them. He figured he wouldn't lose a tattoo. So the tattoo artist says something like "How about getting a tattoo of the patron saint of not losing sh*t?" And I got a good laugh from it. And this one time, at band camp...

Fun fact! According to Wikipedia, Saint Christopher (see above image) is sometimes represented with the head of a dog!! Son of a bitch!

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Death and Taxes.

I just paid my income taxes.

I should feel relieved, but I don't. I hate accounting. Forcing people to pay taxes, I'm actually OK with that. Forcing people to try figure out asset depreciation and amortization recapture? That is CRUEL AND UNUSUAL.

Oh of course, to add insult to injury, I have to PAY a professional to figure this stuff out because your rules are so ABSURDLY convoluted?

Just take the god-damn money and leave me alone! Figure out the paperwork for yourselves...

Amortization recapture... just shoot me, please.

Dammit Jim! I'm a doctor not a savant.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Jesus Christ Rises From Grave Three Days Early

By His Lordship the Gun-Toting Atheist (Associated Press)
Thursday, April 1st, 2010.

JERUSALEM - Vatican representatives in Israel announced today that Jesus Christ, aka Jesus of Nazareth, has risen from the grave three days ahead of schedule, taking Easter mass organizers off guard.

"This is the first time in almost 2000 years that this has occurred", said pope Benedict XVI in a Twitter interview.

"He came out of the grave, and he definitely saw his shadow. Then he retreated to the sarcophagus and closed the door. I'm afraid this means we'll have six more weeks of winter, which sucks because I was really looking forward to spending all of next week on my yacht", said His Holiness.

Not everybody is upset, however. Catholic children from around the world are excited that lent has come to an end early, which means that they can finally eat chocolate for the first time in 37 days.

This leaves meteorology experts confused, as Punxsutawney Phil already predicted six more weeks of winter on February 2nd, 2010.

"He predicted six weeks eight weeks ago, and now we have to wait another six? That is just not fair!" added the Pope.

Punxsutawney Phil was not available for comment.

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Christian Terrorists

image source: The Associated Press

I am non-religious. I do not adhere to any faith. To me, there are two types of people. Non-religious people, and religious people.

Since I live in a part of the world predominantly Christian, I focus a lot on Christianity in my blogging. As a result, I've heard a lot of Christians accuse me of focusing too much attention on Christianity and not enough on Islam. They say that 'Christians don't fly planes full of innocent people into buildings!'

(actually, rumor has it that Joseph Stack, the guy who flew a plane into an IRS building in Texas, was NOT a muslim!)

Which brings me to a current news story. Apparently, some Christians do plot to kill police officers:

Now, I am sure that the 9/11 hijackers do NOT represent the majority of Muslims, and I am sure that the Hutaree do NOT represent the majority of Christians, but if you believe that the government is Satan and that you need to fight for Jesus in an apocalyptic end-of-days battle, I think we need to add your name to the no-fly list, and tap your phone lines. Maybe send you to Guantanamo Bay too.

I will use this news story again and again. Every single time someone utters anti-muslim propaganda, I will mention the Hutaree. Every single time someone calls atheists immoral, I will mention the Hutaree.

This is another perfect example of how religion in and of itself is not a good moral compass. In order to be a moral person, one needs compassion. Religious beliefs alone cannot be substituted for it. You either have compassion for your fellow, or you don't.

I know what some of you will say. You will say "They believed they were Christians, but they were NOT true Christians. True Christians do not commit murder."

My question to you in response to that is "How do you know that YOU are a true Christian?".

Peace be with you.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

Patternicity and Agenticity

Last night, my significant other and I were watching the movie "The Golden Compass" while eating some Chinese take-out. As you know, Chinese restaurants typically include so-called fortune cookies with the orders, and this was no exception. I usually read them, laugh, and eat the cookies without much further thought. Last night was different. Just as my significant other was biting into her fortune cookie and reading the little piece of paper, a male character in the movie tells a girl who has just been spying on him to basically shut up and go hide in the closet. Well there was not ONE piece of paper inside the cookie, there were TWO. And guess what they said? : "An angry man opens his mouth and shuts up his eyes".

Needless to say, we were a little weirded out.

1. In our experience, there is never more than a single piece of paper inside a fortune cookie. This time there were two.
2. Both pieces of paper said the same thing.
3. The pieces of paper and the man in the movie were both talking about shutting up and observing.
4. The pieces of paper were read AT THE SAME TIME as the actor spoke the line in the movie.
5. THAT SAME MORNING, I came across a few Scientific American articles by Michael Shermer about "Patternicity", "Agenticity" and "Conspiracy Theories" after they were mentioned on the radio in a commentary.

It is human nature to observe patterns and connect the dots. But this is WEIRD.

According to Shermer, patternicity is the tendency to find meaningful patterns in random noise. For example, a long, thin shape in the grass could be a branch. Or it could be a snake. As part of our defense and survival mechanisms, we tend to recognize certain patterns easily. We can recognize the shape and color of berries, the faces of our children and friends, the shape of a fertile mate, the outline of a lurking predator, etc. The drawback of that is that we often come up with false positives. Biologically, it is better to run from an imagined snake than to step onto a real one. In our modern world, this tendency leads people look at the Universe and see all sorts of patterns that appear too perfect to be natural and automatically assume that there must be an intelligent creator.

Agenticity refers to the ability to be aware of desires and intentions in ourselves and others, but this also gives us the tendency to assign intent to random events or things. Random, unrelated events are linked together to form conspiracy theories or divine intervention. Children look at the clouds and assume they "want to hide the sun". People look at thunder and lightning and see the anger of the gods.

So this is very interesting. Being aware that seeing patterns in random events is a mental illusion, I can dismiss the fortune cookie incident as baloney, and rest easy.

"the problem with government conspiracies is that bureaucrats are incompetent and people can’t keep their mouths shut. " -G. Gordon Liddy